Looking for somewhere fun to go without a lot of travel? There are plenty of unique destinations right here in Riverside County. With three amazing watersheds (see the map on our website) there are many ways to get active and enjoy the natural beauty our County has to offer. Here are 5 places that should be on your list to visit in the new year:
- Whitewater Preserve: Located in the Whitewater Watershed, this gem offers visitors the chance to hike alongside Whitewater River which flows year-round. With 2,581 acres of pure wilderness, hikers are treated to the area’s diverse flora and fauna, including bighorn sheep that may be spotted on the cliffs above.
- Diamond Valley Lake: This man-made lake formed in an area that was known as the Valley of the Mastodons is an ideal spot for aspiring paleontologists. This section of the Santa Margarita Watershed has been the site of fascinating prehistoric discoveries that now populate the Western Science Center at the lake’s east end.
- Santa Rosa Plateau: This ecological reserve is home to vernal pools, a unique feature of the Santa Margarita Watershed. These pools are seasonal bodies of water that create the perfect environment for amphibians and insects to flourish, including the rare fairy shrimp.
- Lake Hemet: This aquatic destination in the Santa Ana Watershed is loaded with family-friendly activities. Whether you want to rent a lake-side cabin for a weekend or enjoy a day trip, Lake Hemet offers visitors options for camping, hiking, fishing and more.
- Lake Perris: Another man-made lake, this one in the Santa Ana Watershed, provides guests with great outdoor recreation. Keep an eye out for diverse wildlife while you enjoy the park’s beautiful hiking trails. You might even spot the golden eagles that call this area home. If you love water, be sure to check out the many water-related activities from snorkeling to windsurfing.
Skip the snow this winter and visit the Coachella Valley to enjoy the hot springs that are a unique feature in the Whitewater River watershed. The pure mineral waters of Desert Hot Springs are like natural jacuzzies that are renowned worldwide for their therapeutic and healing powers. Resorts like Living Waters Spa, Aqua Soleil Hotel and Mineral Water Spa, Sagewater Spa, El Morocco Inn & Spa or the Hacienda Hot Springs Inn & Spa provide access to the springs for a fee. Advance reservations are usually required prior to visiting.
An early explorer, Cabot Yerxa was the first to discover these curative waters in 1914. While digging a well on his homestead, he first encountered a spring of hot mineral water and then, digging just a little further away, a spring of cold mineral water. Knowing what a special find he had uncovered, he named his homestead Miracle Hill.
Yerxa was also an architect, artist, and art collector and designed a special building to showcase artwork of his own and from his collections as well as Native American art. The “Pueblo” is a form of art in itself; with Hopi-inspired architecture, reclaimed materials and hand-made bricks.
While in Desert Hot Springs, the Cabot Pueblo Museum is a must-see attraction for kids and adults alike for an education on the region and the mineral springs and the man who discovered them.
You can obtain tickets for the Cabot Pueblo Museum online. Group and audio tours are also available.
You’ve probably been to parades where you’ve seen marching bands and floats proceeding down a city street but you have probably never seen a parade on top of a lake. This month, visit the Lake Perris State Recreation Area for its 20th Annual “Lights on the Lake” Holiday Boat Parade. This dazzling event is the perfect opening to the holiday season and sure to bring cheer to the whole family.
The parade begins at 5 p.m. on Saturday, December 1st at the Lake Perris Launch Ramp 6. Spectators are encouraged to come early, make themselves comfortable on the shoreline and cheer on the participants. Boats of all sizes will be draped in twinkling lights and other decorations to entertain and compete in separate categories to see who can bring the most yuletide. Festivities during the evening include a DJ spinning the jolliest of jams, a charitable toy drive, and delicious food for sale.
Own a boat and want to participate? Contact Ranger Ken Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org to enter your vessel. Entry is free!
Lake Perris is located in the Santa Ana River Watershed. Temps can dip below 50 degrees on winter evenings at Lake Perris so pack a thermos of hot cocoa and a couple of warm blankets. Start the holiday season with the “Lights on the Lake” Boat Parade.
