Horseshoe Loop Trail (Irvine Regional Park)

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Spring wildflowers, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Looking northwest from the Horseshoe Loop Trail, Irvine Regional Park

Greenery at Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Oaks and green grass on the Horseshoe Trail, Irvine Regional Park

Horseshoe Loop Trail (Irvine Regional Park)

  • Location: Santa Ana Foothills east of Orange.  From the 55 freeway, take the Chapman Avenue exit and head east for 4.2 miles until you get to Jamboree Road.  Take a left on Jamboree and a right into the park.  From the north, take the Katella Avenue exit from the 55 freeway, head east and drive 4.6 miles to Jamboree and take a left (Katella becomes Villa Park and then Santiago Canyon Road on the way).  Parking is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.  For access to this hike, park in lot #7.
  • Agency: Irvine Regional Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Orange
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trip descriptions (slightly different routes) here, here and here
  • Rating: 5
Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:00 – Leaving parking lot #7; note the trail branching off on the right side of the road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

In addition to being Orange County’s oldest public park (1887), Irvine Regional Park is home to the O.C. Zoo, a miniature railroad, several nice picnic areas and for the purposes of this website, a number of hiking trails. The trails loop around the park, heading northwest to Santiago Oaks Regional Park and south to Peters Canyon Regional Park, making for endless possible routes of all lengths. While Irvine isn’t as isolated as Caspers, Whiting Ranch and some of Orange County’s other regional parks, it still offers a nice variety of scenery, a convenient escape from city life. Though it may be hot during the summer, the hills and distances are moderate enough for it to be considered a year-round hiking destination.

Horseshoe Loop Trail, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:04 – Turn left on the Horseshoe Loop Trail (times are approximate)

This post follows the route as described in “Afoot and Afield”, mainly utilizing the park’s popular Horseshoe Loop Trail; also the Toyon Trail and some paved service and access roads. Hikers on a tight time frame should be able to easily knock it off in an hour; those hiking with small kids or dogs (this is one of the few dog-friendly regional parks in O.C.) should allow an hour an a half to follow this route.

Bench at an overlook, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:21 – Overlook on the Horseshoe Loop Trail

From lot #7, head left on the paved road and pick up the trail on the right, heading uphill between two wooden fences. You soon reach a junction with the Horseshoe Loop Trail where you’ll turn left and then almost immediately left again as the Puma Ridge Trail heads uphill. Follow the Horseshoe Trail along a north-facing ridge, enjoying views of the Santa Ana Mountains. In the spring, the grass and wildflowers can be quite attractive and considering that you are only about one hundred feet above the basin of the park, the views are quite wide-ranging.

Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:32 – Rejoining the park road; trail follows parallel on the right

More climbing brings you to a vista point (0.8 miles) where you can sit on a bench beneath a pine or under a shade structure. From here, the trail descends to cross a private service road (1.1 miles) and soon after joins the main road, which it parallels for 0.2 miles to the last parking lot. The road, still paved but now closed to the public, heads north and then west, skirting the park’s boundary.

Rooster Rock, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:50 – Rooster Rock

At 1.8 miles, the northern branch of the Horseshoe Trail splits off to the right, heading uphill. Take a short detour to Rooster Rock, a sandstone formation likely named for its outcrops that resemble poultry beaks and combs. A pair of oaks provide nice shade beneath the rock while a few use trails allow the curious to explore the top of the formation, which offers a bird’s eye view of this area of the park.

After visiting Rooster Rock, head back and follow the Horseshoe Trail as it makes its way up a hillside to a junction. The two paths soon merge again, although the right fork climbs higher and offers better views. From here, the trail levels out, contouring along the north side of the park to a junction at 2.3 miles. This is the Toyon Trail, which descends to a shade structure and then follows a wooden staircase back down to the center of the park. Head right on the paved road and follow as it passes a picnic area, the railroad tracks and a small lake before ending at a T-junction. Turn right and follow the main road back to the parking area.

