Whitewater Preserve San Gorgonio Overlook via PCT: Feb 2020

Updated: Jan 18

Distance: 10.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,555 ft


The Whitewater Preserve is a special place to see and experience. It consists of 2,851 acres that are part of the larger, 33,000 acre Sand to Snow Preserve System managed by the Wildlands Conservancy. The Preserve is surrounded by the Bureau of Land Management’s San Gorgonio Wilderness, and includes the year-round Whitewater River.

Trailhead for Whitewater Preserve hikes bordering San Gorgonio Wilderness
Crossing creeks in Whitewater Preserve Red Dome Trail
Canyon walls towering over the Whitewater River in the Whitewater Preserve

The Whitewater Preserve is a gateway into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The river that runs through the preserve year-round is called the Whitewater River. It starts at the highest point in southern California on the southeastern slopes of Mt. San Gorgonio and the San Bernardino Mountains and it terminates at the Salton Sean at the southern end of the Coachella Valley.

Shannon, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The stream flows fluctuate greatly with seasonal changes resulting from snow melt and heavy rain storms. Flash floods are common in the Preserve following thunderstorms.

Crossing Whitewater River in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

In the canyon, the wash expands to over 1/2 mile wide and is paved with accumulations of boulders, gravel and sand brought down by floods.

Whitewater River with towering canyon walls of Whitewater Preserve

However, the water mainly penetrates through the porous desert floor, providing groundwater recharging of the Coachella Valley aquifer. Before approaching Palm Springs, the Whitewater River is fed imported water from the Colorado River Aqueduct thereby ensuring a continuous flow of water.

Crossing Whitewater River in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

The water is so cold and crystal clear.

Crossing Whitewater River in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

It serves as an important wildlife corridor between the San Bernardino pictured here and the San Jacinto Mountains across the valley.

San Bernardino Mountains from Red Dome trail in the Whitewater Preserve

We left the wash and began heading north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which runs through Whitewater.

Hiking PCT in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

In front of us a short but steep climb to the ridge where we'd continue following the PCT.

Hiking PCT in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

Reaching the top of the ridge we had hiked 3.2 miles and gained 730 feet from the canyon floor. What an incredible view of the trails leading to the canyon floor and the mountains rising quickly on either side of the canyon.

Canyon was of Whitewater River from hills above Whitewater Preserve

Once over the ridge and down the other side the terrain began to flatten out.

Hiking PCT in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

We were soon walking on a broad plateau with hills and mountains rising on both sides.

Hiking PCT in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

We were starting to have unobstructed views of San Gorgonio, the snow-covered mountain right of center.

Hiking PCT in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

The trailed continued along the base of the hill to our left before taking a 180° bend and climbing the hill to our right.

Hiking PCT in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains
Hiking PCT in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

We gained elevation quickly and had a birds eye view of the trail below us.

Hiking PCT in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

Here's a view from the overlook looking west toward the San Gorgonio and the San Bernadino Mountains. Time for a lunch break!

San Gorgonio i from vista along  PCT trail in Whitewater Preserve

San Gorgonio Mountain, also known locally as Old Greyback, is the highest peak in Southern California and the Transverse Ranges at 11,503 feet. In contrast to its spectacular but lower neighbor, San Jacinto Peak, San Gorgonio is not particularly craggy, and from a distance, it appears to be an extremely high hill, earning it the name of greyback. The mountain is large and broad; the summit plateau itself is one square-mile in area.


Despite not being particularly striking in appearance during the summer, it is the only mountain in Southern California with a summit a significant distance above the tree line. As such its bright white winter snow cap, unobstructed by vegetation, makes the mountain noticeable from many miles away. The mountain hosts the longest recorded line of sight in the contiguous United States; it is plainly visible from the summit of Mount Whitney, 190 miles away.


Here's to hoping I can complete this peak in my bucket list.

San Gorgonio from PCT trail in Whitewater Preserve

The San Bernardino range extends southeastward for 55 miles from the Cajon Pass, which separates them from the San Gabriel Mountains, to the San Gorgonio Pass. The mountains were formed about eleven million years ago by tectonic activity along the San Andreas Fault, and are still actively rising.

San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Mountains from PCT trail in San Gorgonio Wilderness area

After enjoying the scenery it was time to start our 5 miles journey back to the trailhead.

San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Mountains from PCT trail in San Gorgonio Wilderness area

What a difference from the lush green environment along Whitewater River. Here everything was dry and brown.

Hiking PCT in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area

At the ridge leading into the canyon, the sun was at the right angle to highlight the red-pink granite intrusion in the hillside.

Hiking PCT in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area

Walking along the Whitewater River and the bend near the Red Dome rock formation.

Crossing Whitewater River in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains, Red Dome in Whitewater Preserve

On the home stretch.

Hiking Red Dome Trail in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

Time for a last selfie in the heavy green growth along the stream. For me there is something special about hiking in the Whitewater Preserve.

Hiking in the Whitewater Preserve of San Bernardino Mountains

Here's the satellite view of the hike from the MapMyRun app.










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