As nature lovers, we recognize that it’s crucial to preserve our most beautiful natural landscapes. Although Los Angeles offers seemingly endless hikes, nature preserves are a great way to explore the best of what SoCal has to offer, oftentimes without the crowds that you find at national parks or popular hiking spots.
Nature preserves are efforts run by conservatories to preserve or most precious and unique landscapes. Whether its specific flora and fauna, ecosystems, or animals, these preserves are focused on saving our planet one acre at a time. Nature preserves are incredibly important in the fight to keep our earth full of the stunning and incredibly important nature features we need to thrive. If you’re looking to really step into nature, check out these six nature preserves in Southern California.
Located in Orange County, the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve is 1,o00 acres of accessible paths, hiking trails, and a stunning estuary. It’s one of the largest coastal wetlands in California, and is considered one of the best places in the United States for bird watching. Spend the afternoon on one of many hiking trails, riding horses, biking, or camping — and bird watching, of course! In the winter, up to 35,000 birds may migrate across the preserve, making for a one-of-a-kind experience.
When you hear Bakersfield, you might not immediately think of stunning, sprawling fields and miles of vibrant wildflowers. But the Wind Wolves Preserves is one of the biggest non-profit nature preserves on the West Coast, subsisting on generous donations through the Wildlands Conservatory. You’ll find a plethora of wild animals roaming the 30-square miles of grassland— but no wolves! The name refers to the way the tall grass waves in the wind, giving the illusion of wolves running through the fields. The best time to visit is spring, when you get to experience the verdant landscape spilling over with wildflowers, herds of Tule Elk, a mountain biking route, and even a 15-foot waterfall. You can even spend the night at the San Emigdio Campground.
You don’t have to go all the way to NorCal to experience lush forests. Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve in San Diego boasts 2,900 acres of trees, giving you that woodsy feel without the seven hour drive. You can hike about five miles to the summit for both coastal and mountain views. On your hike to the summit you can spot an old chimney, the remnants of an old astronomy outpost.
If you’re looking to spend some time in the shade by one of the last free-flowing rivers in SoCal, the Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve is your perfect outing. The preserve is located in an extremely vulnerable ecological zone, the South Coast Ecoregion, in San Diego County. There are five dog-friendly hiking trails that are also great for horseback riding, and there are benches dotted along the river for a picnic with a scenic view. The river valley is also a historic region that holds cultural significance for the Pechanga tribe.
If you’re looking for an escape in the middle of Los Angeles, Franklin Canyon park is one of the best places you could go. A wildlife pond, oak woodlands, and grassy meadows make up the 605 acres of stunning open space located right outside of Beverly Hills. Numerous hiking trails makes this the perfect afternoon getaway. And besides the park itself, Franklin Canyon Park is home to the Sooky Goldman Nature Center, which works on initiatives for connecting inner city kids with nature and wildlife. They host around 10,000 students per year.
Another San Diego offering, the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve is nearly 800 acres of chaparral, a shrub feature you’ve probably noticed if you’ve gone on a hike in SoCal before. There’s about 11 miles of hiking trails, which are also open to horse riding and biking. Besides chaparral, the reserve boasts nearly 200 different species of plants. There’s also a grove of oak trees only a short walk from the parking lot, making it a great picnic spot.