Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve

Group Programs are offered for adults and children ages 8 years and older.  Field trips are available afternoons and some weekends. During February through May we cannot offer weekend programs. If you have questions, please call the Visitor Center at (951) 677-6951. Staff are available daily, except Mondays, when the Visitor Center is closed.


  • Seasonal Vernal Pools
  • Walking Trails
  • Hiking Trails
  • Biking Trails
  • Equestrian Trails
  • Picnic Areas
  • Historic Adobe Buildings
  • Interpretive Programs
  • Outreach programs to 3rd grade classes
  • Interpretive Trail Walks
  • Guest Speakers
  • Family Wildlife Day


  • $4 each adult pedestrian
  • $3 each child (ages 12 and under)
  • Additional fees may apply when in groups or special events.Programs at the Santa Rosa Plateau are enhanced through funding raised by the Santa Rosa Plateau Foundation.For more information about the Santa Rosa Plateau Foundation visit: Santa Rosa Plateau FoundationIf you are interested in volunteering, please visit our Volunteers Page for more information on how you can help, thank you!


  • Sunrise-Sunset

Visitor Center Hours

  • Tuesday-Sunday: 9am to 5pm
  • Closed Mondays and some major holidays

The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, located at the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains in southwest Riverside County near the city of Murrieta, is a hidden gem that offers a fascinating glimpse into the history and ecosystems of the area. Consisting of 9000 acres, the Reserve protects unique ecosystems such as Engelmann oak woodlands, riparian wetlands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, bunchgrass prairie, and vernal pools as well as more than 200 species of native birds and 49 endangered, threatened or rare animal and plant species, including mule deer, mountain lions, badgers, bobcats, western pond turtles, white-tailed kites and fairy shrimp. Of the two species of fairy shrimp that live in the seasonal vernal pools on the Reserve, one is found only here and nowhere else on Earth!

An especially popular day-hike destination at the Reserve is the Moreno and Machado Adobes, the two oldest standing structures in Riverside County, which date back to 1846 and once served as bunkhouses for cowboys. These interesting historical buildings, shaded by a 400-year-old tree and separated by a relaxing one-of-a-kind picnic area, provide a unique opportunity to experience Riverside County’s rich history.

The Reserve offers a number of interpretive programs and trail walks. Horseback riding and mountain biking are popular activities in the Sylvan Meadows Multi-Use Area of the Plateau.

  • Visitors must stay on marked trails or roads at all times.
  • All elements on the Reserve are protected, including flowers and other plant material, animals, birds, insects, and rocks. Collecting or disturbing any element is strictly prohibited without a Scientific Collecting Permit issued by the Reserve Manager.
  • Smoking, fires, and camping are prohibited. Please carry all trash out with you, including food scraps.
  • Dogs and other pets, leashed or unleashed, are not permitted on the Reserve.
  • Hunting, shooting, trapping, and firearms are prohibited.
  • Visitor vehicles are prohibited on the Reserve except during specially scheduled events.
  • Obey all trail signs, particularly those marked “closed.”
  • Do not abandon or release any wild or domestic animals.
  • Horseback and bicycle riding is permitted only on designated multi-use trails.
  • These rules are enforceable under State of California Fish and Game Code section 1530 and Riverside County Ordinance 328. Please report any violations to the Reserve Ranger or the Reserve Manager.


Trails Information

The Reserve trails are open daily from sunrise until sunset. Closures may occur due to weather or safety conditions.

Multi-Use Area: (Sylvan Meadows Area)

Dog on leash, equestrian riders, bicycling on Sylvan Meadows.

  • $4.00 13+years
  • $3.00 2-12 years
  • $1.00 dog on 6′ leash and pedestrian day use fee
  • $1.00 horse in addition to pedestrian day use fee

Interpretive Programs: (Included with day use fee)

General Public – phone for date and time information
Topics may include Reserve geology, plant communities, human history and Reserve conservation story.

