Cottonwod tree, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains

Mission Creek Preserve

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Mission Creek, San Bernardino Mountains, CA
Water in the west fork of Mission Creek
Dirt road leading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve
Heading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Mission Creek Preserve

  • Location: Eastern San Bernardino Mountains, northwest of the Coachella Valley. From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 4.7 miles and turn left on Mission Creek Road (dirt but passable by all vehicles). Follow it 2.3 miles to its end at the entrance to the preserve. From the Yucca Valley/29 Palms area, follow Highway 62 southwest to Mission Creek Road, which is 16.2 miles past the junction with Highway 247. If you hit Pierson Blvd, you’ve come too far. Turn right on to the dirt road and follow it to its end.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo map: Whitewater, Morongo Valley, Catclaw Flats
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Mission Creek Preserve home page here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA
0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The 4,760-acre Mission Creek Preserve occupies an important transitional zone near the eastern base of the San Bernardino Mountains, offering as good a view of the range as can be found from almost anywhere in the desert. The preserve will be a crucial piece of the proposed Sand to Snow National Monument.

Cottonwod tree, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains
0:25 – Cottonwood tree in the Painted Hills wetlands (times are approximate)

If you contact the preserve, you may be able to have them unlock the gate, allowing you to drive 1.6 miles to the Stone House and begin your hike from there (high clearance vehicles recommended). Otherwise, start at the lower trail head outside the gate.

Follow the wide dirt road, passing by the ruins of some stone cabins, and continue up canyon with the San Bernardino Mountains looming in the distance. At about a mile from the start, you pass an impressive cottonwood tree and make a sharp right turn, climbing out of the canyon. Soon after you reach the Stone House, where you can look at maps and other displays inside or enjoy a picnic beneath one of the shaded tables. You also can enjoy a wooden rocking chair on the porch of the house.

Stone house in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA
0:41 – The stone house

Past the Stone House, the road ends and becomes a single-track trail, weaving in and out of the stream bed, following the trail arrows. At about 2 miles from the start, you reach the reserve boundary. You head up the west fork of Mission Creek, through an increasingly diverse landscape of cottonwoods, cholla, yuccas and more.

Trail in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA
1:22 – Heading into the canyon on Mission Creek’s west fork

At 3.7 miles from the start, you reach the Pacific Crest Trail, the turnaround point for this hike. A popular alternative is, with a pre arranged shuttle, to continue south for 4 miles to the Whitewater Preserve. (People who do this route often do it start from Whitewater, which has less of a net elevation gain).

Mountains, sky and bushes in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA
1:40 – Looking back from the Pacific Crest Trail

Note that as of this writing, water levels are low and the trail is easy to follow as it crosses the creek. However, if conditions make navigation difficult, keep in mind the following GPS coordinates : N 34 00.997, W 116 37.690 for the stone house; N 34 01.049, W 116 37.971 for the preserve boundary and N 34 01.493, W 116 39.556 for the junction with the P.C.T.

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.

One comment

  1. Nice. I keep intending to hike either from this Mission Creek side or the Whitewater side, which I haven’t done in at least a year. I wondered about being able to hike from Mission Creek without joining hikes organized by the Conservancy. This answered my question.

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