Spring time is here and it’s one of the best times to get out for a hike. The much needed rains have let up here in So Cal and that not only means we will see a lot of green but also the vernal pools at the Santa Rosa Plateau have been filled! So it’s no secret that one of my go to hiking spots for my family is the Santa Rosa Plateau, the ecological reserve is located in Murrieta about 4 miles off of the Clinton Keith exit. The Plateau hosts plenty of trail options, a nature center, historic adobes, and of course the vernal pools.
The vernal pools are only really visible after the rainy season. So this year is one of the best times to visit them since California experienced so much rain to help get us out of the long drought we have been under. The vernal pools are a great way to see a lot of the wildlife that the Plateau houses. Just on our visit alone we saw tadpoles, dragonflies, butterflies, ducks, a few different types of birds, grasshoppers, a snake (more about this later!) and the teeny hard to spot fairy shrimp. Plus the rains have brought about a Super Bloom so along the trails you are sure to see beautiful wildflowers.
*A fun game for my kids was to see how many different colors of flowers we could spot.*
For our visit to the Plateau I parked at the trail entrance for the vernal pools which is the last entrance to the Santa Rosa Plateau trails off of Via Volcano Rd. As were not planning on spending the day hiking the trails since we had come off of a little morning adventure I opted on this closer parking location. When you park at this location there is a trail that leads straight to the large vernal pool. You are also able to pay the visit fee at the drop box at the entrance of the trail. If you are up for it from this trail you can head to the historic adobe buildings as well. It all just depends on how much time you want to spend exploring. The trails at the Santa Rosa Plateau are great for beginners in my opinion. My kids have been on several hikes here and have done great. We have hiked just around the nature center, we have taken this trail to the vernal pools (during an off season) and continued down to the adobes. My kids and I on the way back from the pools ventured down a little on the hidden valley trail this visit. I would like to go back and check this trail out a little more.
So a little confession, before I headed down to the Plateau I did a little snooping on Instagram under the Places tab to see if there was any water still at the pools. Since the heavy rain I have been wanting to take the kids to see the vernal pools, but I didn’t want to make the trip only to be disappointed. The last time we hiked this trail was during the off season so while it wasn’t entirely empty it just wasn’t what I was expecting to see. So some of the most recent “posts” were up to days before and I was a little apprehensive that they would still look as full since the weather has begun to heat up. But it was still a chance to see them with water so we loaded up some hiking supplies and made for the pools. I was so glad we went, they were still full and the weather was warm so the muddy trails were dry. The parking lot was pretty full when we arrived and we passed quite a few people on the trails but it was surprisingly not crowded.
There was quite a while that we had the vernal pool all to ourselves. It was so nice to just sit and enjoy the view. Of course the highlight for the kids was seeing all the inhabitants. I mentioned much of what we saw above but the most exciting one we saw was a snake. It wasn’t a very large snake but it was a snake and that was enough to make my kid’s day. We watched the little snake swim around the pool a bit and a fellow hiker informed us about how it was most likely hunting tadpoles. This went along well with what my daughter has been learning in school about food chains.
Our little friend may be hard to spot but he is located in the center of this photo. He wasn’t a very big snake so he camouflaged well amoung the vegetation.
Another great time exploring the Santa Rosa Plateau. I was almost tempting to go hiking further because of how picturesque the landscape was. In the distance we could even see a little snow caped mountain, this year the rain really brought it.
We only went a little ways down the trail to the Hidden Valley. I would like to go back and explore this area more. What was nice was once we got into a shaded area there was a bench to sit on and just gaze out through a window in the trees to the valley.
*Always pack plenty of water
*Bring some snacks
*Wear good comfortable shoes
*Take plenty of breaks
*Use Sunscreen and Wear a Hat
And remember to just enjoy your time outside!
Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
39400 Clinton Keith Rd
Murrieta Ca 92562
Sunrise – Sunset
Nature Center • Tuesday-Sunday 9am to 5pm
Closed Mondays and all major holidays
Adults $4 Children 3-12 $3