A few years ago, we headed to Big Morongo Canyon Preserve for our girl’s birthday. Since it was mid-April, the desert temps had already started to climb. The preserve offers more trees and shade (in some areas) than the surrounding dessert, so it’s a good place to hike when it’s too hot for afternoon hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. Due to it being warm, we didn’t do the Canyon Trail Hike that day, so we decided it was time to head back and check out the trail.
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a 31,000 acre desert oasis that is tucked in the Little San Bernadino Mountains. It is classified as Cottonwood-Willow Riparian Forest. It is one of the 10 largest cottonwood-willow riparian habitats in California. The stream is available for animals throughout the year, but the amount of water varies greatly depending on the season as well as rainfall for the year.
While the upstream portion of the canyon is in the Mojave Desert, the downstream portion lies in the Colorado Desert. The Morongo fault runs through the canyon. The basin catches water draining from the surrounding mountains and forms the Big Morongo Creek and the surrounding marsh habitat.
The elevations range from 600 feet on the canyon floor to 3000 feet at the top of the ridge. It has a wide variety of trails available including handicap and stroller friendly trails through the marsh area.
Since we did all of the short marsh trails last time we were there, we decided to head over to the West Canyon Trail and then the Canyon Trail. While some of the hike is shaded, a vast majority of the trail is in full sun. The terrain changes from the marsh/forest to rocky desert. Some portions of the trail are available for horseback riding which means you need to share the trail.
You need to bring plenty of water with you on this hike as there is nowhere to get water once you hit the trails. The Desert Willow Trail, Marsh Trail, and Mesquite Trail have benches and are easy trails to hike. There is also a nature center available. The trails can be combined to make a longer hike. The Yucca Ridge Trail, Canyon Trail, and West Canyon Trail are all dirt with no amenities.
For our hike, we started at the parking lot kiosk area and went to the Marsh Trail. At trail marker 6, we split off to the Mesquite Trail. When we hit trail marker 9, we decided to take the West Canyon Trail which is a decent uphill trail to meet up with the Canyon Trail. We had previously hiked the other side of the West Canyon Trail, but this portion of the trail was new to us.
The views were beautiful and well worth the uphill hike. My asthma didn’t appreciate that portion of the hike, but I did. It was interesting to see how the terrain changed as we hiked along the trail.
At the end of Canyon Trail, you can continue to hike or you can turn around and head back. We took a break under the shade of some trees, ate a little snack, and drank some more water before we headed back the way that we hiked in. On our way back, we ran into a few horseback riders who were also enjoying the beautiful weather and nice trail.
We need to go back again and hike the final trail that we haven’t hiked at the preserve – the Yucca Ridge Trail. Once we’ve hiked that trail, we’ll have hiked all of the trails in the preserve. It’s definitely a fun area with all of the wildlife and plants. The variety of trails available makes it perfect for the entire family. Don’t let the beware of mountain lion sign through you for too much of a loop. Just be aware of your surroundings and don’t let the kids run off by themselves.
The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve as well as the trail system is not pet-friendly, so the dogs had to stay home for this hike – much to their dismay.
Canyon Trail Facts
- The hike on the Canyon Trail is roughly 9.76 miles round trip from the parking lot. The distance will vary based on which trails you take to get to the beginning of the Canyon Trail hike.
- The hike is considered a moderate to strenuous hike.
- It is not handicap-friendly or stroller-friendly.
- The trail is open year around, but hikers need to be aware of the weather conditions for their own safety. Make sure you have plenty of water.
- Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
The Canyon Trail was our fourth hike in the 2017 52 Hike Challenge. We’d love to have you follow us on our year-long hiking adventure.