Fish jumping at Whitewater

Photos for the Record Gazette by Traci Kratzer

LARGE rainbow trout swim freely in a pond at the Whitewater Preserve. Fishing is not allowed.

Traci Kratzer

Record Gazette Staff Writer

Situated on 2,851 acres of land surrounded by the San Gorgonio Wilderness, Whitewater Preserve offers a serene environment to anyone looking to escape the stresses of everyday life and rediscover the beauty of nature.

Whitewater Perserve lies at the end of Whitewater Canyon Road, north of Palm Springs off Interstate 10, and is an important portal into the San Gorgonio Wilderness and preserve lands. The Preserve, a former trout farm, was purchased in February 2006 through a partnership with the Friends of the Desert Mountains and the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservacy for $3.5 million. Preserve Manager Frazier Haney said because the Friends of the Desert Mountains needed to find another agency to help manage the land they turned the land over to The Wildlands Conservancy in October 2006. The Wildlands Conservancy is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation that was founded in 1995 to “preserve the beauty and biodiversity of the earth, and provide programs so that children may know the wonder and joy of nature.”

“It (the preserve) was a good fit,” Haney said. “It goes perfectly with the surrounding preserves in Mission Creek, Pioneertown and Oak Glen.”

In addition to acquiring the 2,851-acre Whitewater Preserve, The Wildlands Conservancy purchased an additional 3,200 acres in the Whitewater corridor that were donated to the Bureau of Land Management.

After the Preserve was handed over to the Conservancy it took a year and a half to “get things up to standard,” Haney said. During that time, the Wildlands Conservancy demolished 19 neglected houses and structures in Whitewater Canyon and removed diseased non-native elm trees. These impacted lands are being restored with native sycamores, cottonwoods, flowering ash, narrow leaved willows and native shrubs. In fact, once a month Haney leads a restoration day event where visitors can help remove non-native plants, plant native trees and work on the trails.

The Conservancy restored the lodge at the former trout farm for a visitor facility and has developed a picnic area and group campground.

Following the clean-up, the Preserve was opened to the public in April 2008 and provides hiker access to the Whitewater River, Pacific Crest Trail, Ridge Overlook Loop Trail and the San Gorgonio Wilderness. 

“We have one of the best trailheads to the San Gorgonio Wilderness,” Haney said. “The 2,650 mile long Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail transverses the wilderness from south to north on its journey from Mexico to Canada and is accessible from a half-mile connector trail that begins at the Preserve parking lot.”

In addition to hiking, Haney said the Preserve is also ideal for bird watching. He said about 215 types of birds have been seen at the Whitewater preserves.

For visitors not interested in hiking or birdwatching, the shaded campground and picnic area provides plenty of room for tent campimg or a barbeque. The picnic area, located next to three expansive ponds filled with Rainbow Trout,  are overshadowed by steep vertical cliffs where Haney said bighorn sheep thrive.

Barbeques are allowed at the Preserve, however, fires are prohibited so only gas stoves or grills can be used on the premises. Individual walk-in tent camping is available by permit on a first come first serve basis. Campers are welcome to stay up to three days.

Although there are fish at the Preserve, Haney said fishing is limited to organized catch and release youth fishing programs, which require reservations.

In addition to leisurely activities, the Preserve also provides a number of family programs at no cost. Frazier said among the family programs available at the Preserve include a stargazing night and campfire program, volunteer restoration day and a family field day. Volunteers to help with these programs are always needed, Frazier said. Details about programs and volunteer opportunities are available in the Ranger Station or by calling (760) 325-7222.

Whitewater Preserve is open daily to the public at no charge from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit


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