A Guide to Hiking the Santa Rosa Mountains

Santa Rosa Mountain Hiking: Plateau Hikes

If you're lucky, you may get to see a red-tailed hawk in person while you're hiking the Santa Rosa plateau.
If you're lucky, you may get to see a red-tailed hawk in person while you're hiking the Santa Rosa plateau.
©iStockphoto.com/Steve Mollin

The Plateau is an 8300-acre (3359-hectare) reserve near Temecula is famous for its wildflowers and oasis pools [source: USDI: BLM]. It seems flat at a distance, but it's actually made of mesas that are all at different altitudes -- getting higher as you proceed west -- and grassy prairies supporting prickly pear, deer and uncommonly large tarantulas. You may also luck out and catch a glimpse a red-tailed hawk or wily coyote.

The Hidden Valley Trail is a 6-mile (9.7-kilometer) round trip that will show you all the flowers the plateau has to offer, from johnny-jump-ups and monkey flowers to the colorful redmaids, white popcorn flowers, purple nightshade and violet checkerblooms [source: USDI: BLM]. You'll move through forests of giant oak and sage scrub, as well as bunchgrass and chaparral, and enjoy views of Mount San Jacinto and Palomar Mountain before you eventually come to the famous Vernal Pool Trail.

The Vernal Pools are a spring highlight, with a 39-acre (15.8-hectare) pond., old cowboy buildings, California poppies, historic adobes and ranches, sycamore, and black and white sage shrubs [source: USDI: BLM]. Be mindful of drought years, as the water can dry up and take with it all the marvelous wildflowers and less-hardy plant life. Monument Hill lies at the end of one spur trail, not too far off the main expanse. It offers a gorgeous view of the plateau itself, but for most of us, it's the vernal pools that provide the most beautiful experience -- so make sure you're visiting at a time they'll be at their best.

In any case, the Santa Rosas are an amazing habitat for tons of interesting plants, rocks and animal life that simply don't exist anywhere else. Nestled between the Rockies and the Pacific, it's a constantly changing environment that can teach us a lot about the varieties of life and climate on a simple day jaunt. And because of its rich human history and cultural import, the criss-crossing trails that link the canyons and peaks present wonderful opportunities to design the perfect outing for yourself, a small group or even a family. Just remember to bring your sunscreen and water!