Wiashal & Cole Canyon Trails (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)
- Location: Murrieta. From I-15, take the Clinton Keith exit and head southwest (turn left if you’re coming from the south, right if you’re coming from the north) and go 1.7 miles to Calle del Oso Oro. Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Clear Creek St. Turn right and go 0.2 miles to miles to Placer Creek St. Turn left and go 0.1 miles to the end of the street and turn right on Single Oak Way. Park at the end of Single Oak Way. The trail begins on the north side of the street.
- Agency: Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
- Distance: 7.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, terrain, elevation gain, distance)
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo map: “Wildomar”
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
- More information: Every trail report here; hike description here
- Rating: 7
Murrieta’s Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is best known for its rolling hills, oak woodlands, historic adobes and (in the spring) the vernal pools, but the Wiashal Trail showcases the park’s wilder side. With steep ascents and descents over frequently rugged terrain, this hike is considerably more challenging than most of the other routes in the reserve. It loses some points due to the unfortunate amounts of trash and graffiti in the lower areas of the trail, and due to a somewhat monotonous upper end and anticlimactic finish at Clinton Keith Road, but the trail is still a great workout with a lot of scenic variety; a must do if you live in the area and a worthwhile place to drive to from Orange County or San Diego. The hike is popular as a point-to-point with a fairly easy to set up car shuttle. Mountain bikers and equestrians are also common on this trail.
There are several informal trails in this area that lead to the beginning of the Cole Canyon Trail and later the Wiashal Trail, but the route described here is scenic and direct, fairly easy to follow. From the end of Single Oak, follow a gravel trail briefly north before taking a hairpin turn to the left, heading south. The trail splits (both paths rejoin, but the left route descends more gently. Stay right at two junctions and enter a pleasant oak woodland, about half a mile from the start. Keep an eye out for a rock with two “motreros” (small round holes) carved inside, on the left side of the trail.
After leaving the clearing, the trail starts a short but steep ascent and begins heading north. You drop into another canyon (1 mile) and arrive at a junction where you will bear left, passing by a sign indicating Cole Canyon. Now the work begins: 700 feet of elevation gain in the next mile. After passing a sign and fence indicating the beginning of the Wiashal Trail (1.3 miles), the grade mellows a little bit. The views of the Murrieta area–extending to the San Jacinto range on clear days–are better and better as you climb higher.
At 1.9 miles, you reach a T-junction where you get a nice aerial view of Clinton Keith Road where you will turn left. The trail ascends sharply, reaching a short spur that leads to an overlook (2.3 miles.) The overlook is a good destination for those who want a shorter hike; at this point, you have achieved most of the workout and experienced the best scenery of the trip.
However if you want to continue to the end of the Wishal Trail, head downhill, watching your footing on the loose terrain (hiking poles will be helpful). As you descend, you get some nice views of the main area of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. The remaining mile-plus of the Wiashal Trail makes a couple of moderate ascents and descents before reaching its end, a parking area at Clinton Keith Road (and an alternate starting point).
In case you were wondering, the trail’s name is pronounced “WEE-uh-shawl.”
Text and photography copyright 2013 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.