Oak Tree Loop (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)
- Location: Murrieta, in southwest Riverside County. From I-15, take the Clinton Keith road exit. Turn right and head southwest for 5.1 miles. Once you are in the reserve, take a sharp right onto Tenaja Road. Go 0.7 miles and park at the Hidden Valley Trailhead on the left side of the road. Admission fee is $3 per adult or $2 per child.
- Agency: Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
- Distance: 2.1 miles
- Elevation gain: 100 feet
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Best season: Year-round (hot during the summer)
- USGS topo map: Wildomar
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- More information: here; park map here
- Rating: 6
Most hikers know the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve near Murrieta for the seasonal vernal pools that can be seen in the spring. Logic would seem to dictate that the area is too hot for summer hiking, but the short oak tree loop can be an enjoyable trip even when the weather is warm.
From the Hidden Valley trail head, make your way south east on the Coyote Trail. You climb through a grassland, with nice views of the area’s characteristic rolling hills. If the air is clear, you will get nice views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. The noise from traffic on the nearby road soon fades away. In half a mile, you meet up with with the Trans Preserve trail. Take a left and head up hill on a narrower trail, arriving at another split in a quarter mile. This is the start of the Oak Tree Loop.
The Oak Tree Loop is named for the rare Engelmann oaks. The oaks in this groove are thought to be about 300 years old. Head left, downhill through the grove, soon coming up to the bend in Clinton Keith Road. Take a sharp right to complete the loop. You will head through a very attractive part of the grove, with a lot of shade from the large oaks. The Engelmanns are larger and tend to have longer, more convoluted branches than their more common cousin, the coast live oak. During the wet months, Cole Creek trickles through this grove.
After completing the loop, you return to the Trans-Preserve Trail. Take a left, and retrace your steps back to the hidden valley trailhead.
Text and photography copyright 2012 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.