Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve – Sylvan Meadow Loop

Tucked up on a plateau overlooking Murrieta and Temecula lies the Santa Rosa Plateau Reserve. This 8,000 acre park features 40 miles of hiking trails, the largest remaining Engelmann oak habitat, adobes dating back to the 1860’s, vernal pools, and miles of rolling meadows studded with oaks and sycamores.

Distance: 5.7 Miles
Elevation Gained: 500′
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 3.5 hours
Critters: hawks, squirrels

Get there like this.

Note: There is a $3 fee per person for day use. Iron rangers take cash, but you can use a credit card at the visitor center, which features a lot of great exhibits.

This is one of those landscapes that just screams “California.” Rolling grasslands, oak woodlands, partly cloudy skies, and, when in season, wildflowers galore. Of course, there are no wildflowers to be found this time of year, so the grass is a flat, beige grey, but this does little to diminish the beauty of this place. Santa Rosa Plateau epitomizes the best of what is becoming increasingly rare in Southern California.

Among those highlights are the last great stands of Engelmann oak, vernal pools that come to life following winter rains, and old adobes that date back a century and a half. Beyond those notables, the plateau features miles of hiking that can range from easy to strenuous, yet rarely with the huge inclines that many Southern California hikes come with. This is a place where you can take long, comprehensive journeys as well as slow, lazy walks designed to soak in all of the sites.

Kelly and I opted for the latter sort of hike as we took a long, casual, and unhurried loop around Sylvan Meadows. Sylvan Meadows lie on the northern half of the park, which is bisected by Clinton Keith Road. The most popular features – the pools and the adobes – can be found on the southern half of the park, along with the bulk of the hiking trails. While I am certain that end of the park is just as great or better in some respects, I plan to save it for March and April when I can return for the possibility of wildflowers.

The Sylvan Meadow Loop passes through some lovely stands of Engelmann oaks. I want to dedicate a blog specifically to these particular trees, which are a relic species that has become increasingly rare due to development. Once called the “Pasadena Oak,” these oaks are hard to find. They almost do not exist in natural conditions around Pasadena, and the best place to find them is here. They have a ton of gnarled character, and it’s assuring to know that these lovely trees remain protected here.

Kelly and I also enjoyed a brief side-trip into a place called Stevenson Canyon. This section of the hike seems a little superfluous since it’s a one way trip off the main loop. However, this tiny little canyon features a dense canopy of live oaks that are covered in moss and lichens. Kelly and I set up a picnic blanket, had a few tasty treats, and relaxed for a good 45, enjoying the quiet business of the woods and fresh coolness of the post-storm air.

I look forward to coming back here for more exploration. Since this is a pretty large park comprising a varied and extensive environment, there are a lot of different opportunities for hiking. With 40 miles available, one would need about 3-4 different trips to really get a good feel for the place.

Either way, Southern California’s natural features continue to surprise and delight me. Rather than mourn for what has been lost, which is clearly beyond significant, places like Santa Rosa Plateau allow us to remain grateful for what we still have and hopeful that future generations will be able to enjoy them.

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