Dripping Springs Trail (Agua Tibia
Distance - 15
- 3100 ft.
Max Elevation Reached
- 4627 ft.
Trailhead - Link
There is considerable disagreement in the statistics of
trail as recorded in the various hike logs/websites/books that one
might come accross. In my opinion, this difference can be attributed to
two reasons. Firstly, the official trailhead is some distance from the
trailhead parking and some hikers, myself included, tend to add this
extra distance to their total mileage. Second, the official version of
this hike ends at a trail junction, yet most hikers tend to try and go
a bit further to additional view points and log more miles. The above
stats go beyond the "official trail" and reflect my own experience.
The Dripping Springs Trail is located in the Agua Tibia
Wilderness section of Cleveland National Forest just a few miles east
of Temecula, CA. The trailhead, which is technically in Riverside Co.,
is located at the rear end of the Dripping Springs Campground.
This is one of the more beautiful hikes in the greater San
Diego area. Since the trail is far enough north (Riverside Co. and San
Diego Co. line) one can get to see San Jacinto and San Gorgonio peaks
fairly up close. And, I don't mean an occassional glimpse or two
either ... one can enjoy an unobstructed view of these SoCal behemoths
for at least half the distance. Some distance into the hike, Vail Lake
also appears to the north, in front of the snow covered peaks.
The trail generally heads north to south climbing the
northern face of the Palomar Mountain Range. Right at the start, the
Arroyo Seco Creek must be crossed. Thereafter, the climb is gradual and
the trail narrow. In many places the brush is quite overgrown requiring
slow and careful progress. Some seven miles into the hike, the trail
reaches the Palomar Magee Trail junction. This technically marks the
end of Dripping Springs Trail. However a more rewarding conclusion to
this long hike is the view point over Castro Canyon offering endless
vistas towards the south. One can hike further yet and attempt
to summit Agua Tibia Mt. which is about half a mile from the
canyon overlook. Beyond this point the brush poses a formidable
challenge to further ascent. It is best to go as far as you can,
without pushing it too much, and then retrace your steps back to the
Download Google Earth KML - Link
Started from Trailhead - 8:10 am
Reached Agua Tibia Mountain - 12:45 pm
Started back - 12:45 pm
Break for Lunch - 1:30 pm
Resume after Lunch - 2:00 pm
Reached Trailhead - 4:15 pm
Photos - Link, courtsey
Notes - I hiked with two friends on Saturday
over President's Day weekend. It was also St. Valentines day. It
raining on and off for the whole week and I was very skeptical about
the weather and trail conditions during our hike. Dripping Springs
Trail was only my second choice. I was planning on heading to Eagle
Crag, but had to drop this plan because of reports of snow as low
as 4500 ft. to 5000 ft. I was expecting little snow enroute
Agua Tibia Mt. I was in for a big surprise!
The drive to the trailhead was uneventful. In other words,
we did not get
lost this time! The weather was wonderful. In the 50s mostly, with
clear skies. The Arroyo Seco Creek had a decent flow and we crossed it
easily. The trail was clear, at least initially. At about 3400 ft., we
saw our first snow patch and were naively excited. That was only the
begining. Very soon we were walking in about 2 - 3 inches of snow,
all the way to the top. Despite the snow, we were able to easily follow
the trail throughout. The GPS did come in handy at a couple of
We spotted a very strange set of footprints in the snow. I
had bever seen these before. I later learnt that they were just
Rabbits! We probabally also spotted Coyote footprints as well.
The trail was narrow throughout. The brush on either side was
quite overgrown and was drooping over the trail. Some overgrown
stretchs were so narrow that using hiking poles was getting to to be a
pain. And then there were the trees ... fallen trees to be precise.
Quite a few of them in fact. We negotiated skillfully, sometimes
over, sometimes under!
We hiked up to the Palomar Magee Trail (PMT) junction and
continued on to Castro Canyon. Wanting to go on further to the Agua
Tibia summit, we continued on the PMT. The brush got progressively
thicker as we got closer to our destination. About 0.3 miles (distance)
and 150 ft. (elev.) short of the summit, the dense brush had turned in
to an impenetrable wall. We decided that turning back was the best
to do. We met another lone hiker who was also doing this hike for the
first time. She too had to turn back, unable to find a suitable
I later checked on Google Earth, and this particular stretch
of thick brush went on for about 90 ft. beyond where we decided
to turn. The trail appears to reemerge after that but seems to run into
similar problems several times again. I wonder how people hike the
Palomar Magee Loop trail described in Jerry Schad's book.
We spotted a few snow-free boulders on our way back. They
seemed like a great spot for lunch. We ate while enjoying views of snow
covered peaks and the Palomar
Observatory's dome. We got back to our
car well before sunset.