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Off the Beaten Path: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

In SoCal when people visit the desert everyone heads to Joshua Tree National Park or Palm Springs. These are great choices because they are exciting and beautiful places. However, right between these two amazing places is an oasis full of walks, hikes, and wildlife: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.

Pictured: Landscape of grassy field, with trees on the left and a mountain in the background at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is often overlooked for its flashy neighbors. We had lived in the area for over a year before we heard about it. Don’t be like us and take a year to learn about this place. Keep reading to find out why you shouldn’t miss this special spot in SoCal.

The oasis is full of wildlife including mule deer and rare bird species. Whether it’s a hot day and you’re looking for a (slightly) colder outdoor experience or just looking for a nice walk, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a great place to visit.

What is Big Morongo Canyon Preserve?

31,000 acres located in between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, this oasis is protected by the Bureau of Land Management and the nonprofit charity Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. This preserve is free to visit and offers such a unique experience to visitors in the region.

The preserve welcomes people of all ages and abilities with its wheelchair accessible boardwalk and hikes with ranging difficulties. At the entrance, you can find pictures of common wildlife, maps of the trails, and Scavenger Hunt Bingo.

Interested in learning more? Check out the official website of the preserve here

Pictured: Hiking trail near large green bushes and a mountain in the background
Pictured: Man with binoculars looking off camera

Where is the preserve?

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is almost directly in between Joshua Tree and Palm Springs!

From Joshua Tree, 17.5 miles: The preserve is about a 25 minute drive on Highway 62 towards I-10, then turn left onto East Dr. and head to the parking lot.

From Palm Springs, 17.5 miles: Overall, the drive will take about 25 minutes depending on where you start from in Palm Springs. Take N. Indian Canyon Drive to Highway 62, then drive up the grade and turn right onto East Dr. in Morongo Valley.

When should I go to Big Morongo Canyon Preserve?

Pictured: Sam smiling at camera in front of grassy field

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is great to visit at any time of year. As this location is important to various bird migrations, heading here in the spring or autumn will allow you to see species of birds you can’t see year round.

Pictured: Wooden boardwalk in Big Morongo Canyon Preserve at sunset

We loved coming to Big Morongo Canyon for early morning walks in the summer because it was a few degrees colder here than Twentynine Palms and the birds were always singing.

Sunset walks around the oasis are also great. This was the time of day we most often saw mule deer in the preserve.

Even on the “busy” days, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve isn’t crowded. The trails are often empty, and even when they aren’t, it was never so busy that we couldn’t enjoy the nature around us. You can always find a quiet place to feel secluded in the wilderness.

What can I do at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve?

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a great place for nature lovers. Walk the boardwalk, hike along the ridge, or go birdwatching for rare species!

Stroll along the boardwalk

One of the best parts about this place is that it’s accessible for everyone. The boardwalk makes it easy to navigate and takes you through the most scenic parts of the preserve.

It follows the stream with beautiful marshes along the way. The landscape around you changes as you venture further into the park and you’ll see many different types of plant and bird species.

The boardwalk offers a lot of shade, which is rare out in the desert. Make sure to take a break at one of the three decks along the trail.

Pictured: Wooden boardwalk for walking through plant life in the oasis at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Pictured: Desert landscape with dirt hiking trail in the middle at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Take a hike on one of the many trails

There are six different trails in the preserve. They range from easy to very difficult.

Here is the link to the trail map and descriptions. On this page, you will find the length and descriptions of each so you can choose which one is best suited for you!

Off the boardwalk, some of the trails head away from the oasis and coverage of trees. For this reason, we suggest going early in the morning or evening.

If you are hiking during the day, make sure to wear sun protection and bring lots of water!

Go Bird Watching

If you enjoy bird watching, this is the stop for you to make. There are over 200 species that have been seen in Morongo Valley (where the preserve is located).

At the entrance of the preserve, you’ll find pictures of common and recent sightings, as well as, a brochure that lists all the birds to search for. The preserve is an internationally recognized birding site, which is a big part of its uniqueness. Several rare or unusual species are known to nest here such as the vermillion flycatcher, which we were lucky enough to see while we lived in California.

Of course you can be on the lookout while you walk around the preserve, however, there are two different places with bird feeders to watch for them as well. At each place, there are benches nearby so you can sit and wait for the animal visitors to make their way over for a snack.

Pictured: Ty birdwatching with a desert landscape in background and dirt hiking trail at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Pictured: Looking through camera lens at a woodpecker on a tree surrounded by green foliage at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Wrap Up: Visiting Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Whether you are in the area visiting the national park or passing through, we recommend making a stop at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. It will not disappoint!

After you’ve spent some time enjoying nature, head over to Coyote Cone for a treat! Coyote Cone is an ice cream shop close by the preserve, in Morongo Valley. For my vegan friends: when I went they had two nondairy ice cream options and shaved ice too!

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