From its 10,000-foot-high source in the San Bernardino Mountains, the Whitewater River flows east and south into the Coachella Valley desert. The Whitewater River is one of the most pristine and remote watersheds in southern California and was identified by biologists as an area of high ecological significance. A critical biological link between the San Bernardino Mountains and the Coachella Valley and San Jacinto Mountains to the south, the river provides important habitat for such diverse species as the California spotted owl, Nelson’s bighorn sheep, and arroyo toad. The river’s rich riparian habitat is a seasonal home to endangered neotropical songbirds, including least Bell’s vireo and southwest willow flycatcher.
The Whitewater River is also an important ceremonial and cultural area for traditional Cahuilla Indians, who still visit the river to collect and gather native materials. Located in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, much of the upper watershed is virtually trail-less. The lower river is paralleled by a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). With easy access from Interstate 10, the Wildland Conservancy’s Whitewater River Preserve and reserve lands protected by Friends of Desert Mountains provide extensive opportunities for day hikes and wildlife viewing and a trailhead to the PCT. The Whitewater Preserve also offers interpretive programs for the public.
The 2019 John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act protected 28.1 miles of Whitewater River and its North, Middle and South Forks as a National Wild and Scenic River.