The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a 31,000 acre preserve in the Little San Bernardino Mountains that protects one of the largest riparian areas in California and is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. The upper half of Big Morongo Canyon begins in the Mojave Desert and the lower half opens into the Colorado Desert. Water flowing out of the surrounding mountains and through the canyon forms Big Morongo Creek and its marsh habitat, which is shaded by majestic cottonwood and willow trees. The lush environment attracts numerous bird species and some rare ones nest there, earning it the designation “Important Bird Area” from several wildlife conservation organizations. In addition, the preserve shelters a wide variety of wildlife like deer, bighorn sheep, bobcats, coyotes, snakes, lizards, raccoons and many more.
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is located north of Palm Springs and just west of Joshua Tree National Park, so it makes a great addition to your trip when you visit this diverse geographic area. From Interstate 10, Take exit 117 for Route US62, “Twentynine Palms Highway”. Follow this scenic route north into the mountains for about 10 miles, and turn right on East Drive. Watch for a sign on the left and turn left into the preserve at 11055 East Drive. Follow the driveway to the parking area.
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Visiting the Preserve
The park is open daily from 7:30 to sunset. Admission is free but donations are encouraged. The best times to visit are fall through spring; summer is uncomfortably hot and I suspect there are mosquitoes in the marsh. Birds are abundant during the spring and fall migration periods. There is a kiosk by the parking area where free trail maps and information are available. All trails begin here, including the wheelchair-accessible Marsh Trail that meanders one-half mile through the woods and over the marsh on an elevated boardwalk. This trail is mostly level and easy enough that most people using manual chairs should be able to negotiate it. In addition to the trail, accessible features include parking and restrooms. A picnic area is available, but I didn’t notice whether it’s accessible. Note that dogs and smoking are not permitted in the preserve.
Where to Eat and Sleep
There are no food services in the preserve, so bring your own food and water. There are some stores and restaurants in the small town of Morongo Valley just a mile or so away. Camping is not permitted at the preserve, however free primitive camping is available at Morongo Valley Park (5 miles north on US62) and developed camping is available at Black Rock Campground in Joshua Tree National Park (20 miles north). Numerous commercial campgrounds and hotels are available in the area at Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Palm Springs.