Rio Salado Rules & Regulations
Rio Salado Habitat Map
Rio Salado Habitat Fact Sheet
Trailhead Guidelines and Descriptions
E-mail us at Rio Salado Habitat and Restoration Area
Checkout our bird list!
Cottonwood tree reflecting in an unusually calm Rio Salado
The Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area offers a mix of paved and dirt trails. Most trails are relatively easy and feature smooth surfaces and moderate to minor grades.
Rio Salado simple map
Rio Salado detailed map
Rio Salado printable tri-fold map
The trailheads listed below provide access to the paved trails. We also recommend calling the Ranger Office at (602) 262-6863 or (602) 262-6713 (tty) with any questions or concerns before heading out to the area.
All trailhead parking areas are open from sunrise to sunset, or to 7 p.m.; whichever comes first seasonally:
- 2439 S. Central Ave. (Northeast corner)
- 3212 S. 7th Ave. (Southwest corner)
- 2801 S. 7th Ave. (Equestrian Staging)
- 2875 S. 7th St. (Southeast corner)
- 3203 S. 16th St. (Southeast corner)
While visiting Rio Salado, please remember that the area is a habitat restoration project; remain on designated trails, do not enter the ponds or river channel, remove rocks or flowers, disturb wildlife, throw rocks into ponds, and keep dogs on leashes on the hard surface (asphalt trails).
Please note that leashed dogs are allowed on the hard surface (asphalt) trails only. The primary goal of the project is to re-establish sensitive riparian habitat that disappeared from the Valley decades ago. Please do your part to allow the habitat to thrive and grow by keeping your dog on a leash and removing and properly disposing of all pet waste.
Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center
Rio Salado Audubon Center
Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado
Audubon Center Calendar of Events
Opened in October 2009, the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center is a nature center in the heart of the City of Phoenix’s Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, a 600-acre park along the historic Salt River. Located less then two miles from downtown Phoenix, the Center is a gateway to a lush Sonoran riparian habitat used by over 200 species of birds and other wildlife—beavers, muskrats, coyotes, jackrabbits, cottontails, and javelinas—to name a few.
The free admission Center offers interactive exhibits, an interpretive loop, connections to the Rio Salado Habitat’s sixteen miles of hiking and riding trails and a variety of hands-on nature programs, including beginning birding classes and bird walks, school field trip programs and more. Address: 3131 S. Central Ave, Phoenix, 85040, (602) 468-6470.
Milkweed was planted to attract Monarchs
In September Monarchs were spotted returning to Rio Salado for the fifth consecutive year. Record heat tipping 111 degrees in September kept the butterflies near the river in Cottonwood and Willow trees to keep cool. In October when the temperatures finally dropped, monarchs appeared near the waterfall and the thicker tree canopy where they have spent the winter in previous years. They have also been spotted west of Central Avenue near the river in deep pockets of Seep Willow and Sunflowers. Recently five to ten monarchs have been spotted daily flying above the Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata, near the waterfall alone.
Last Spring the number of Monarchs returning from overwintering grounds in Mexico and California is the lowest number ever recorded. In the East, monarchs had a favorable summer breeding season and numbers appear to be rebounding but still remain below average. In the West, reports of breeding monarchs have been limited and their numbers are unknown. Likely due to the record heat in the Phoenix area, monarch egg-laying was limited in September but increased as the temperatures cooled in October. November brought a surge of freshly enclosed monarchs and they continue to glide through Rio Salado and other riparian areas in higher numbers than previous years as well as in backyard gardens.
To help protect the Monarchs at Rio Salado 18 monarch-lovers planted 21 Desert Milkweed and placed signs around the overwintering site on December 5 last year. Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata, is a host plant for monarchs butterflies, a place where they will lay their eggs in the spring and fall, and is a common desert plant. New signs were placed in paths that developed in the protective thicket of trees. Breaking the tree canopy can fracture the fragile temperature moderating ecosystem where the monarchs stay during the winter much like leaving a door open on a very hot or very cold day in your house. Your support is greatly appreciated to stay only on the marked trails and refrain from walking in this important habitat to preserve this fragile ecosystem.
Educational and Interpretive Programs
Click on the link below to browse or register for programs. You may also call (602) 262-6863 or (602) 262-6713 (tty) for more information.
Browse or register for On-line Programs
Group Visits & Field Trips
Educators will find the Rio Salado Habitat a great resource for their students. If your group is looking for a specialized program, please contact us as we can help coordinate an educational opportunity especially for you. To inquire about a group visit or field trip, call (602) 262-6863 or (602) 262-6713 (tty) or complete and submit an
"Activity Request Form."