Standing tall between the picturesque town of Idyllwild and the vast Coachella Valley, with thirteen peaks over 10,000 feet high, are the breathtaking San Jacinto Mountains. This mountain range spans two watersheds in Riverside County – the Santa Ana River watershed and the Whitewater River watershed. The lush Fall foliage and awe-inspiring views create a beautiful backdrop for an autumn hike.
For the best up close views of the season’s colors, check out Deer Springs Trail off Highway 243 near Idyllwild. The Black Oak trees that line the trail have leaves that turn golden at this time of year.
For a panoramic view, take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a scenic tram ride to Mountain Station in Mt. San Jacinto State Park. From here, there are access points to more than 50 miles of trails that vary in difficulty.
The Long Valley Discovery Trail is a great beginner-level trail. Easy enough for kids, the trail offers views of the changing fall colors plus nature trail posts with information on the area.
For the most strenuous workout, start early and tackle the San Jacinto Peak on an 11-mile round trip hike. The forest is filled with many species of pine tree including Sugar, Jeffrey, Lodgepole and Ponderosa with its distinctive vanilla/butterscotch smell.
Any of these hikes will provide a seasonal experience that will not only you get in the Fall Spirit, but will help burn off the calories from all those Pumpkin Spice Lattes!
The ancient world of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures will come alive once again during this year’s National Fossil Day (October 17, 2018). To celebrate the day, the National Park Service encourages activities that highlight the importance of preserving fossils and promotes understanding of their scientific relevance. Aspiring paleontologists in Riverside County should visit the Western Science Center in Hemet for a look at local fossils from the area often referred to as “the Valley of the Mastodons.”
During excavation for the reservoir known as Diamond Valley Lake in the Santa Margarita River Watershed hundreds of fossils were unearthed. These discoveries prompted the creation of the Western Science Center.
Bones and skeletons from ancient animals like mastodons and mammoths that roamed the Earth during the Pleistocene age make up the majority of the collection at the Center. A 10 ft tall mastodon skeleton nicknamed “Max” by the Center staff as well as a 12 ft tall mammoth skeleton “Xena” are on display. A permanent exhibit recreates the quarry site from the reservoir to showcase how these large fossils were uncovered.
The Center is family friendly, open on weekends with reasonable admission fees and many activities for kids. Science Saturday, during the first weekend of every month, provides scientific activities, games and demonstrations for students in elementary and middle school.
Channel your inner cowboy with a trail ride around Lake Skinner, a reservoir located in the Santa Margarita River Watershed, just north of Temecula. Mountains surround the lake in the center of a beautiful valley, providing a ride filled with trees and birds. You might even catch a glimpse of the Bell’s Vireo, an endangered songbird.
A 6-mile equestrian trail surrounds the perimeter of the park providing the perfect scenic ride. There is an equestrian staging area for you to park your trailer since you will need to bring your own steed; there are no horse rentals on the property.
The cost of entrance to the park for day use is $6 for adults and $3 for children 12 and younger. Sunday through Thursday the park is open from 6 a.m. to Sunset and Fridays and Saturday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Plan a sunrise or sunset horseback ride as a romantic date or fun family outing. Make sure to plan your visit soon as the horse trail closes at the end of November and re-open at the end of May.
Lake Skinner has been a popular recreation area in Riverside County since its creation in 1973. It has garnered much attention as the host of the annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival for almost 30 years.
Nestled near the Santa Ana Mountains, Lake Elsinore is the largest natural lake in Southern California. With 3,000 surface acres and more than 14 miles of shoreline, this body of water is fed by the San Jacinto River. It’s ideal for quintessential summer activities such as boating, picnicking, and, most notably, waterskiing.
Whether it’s your first time, or you’re already a seasoned water-skier, Lake Elsinore provides access to this water sport for all skill levels. The National Water Ski Racing Association holds their annual Water Ski Marathon at the lake, which is a great event to attend if you’re interested in seeing this water sport at full speed.
Since March 13, 2018 Lake Elsinore holds the Guinness World Record for the longest distance waterskiing behind a blimp, or “blimp-skiing.” The previous record of nearly 5 miles was beat with the new record of 6.9 miles.
