This easy-access desert oasis offers the chance to explore a diverse landscape and see a lot of desert critters up close. Set between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park in the Little San Bernardino Mountains—in a valley that links the Mojave and Colorado deserts—this 147-acre reserve is part of the Big Morongo Canyon. Its elevation ranges from 600 to 3,000 feet, which results in a wide array of flora and fauna.
Hike one of the trails, which range in length from less than a half mile to 11 miles round-trip, and include some boardwalk paths (even one that’s wheelchair-accessible) through the stream and marsh habitats. Along the way, you may easily spot a variety of rabbits, kangaroo rats, coyote, mule deer, and possibly even bobcats and bighorn sheep. Kids who like creepy-crawlies should keep an eye out for whiptail and side-blotched lizards, Gilbert’s skink, and California tree frogs.
Look up, and you can see why the preserve has been designated an Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy. Especially during spring and fall migration, you can see representatives of some 240 species, including such rare birds as Vermilion Flycatchers and Least Bell’s Vireo. Indeed, fall, winter, and spring are the prime times to visit, when the average temperatures range between the 60s and about 80.