Shade structure at Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

1:05 – Shade structure on the Toyon Trail

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

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Sunset over Simi Valley from Coquina Mine, Ventura County, CA

Sunset from Coquina Mine

Panoramic view of Las Llajas Canyon, Simi Valley, CA

Descending into Las Lllajas Canyon on the return

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

  • Location: Evening Sky Drive, Simi Valley. From the 118 Freeway, take the Yosemite Ave. exit. Head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and go 1.3 miles to Evening Sky Drive. Turn right and drive 0.5 miles to the signed trail head on the left side of the road. Park where available.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Simi Valley East
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Panoramic city and mountain views, abandoned mining gear, limestone formations, a quiet oak canyon and a rigorous workout are the highlights of this enjoyable trip on the outskirts of Simi Valley. The destination is Coquina Mine, a limestone quarry that was abandoned in the 1930s, although the expansive network of trails in Marr Ranch Open Space, Las Llajas (YA-has) make it easy to extend the hike.

Las Llajas Trail Head, Simi Valley, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Evening Sky Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the Las Llajas trail head, follow the paved road to a T-junction. Bear right and descend into Las Llajas Canyon. The road becomes dirt and you follow it for an attractive if not terribly varied 1.5 miles or so, passing a few private inholdings and private roads branching off, including a bee colony about 1.1 miles from the trail head. As you head up the canyon, keep an eye out for interesting limestone formations on the hills above. If there have been recent rains, the sounds of a seasonal stream accompanies your walk.

Oaks in Las Llajas Canyon near Simi Valley, Ventura County, CA

0:18 – Oaks in Las Llajas Canyon (times are approximate)

At 1.8 miles, shortly after the trail crosses the stream, look for a faint but unambiguous single-track trail branching off to the left. The trail begins a steep, crooked ascent, clinging to the hillside, providing a nice aerial view of Las Llajas Canyon. After 0.6 miles of steady climbing, the trail briefly levels out. You pass by some rusting mining equipment as the trail winds around the north side of a ridge.

0:38 - Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

0:38 – Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

At 2.7 miles, you reach a T-junction. Follow the trail as it makes a hard left, climbing a few more switchbacks with excellent views to the south of Simi Valley, the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. As you pass by an abandoned engine on the left side of the trail, you’ll also notice a large steam shovel perched on the hill in the distance; that is the destination. At another T-junction, turn left and walk the last few yards to the steam shovel. Shortly beyond it, you get an outstanding view which includes Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. In the distance to the north is the round, antenna-covered summit of Oat Mountain, the highest peak in the immediate area.

Trail in the hills above Las Llajas Canyon near Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

1:07 – Left turn at the T-junction

After enjoying the view, retrace your steps. If you want to extend the hike, you can walk farther up Las Llajas Canyon; back at the first T-junction, you can also explore more by following the vague path to the right. This reaches a saddle where you can climb to a vista point with more all-encompassing views.

Steam shovel, Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

1:18 – Steam shovel at the Coquina Mine site (turnaround point)

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Willow Hole (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Sunlight at Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

Sunlight above Willow Hole

Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees on the Willow Hole Trail

Willow Hole  (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62 in the town of Joshua Tree (about 6 miles east of Yucca Valley, 27 miles east of I-10 and about 15 miles west of Twentynine Palms) take Park Blvd. (signed for the park) south, past the entrance booth, and drive for a total of 11.6 miles to the Boy Scout Trail Head. The park entrance fee is $15 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or $30 per vehicle for an annual pass. The America the Beautiful inter-agency pass ($80 per year) is also accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – April (day use only)
  • USGS topo map: “Indian Cove”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
  • Rating: 7
Boy Scout Trail Head, start of the hike to Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This long but nearly level hike travels through a wide plain filled with Joshua trees and jumbles of boulders, enters a wash and finally arrives at oasis-like Willow Hole. Some veteran hikers might find the flat stretches monotonous, but the scenic variety of the last mile is worth the journey.

View of San Gorgonio from the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:30 – View of San Gorgonio at the junction with the Willow Hole Trail

From the Keys West trail head, follow the Boy Scout Trail north for 1.2 miles. Along the way, look for San Gorgonio in the distance on the left. At a Y-junction, bear right on the trail signed for Willow Hole. It continues its flat course through the Joshua trees with the Wonderland of Rocks formation in the distance, for just over a mile.

