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Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary

This 307-acre marsh at the edge of Humboldt Bay is an early and much-admired example of environmental restoration by design for both human and wildlife uses. It is a wildlife sanctuary, a haven for more than 250 species of birds, and also a part of the City of Arcata wastewater treatment system. It includes saltwater bay, lake, pond, fresh and saltwater marshes, and mudflats. You'll likely see dozens of black-crowned night herons and ducks, as well as godwits, egrets, great blue herons, and raptors. Nearly five miles of looping trails connect a cluster of marshy ponds. In addition to the accessible half-mile-long Butcher’s Slough trail, four miles of almost-level, well-maintained trails run atop levees around the marsh. The best times to visit are dawn and near sunset, when the most birds are present. You walk on a levee trail, looking to the open waters of Humboldt Bay on one side and the still waters of ponds on the other, and listening to the sounds of many birds. Every school child in Arcata has likely been here, and many university students come to do research.
Formerly the site of two lumber mills, then a landfill featuring a pile of junk known locally as “Mt. Trashmore,” the Arcata Marsh is a great place to visit because it demonstrates the resilience of nature, with some careful help from human friends. Some remnants of the logging era, such as wharf pilings, can be seen along the trails. Stop at the visitor center to learn more about the area’s history, the wastewater treatment process, and the wildlife.

Visitor center: The interpretive center has interactive displays about the marsh's history, biology, and wastewater treatment, and rotating art exhibits. You can look out over the marsh through large windows and from the pleasant, accessible deck. Pick up a pamphlet for the accessible Butcher's Slough self-guided trail here. 

Trail/Pathway Details

Butcher's Slough Self-Guided Trail

Trailhead: Visitor center/parking area

Length: Under one mile total

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Firm

This trail is OK in wet weather but other trails in the preserve may get muddy.


This levee trail skirts Log Pond just north of the visitor center. Numbered signposts keyed to a pamphlet discuss the sanctuary's history, restoration, natural features, and wildlife. Though an active industrial area is nearby, shrubbery and medium-size trees make this spot feel remote. Across the water, ducks dabble in the shallows and willows are crowded with perching black-crowned night herons. 

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Visitor Center: Accessible

Accessible Parking: Yes

Accessible Restroom: Yes

Inside visitor center

Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes

Located along Butcher's Slough trail and near the parking lot. Some are on grass and none are modified for access, but they were otherwise usable in a motorized wheelchair.
Arcata Wildlife Sanctuary
Arcata Wildlife Sanctuary (Dan Hill)

Features icon key

  • hiking
  • picnic
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Managing Agency: City of Arcata
Address: 569 S G St., Arcata
Nearest City: Arcata
Phone: (707) 826-2359
Hours: Trails: 4 am until one hour after sunset
Visitor center: Mon., 1-5 pm; Tues.-Sun., 9 am-5 pm
Fees: None
Dogs: Not allowed
Public Transportation: Arcata/Mad RiverTransit
Useful Links: Friends of Arcata Marsh
Reviewed by Ann Sieck, November 13, 2008
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

Accessible Restrooms Icon looks like a women and men restroom signBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
  Hiking icon is silhouette of a hikerHiking & Trails
Biking icon looks like person riding a bikeBicycling   Good for Familis icon is a child on a swing'Particularly Good for Families
Boating Icon is a boatBoating   Picnic Area Icon is a picnic tablePicnic
Camping icon is a tentCamping   Swimming Icon is a person swimmingSwimming
Fishing Icon is a fish biting a hookFishing   Wildlife Viewing Icon is a pair of binocularsWildlife Viewing