School & Group Programs

  • School interpretive programs last approximately 2.5 hours
  • Elementary – college age students welcome
  • Reservations required
  • Please visit: Field Trip for registration.
  • Programs held Tuesday – Friday throughout the year
  • Afternoon programs; some morning programs are available.
  • Phone or email for further information
  • Program Fees: Public Elementary 3rd grade, $4.00 each student. Middle School, High School, College, Private School, Scouts and Private Groups,
    $5.00 each participant

3rd Grade Field Trips

Registration for 2019 – 2020 school year 3rd grade field trips is now closed & fully booked!

Information for Field Trips

Schools/Groups may schedule a 2.5 hour program at the Ecological Reserve. The program includes a two-hour, one-mile hike through four distinct plant communities, focusing on the geology, animal and plant life, and human history of the area.

  • One teacher handles all 3rd grade registration per school
  • ADA and special needs students welcome
  • Field trips run October – May, Tuesday – Friday, from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
  • Maximum 3 chaperones per class. No families may attend
  • Student fee: $4.00

Registration information required:

  • 3rd Grade teacher name(s) and accurate school email(s)
  • School address, phone and fax (vital)
  • Student count per class and for each field trip, can accommodate up to 75 students per day
  • 3 field trip date options for each field trip

All participating teachers receive field trip information. ONE field trip bus fee reimbursed per field trip; some flexibility permitted with written SRP Reserve approval.

Registration is required.

Additional Information

Only for 3rd Grade/Group Classes in Riverside County

Links/buttons for the following:

3rd Grade Quiz

The quiz form is in landscape format and prints two quizzes per page; please check your print settings prior to printing. Otherwise, the printer may default into portrait, making the text very small. Teachers, please remember to give the quiz to each 3rd grade student several weeks prior to teaching about the content, before receiving an Outreach Program and well before their field trip. Quizzes are delivered to SRP Reserve Staff on the day of the field trip.

Links/buttons for the following: Letter to Teachers and Quiz for Students

Outreach Programs

The education program at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve has had to adapt it’s 3rd grade program due to the fire that struck on September 4, 2019. This adjustment brought both Outreach and trail science together incorporating the best characteristics of both programs.  Students now enjoy hands-on, small group natural science lessons while they are on their field trip, right inside the Visitor Center.  The Outreach program is now the indoor science program and it’s available to every field trip.  All students also experience the outdoor trail program too.

If you have questions, please contact staff directly.   Thank you.

A Message to Teachers

The links below are tools for educators to use before a visit to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.  They are designed to help introduce some of the subjects and concepts to students as they prepare for their visit.  These materials adapt well for post Reserve visit use too.

Each of five animals packets includes a Teacher Guide,  an Animal Letter and an 8.5” x 11” photo. The Teacher Guide includes a vocabulary list, suggested questions and activities complimenting California’s Third Grade Science Curriculum.

The ‘Animal Letters’ are a fun way to introduce students to some of the important safety lessons and ecological concepts that they will encounter during their visit to the Reserve. Each letter is “written” by an animal representative.  The Animal Letters incorporate the four different habitats that students will experience on their hike – woodland, grassland, riparian wetland and chaparral. The vocabulary used in each letter is also chosen from state science standards curriculum and will prepare students for their visit.

We encourage teachers to use any or all of these teaching tools. Introducing students to the Plateau in the classroom will help students better appreciate their experience on the Reserve’s trails!

Visitor Center Closed Monday

During the busier spring months, February through May, field trips are offered Tuesday – Friday, afternoons only.  Between February and May we can not offer weekend programs.  If you have questions, please call the Visitor Center at (951) 677-6951.  Staff are available daily, except Mondays, when the Visitor Center is closed.

  • Private group programs are offered for adults and children ages 8 years and older ( 20 or more participants ): Tuesday – Friday, 1 PM – 4 PM
  • Visitor Center closed Monday

Remember – What to bring!

  • Long pants
  • Closed-toed shoes
  • Sun protection/hat
  • Jacket/Layer of clothing
  • Eat breakfast & bring water
  • 3-4 Chaperones per class

Download the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve Map and reserve information here!

Upcoming events at Santa Rosa Plateau:

There are no upcoming events at this time.