Entering a wash on the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:57 – Entering the wash

At about 2.3 miles, you enter a wash where the vegetation becomes predominantly juniper trees. The trail bears right and briefly leaves the wash before re-entering it. There are a few rocks to climb over, though nothing too strenuous. Stay straight as another wash comes in from the right.

Leaving the wash on the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:05 – Leaving the wash

At 3.2 miles, you reach a wide sandy clearing.  On the left side, and narrow trail leads between the rocks. Follow it into a sandy branch of the wash, soon arriving at a majestic gateway formed by two towers of rocks. Soon after, you will see the trees of Willow Hole.

1:20 - Heading between the rocks, approaching Willow Hole

1:20 – Heading between the rocks, approaching Willow Hole

Here, you can relax beneath the shade and enjoy the peace and quiet before returning by the same route. If you go during a particularly wet winter you may find pools of water (or perhaps ice). Hikers wanting more of an adventure can continue through the wash for a more difficult 2.5 miles, eventually reaching Rattlesnake Canyon and Indian Cove.

Geology near Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

1:27 – “Gateway” to Willow hole

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Trees and geology at Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

1:35 – Willow Hole

Piedras Pintadas Trail

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Bernardo Mountain and Lake Hodges from the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

Bernardo Mountain and Lake Hodges as seen from the Piedras Pindatas Trail

Wildflowers, Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

Spring wildflowers on the Piedras Pintadas Trail

Piedras Pintadas Trail

      • Location: Rancho Bernardo Community Tennis Club (part of Rancho Bernardo Community Park), 18402 W. Bernardo Drive, San Diego. From I-15, take the West Bernardo Drive/Pomadero Road exit. Turn left if you’re coming from the south; right if from the north and follow West Bernardo Drive 0.5 miles to Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Turn right into the park, pass the Glassman Center and park where available near the tennis courts.
      • Agency: San Dieguito River Park
      • Distance: 3.3 miles (out and back with loop)
      • Elevation gain: 250 feet
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round
      • USGS topo map: Escondido
      • Recommended gear: sun hat
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Trip description (longer route) here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 5
Piedras Pintadas trail head, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click the thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This section of the San Dieguito River Park was once inhabited by the Kumeyaay Indians who used the natural resources in and around Lake Hodges. Today hikers can enjoy views of Bernardo Mountain, Lake Hodges, spring flowers and a small seasonal waterfall, all the while learning about the area’s natural history from a series of interpretive plaques.

Information board on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:02 – Turn left at the info board (times are approximate)

There are multiple trails leading from the community center, making many different routes possible. The trip described here samples the area’s scenery. It’s short enough to squeeze in before or after work or as weekend excursion but can also be easily extended on any of several other trails that branch off.

Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:04 – Left turn at the junction

From the parking area, follow the signed Piedras Pintadas Trail north to a junction (0.1 miles.) At an information board, turn left (west), merge with another trail and make another left turn (0.2 miles), continuing to follow the sings for the Piedras Pindatas Trail. Stay straight at another junction and enter the wetlands of one of Lake Hodges’s inlets. Interpretive plaques identify the flora, including elderberry, wild cucumber and more. You cross a boardwalk and then a larger footbridge from which you get good views of Bernardo Mountain to the north and Battle Mountain, with its characteristic cross, to the east.

Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:10 – Battle Mountain as seen from the footbridge

On the opposite side of the bridge, bear right and follow the trail around the south edge of the lake. Though the noise of traffic from I-15 is still audible, by this point it is noticeably quieter than earlier. You pass by an impressive oak which unfortunately has been blocked off due to human encroachment. Soon after, you follow another inlet, where you are greeted with the pleasant surprise of a 15-foot seasonal waterfall (one mile from the start).

Seasonal waterfall on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:25 – Seasonal waterfall

The trail then enters more wetlands before emerging at a junction. Bear right and follow the trail to the beginning of the loop (1.2 miles.) The short loop can be hiked in either direction but by going clockwise, you get to save the best scenery for last. Follow the loop as it descends gradually, passing by a tall oak with a bench underneath where one can rest and enjoy a view of Lake Hodges and Bernardo Mountain. Past the oak, stay right as the San Dieguito River Trail branches off to the left. You climb to the top of a ridge, weaving in and out of some large boulders, taking in some panoramic views before descending back to the start of the loop (2.1 miles.) Retrace your steps back to the community center.

