Upper Newport Bay (known by locals as The Back Bay) contains 1,000-acres of coastal wetlands; a great location for birdwatchers. Many bird species can be observed here including the California Gnatcatcher, the San Diego Cactus Wren and the Burrowing Owl. Upper Newport Bay is also a home for 6 rare or endangered species: the Light Footed Clapper Rail, the Brown Pelican, Belding's Savannah Sparrow, the Black Rail, the Peregrine Falcon and the California Least Tern. During winter migration, as many as 35,000 birds may be utilizing Upper Newport Bay at the same time. Besides bird watching, the beautiful setting also offers people opportunities to enjoy other outdoor activities such as jogging, bicycling, hiking, kayaking and horseback riding. The Newport Bay Conservancy also hosts weekly kayak tours of the bay on Saturdays and Sundays.
Grasslands and coastal sage scrub grow on the bluffs overlooking the bay. The Back Bay Loop Trail provides an exciting opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to discover a magnificent regional trail experience at Upper Newport Bay. The 10.5 mile trail winds around the bay with scenic stops at places like Upper Castaways Park, the County of Orange’s Center, the new Back Bay Science Center at Shellmaker Island, Big Canyon and the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, which is a model for all other Southern California facilities of its kind. The Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center sets new standards for protecting and preserving open space and endangered wetlands in a highly populated urban setting and its unique earth sheltered architecture keeps it hidden from view at street level while simultaneously creating an architectural feast for the eye when visitors reach its main entrance.
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve surrounds the Ecological Reserve. The 140-acre Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve consists of bluffs surrounding the Bay. The Ecological Reserve contains 752 acres. This coastal wetland is one of the largest in southern California and it is renowned as one of the finest bird watching sites in North America. Upper Newport Bay is also home to one endangered plant species, Saltmarsh Bird's Beak. Considered to be a critical estuary habitat, Upper Newport Bay is one of the most pristine remaining estuaries in Southern California.