Whitewater Canyon Preserve: Canyon Ridge Loop

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Crossing the Whitewater River (note trail on the other side)
Geology in Whitewater Canyon

Whitewater Canyon Preserve: Canyon Ridge Loop

  • Location: East of Banning and Cabazon; northwest of Palm Springs.  From I-10, take the Whitewater Canyon Road exit.  Turn left on Tipton, cross the freeway and turn right on Whitewater Canyon Road.  Almost immediately, make a left to stay on Whitewater Canyon Road and drive 4.5 miles to the end.  From Palm Springs, take the Whitewater Canyon Exit, turn right on Tipton and right on Whitewater Canyon Road.
  • Agency:  Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance:  3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain:  600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo map: Whitewater, Morongo Valley, Catclaw Flats
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Snowmelt from the east side of San Gorgonio and some of So-Cal’s other highest peaks has carved a wide canyon in the desert, with dramatic results.  Hikers who visit the Whitewater Canyon Preserve may be at points reminded of the Alaskan glaciers and of the Grand Canyon–all a two hour drive from Los Angeles, and less than an hour from Riverside, San Bernardino and Palm Springs.

From the information board, follow the signed trail north, into the canyon.  A sign on a rock informs you that Mexico is 219 miles away and Canada is 2,446 miles away.

The trail, easy to follow because it is bordered with rocks on both sides, heads up along the Whitewater Canyon wash.  Soon, the service road continues ahead while the trail branches off to the left.  You get to your first creek crossing (see photo) where you will turn right and briefly follow the banks of the water before picking up the trail on the other side.  Unless the water level is unusually high, this should not be a problem.

After reaching the other side of the wash, you arrive at a junction where the Pacific Crest Trail continues northward. To continue on the loop, take a hairpin turn to the left and head south. The P.C.T. now climbs steeply, but as it does, you’re rewarded for your efforts with great aerial views of the Whitewater River.

In 0.7 miles, you reach the top of the ridge and arrive at another fork. The P.C.T. continues south; our route, the Canyon Ridge Loop, heads to the left. For a while, the trail follows the top of the ridge. You get a 270-degree view here, which includes San Jacinto Peak and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, and the canyon to the east. A spur on the left leads to a scenic overlook which makes a nice rest spot.

Soon, the trail begins its descent, switchbacking down the ridge and meeting up with the road, half a mile south of the reserve. You can complete the loop on the road, or if you prefer, after the road crosses the bridge, you can take a signed single-track trail that leads to the picnic area and then back to the ranger station.

If you want a more ambitious hike, you can head north on the P.C.T. and make the 8-mile trip to the nearby Mission Creek Preserve. If that’s not enough of a challenge, there’s always Mexico and Canada.

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.


  1. We love Whitewater. We enjoy the fish at the old hatchery, playing in the stream, and climbing the canyon wall.

  2. Been a while since I’ve been able to say, “I’ve been there” for one of your hikes. ;D Here’s a write-up of the same trail from last spring. And here’s a write-up from my first visit, in June 2010. I hiked from the HQ north on the PCT to the edge of the watershed. And, finally, a short hike from south of Whitewater along the PCT, to the edge of the Preserve.

    I kept hoping (but have not yet managed) to hike the trail that brings you to a view of the north side of San Gorgonio.

    1. Nice pictures – I’ll have to come back in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming. Hope you get some great hiking in in 2012!

  3. Please send me the GPS coordinates for the Whitewater Canyon Preserve as we plan to visit the area on Thursday 2/9/12. Thank you.

    1. That would be N 33 59.358 and W 116 39.371 (as listed for the Ranger Station in “Afoot and Afield.” Have a good trip!

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