Wetlands on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:30 – Wetlands

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View from the top of the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

1:00 – View from the top of the loop

Slaughterhouse Canyon (Murrieta)

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View from the top of Slaughterhouse Canyon, Murrieta, CA

View from the top of Slaughterhouse Canyon

Oaks and sunlight in Slaughterhouse Canyon, Murrieta, CA

Sunlight through oaks, Slaughterhouse Canyon

Slaughterhouse Canyon (Murrieta)

  • Location: Murrieta, near the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. From I-15, take the Clinton Keith Road exit and follow it southeast for 4 miles to Avenida La Cresta. Turn right, go 0.3 miles and turn right to stay on Avenida La Cresta. Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Via La Entrada. Go 0.4 miles to the end of the road and park in a small dirt turnout on the right.
  • Agency: Trails at Santa Rosa Home Owners Association
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Wildomar”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Point-of-view video of a mountain bike trail ride here; mountain biking Meetup description here
  • Rating: 5
Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail Head, Murrieta, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Its name may sound intimidating and indeed it has a reputation among mountain bikers as an “extreme” trail but the hike through Slaughterhouse Canyon is a family-friendly nature walk. Veteran hikers who have explored the trails of the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve and the San Mateo area of the Cleveland National Forest might be pleasantly surprised by Slaughterhouse Canyon, which is more popular with mountain bikers than pedestrians. The downsides of this trail are litter and the hard-to-ignore noise from nearby Clinton Keith Road, but it is still a worthwhile destination if you’re in the area, a good example of how nature and open space can exist in close proximity to civilization.

Oak woodland, Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:06 – Entering the woods (times are approximate)

The trail leaves from the south side of the end of Via Entrada. It is unmarked, although a sign indicates the terms of use dictated by the home owners association who oversees the trail. Follow it as it drops into the canyon, enjoying nice views of distant San Gorgonio Mountain. The trail soon enters an attractive woodland, primarily oaks with a few sycamores and willows mixed in.

For the next half mile, the trail weaves in and out of the woods, following the course of the canyon as it parallels Clinton Keith Road. At three quarters of a mile, the trail splits; the two forks rejoin almost immediately. A mile from the start, the trail enters another particularly impressive grove of oaks, some of which tower upwards of fifty feet, virtually blocking out the sun. This is a nice spot to sit and rest on the return to charge your batteries for the ascent back to Via Entrada.

Oak woodlands, Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:25 – Oak woodlands

At 1.3 miles, the trail crosses the stream bed on a small wooden footbridge. Soon after, it bends east and climbs out of the canyon, reaching a somewhat unceremonious ending at Clinton Keith Road, near a fire station. Bikers have the option of returning via the road, but hikers would be advised to retrace their steps back through the canyon.

Footbridge on the Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:31 – Footbridge

As for the canyon’s name, “Images of America: Temecula” mentions a “slaughterhouse that stood on the west bank of Murrieta Creek, just south of town.” According to the book, the slaughterhouse burned down in 1928 and a replacement was built, operating until the 1950s.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View of the Santa Ana Mountains from the end of the Slaughterhouse Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:40 – Looking back from the turnaround point at Clinton Keith Road

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

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Wilderness Gardens Preserve, Pala, CA

View of Wilderness Gardens Preserve from the Upper Meadow Trail

Oaks and sycamores in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

Oaks and sycamores on the Upper Meadow Trail

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

  • Location: Highway 76 between Pala and Pauma Valley, 27 miles east of I-5 and 9.7 miles east of I-15. Turn right onto Bodie Blvd, signed for the park.  From the Riverside/Temecula area, take I-15 south to Temecula Parkway. Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Pechanga Parkway. Follow it for a total of 9 miles (it becomes Pala Road and Pala-Temecula Road en route) to its ending at Pala Mission Road. Turn left and follow Pala Mission Road 0.5 miles to Highway 76. Bear left onto Highway 76 and follow it 3 miles to the park entrance. Parking is $3 per vehicle (cash only).
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October-June; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – 4pm. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Pala
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; articles about the park here and here
  • Rating: 6
Wilderness Gardens Preserve trail head, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This attractive 676-acre park occupies the site of a former retreat of Los Angeles newspaper magnate Manchester Boddy. The park’s vegetation is a mix of non-natives such as eucalyptus, holly, oleander and native oak, sycamore and even a few cacti.

