Santa Rosa Plateau’s Sylvan Meadows — An easy hike for kids and dogs alike!


Sylvan Meadows at Santa Rosa Plateau

Date Hiked: April 18, 2010
Best Season: Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Santa Rosa Plateau Visitors Center: (951) 677-6951
Notes: $3 per adult, $2 per child, $1 per dog or horse
  • Distance: 2.81 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 117 feet
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Trail Type: Dirt single track and fire road
  • Difficulty: Easy

My boss recently was elected to serve on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, where I will continue to be his chief of staff.  I immediately abused my “super chief” powers by assigning all the fun stuff in the office to myself –including all the parks and trails issues within the county, primarily through the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District.  My plan has already begun to pay off, as one of the first meetings I had to attend was the Parks District Advisory Committee, being hosted at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve‘s Visitor Center.

The 9,000 acre reserve is an amazing natural and historical resource, featuring six different eco-system types, and is called home by over 200 species of native birds and 49 endangered, threatened or rare animal and plant species, including a variety of fairy shrimp that exists only on the plateau.  As a big fan of shrimp dishes, it is unfortunate for us, but fortunate for them that they are not suitable for grilling, so they serve primarily as food to the birds, and not humans.

Fairy Shrimp!

This is what a fairy shrimp looks like (though not necessarily the exact fairy shrimp at the Reserve). Clearly too small for the BBQ. (Photo Credit Ken-Ichi on Flickr)

The oldest standing structures in Riverside County are also located on the plateau, a pair of adobe bunkhouses that date back to the cowboy days of the mid-1800’s.  You can learn a lot about the Reserve at their website, but you can also stop at the Visitor’s Center, for displays and brochures and helpful docents who can answer your questions.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

A look across Sylvan Meadow from near the trailhead. Snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains in the background.

Most relevant to our blog, though, are the 40 miles of trails at the plateau.  Most of the trails (as well as the adobes and the majority of the vernal pools) are located on the southeast side of Clinton Keith Road, and are restricted to human hikers only–no dogs, no horses, and no bikes.  On the northwest side of the road is the Sylvan Meadows portion of the Reserve, and these trails are multi-use, with equestrian, bicycle, and dog-walking recreation all allowed.  You can see a map of the trails and major features of the Reserve here.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

The kids and the puppy and I checking out birds in the tree.

Regular readers know we like to take our dog with us when hiking as often as possible, and we also had Colleen’s parents, our kids and our four year old nephew with us on the day we visited the plateau, so we chose the shorter Sylvan Meadows loop, rather than the more popular adobe or vernal pool hikes on the other side of the road.

If you are heading to Sylvan Meadows from the east, you just continue on Clinton Keith Road past the visitor center on the left, and then pull into the next parking area on the right just after it becomes Tenaja Road.  There is a $3 per adult, $2 per child (2-12 yrs) and $1 per dog or horse fee (cash only) for hiking, that was being collected by a docent in the parking lot on the day we were there.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

Oaks dot the preserve, but most of the trail is pretty exposed.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

Kids obviously don’t need us to lead the way.

There is a very nice shaded picnic area right there to the right of the parking lot, and there is a trailhead at the tables.  We headed down the more inside, less improved trail that was a bit further from Clinton Keith/Tenaja Road than the outside trail, at least at the start.  The trail heads through grasslands, with a view of a small vernal pools along the way.  Hiking in mid-April, we were a little late for the best  wildflower blooms visible on the plateau (they even have a weekly update on wildflower blooms during the height of the season on their website), but the grasses were green and there were still wildflowers to be seen, and the pools still had water in them.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

Some of the wildflowers are still around in mid-April. I believe this is a checkerbloom.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

A vernal pool! See the fairy shrimp?

Santa Rosa Plateau North

There are benches around the plateau for birdwatchers and those just needing or wanting to rest.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

This stretch of trail goes right along Clinton Keith/Tenaja Rd.

Less than a half mile from the trailhead, you’ll reunite with the main Mortero Trail, which then tracks closely along Clinton Keith/Tenaja Road for the next 1/3 to 1/2 mile.  Once you start heading away from the road again, now on Sylvan Meadows Trail/Road, you’ll come to a junction with the Cajalco Trail.  You could take this trail to the visitor’s center .7 miles away, and then come back .8 miles on Tovashal Trail, adding a bit over a mile to the 2.8 mile loop you were originally going to do.  If we did it without the kids, we probably would have done this, as Tovashal Trail in particular appears to go along a nice tree-lined wash/creek.  You could also start this hike at the visitor’s center by taking one of these trails to the Sylvan Meadow loop, and then returning down the other.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

A look across the various grasses on the plateau.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

Another pool off the trail. Note: You are not allowed to leave the trails.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

The 4-year old trying to catch some shrimp for lunch!

The hike is mostly exposed, with only occasional trees and shade along the way, but if you do it in the Winter (after the first rains) or Spring, the plateau is lush and green, with a variety of grasses and flowers.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

Another nice view of the trees along the meadow.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

A pretty stretch of the trail.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

Kids finally let me back in front again.

Santa Rosa Plateau North

More lush grasses! (look out for ticks)

As you continue around the loop, you’ll have a couple other opportunities to add mileage and time to your hike by taking one of the side paths up one of the hills that might provide better views of the whole plateau, but we decided to save that for another time when we didn’t have the kids with us.  If you don’t take any of the side trips, you’ll end up back at the parking lot in just under 3 miles.

By definition, the plateau itself is quite flat, with an elevation change of only 120 feet or so over the less-than-three mile hike, which is why we’ve called this kid-friendly, even though it doesn’t have the kind of spectacular features (waterfalls, beaches, peaks, views) that we usually need to put it in this category.  It’s easy and it’s pretty, so even our 4 year old nephew had a good time.  I did find a tick on me when we got home, so be sure to check yourself, your kids and your dogs afterwards!

Santa Rosa Plateau North

Final stretch of trail heading towards the parking lot.

We intend to go back when the wildflowers are in full bloom, and to find a time to go without the dog, so we can see the more popular side of the preserve with the adobes and more extensive vernal ponds, but if you’re looking for a short hike or bike with your dog or kids, this is a really nice place to visit.


Sylvan Meadows Loop elevation profile. Click through for more detail.

View Sylvan Meadows–Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve in a larger map

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