San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Mudflat as far as the eye can see, vast stretches of lush pickleweed marsh, and a sense of solitude in the midst of seven million people best describe San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
In response to rapidly disappearing wetlands and its prime location within the Pacific Flyway, the refuge was created in 1974 to protect migratory birds, wetland habitat, and endangered species. The refuge and San Pablo Bay supports the largest wintering population of canvasbacks on the west coast, and protects the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail.
The San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge lies along the north shore of San Pablo Bay in Sonoma, Solano, and Napa Counties in northern California. The refuge includes open bay/tidal marsh, mud flats, and seasonal and managed wetland habitats.
The Napa-Sonoma marshes in San Pablo Bay have been greatly impacted by human activities such as hydraulic mining, salt production, water diversions, and diking, draining, and filling for agricultural and industrial uses. About 85 percent of the historic tidal marshes of San Pablo Bay have been altered, negatively affecting the ability of the remaining tidal marshes to accept winter rainfall and purify water in the bay.
The refuge provides critical migratory and wintering habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, particularly diving ducks, and provides year-round habitat for endangered, threatened, and sensitive species like the California clapper rail, salt marsh harvest mouse, California black rail, San Pablo song sparrow, and Suisun shrew.
Numerous other threatened, endangered, and sensitive species require tidal marsh habitat for their survival, including 11 fish species that swim through San Pablo Bay to reach their fresh water spawning grounds.

Visitor Activities

  • Hunting
    • Hunting is an important wildlife management tool that we recognize as a healthy, traditional outdoor pastime, deeply rooted in America’s heritage.  Hunting can instill a unique understanding and appreciate of wildlife, their behavior, and their habitat needs.
    • As practiced on refuges, hunting, trapping and fishing do not pose a threat to wildlife populations, and in some instances are necessary for sound wildlife management.  For example, because their natural predators are gone, deer populations will often grow too large for the refuge habitat to support.
    • Hunting programs can promote understanding and appreciation of natural resources and their management on lands and waters in the Refuge System.
    • To find out more about hunting opportunities, seasons and regulations on San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, contact the refuge manager.
  • Fishing
    • In addition to the conservation of wildlife and habitat, the Refuge System offers a wide variety of quality fishing opportunities.  Fishing programs promote understanding and appreciation of natural resources and their management on all lands and waters in the Refuge System.
    • Currently, fishing is available in the open bay and navigable sloughs of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  Boat ramps are available at the Vallejo public marina and at Port Sonoma near the Petaluma River.  There are plans to construct a fishing pier on the refuge and to provide access in other units.  Read the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for more details. 
  • Wildlife Viewing
    • The Tolay Creek Trail and habitats surrounding the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers ample opportunities so see wildlife.  Situated along the Pacific Flyway, the region where birds migrate through western United States, the refuge and the estuary is an important wintering area for waterfowl, particularly canvasbacks, scaup, and scoters.  Shorebirds also use the area to overwinter or as a stopover point during migration.
    • Special group tours are also available to the recently acquired Skaggs Island.  Skaggs Island is a great place to see several species of raptors, and the occassional black-tailed deer.  Contact the refuge manager if you would like to schedule a group tour. 
  • Interpretation
    • Refuge System interpretation programs provide opportunities for visitors to make their own connections to the natural world. From self-guided walks to ranger-led programs, many national wildlife refuges help visitors learn more about the wildlife and habitat behind the landscapes.
    • In addition to staff and volunteers presenting programs to audiences, refuges use a variety of exhibits, signs, brochures, and electronic media to communicate natural history stories to visitors.  Printed and virtual information is often available on many topics, including plants and animals, seasonal migrations, habitats, refuge management strategies, and endangered species.
  • Environmental Education
    • National Wildlife Refuges serve many purposes, and one of our most important roles is as outdoor classrooms to teach about wildlife and natural resources.  Many refuges offer environmental education programs for a variety of audiences.  Refuges provide unique and exciting outdoor environments – excellent locations for hands-on learning activities.  Thousands of youth and adult groups visit every year to learn about a specific topic on wildlife, habitat, or ecological processes.
    • Is your school, youth, environmental or other group interested in learning more about the wildlife, plants, habitats and ecology of a particular national wildlife refuge?  Contact the refuge manager for more information.  Refuges are wild places, and we want to teach you more about them!
  • Photography
    • Perhaps the fastest growing activity on national wildlife refuges in the past ten years has been wildlife photography.  That’s not surprising – the digital camera population explosion and cell phones with ever-improving picture-taking abilities are increasing the number of nature photographers at a rapid rate.  You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment or have any experience to get started.  A small camera or basic cell phone will do just fine for most visitors.
    • Wildlife photography is a high-priority activity in the Refuge System.  We welcome beginning and expert photographers alike to record their outdoor adventures on film, memory card or internal hard drive! 

Contact San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Contact San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

7715 Lakeville Highway
Petaluma, California  94954
Phone: 707-769-4200


Service Area

Services provided in:
  • Napa County, California
  • Solano County, California
  • Sonoma County, California