Santa Rosa Plateau
Ecological Reserve and Visitor Center
Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is currently closed with the exception of the Vernal Pools and Trans Preserve Trail to the Adobes, which are open to the public Saturday & Sunday 8am-2pm.
Please note: Openings are subject to volunteer availability, public safety issues, and weather permitting. Check with staff at the Sylvan Meadows parking lot on Saturday and/or Sunday prior to driving up to the Vernal Pools.
Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center remains closed to protect burn areas. We continue to seek volunteers to help at this site, if you would like more info about volunteering, click here.
Sylvan Meadows Multi-Use trails are open to the public 7am-4:30pm daily, with the exception of the Tovashal, Cajalco, and Cattle trails which are closed due to ongoing restoration efforts.
Day use fees paid in exact cash only please: $4 adult, $3 child, $1 dog on 6' leash, or horse.
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.
Visitor Center: Closed
Trails: Sylvan Meadows
Open 7am-4:30pm daily
Reserve is closed.
Sylvan Meadows is open daily 7am-4:30pm
RivCoParks offers a variety of nature education programs at Santa Rosa Plateau. Field trips are available for home schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges, scouts and private groups. Special third grade trips are very popular, offering teachers helpful educational resources to round out the trip.
Walking deck over vernal pools
Ancient tree on the reserve
Vernal pools at the reserve
Kids take a guided nature walk
A crane rests at the water's edge
A special shelter at the reserve
Trail pathway along stairs
Close up of poppy flower
Children learn about the reserve
Trail signs on the reserve
A bridge over the vernal pools
Ranger talks to visiting children
39400 Clinton Keith Road
Murrieta, CA 92562
Phone: (951) 677-6951
or (800) 234-PARK (7275)
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
The historic adobes of the Santa Rosa Plateau are Riverside County's oldest standing structures.
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
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.
Programs at the Santa Rosa Plateau are enhanced through funding raised by the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Eduction Foundation.
For more information about the Santa Rosa Plateau Foundation visit: Santa Rosa Plateau Foundation. If you are interested in volunteering at this site, please visit our Volunteers Page for more information on how you can help, thank you!
This mission of the foundation is to educate and empower youth to appreciate, preserve and protect nature. If you would like to make a donation to help our youth in support of this mission, please click on the heart to the left.
Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation Annual Report
Outdoor Nature Education
Outdoor Programs Only!
No Indoor Programs offered on field trips during inclement weather.
Covid 19 safety protocols are in place.
Scouts/Groups may schedule a 3 hour field trip to the Ecological Reserve. The program offers an enriching nature education display and includes a walk through plant communities recovering from the Tenaja fire of 2019. The field trip focuses on plateau geology, animal and plant life adaptations, and the human history of the area.
Field trips are for children ages 8 years and older on Tuesdays-Fridays. A minimum of 20 guests per group is required.
Field Trip Request Forms
Remember what to bring!
Jacket/Layer of clothing
Eat breakfast & bring water
3-4 Chaperones per class
Third Grade Field Trips
Third Grade Field Trip Registration Info:
2022 Field Trips are fully booked
2023 Field Trip registration will open Sept. 5, 2023 at 4:00 p.m.
Riverside County public schools may schedule a 3 hour field trip to the Ecological Reserve. The program offers an enriching nature education display and includes a walk through plant communities recovering from the 2019 Tenaja fire. The field trip focuses on plateau geology, animal and plant life adaptations, and the 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
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.
Teacher Resources for 3rd Grade Field Trips
Here are helpful teacher resources to make your field trip run smoothly and ensure everyone has an exciting, educational, fun, and memorable experience!
This pdf file prints two quizzes per page (print horizontal).
(Western) Fence Lizard
(Western) Pond Turtle
The links here 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 (letter from the animal) 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!
THE HISTORIC ADOBES
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.