Once the home of the Whitewater Trout Farm and hatchery, 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 wonderful 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 catch a glimpse of 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, bear and deer that live on the Preserve lands. There are also trout and mallard ducks in the nearby marshland, and the occasional spotting of a mountain lion.
As you enter the preserve you will travel into a Whitewater Canyon and along the greenbelt that follows it, lined with sycamores, cottonwoods, ash, narrow-leaved willows, and other native bushes and shrubs.
Every now and then 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 now serves as the ranger station and visitor’s facility. Here you can find trail maps, other information as well as food to feed the trout here.
Since the acquisition by the Conservancy, the Whitewater Preserve no longer offers fishing for anglers, but they do maintain several beautiful ponds with crystal clear water where visitors can view and feed the fish. There are paved areas around the ponds, making it easily accessible for handicap 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 all the way to 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 that 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. From there, 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. At the trailhead, there is a sign-in sheet for hikers just in case you get lost. Also, be aware, 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 spend more than one day exploring this vast preserve. 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 fairly 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 heading out to the preserve.