The Santa Rosa Plateau, at an average elevation of 2,000 feet, is located at the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains in southwestern Riverside County, California. Ancient oak woodlands, rare bunchgrass prairie and endangered vernal pool wetlands are a few of the six distinct habitat types that reside on this land located less than 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The Plateau’s mild climate made the area ideal habitat for people, beginning thousands of years ago with the arrival of Native Americans. Ancestors of the local American Indians, known today as the Luiseno, harvested and hunted the many plants and animals that are still found on the land today. This hunting and gathering way of life came to an end on the Plateau with the establishment of the missions.

In 1846, the entire 26,000 or so acres of the Santa Rosa Plateau became part of the 48,000 acre Rancho Santa Rosa. It was a Mexican land grant presented to Los Angeleno Juan Moreno by Mexican Governor of California Pio Pico. Although Juan Moreno lived in Los Angeles and never resided on the Plateau, he commissioned an adobe structure to be built as a residence for the ranch manager (Major domo) or vaqueros (cowboys). In 1855, Senor Moreno sold his ranch to neighbor Augustine Machado for $1,000 American dollars and $500 worth of livestock. The Moreno and Machado Adobes still stand on the Plateau, and represent the oldest standing structures in Riverside County.

The Machado Family sold the rancho to F.W. Ludovici and A.L. Jeffries, with Ludovici investing a lot into making the area his dream ranch. After three and a half years, Ludovici loses the ranch to partner and mortgage holder, John Dear. Mr. Dear’s son Parker ended up purchasing the ranch and resided in a 3,000 square foot “Queen Ann Mansion” not far from the adobes. Many May Day picnics were hosted by the Dears during the 1880’s which attracted hundreds of residents from the region. Unfortunately, Parker Dear and his wife Elena could not make the ranch financially viable, and they lost the property to foreclosure during the financial crash of 1893.

In 1904, a rancher from Arizona named Walter Vail purchased the Santa Rosa Rancho and much of what was to become Murrieta and Temecula. Mr. Vail’s family, and later corporation, continued to operate the large cattle ranch for the next sixty years. Fortunately, for the native species of the area, the Vails were wise stewards of the property. They kept the number of cattle per acre to a sustainable level, and only grazed them on the Plateau during the wet months, moving their cattle down to valley feed lots when the dry, summer season arrived. The grazing practices of the Vail Ranch are one reason the Plateau is considered by many to be the finest remaining example of a once, widely-scattered California bunchgrass prairie system.

In 1964, the Vail Corporation sold the ranch to the Kaiser Steel Company which master-planned “Rancho California” – the communities that today comprise the cities of Temecula and Murrieta. In the first two decades of that era, grazing leases allowed cattle operators to continue to use the Plateau. Overgrazing and year-round use caused habitat deterioration during that twenty-year period, including the formation of deep erosion channels along some of the Plateau’s main creeks.

In 1984, The Nature Conservancy of California recognized the diverse concentration of unique and rare species supported on the Plateau lands, and purchased 3,100 acres in two parcels from a real estate firm, KACOR. It was named the Santa Rosa Plateau Preserve.

In the late 1980’s, Ranpac Inc. of Temecula purchased 3,800 acres comprising most of the land between the two parcels of the Preserve. A specific plan for approximately 4,000 homes was created, and citizens’ groups, Preserve Our Plateau and Save our Plateau, were formed to protect the conservation values of the property. Awareness and moral support was widespread, but funds were scarce; county, state and national agencies were unable to secure funding for a purchase that Ranpac would agree to for a fair market value price.

Seeking extensive and significant off-site mitigation opportunities for a new, large storage reservoir planned in the region, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) approached the organizations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with an offer to provide $15.4 million toward a purchase in exchange for mitigation credits for their future Diamond Valley Lake project. The County of Riverside nearly matched that funding with $15 million; the State of California’s Wildlife Conservation Board provided $5 million from Proposition 117 (Mountain Lion Initiative) funds. The Nature Conservancy handled negotiations and provided closing costs. Each entity purchased its own property, but the entire site – now known collectively as the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve – is managed as one biological unit.

