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Agua Tibia WIlderness Area

November 29, 2012


Just east of the community of Temecula, CA are a variety of recreational amenities for horseback riding, atv trails, mountain biking (Vail Lake) and hiking/trail running. One of my favorite locations while visiting the in laws has become Dripping Springs Trailhead in Cleveland National Forest. Located in a campground a few miles east of town, you are quickly able to escape the suburban sprawl. This year, I was fortunate enough to have timed my run in conjunction with recent trail work that enabled me to complete the entire Dripping Springs, Palomar-Magee and Wild Horse trails loop.


Starting at the day parking area, you have a brief .5 mile warm up to the trailhead in the campground. Staying right on the Dripping Springs Trail, you will cross the Arroyo Seco Creek, often bone dry, and begin the gradual ascent to Agua Tibia Mountain. Starting at an elevation of 1600 ft., the 6.8 miles to the Oak Grove and intersection with Palomar-Magee at 4400 ft. is VERY runnable. Many of the early sections include well-cut switchbacks, a chaparral habitat, numerous yucca and my favorite Manzanita. Manzanita is a beautiful chaparral shrub with gorgeously vibrant red bark and twisting branches. Despite numerous fires, some of the Manzanita has grown to significant sizes in the region.

With views of Vail Lake, Santiago Peak, Mt. Baldy, and the remnant burned slopes of the Agua Tibia, the scenery is pleasant and an easy distraction of thoughts of hiking.  The first mile, or so, includes gentle climbing with occasional switch backs. The ridge of the Agua Tibia trail leads south again through a more desert like opening, before climbing again on single track covered by Manzanita leaves.

The first time I ran this trail years ago, it was noticeable under utilized, over grown and required bushwhacking along the Palomar-Magee trail. I was immediately pleased to see that the trail had been ‘buffed’ through use and intentional management in the past year. I no longer was being pierced by young Yucca plants on the narrow single track, and the Palomar-Magee trail was exceptional.

At one point, I did get a bit nervous when I saw what appeared to be relatively fresh cougar tracks on the ascent. For a mile or so, I role-played in my head and possibly out loud how the interaction my play out if I ran into the feline species. Humorously, the local lizards heard me growl and simulate a retaliated attack by a insane trail runner on the unbeknownst victim. Fortunately, for the two of us the large cat evaded my encompassing small hands and feeble roar.

Despite a few stops for pictures, and chatting at the trailhead with some hikers, I was able to reach the Palomar intersection, 7.3 miles and roughly 3,000 ft. of climbing, in under 1.5 hours. I particularly enjoy this terminus, due to its stark contrast with the otherwise chaparral biome. A lovely shaded oak grove is a refreshing oasis for those seeking a camping shelter from the oft-warm sun. 

Maintaining this pace, I thoroughly enjoyed the 2.8 miles along the connector trail, with no bushwhacking or stumbling in 30 minutes, again taking some time to snap some photos. I was just as impressed with the sizes of big cone Douglas Fir pinecones along this trail.

Having not planned for a longer run, I was attempting to be conscience of my water, I tried to pick up my pace on the double track descent from Crosley Saddle. Staying adjacent to the Arroyo Seco Creek, the trail is nicely shaded and gently graded. Deceptively, the trail does not descend the entire 10.1 miles and crosses a variety of drainages before reconnecting to the Arroyo Seco Creek and terminus. With approximately 5 miles left and temperature climbing back to the 70s, I had run out of water. Wishing I had not drank those few beers and hydrated better, I slowed my pace and enjoyed the wonderful scenery.

This was a fantastic loop for any occasion, but equally necessary and relevant for Thanksgiving. I much prefer this tradition of running on these trails to that of watching a parade.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Thom Rahn permalink
    September 10, 2013 5:47 PM

    fyi, the cone you are holding in the picture is a Coulter Pine, not a fir.

    enjoying your posts though. may try the lookout/big mountain loop in an upcoming visit to SLC.

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