The Agua Tibia Wilderness is a BLM property close to Temecula in California. The eighteen thousand acres of mountainous scrubland lies almost hidden among the forests of the Palomar State Park and is a stark contrast to the casinos, golf courses and general resort bustle of the city only twenty minutes drive away. As strange as it may be, the name of the wilderness translates from its Spanish form to 'warm water', though there are no permanent waterways of any description within the BLM land's boundaries.
With no designated campgrounds inside the Agua Tibia Wilderness perimeters, it's a BLM property just made for boondocking in California, but sadly motorized vehicles of any kind are not permitted in the wilderness. Non-motorized camping is allowed, but the closest you'll be able to get with your RV to the Agua Tibia Wilderness is to park or pitch camp at the Dripping Springs Campground. The campground is located on the northern edge of the Cleveland National Forest and from there you can then set out on one of the many trails that lead into the wilderness.
Hiking and trail running are two of the most rewarding activities in the Agua Tibia Wilderness. The terrains are as nature intended them and completely untouched by human hands, so there are strict 'pack it in- pack it out' and 'leave no trace' rules in place in the wilderness which must be adhered to. It's also a fantastic spot to practise the art of scenic photography without having to worry about electricity pylons spoiling the shots. The wilderness is more notable for the presence of several endangered species of flora rather than for its fauna, though there is an abundance of reptile life which includes lizards and rattlesnakes. If you're missing the sound of running water in the wilderness head over to the Cleveland National Forest, there are some amazing waterfalls to be seen there.
While you won't be able to drive right into the Agua Tibia Wilderness, you won't find getting close enough to park up too much of a problem. Three main highways, the I 15, the CA 76 and the CA 79 all encircle the area of the Cleveland National Forest where the wilderness is located. That means no matter what direction you're motoring there from, you'll have a decent road to do it on.
If you're coming down from the north of the state after spending a few days RV camping in the Chino Hills State Park once you're on the I 15, it'll take you around an hour to get to Temecula. Add to that another fifteen minutes on the CA 79 going east in the direction of Aguanga and you'll be getting ready to put your hiking boots on. It'll take around the same amount of time if you're driving down from the San Jacinto State Park too.
If you're pitching up at the Dripping Springs Campground, you'll find there's easy access directly into the campground from the I 79. All the site's internal roadways are asphalted and relatively easy to negotiate, though you may need to watch out for low branches hanging over the roads as you drive around or pull into your campsite.
Day visitors to the Agua Tibia Wilderness are able to use the parking facilities at the Dripping Springs Campground for a small fee payable to the on-site host.
Dripping Springs is a pet-friendly US Army Corps of Engineers-managed campground located on the northern border of the Cleveland National Forest. The campground is open twelve months of the year and operates on a reservation system. It is the closest campground to the Agua Tibia Wilderness. The campground has thirty-three campsites six of which are equestrian pitches. All the campsites are primitive, surfaced with gravel and have no utility hook-ups. There is a fifteen-foot height restriction for vehicles on the site because of overhanging branches and the maximum length of RV or trailer catered for is twenty-five feet. These restrictions also apply to the equestrian pitches.
While the campsites are primitive they are furnished with a picnic table, fire ring and grill. There are restrooms on site but no showers. There is also drinking water available for public use but no other amenities whatsoever.
Whichever trail you decide to hike through the Agua Tibia Wilderness, and there are quite a few, you'll need to be fully prepared before setting out. It's backcountry hiking, so pack plenty of drinking water, an emergency first aid kit and a map to keep you on the right track.
One of the best hikes in spring or fall is the Agua Tibia Loop. The loop is a twenty-mile-long compressed dirt trail that winds its way deep into the wilderness. The moderate to difficult graded track passes through rocky woodlands up to an elevated area where there are incredible views that will take your breath away every bit as much as the climb did.
There are great photographic opportunities in the Agua Tibia Wilderness whether you're an amateur or professional with a camera. The scenic vistas are unspoiled by any technological interruptions like pylons, cables or even moving vehicles, which in this day and age is something difficult to find.
The wilderness is one of the few places you'll have the chance to snap shots of the rare Vail Lake ceanothus, a bright yellow, multi-headed flower endemic to California, and the Rainbow manzanita, a bush with tomato-like fruit. If you've got a good telescopic lens, you could get some fantastic photos of rattlesnakes too. Just don't get too close.
While the Agua Tibia Wilderness is barren of running water, you'll find several impressive waterfalls close by in the Cleveland National Forest. The Cedar Creek Falls are eighty feet high and cascade down a craggy rock face into a deep pool. The Kitchen Creek Falls are smaller and can be reached on a three-mile loop hike starting from the Kitchen Creek parking area in the forest. The Three Sisters Falls are harder to get to but worth the effort.
The series of falls are located along a four and a half-mile out and back trail best done late in the year after a good rainfall. Have a rest before heading back as the return journey is uphill all the way. Avoid going during the summer months as the falls can dry up.
The Palomar Observatory is situated on the side of Mount Palomar in the Cleveland National Forest and houses both the Hale Telescope and a museum. The telescope, once the largest in the world, is one of three at the observatory that is used to monitor the night skies.
In the visitor center that is open to the public, you can browse exhibitions on how asteroids and comets deemed dangerous to the earth are searched for, watch live viewing feeds from the telescope in a virtual presence kiosk and learn how the analysis of light is achieved.
The Agua Tibia Wilderness may be an area of California practically untouched by human hand, but the Temecula Valley isn't. Take a drive through the valley and you'll see acre upon acre of neatly cultivated vines. The Temecula Valley is renowned for its production of top-quality wine and is home to many award-winning wineries.
Motor up the Rancho California Road then back down the De Portola Road and you'll have the chance to stop off for more wine tastings than is probably advisable. If you're concerned about drink driving there are also transport-provided guided tours organized by partners of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association.
While you might be thrilled at spending some time in the back of beyond at the Agua Tibia Wilderness, if you're traveling with young kids they might not find it quite so exciting. Cheer them up with a visit to the Mulligan Family Fun Center in Murietta. The center is just thirty minutes drive from the wilderness and guaranteed to put a smile on any kid's face.
Let them loose in Hologate, a virtual reality game where they can slay a dragon or two, then let them play laser tag or speed around on a go-kart. There are also water slides at the park that are open seasonally. They'll love every minute of it.