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Watchable Wildlife IconBig Morongo Canyon Preserve

Site 193 in the California Wildlife Viewing Guide

Description Big Morongo

Nestled among the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the desert oasis at Big Morongo Canyon is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian (stream) habitats in California.  The upstream end of the canyon lies in the Mojave Desert, while its downstream portion opens into the Colorado Desert.

Because of the fault line running along the base of the mountains, water draining from the Morongo Basin surfaces at their base.  This water flows above ground as Big Morongo Creek, then disappears into sandy soil further downstream.  The result is a three-mile stretch of rich stream and marsh habitat lying between rugged canyon walls.

The Bureau of Land Management designated Big Morongo Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in recognition of its special values.  The land is managed by the BLM to protect rare and endangered wildlife, enhance sensitive riparian areas, promote the growth of a wide variety of plants, provide for scientific research, and offer educational opportunities.

Animals you may see hereA lizard on a rock.

  • Birds:  This canyon oasis has gained a national reputation among birdwatchers as "a usual spot to see the unusual."  At least 235 species of birds have been observed here, including the rare yellow-billed cuckoo - listed by California as a threatened species - and the endangered least Bell's vireo.  The stream is a lifeline to migrating and breeding birds such as indigo buntings and yellow-breasted chats.  See a list of the birds (PDF file, 20 kilobytes) spotted on the Preserve.
  • Other wildlife:  Desert bighorn sheep and mule deer file down the canyon's steep slopes to find water at the stream.  Raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes rely on the lush riparian habitat for food and shelter.  A variety of lizards and snakes are found here, including whiptail lizards and desert spiny lizards.  The California tree frog also finds a home here, as do invertebrates such as butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies.

Viewing tips for this area 

  • Dawn and dusk are good times to watch for small mammals and predators - and during the summer, for peninsular bighorn sheep.
  • Wooden walkways allow the visitor to meander through the creekside and marsh areas.
  • Trails begin from the parking lot kiosk and allow access to the six-mile length of the canyon.  See:

How to get here

From Interstate 10 northwest of Palm Springs, take Highway 62, the "Twentynine Palms Highway."  About 10.5 miles north on Highway 62, turn right on East Drive.  After about 200 yards, turn left into the Big Morongo Canyon Wildlife Preserve.

Size:  About 31,000 acres.

Managed by:  Bureau of Land Management, Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office.  The Bureau of Land Management provides an on-site steward and docents to lead public tours.  The area also includes 120 acres of riparian habitat owned by San Bernardino County that is maintained as the Big Morongo Canyon Wildlife Preserve and managed as part of the ACEC.

For more information, contact:  Bureau of Land Management, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, (760) 363-7190 or Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office or visit Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.

Site 193 in the California Wildlife Viewing Guide.

Watchable Wildlife Sites