Immersive Nature Tours at California’s Tijuana River Reserve

The Takeaway: Expertly guiding participants along the Tijuana River Reserve’s trails, Ron Peterson, a docent who is blind, showcases nature’s wonders beyond the realm of sight. Through his distinct perspective, he illustrates how engaging other senses deepens the connection with native plants.

A group of people with dogs smile and stand on a sidewalk leading up to a building.
Ron Peterson stands with his tour group.
A man stands with his dog among flowers.
Ron Peterson and his guide dog. Gidget, at the reserve.

California’s Tijuana River Reserve offers an extraordinary twist on nature tours, thanks to a remarkable docent, Ron Peterson. Formerly a devoted stewardship volunteer at the reserve, Ron’s journey through blindness four years ago unveiled a captivating approach to experiencing the natural world. His innovative idea led to the creation of a one-of-a-kind nature walk that brings participants closer to the environment through touch, smell, and hearing.

Drawing on his extensive knowledge of over 30 plant species, and guided by his dog Gidget, Ron crafted an immersive nature walk that allows participants to connect deeply with the environment in ways they might not have imagined. Since June, he’s led exclusive tours for organizations like the San Diego Alzheimer’s Association, Chapter One, the Braille Institute, and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve docents.

The Tijuana River Reserve has bird or nature walks almost every day on the weekends, led by fully trained docents, including a youth bird walk docent. Working alongside the reserve’s volunteer coordinator, Ron began shaping the idea even before docent training resumed in spring 2023, post-pandemic. Ron’s practice walks underwent thorough assessment. Using the California State Parks Aiming for Excellence tour evaluation tool, the reserve’s education coordinator provided valuable coaching throughout the process.

This journey was no easy task, as Ron delved into unfamiliar territory—conducting interpretive walks without sight, all while being evaluated. He not only learned the walk itself but also trained Gidget to navigate the designated route. The reserve excitedly announced the new weekend nature walk, led by Ron, in June. His monthly nature walk is titled “An Eye-Opening Experience Without Sight.”

For details on ongoing tours, visit to experience Ron Peterson's exceptional approach to nature. (2023)

Partners: NOAA, The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve