Both Stebbins Cold Canyon and Scripps Coastal reserves are open to the public year round for recreation. Several other reserves, including Younger Lagoon and Coal Oil Point, include some lands traditionally used by the public that are still accessible to surfers and hikers. Schoolchildren and the public can attend tours of Jepson Prairie Reserve throughout spring, when rainfall triggers blooms of tiny endemic flowers and a frenzy of egg laying among rare fairy shrimp and California tiger salamanders.
Access to most NRS sites is controlled to protect resources, but many reserves welcome the public to open houses, visits by community groups, and more. Reserves such as Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center, White Mountain Research Station, and the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory host free public lectures by faculty, researchers, and other experts on topics ranging from conservation biology to human medicine, climate change to rock art. McLaughlin Natural Reserve, Valentine Camp, and Sedgwick Reserve hold public hikes featuring experts on natural history. Sedgwick also hosts star parties at its Byrne Observatory for youth enrichment programs and local astronomy clubs. Many reserves also host classes open to community members. These include courses on painting and plant identification; the Aldo Leopold Foundation's Land Ethic Leaders Training at Sagehen Creek Field Station, which fosters collaborative discussions about environmental issues; as well as meetings for those involved in science, the environment, and the intersection of nature and the arts.