Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

It can be challenging to find fun activities to do with small children. Add Covid restrictions into the mix and your options become even more limited. Luckily our favorite weekend plans usually involve being outside in the open air.

We love to go on long sweaty hikes, but now that Emma is starting to gain more independence she will only stay in the carrier for so long. Her growing toddler brain wants to expand and explore, and her little legs want to run and play. Lately we have been looking for shorter hikes that will be enjoyable for us as well as our mini naturalist. One of our favorite slow-paced hiking spots is the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. The 31,000-acre Preserve is a part of the Sands to Snow National Monument. The Preserve is located in the high desert, but due to it being the location of one of the largest cottonwood and willow riparian forest in California you can hike in the cool shade, even in the middle of summer. The presence of perennial springs in the middle of an otherwise dry landscape is the result of geological processes which force water above ground resulting in lush habitat. The Preserve is known worldwide for its incredible birding opportunities; over 240 species of bird have been documented here. The Canyon is also an oasis for species such as mule-deer, bobcat, mountain lion, and many species of reptile. On our last trip to the Preserve we spotted a small herd of mule-deer making their way through the willow thickets. There are many trails throughout the Preserve which will take you through various habitats and provide many opportunities to see wildlife. Our favorite trail is the 0.65-mile Marsh Trail. The trail follows a raised boardwalk that travels through dense riparian habitat, there are lots of spots to stop and look for wildlife, it is also easy walking for a toddler. Longer hikes are also possible by taking detours onto other loop trails. The Preserve also boast a nature center, bird feeders, and a volunteer staff who are very knowledgeable about the Preserve and what is has to offer. The Preserve is free to visit but I highly suggest leaving a donation. For an extra special day, I recommend visiting on a Saturday and hitting up the Joshua Tree Farmers market to stock on snacks for a picnic after your hike.

Getting there: From Interstate 10 take Highway 62 to the town of Morongo Valley, take a right onto East Drive and you will see signs for the Preserve.

Best time to go: The Preserve is great to visit anytime of the year but if you want to go on a longer hike, I suggest going between November and June to avoid those roasting desert temps. However, if you are into birding the best times to go are during the spring and fall when birds are migrating through the area.

Other things to see in the area: Joshua Tree Farmers Market

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