Fire road in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:02 – Junction with the Upper Meadow Trail (times are approximate)

There are several miles of trails, making for multiple possible routes. One can enjoy a stroll here without having a particular destination or itinerary but a complete circuit of the park, as described here, doesn’t take much time or effort.

From the parking area, follow the main dirt road heading west, almost immediately crossing the San Luis Rey River (virtually dry as of this writing, but during rainy winters, expect calf-high water) and arriving at a junction with the Upper Meadow Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction but by going counter-clockwise, as described here, you’ll save the most interesting scenery for last.

Indian motreros, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:07 – Motreros

Follow the fire road, keeping an eye out for some Indian morteros in a rock on the left. You pass by a few nice oak specimens before arriving at a junction. The two routes soon rejoin so take either. Once they meet up again, turn right and walk a short distance to the Pond Trail. Turn right and follow it 0.2 miles around the circumference of a small seasonal pond and continue to a junction with the Camelia View Trail. This 0.7 mile loop (part single-track, part fire road) can be hiked in either direction, taking you to the western boundary of the preserve.

Pond at Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – The pond

After completing the loop, head back, following the trail past the pond to the beginning of the Upper Meadow Trail. You begin ascending (the only significant climbing on the entire route) through an attractive oak and sycamore woodland, arriving at Upper Meadow, where you get a good view of the Palomar Mountains. Shortly beyond is a bench located at a spot with panoramic views to the west of the entire preserve and beyond.

Upper Meadow Trail, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County

0:50 – Start of the Upper Meadow Trail

After enjoying the vistas, make a steep descent on a wooden beam staircase, soon arriving back on the river bed floor. Bear right and follow the trail back to the first junction and to the trail head. If you have time consider exploring the half-mile Alice Fries Nature Trail, which starts and ends in the parking lot.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:58 - View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

0:58 – View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

 

Covington Crest (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Sunset on the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset on the Covington Crest Trail

Joshua Tree at dusk, Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree on the Covington Crest Trail

Covington Crest (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: High desert near Yucca Valley. From Highway 62 (23.6 miles east of I-10 and 18 miles west of Twentynine Palms), head south on La Contenta Road. It becomes dirt after a mile when it crosses Yucca Trail. Continue on the dirt road, which is generally in good condition and should be passable by all vehicles. After 1.9 miles, bear left at the fork, following the signs for the park and Covington Flat. Follow this road into the park for a total of 6 miles and turn right on another dirt road. Follow it to its end, turn left and drive 1.8 miles to Covington Flat.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • USGS topo maps: “Joshua Tree South”, “East Deception Canyon”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip description here; Flickr album here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
Covington Crest Trail Head, Joshua Tree National Park

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short trail is a little bit off the beaten path, but it is well worth the effort to reach it. Highlights include views of some of the biggest Joshua trees in the park, pleasantly cool high desert air (almost a mile above sea level) and an exceptional view of the Coachella Valley at the end. The trail’s remote location gives it a very isolated feel.

Grove of Joshua Trees on the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:19 – Grove of Joshua Trees (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the signed Trail south. You walk through a forest of Joshua trees, some towering more than thirty feet high. Other vegetation includes cacti and junipers; at about 1.2 miles from the start you walk through a hallway like passage with the trees close on both sides.

Soon after, Toro Peak, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio all come into view. You will notice the land dropping off not far in front of you and then you reach the lip of Covington Crest.

Juniper trees on the Covington Flats Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:32 – “Garden” of junipers

Here, you get as dramatic a view as you will find of the Coachella Valley.  The Santa Rosas in particular look spectacular from this angle, rising above Palm Springs and off course the “Saints” never disappoint.  Sunsets are excellent here so take your time and enjoy them; the route back is short enough and easy enough that with a headlamp, or a good phone flashlight, it can be done fairly easily in the dark.

Dusk view of San Jacinto Peak from the end of the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:45 – Dusk view of San Jacinto and the Coachella Valley at the trail’s end

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.