Exploring the Temecula Valley by foot offers the best of two worlds: mountain scenery and warm Southern California sunshine.
Some 20 miles outside Temecula is the 9,000-acre Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. Walk through the park’s varied ecosystems, keeping an eye out for the mule deer, badgers, and turtles that make their home here. Or set off for the Moreno and Machado Adobes—former cowboy bunkhouses that date to the mid-1800s. (Insider tip: Bring a picnic.) A little south of Santa Rosa’s visitor’s center is the Cleveland National Forest and the trailhead to Tenaja Falls. It’s a 1.5-mile out-and-back hike to the 150-foot tiered waterfall.
Bird-watching is the focus at Lake Skinner Recreation Area, located 10 miles east of Temecula. Walk the park’s 1.5-mile path and look for heron, owls, and hawks as you take in the water views.
About 13 miles southwest of Old Town lies 221-acre Santa Margarita County Preserve. Here, hike the scenic River Trail, an out-and-back stroll of just over 5 miles that follows a peaceful river past boulders and through woodlands. You might see hawks or other raptors overhead, plus deer ambling by.
Dripping Springs Trail, also in the Cleveland National Forest, is a more challenging trail, but it’s worth the work: Spectacular mountain vistas appear a couple miles in. The entire trail, which takes you from desert terrain into lush forest, is about 13 miles, but it’s an out-and-back, so you can walk as much of it as you like before turning around.