Aguirre Lake Trail


A Fantastic Fall Bird & Wildlife Watching Destination in Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
By Lisa D. Smith & Nancy J. Reid

On Big Blend Radio, Josh Smith, Wildlife Refuge Specialist, talks about the monsoon season, trails, fall visitor experience, and the restoration and conservation efforts at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a beautiful bird and wildlife watching destination, just 60 miles south of Tucson, Arizona.


The time to visit Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is now! This past summer of 2017, Southern Arizona was blessed with a phenomenal monsoon season, and the Refuge certainly enjoyed its fair share of the soaking rainstorms. We visited the Refuge in late summer, and what a sight! The grasslands were lush and green, the wildflowers were in spectacular bloom, and the ponds and wetland areas were transformed into cool, refreshing watering stations for birds and wildlife. Dragonflies and butterflies were dancing all over the place, baby Spadefoot toads were hopping around, and the birds were chirping, whistling and cackling with joy. The even better news, is that it looks like the water will maintain its drinking hole position through to the end of fall, making it a perfect landing place for resident and migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.


Aguirre Lake is named after Don Pedro Aguirre, who ranched the area back in the 1880s. The lake is a result of a low dam he built to capture the rain for his livestock and crops. The region went through droughts and floods, but you can still see some of the ranch buildings. It’s important to note that Aguirre Lake has not had water in a number of years, so now is truly the optimal time to visit. From kingbirds to vermillion flycatchers, kingfishers to ibis, the Refuge provides home to over 330 bird species along with 58 mammal species including mule deer, pronghorn antelope and javelina. The best time to see both birds and wildlife is at dawn and dusk, but still be sure to bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen and good walking shoes.


Boasting magnificifent views of the stately Baboquivari Peak, Aguirre Lake Trail is made up of two flat and mowed trail loops. The 2-mile loop is accessible from the Visitor Center, located at the Refuge Headquarters, in Sasabe. The 0.8-mile Grebe Pond Loop trailhead is about 1.3 miles from the Visitor Center, and is an easy walk for most fitness levels, plus, it has a wildlife viewing blind. There is parking at both trailheads, and a restroom at the Visitor Center. There are also two shaded picnic areas to relax and enjoy the scenery and bird chatter.


Open seasonally, the Visitor Center has a series of exhibits showcasing the Refuge’s ranching history, flora and fauna, and conservation efforts – especially regarding masked bobwhite quail. There is a picnic area and restroom facilities, and you can also take a walk along the ½ mile Ranch Loop Trail. This part of the Refuge features the Altar Valley grassland habitat, as well as a small pond where you might see waterfowl. One of the highlights is Pronghorn Drive, a 10 mile dirt road that loops around the grasslands, providing opportunity to hopefully catch a glimpse of the resident pronghorn.


About 60 miles south of Tucson, the 117,500+ acre Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is an incredibly bio-diverse bird and wildlife watching destination. You can enjoy nature walks through riparian corridors, scenic dirt road drives through rolling grasslands, along with 200 miles of back country hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails, and even primitive style camping under the stars.


Aguirre Lake Trail is in the eastern portion of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, around 23 miles southwest of Arivaca, where the Refuge is home to the Arivaca Cienega Trail and Arivaca Creek Trail. For more information including the guided bird walks at the Cienega Trail and hikes in Brown Canyon (both start in November and runs through April), call (520) 823-4251 or visit You can also keep up with the Refuge’s programs, bird and wildlife sightings on Facebook.


JIGSAW PUZZLE: Watch our Big Blend Video “60 Seconds of a #OneHourWalk – Aguirre Lake Trail,” and then enjoy piecing together this online jigsaw puzzle of the Aguirre Lake while listening to the Big Blend Radio interview with Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge Specialist Joshua Smith. Use the full screen icon to make it easier. Use your mouse roller or arrow keys to rotate the puzzle pieces and click and drag to put the pieces in place. Use the Image Icon to see the picture and the Ghost Icon to set your workspace.

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