Once the home of the Whitewater Trout Farm, the Whitewater Preserve in Palm Springs has become a sanctuary of the Southern California Wildlands Conservancy.
Abutting the San Gorgonio Wilderness and part of the 33,000 acre Sand to Snow Preserve System, it is a great place to visit and a great jump-off spot for trails in the region. It is also a fantastic destination for a picnic or to enjoy one of the many programs sponsored by the Preserve, including guided nature walks, star parties, and nature photography classes.
Whitewater Preserve Wildlife
The Preserve’s rich riparian habitat is always teeming with life no matter what time of year you go and is home to many different species of birds, including the endangered Southwest Willow Flycatcher and the Bell’s Vireo.
In the summer, you may glimpse migrating birds such as Summer Tanagers and Vermillion Flycatchers, making it one of Southern California’s best locations for bird watching.
Wildlife enthusiast will get their fill, as they will enjoy catching a peep of Big Horn sheep, bobcats, coyotes, bears, and deer that live on the Preserve lands. There are also mallard ducks in the nearby marshland and the occasional spotting of a mountain lion.
You will travel into a Whitewater Canyon and along the greenbelt, lined with sycamores, cottonwoods, ash, narrow-leaved willows, and other native bushes and shrubs as you enter the Preserve.
There will be an occasional view of the river that formed this majestic canyon with its water, accompanied by its refreshing sounds.
The Whitewater River starts at the highest point in southern California on the southeastern slopes of Mt. San Gorgonio, and it ends at the Salton Sea. The river is fed by rainwater and melted snow and flows year-round.
After a few miles of driving, you will arrive at the Whitewater Visitor’s Center. Once a historic lodge, it serves as the ranger station and visitor’s facility. Here you can find trail maps and information about the area.
The Whitewater Preserve features several beautiful ponds with crystal clear water. Several years ago, the ponds were home to rainbow trout that visitors could view and feed. Today, the fish are gone, but paved areas around the ponds make them easily accessible for disabled and elderly visitors.
Whitewater Preserve Hiking
This natural treasure is also a great place to escape the cold of typical southern California winters, allowing visitors to get in some hiking miles without dealing with ice, snow, and mud on the trails.
Among those trails is the Red Dome trail, a hiking four-mile trek that starts at the visitor’s center and reaches the famous Pacific Crest Trail. The San Gorgonio Wilderness is about a ½ mile from the trailhead.
Other popular trails include the Whitewater-Mission Creek drainage crest. A 6.6-mile round trip starts with a two-mile stretch of the Red Dome trail but then heads east, gaining 600 feet of elevation on its way to the crest. Hikers can continue to the rock house at Mission Creek Preserve just 3.2 miles further.
Before starting any hike, stop at the Visitor Center to check on the wash conditions. There is a sign-in sheet for hikers at the trailhead just in case you get lost. Also, be aware that the Whitewater Preserve is only open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
However, there is a group campground for those who want to explore this vast Preserve for more than one day. Group camping is available by reservation only.
Where is Whitewater Preserve
Whitewater Preserve lies at the end of Whitewater Canyon Road, north of Palm Springs off Interstate 10. After leaving the freeway, the Preserve is a five-mile drive up Whitewater Canyon. There are several places where you can pull over and access the year-round river.
The road is paved, although it’s relatively run-down condition. Any type of car should be able to make the trip up the canyon without any problems. This area is subject to flash floods, so check the weather report before visiting the Preserve.