Learn about the wonders of Rio Salado wetlands
Get more information on future improvement projects in this Area:
Tres Rios Recreation Components
Design and construction of trails, trailheads and other recreation components at the Tres Rios Wetland project.
Funding Source: Office of Arts and Culture, Water Services Department and Army Corps of Engineer
Contact: Chris Ewell (602) 534-5292
Rio Salado Oeste Project
Planning, design and construction of ecosystem restoration project of Rio Salado between 19th and 83rd avenues. Planning phases are complete and design drawings will be in development for the next two to three years.
Funding Source: Federal, Bonds and Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative
Contact: Chris Ewell (602) 534-5292
The Learning Circle left, made of recycled cement, and the walking bridge over the Rio Salado
When the River FlowedThe goal of the Phoenix Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project is to restore the native wetland and riparian (i.e. riverbank) habitats that were historically associated with the Salt River, which once flowed year-round through what is now Phoenix.The Hohokam, a farming people who lived in southern and central Arizona roughly from 1 A.D. to 1450, used the Salt River to turn the Salt and Gila river valleys into lush green farmland and thriving villages. Unsurpassed as farmers, the Hohokam established an extensive canal network branching out from the river to irrigate a variety of crops.The Pueblo Grande Museum in central Phoenix houses the remains of a Hohokam village and the museum’s website has extensive information on the Hohokam’s presence in the Valley of the Sun.Even in relatively modern times, the Salt River continued to hold a central place in the consciousness of the Valley’s residents. As recently as the turn of the century, postcards from the era demonstrate the pride that the river generated.DamsShortly after the turn of the century, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation placed dams along the Salt and Verde Rivers to create a series of lakes. While the dams achieved their goal of providing a reliable water supply for the valley, they left behind a dry, barren riverbed.Today, the land along the riverbed has become lined with landfills, sand and gravel pits, and industrial areas interspersed with a few older neighborhoods. It is a part of this landscape that the Rio Salado project has transformed.LocationThe Rio Salado Project is located in a five-mile section of the Salt River within the city of Phoenix. The site totals 595 acres and extends from just west of the Interstate-10 crossing on the eastern upstream end to 19th Avenue on the western or downstream end. The Project site includes the overbanks, typically within 50 feet of the top of bank, slopes of the banks to the terrace level, terrace level, and Low Flow Channel. Project construction crews removed hundreds of tons of buried trash from the project site, much of which was recycled tires Restoring Native VegetationVisitors can now enjoy restored historical habitat in the project area in theSalt River from 24th Street westward to 19th Avenue.Trees are a big component of the restoration efforts. Most of the native trees planted in the project area were grown from seeds and cuttings gathered from within 1/2 mile of the river bottom.Cottonwood-Willow gallery forests were historically the most abundant riparian ecosystem among low-elevation rivers of the southwest. They once flourished around the banks of the Salt River. Large areas of cottonwood and willows will grace the terraces of the Phoenix Rio Salado project area.Another common Southwester riparian habitat, Mesquite bosques, also grace the terraces. The disappearance of once-abundant bosques this century has made the ecosystem the fourth rarest plant community of the 104 communities identified in the United States.Other habitats in the project area include:Lower Sonoran Desert Palo Verde and Mesquite Salt Bush/Quail Bush/Burro Brush Aquatic Strand Wetland MarshAquatic strand will be encouraged within the Project’s low-flow channel (LFC) and at select open-channel conveyance point located throughout the project.The project includes:140 acres of mesquite bosque habitat 43 acres of cottonwood/willow habitat 65 acres of lower Sonoran habitat (paloverde and mequite association) 80 acres saltbush/quail bush/burro brush 51 acres of aquatic strand 200 acres of open space 16 acres of wetland marsh The Project demonstration area includes the overbanks, slopes of the banks to the terrace level and Low Flow Channel Water for the ProjectA series of five wells are the main source of water for the vegetation and wetland areas in the Rio Salado Habitat area. Pumps draw shallow groundwater into a number of areas throughout the project.The pumps, pipes and canals that distribute water from the wells at the Rio Salado project all are interconnected. In a "redundant" system like this, the still-functioning wells can pick up the slack for any well that may need to be temporarily shut down for maintenance or other reasons. Storm drains also re-direct runoff from rain to the project area and help nourish vegetation.Where Does the Water Go?Small reservoirs, like the one pictured here, store water that will be used to nourish vegetation on the project's banks. The various wetlands also are nourished by the well system.