Santa Rosa Plateau
has unveiled its masterpiece: Wildflowers at this 8,300-acre reserve near Temecula have painted the park like a Georgia O’Keeffe canvas. See them on a 6-mile (round-trip) hike that starts at Hidden Valley trailhead. From there, follow the flowers! Johnny-jump-ups dot the first half-mile along Coyote Trail, leading to the oak-shaded Trans Preserve Trail. Wind through redmaids and purple nightshade before making a moderate ascent to the mighty Mesa de Colorado. Take a breather and enjoy views of Mount San Jacinto and Palomar Mountain. Then follow the Vernal Pool Trail to its namesake 39-acre pond; surrounded by dainty white popcorn flowers (not meant for snacking), this fleeting oasis disappears in summer. Continue to a centuries-old oak tree so big it shades a picnic area and a pair of adobe bunkhouses once used as a rest stop by cowboys. Heading back on the Oak Tree Loop Trail, pass by one of Southern California’s last remaining stands of the gnarled Lord of the Rings
-esque Engelmann oak. Orange-blooming monkey flower and violet checkerblooms speckle the path back to the trailhead. Mesa magnifique!
The reserve is located at the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains, between Murrieta and Temecula along I-15. Exit Clinton Keith Rd. and drive south 6 miles, passing the reserve’s visitors’ center; after a sharp bend to the right, Clinton Keith Rd. becomes Tenaja Rd. In .75-mile, you’ll reach the Hidden Valley trailhead. Day pass: $2 adult, $1 child. Here is a map of Santa Rosa Plateau. Take Coyote Trail for a half mile and turn right on Trans Preserve Trail; continue for 1.7 miles to Mesa de Colorado. Go right on Vernal Pool Trail and continue past the vernal pool for a mile to reach the historic adobes. Head north on the Lomas Trail for about half a mile before turning right on Monument Hill Rd.; follow Monument Hill briefly before reconnecting with Lomas. Go left onto the Oak Tree Loop and bear left at the first fork. The Oak Tree Loop connects back to Coyote Trail, which takes you back to the Hidden Valley trailhead. No dogs.