GOSD Day Outing: Dripping Springs Trail
Throughout the year GOSD hosts a number of events and activities that are designed to explore this wonderful place we call home. This month, we’re going a bit to our north to explore an area that many have passed by, but not many have explored. This will be one of our more strenuous hikes, so please be ready for a challenge. We hope to see you out there and bring a friend!
Hike Leader: Steve Hedge
Meeting Time:8:30 AM
Distance:8-10 miles (out-and-back)
Hiking Time:8 hours
Elevation Gain/Loss:Up to 3,100’/3,100’ depending on milage
Trail Use:Dogs allowed
Directions: From I-15 exit at Temecula Parkway (CA-79), drive 10 miles east on CA 79 to Dripping Springs Campground, on the right (south) side of the road. If the campground is closed, you can park outside and walk 0.4 mile past the campsites to reach the inner trailhead, where you sign in at a register before entering Agua Tibia Wilderness. The trial mileage given here is keyed to the inner trailhead.
Description: From the register at the inner trailhead, the trail immediately fords the usually dry Arroyo Seco Creek, and then begins a switchback ascent through sage scrub and chaparral vegetation liberally sprinkled with annual wildflowers in early spring. After only 0.1 mile, there’s a trail junction. Stay right, up the Dripping Springs Trail that is sure to give you a good cardiovascular workout.
After 1 mile, the trail gains the top of a nearly flat ridge and then continues south toward a series of 10 ascending switchbacks that cross an old firebreak (stay on the zigzagging trial and don’t make shortcuts). Vail Lake and Southern California’s highest mountains, Old Baldy (also known as Mount San Antonio), San Gorgonio, and San Jacinto-come into view. On a clear winter day, the snow-covered summits standing bold against the blue sky are a memorable sight.
At about 3.5 miles (3,100’), the trail crosses the head of a small creek, where the chamise and ceanothus-dominated cover begins to yield to Manzanita and ribbonwood (red shanks) shrubs. The smooth, bronzed limbs and branches of the Manzanita support dark green, leathery leaves that turn edge-on to the sun on hot days, thus conserving moisture. Ribbonwood has a perpetually peeling reddish bark and leathery, fragrant, light-green foliage. Starting in February, the Manzanita shows off myriad tiny white or pinkish blossoms shaped like hanging lanterns. Later in the year, red berries (Manzanita is Spanish for “little apple”) appear. When ripe, these edible berries taste a lot like pippin apple.
At 4 miles, you’ll encounter the remains of climax chaparral forest dominated by Manzanita and ribbonwood. If left unburned, ribbonwoood and bigberry Manzanita can attain treelike proportions, obtaining heights greater than 25 feet and an age of 100 years or more. Few specimens of this old-growth forest remain following the 1989 Vail Fire, which incinerated nearly the entire stand and left only a few old-growth plans intact.
At about 4.5 miles, the trail descends a little and crosses an area of poor soil. A view opens up to the southeast and south. The white dome of the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory gleams on a ridge about 9 miles southeast. You can now see the pine and oak-fringed summit ridge of Agua Tibia Mountain ahead.
Soon you follow sharp switchbacks again, with the scenery changing from low chaparral to scattered oak and pine trees. At the trial’s end, 6.8 miles, you join the Palmar-Magee Trial, and abandoned fire road along the Agua Tibia crest that is sporadically maintained today as a foot trail. Note that this section can become overgrown after a single wet season, and dense chaparral may prevent travel if there hasn’t been recent maintenance. Flat sites for trail camping can be found nearby. If you’re taking this route as a day hike, this will be your turnaround point.
Don’t forget to bring water and a snack. As always, we recommend bringing the 10 essentials.
We hope to see you there!