Stevenson Canyon and Sylvan Meadows in the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
- Location: Near Murrieta in southeast Riverside County. From I-15, take Clinton Keith Road for 5 miles and park at the visitor’s center on the left. Admission is $3 per adult or $2 per child.
- Agency: Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
- Distance: 6.1 miles
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: November – May
- USGS topo map: “Wildomar”
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
- More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
The Santa Rosa Plataeu Ecological Reserve in Murrieta may best be known for its Vernal Pools, which come to life in the spring. However, with dozens of miles of trails crossing its 8,000 acres, the park has a lot more to see when the pools are dry. This loop explores the northwestern corner of the park, treating visitors to open grasslands and secluded oak-filled canyons. On days of good visibility, views of San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, the Palomars and Santa Rosas are also among the highlights.
There are several possible variations on this loop; pick up a map at the trail head, or if none are available check in the visitors’ center across the street. You can also download a map here.
From the parking area, follow the trail into a pleasant oak woodland, soon reaching a junction. The Cajalco Trail (formerly the Torino Trail and your return route) is to the left; take the Tovashal Trail on the right. You follow it in and out of more stands of oaks before reaching the Sylvan Meadows Trail (1 mile.) Turn right and follow the trail around the open field, enjoying some wide-ranging views.
At 1.5 miles from the start, you reach a junction with the Shivela Trail, the route to Stevenson Canyon. Follow it uphill for 0.4 miles before reaching another signed junction. Turn right on the trail signed for Stevenson Canyon and soon you reach a Y-fork. Bear left and drop into Stevenson Canyon, as dense a woodland as you’re likely to find anywhee in So Cal. (Be careful of mountain bikers and poison oak).
After 0.3 miles the trails merge again. Turn right and head back toward the Shivela Trail, enjoying some good views of the plateau.
After following the Shivela Trail back to the Sylvan Meadows Trail, continue your counter-clockwise loop around the field. You reach the Sylvan Meadows Trail Head 3.8 miles from the start (including the Stevenson detour). Soon after you have your choice of the Motrero (right) or Engelmann Oak (left) trails; if you have time take the Engelmann Oak, which is more scenic and is set farther back from the road.
After the two trails merge again, bend left and head north back in the direction of the trail head. A few shorter trails briefly separate and merge again; you can explore these if you have time. The main route reaches a junction with the Cajalco Trail at 5.1 miles. Turn right and follow the Cajalco Trail to a junction; here you can either continue on the Cajalco Trail or the Old Cattle Trail, both of which re-connect. From there, a short distance brings you back to the junction with the main trail. Turn right and follow it back to the parking area.
Text and photography copyright 2014 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.