Arcata Marshland is 307-acres at the edge of Humboldt Bay and 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.
Butcher’s Slough Self-Guided Trail
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: Visitor center/parking area
Length: Under one mile total
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Level
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.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Accessible Visitor Center: Yes
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.
Hours: Trails are open 4 am until one hour after sunset and the visitor center is Mon., 1-5 pm; Tues.-Sun., 9 am-5 pm
Map: See here.
Dogs: Not allowed
Public Transportation: Arcata/Mad RiverTransit