I visited the Salton Sea with my two little kids, ages 6 and 2, on a crisp fall day. I had heard stories about this mythical lake surrounded by ghost towns and dead fish, so I was expecting to have a weird day, but boy was I surprised because the Salton Sea is BEAUTIFUL!
Its history is fascinating. Originally thought to be a part of the Gulf of California, it became a man-made lake with higher salinity than the Pacific Ocean when the Colorado River overtook its canals and the river poured into the valley for over a year. And this is just the short version! At times of high salinity, the fish do die, and the skeletons can be found around the beach. But, it is so interesting! The shorebirds handle their part in the food chain, and leave the skeletons be. We really liked looking at the fish and the barnacles and learning about the different parts of the fish.
The Salton Sea is massive. It's 35 miles long. We couldn't see the end when hanging out at the visitor's center. The area was teeming with shorebirds of all different kinds (we loved the pelicans), and the waters are filled with fish (not just the dead ones, but tons of fish enjoy the huge, deep lake). The lake is open again to watersports. Kayaks were available to rent at the visitor's center and when calm, it could be a dream for a paddleboarder. We really enjoyed running along the edge of the water, playing in the playground by the visitor's center, and seeing how many birds and fish we could spot.
The visitor's center and rangers do a nice job of explaining the history of the area as well as the current ecology of the lake and surrounding area. The California State Parks Jr. Ranger Program is accepted here, and my son was able to get a stamp in his passport from completing a page in his book. (Word to the wise...the California State Parks program doesn't give badges out at each location. This I wish I had been prepared for.)
Bathrooms with flush toilets and running water are available at the visitor's center as are a plethora of picnic tables overlooking the water. Campgrounds dot the edge of the lake as well.
Entrance to the park was $5 per car. We thought the trip was well worth the money.
TIP: I would highly suggest visiting the Salton Sea in the cool season. The heat from the desert, the salt, and the smell of the decaying fish I could imagine would be over-powering in the heat.
The Salton Sea makes a good day trip from the Palm Springs area. To add on another odd adventure, head south to Niland to check out Salvation Mountain.
If you’re heading south from Indio, explore the 35-mile-long Salton Sea, the largest body of water entirely in California and saltier than the ocean. A haven for bird life, it is part of the vast (36,527-acre) Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and Imperial Wildlife Area (760–393–3052). In the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, boating and saltwater fishing are the order of the day. Several campsites and nature trails are located around the “sea” shores. Call (800) 444–7274 for camping reservations.