Accessible WildernessBy: Maggie Downs
Formerly home to the Whitewater Trout Farm, the Whitewater Preserve was purchased by the Wildlands Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that buys and restores landscapes throughout California. Through this effort, the Whitewater Preserve has become a terrific place to picnic, hike, and camp or participate in one of the Preserve’s many programs.
A true oasis from the desert scene, the Whitewater River gurgles and gushes year-round, creating the perfect spot to soak your tired feet. Mountains jut up against the expanse of endlessly blue sky and keen eyes might spot bighorn sheep, deer or bear, some of the many animals that share this important wildlife corridor which runs between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains.
Several elements of the former farm are now used to enhance the experience for visitors. The historic building of the Whitewater Trout Farm has been transformed into an information center and ranger station, while the old fish ponds were retained for organized catch-and-release programs for children. Paved paths which run around the ponds are available for those who want to walk but have trouble negotiating rocky paths.
Are happy trails for you? Hiking lovers will rejoice at the number of trails that can be accessed at the Preserve, including loops that offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, and a one-way, non-loop hike to the nearby Mission Creek Preserve. For the adventure-seekers, the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail is accessible through a half-mile connector trail that begins at the Whitewater Preserve ranger station. This trail runs all the way from Mexico to Canada.
Just a 30-minute drive from Palm Springs, this sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts couldn’t be more convenient. Whenever you need a breath of fresh air, simply pack a lunch, put one foot in front of the other and go!
Take a Hike
Two of Whitewater Preserve’s most popular hikes are less than four miles, family-friendly and easy enough for those with no hiking experience. Leashed dogs are allowed on all trails.
Canyon View Loop Trail 3.5 mile loop (Moderate)
This loop trail follows a section of the Pacific Crest Trail south, ascending 500 feet with great views of Whitewater Canyon and the north face of Mount San Jacinto. Spring is the best time to see fields of poppies, lupines and many other wildflowers. Leaving the ranger station, head northwest along the marked trail between two palm trees, cross the Whitewater River and reach the Pacific Crest Trail in 0.5 mile. Turn left and wind up switchbacks for roughly 0.75 mile. At the top of the switchbacks, look for the trail post and turn left for the Canyon View Loop. Follow the trail along the top of the ridge. Continue south along the ridge as it descends via switchbacks to Whitewater Canyon Road. The trail marker is just beyond the river next to a preserve sign. From there, follow the rock-lined trail back to the ranger station.
Whitewater Preserve to Red Dome 4 miles roundtrip (Easy to moderate)
A lovely introduction to Whitewater Canyon and parts of the Pacific Crest Trail, this trail is well maintained and mostly flat. Leaving the ranger station, head northwest along the marked trail, cross the Whitewater River on a foot bridge and reach the Pacific Crest Trail in 0.5 mile. Continue north along the Pacific Crest Trail for 1.5 miles to reach Red Dome, a 20-foot tall, red hill of volcanic mud in the riverbed. Beyond that the trail crosses the riverbed and can be difficult to find. Turn around and head back to the preserve.
For safety, follow these tips: 1. Always bring water, snacks, a basic first-aid kit, a whistle (to use if you need help) and a windbreaker for changes in temperature. 2. Wear sunscreen, sturdy shoes, a hat and comfortable clothing. 3. If you are unsure about a trail, the ranger station has trail maps available. 4. Write your name on the sign-in sheet inside the ranger station. If you get lost and don’t return, the rangers will know to look for you.
WHITEWATER PRESERVE 9160 Whitewater Canyon Road Whitewater, CA 92282
760-325-7222 From the Coachella Valley, take I-10 west to exit 114 toward Whitewater. Whitewater Preserve is at the end of Whitewater Canyon Road.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Admission is free. Programs are free of charge, though donations are accepted.
Permits for Preserve camping, backcountry trip parking and after-hours hiking are available at the ranger station during business hours.