All motorized vessels are required to have a Lake Use Pass while operating on the lake. Daily Lake Use passes are $10 and can be purchased at all boat launch facilities. A separate fee may be charged for boat launching and facility day use, which varies per facility. Annual Passes may be purchased online and are valid for 12 months from date of issuance.
The lake is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and more information on lake use, regulations and fees can be found on the City of Lake Elsinore website. Make this summer unforgettable by experiencing the high speeds and shining waters of waterskiing at Lake Elsinore.
Summer fun awaits you at Lake Hemet where the new Splashing Eagle Waterpark offers families a way to cool down during these hot Inland Empire summer days.
Lake Hemet is located in the San Jacinto Mountains, a water storage reservoir that is part of the Santa Ana River Watershed. The lake provides visitors with the opportunity to spend time relaxing, fishing, camping, hiking, bird watching, kayaking, and, of course, swimming.
Lake Hemet Swim Cove has a designated beach area for swimming and wading. A new inflatable swim park, Splashing Eagle Waterpark, has been added in the past few years with large inflatables like climbing walls, slides, a trampoline, and a teeter totter. These floating structures provide a unique way to beat the summer heat and enjoy a day out on the lake.
The swim cove is suitable for all ages with a shallower section for the kid’s splash zone and a deeper area for older kids and adults. The beach is supervised by lifeguards; life vests are required to be worn on the floating inflatable course.
Swimming at the beach is $10 and entrance to the waterpark is $15. Children must be 48” inches in height for the waterpark, but the swim beach has no height restriction.
Splashing Eagle Waterpark is open five days a week for the summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The park is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, although it will be open for the 2018 4th of July holiday.
Summer is the perfect time for a local road trip and the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway is a great choice that requires almost no planning, just a spare day (and some snacks).
This popular route, designated a California State Scenic Highway, traditionally begins just outside of Palm Springs. Its name refers to the unique landscape, as the 67 mile trip takes you from palm trees in the desert all the way up to pine trees in the mountains. In just a few hours you will have traveled through a variety of ecosystems and two watersheds (Whitewater River Watershed and Santa Ana River Watershed), leaving you in awe of the natural diversity of Riverside County.
To officially start your trip, begin at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Visitor Center in Palm Desert to pick up a map and other road information. Please note that during the summer (May – September) the Center is only open Friday through Monday. As you begin your drive uphill, there are two lookouts where you can stop to take in the panoramic views and vistas of the mountains and the valley.
As the drive continues, you’ll notice that the cacti transition into pine seedlings. Halfway through your drive you will pass Lake Hemet, a popular spot for camping and fishing. If you are a fan of classic comedy films, then this section may look familiar since it was the location where Jimmy Durante crashes off the side of the highway in the 1963 movie “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”
Once you hit the mountainside, you can make a pit stop in Mountain Center or Idyllwild to fill your tank and your belly before heading home.
If you’re looking to feel the wind in your hair on a beautiful summer day, then load up the car with your favorite snacks and favorite people, roll down the windows and head out on the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway.
Treat Earth Day like the holiday that it is and celebrate it with your friends and family. Riverside County is full of family-friendly community events for you to learn more about sustainable practices and environmental issues. Pick one in your watershed region to attend! Don’t know which watershed is yours? Check out this map on Riverside County Watershed Protection’s webpage to find out!
SANTA ANA RIVER WATERSHED
Rock the River: Held at the McLean Anza Narrow Park, this celebration of the Santa Ana River is hosted by Inland Empire Waterkeepers on Sunday, April 22, 2018 from 12-5 pm. Booths and special activities will provide opportunities to learn more about the river. Live music provided by local high schools will keep the river rockin’!
SANTA MARGARITA WATERSHED
Earth Day Art and Music Festival: The festival in Temecula, hosted by the Sierra Club and Murrieta Arts Council, will have live music all day along with educational booths, guest speakers, and live demonstrations. The FREE event will be held on Saturday, April 21, 2018 from 11am – 4pm at Vail Headquarters, 32115 Temecula Parkway.
WHITEWATER RIVER WATERSHED
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens: Earth Day is a great day to enjoy discounted admission to this unique zoo. The park will be hosting zero waste activities, encouraging reusable plastics by giving away a special edition Giraffe souvenir cup at this celebration from 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday, April 22, 2018.