In 2006, The Nature Conservancy sold its holdings to California Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as responsibility for resource management of all biological aspects of the Reserve. They also sold the lands they had purchased to create an open-space corridor linking the Reserve with the 140,000 acre Cleveland National Forest to the north. The intent of the Tenaja Wildlife Corridor Project is to protect and provide a linkage between the two areas for the movement of animals.

Another landowner on the Reserve is the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District. The Park District is responsible for visitor services including a 40 mile trail system, Visitor Center, and education programs. Together with the financial support from the nonprofit Santa Rosa Plateau Foundation, the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Span District annually hosts over 7,000 local grade school children that visit and become inspired by one of their community’s most outstanding natural and cultural resources.

Additional purchases have expanded the Plateau’s protected size to nearly 10,000 acres. Annually, more than 50,000 day-use visitors travel to the Reserve for hiking, photography, nature study, etc. Visitors may also use certain designated trails for horseback riding and mountain biking.

Of the more than 120 sensitive species of plants and animals in the Inland Empire, 59 of them can be found on the Santa Rosa Plateau. California newts and southwestern pond turtles survive in bedrock-lined pools of the stream systems, and native wildflowers, some highly endangered, draw thousands of spring-time visitors. Vernal pools, the seasonal, shallow ponds which collect on rare, volcanic lava flow mesas, support endemic fairy shrimp and wintering waterfowl. Engelmann oaks, a rare, semi-deciduous species with blue-gray leaves and contorted branches, are found in abundance among the rolling grassland prairie. Badgers, horned lizards, mountain lions, bobcats, gray fox and deer are found on the Plateau, as are more than 200 species of birds.

The Plateau is an area of stunning biological diversity and rich human history. The Reserve stands as an example of human foresight and cooperation in protecting a special part of tour shared heritage.

The Moreno adobe, the older of the two found on the Reserve, was constructed in 1845 when Juan Moreno moved 100 head of cattle to the Plateau. According to a map dated 1846, the structure originally consisted of four rooms and sat upon 48,000 acres granted to Senor Moreno by Pio Pico; the last Mexican governor of the territory of California. Three rooms washed away in a heavy winter storm in 1884.

In 1855, the US Attorney General challenged his right to the Plateau land. Unable to financially pursue the matter in court, Moreno sold his Santa Rosa Rancho to Augustin Machado on August 17, 1855. The price was $1,000 plus $500 worth of livestock.

The Machado adobe is believed to have been built that same year for use by ranch hands. Juan Machado inherited the land of the Plateau from his father in 1865. The Machados title to the land was not finalized until 1872.

The Santa Rosa Rancho was sold to a group of British businessmen in 1876 for one dollar an acre. One of the men, John Dear, bought out his partners interests in the Rancho on August 15, 1878 two years after his son Parker Dear was already living on the ranch. Living in a two-story house of 14 rooms, Parker Dear used the adobes as quarters for ranch hands. The large Dear home burned in a human-started fire in 1974. Following flood events that twice destroyed the railroad connection with San Diego, Parker Dear was forced to put the ranch into receivership in 1894.

Walter Vail, already a successful ranch owner in Arizona, bought the Santa Rosa Rancho in 1904. For 60 years under Vail family and Vail Corporation ownership, the Machado adobe was used as a bunkhouse, and the remaining room of the Moreno adobe was used for a time as a sort of jail house for drunken cowboys.

On December 4, 1964, the Vail Ranch was sold to Kaiser Steel for $21 million. Much of the ranch was leased for cattle grazing as the Machado adobe continued as a bunkhouse and the Moreno was used as a tack room for horse equipment.

In 1984, The Nature Conservancy purchased 3,100 acres of land on the Santa Rosa Plateau, which included the Moreno and Machado adobes – Riverside County’s oldest standing structures.

Contact Us:

Address: 39400 Clinton Keith Road, Murrieta CA 92562

Phone: (951) 677-6951

If you have additional questions, for a speedier response – please contact Guest Services for more information.


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