Whitewater Preserve

Whitewater Preserve: An Oasis in California’s Palm Desert

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If you have driven on Interstate 10 near Palm Springs, California, chances are you’ve seen a beautiful river flowing in the middle of the desert. This river flows right under the highway down into the windmill-filled valley. I have driven past this location numerous times and always slow down to see how much water is flowing and make a mental note to stop and explore this beautiful area. Luckily, I was able to visit Whitewater Preserve, and it didn’t disappoint!

Address

9160 Whitewater Canyon Rd, Whitewater, CA 92282

Hours

Whitewater Preserve is open daily from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Insert Whitewater Preserve sign and move text left

Phone

(760) 325-7222

Fees

FREE

Amenities

The Whitewater Preserve has free parking, a visitor center, restrooms, picnic areas, and a campground. 

Cell Phone Service

Very little.

Getting to the Whitewater Preserve

Whitewater Preserve sign

Whitewater Preserve is located approximately 15 miles away from Palm Springs, California and a short drive away from any of the cities that comprise the greater Palm Desert Area. 

After taking Interstate 10 and turning off at the Whitewater Exit #114, travel north on Whitewater Canyon Road. This road is a pretty five mile drive through the canyon with beautiful river and mountain views. 

The road eventually leads you to the visitor center/ranger station and the rather large parking lot. We visited during the pandemic, so the parking lot was closed. There is also ample parking along the street luckily, so no need to worry. Check out any potential closures here. The address listed above will get you there!

What is the Whitewater Preserve

Whitewater Preserve located in Whitewater, California is run by the The Wildlands Conservancy. The Wildlands Conservancy is a non-profit organization that purchases, restores, and preserves nature preserves with a focus on environmental education. They have numerous preserves throughout California, and you can learn more about them here

Whitewater Preserve

The Whitewater Preserve comprises 2,851 acres surrounded by the beautiful San Gorgonio Wilderness with the Whitewater River as its focal point. The Whitewater River runs for 53 miles from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Salton Sea. The Preserve is also home to an abundance of wildlife. The list includes bighorn sheep, deer, bears, and over 235 species of birds! 

Best Things To Do at Whitewater Preserve

This list of things to do in the preserve is almost as long as the number of species of birds… Okay, not quite. But there are an abundance of outdoor activities that you can enjoy at Whitewater Preserve!

Go for a Hike

The Whitewater Preserve is home to five hiking trails totaling 25 miles and ranging from 2.9 miles to 7.8 miles.

Top of Whitewater Preserve
The top of the Whitewater Canyon Loop

1) Whitewater Canyon Loop Trail: This 3.7 mile hike is one of the most popular hikes in the preserve and is one of our favorite hikes in all of Southern California. (Check out our 5 Favorite Hikes in Southern California for more information.) The Whitewater Canyon Loop Trail can be completed in about an hour and a half and is rated as moderate.

2) Red Dome via Pacific Crest Trail: If you are looking for a slightly longer hike than the Whitewater Canyon Loop, the 4.3 mile moderate Red Dome hike might be up your alley. It can be completed in about 2 hours and follows the Whitewater River. Keep your eyes open because there is a good chance you could see some bighorn sheep on this hike!

3) Whitewater River via Visitor Center: If you just want to spend some time near the river, this short 2.9 mile hike is perfect for you. The well-marked trail is an easy hike and even goes over some wooden bridges over the river which remind me of some of the ones Alex and I walked over in Iceland. 

whitewater preserve
Wooden bridges over Whitewater River

4) Rainbow Rock Canyon: If you are feeling a little adventurous and want to go off the official trails, hike Rainbow Rock Canyon. The 6.3 mile moderate hike ends at a beautiful seasonal waterfall. 

5) Ranger Station to Cottonwood Trailhead via the PCT: This 7.8 mile moderate hike allows you to enjoy both the river and the beautiful wildflowers that bloom in the spring. 

Whitewater Preservetrail sign

The preserve includes a portion of the famous Pacific Crest Trail which spans from Mexico to Canada, cutting through California, Oregon, and Washington State.

Camp

You can camp at the Whitewater Preserve for free (they do accept donations). It is best that you call the ranger station beforehand to ensure that there spaces available. You can tent camp in the marked camping area near the restrooms or you can camp in a vehicle that is less than 20 feet long in the lower parking lot. No camping along the trails.

You will have access to restrooms and trash cans during your stay. The duration of your stay must be three days or less. Be sure to arrive before the preserve closes at 5:00 p.m., or chances are the gate will be closed and locked. 

If you love sitting around a campfire and cracking open a cold one, this isn’t the spot. Alcohol and campfires are not allowed. 

Check for updates here to ensure that the campground is open. 

Swim

Since Whitewater Preserve is in the middle of the desert, the Whitewater River offers a great spot to escape the heat. Fortunately, you can swim here. The preserve offers an 18 inch wading pool that is the perfect depth for your little one to play in and cool off.

Wading Pool Whitewater Preserve

On the preserve, the current is less strong than it is downstream. When we visited, we saw kids wading in the river. The river is fed by snowmelt, so be careful of the current and whitewater in the warmer months, as the snow melts in neighboring mountains. 

Have a Picnic

If you aren’t planning to eat during a hike, or you are looking for a beautiful place to have a picnic, Whitewater Preserve is your spot. The preserve has picnic tables and benches, but even any spot near the ponds or the river would be a great place for a picnic. 

Be sure to throw your trash away or pack it back out with you to keep this preserve clean for others to enjoy. 

If you find yourself in California’s Palm Desert, the Whitewater Preserve is more than worth a visit. It’s a great family friendly location that offers plenty to do, great views, and even better memories! 

Whitewater Preserve

Check out our other Southern California articles for more SoCal travel inspiration: 5 Scenic & Dog Friendly Hikes in Southern California, The 25 Things You Can’t Miss in San Diego, California, The Glamis Sand Dunes California’s Best (not so) Hidden Secret, Top 20 Things to do in La Jolla, California, You Don’t Want to Miss These Spots in Joshua Tree National Park and Fall Getaway in Big Bear Lake, California 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are dogs allowed at the Whitewater Preserve? Yes, dogs are allowed at the Whitewater Preserve. Make sure that you keep your dog on a leash, and pick up after them. In fact, the Whitewater Preserve is one of our favorite spots to bring our dog for some outdoor fun!

Can you fish at the Whitewater Preserve? You are not allowed to fish at the Whitewater Preserve.

Can you have a BBQ at the Whitewater Preserve?  No fires or open flames are allowed at the preserve. You can have a small propane canister for a stove, if camping. 

Can you ride a bike at the Whitewater Preserve? Sadly, you cannot ride mountain bikes at the preserve. It would be pretty awesome to experience the preserve on a bike but it is not allowed. You can ride a bike on the road up to the preserve but not on designated hiking trails. 

Is Whitewater Preserve open? Yes, the preserve is open daily from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Check out the Wildlands Conservancy website here, for any closings or restrictions.

How much time do you need to spend at the Whitewater Preserve? This is dependent on what you want to do at the preserve. Don’t limit yourself and look forward to spending a relaxing day outdoors at the preserve. Unless you are camping, just a few hours is enough time to enjoy it.

Andrew Schloe

I love surfing, scuba diving, and soaking in a good sunset at the beach. There is a good chance you will find me by water. Favorite Destination: Great Ocean Road, Australia.

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