Trail Trippin to North Hills Trail at Diamond Valley Lake
By Sherli Leonard
The idea of riding a new trail around a newly constructed lake near barren hills does not lure me to load up Ronda and trailer an hour away, but duty called (as in dead-line for an article) and I.talked my riding buddy, Tracey, into heading to North Hills Trail at Diamond Valley Lake south of Hemet. In the process, we discovered an amazingly delightful adventure.
No matter which direction you come from, you will be utterly discouraged and disheartened by the gross buildup of subdivisions with houses stacked together like containers on freighters on land once wide open to the sky. Never mind, persist, and drive through to Highway 79 (Winchester Road) and Construction Road to find the trailhead to North Hills Trail.
When we rode in the winter, the sky was clear, the temperature about 68, and winds non-existent. It couldn't have been better, which was a good thing: the entire trail is completely exposed and a blistering summer sun will boil blood of both horse and rider. Definitely save this trail travel for the late autumn, winter, or spring.
I've also never seen trails so well-marked with useful and clear signage. At the trailhead, on the north end of the staging area, a large sign spells out the rules, and an iron ranger asks for $5 per person. The sign gives a warning about the "difficult trail" with "steep segments" and "loose footing." Fortunately, we neglected to read the sign as we passed, and proceeded in ignorant bliss.
For the first mile and a half, the trail travels alongside an aqueduct - not terribly exciting, but safe and easy. But first, you must ride on a narrow concrete bridge to cross the aqueduct. The entrance to the bridge is not immediately apparent; head for the gap between concrete abutments and make an immediate left turn. It will be obvious by then, but watch for the concrete apron on the other side - probably the most dangerous footing on the entire trail.
As our horses moseyed along the wide trail, we observed myriad varieties of birds; we were riding through the 13,000 acre Southwestern Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve. Even though cars cruised along Domenigoni Parkway less than a half mile away, it appeared that wildlife was thriving along this trail.
The trail crosses another wider bridge, and good signs direct riders to a double track trail that skirts the foot of the hills on the north side of Diamond Valley Lake. Pleasant and easy, the trail goes for another mile - half-mile markers are posted to keep riders aware of their time and distance - to a rest area with picnic tables, restrooms, and two ridiculously unstable tie rails. At only 2.5 miles into the ride, we hardly needed a rest, so we moved on at our blistering pace of three mph.
The trail, still double-wide, headed into the hills and introduced us to the first of a few steep climbs - steep, but not difficult; the kind of "steep" that requires a short blow at the conclusion.
Along side this climb, the concrete ruins of a magnetite mine provide interest and stimulate the curious minds. (I know what the ruins are only because the handy trail map I picked up at the guard shack has a picture and caption.)
The trail climbs high into the hills, with a steep drop-off on one side. Don't look down if you're acrophobic.
At the 3.6 mile point, the trail reaches the lake overlook. Bordered by a fence, the overlook lets rider (and horse, if it's interested) look upon the new Diamond Valley Lake, a Metropolitan Water District facility created to bring more water to the millions of Southern Californians. Supposedly, the lake will eventually be surrounded with vegetation, but at this time, it was bordered by only sage and coastal scrub.
We proceeded up the trail, which is bordered for a few hundred feet by an attractive wooden fence on the drop-off side, presumably to keep riders from plummeting down the steep slope into the lake a few hundred feet below. We kept going for another half mile, until we reached the highest point of the trail. Here, the trail narrows somewhat; although it is still plenty wide, the sheer drop-off demands you have a solid horse. After the concrete apron at the end of the first bridge, this is the most dangerous part of the trail, especially considering the trail is shared by hikers and an occasional (illegal) bicyclist.
At the top of the trail, we found a large pad cut into the hill top, complete with picnic table. If you want to hold your horse (since there is no tie rail), you could picnic here, too.
According to the map, the trail goes for another 1.5 miles to reach the east trailhead. We opted to turn around here, probably the four-mile point. We'll make the entire trail some day when we start out a little earlier.
On the return trip, which the horses traveled at a considerably quicker rate, we noticed huge dust clouds billowing up about 10 miles away to the west. By the time we reached the trailer, the wind had reached us. Good fortune entitled us to a beautiful ride on a well-made, carefully-designed trail through interesting terrain. I believe we'll go back.
Terrain : Hills, ridges, and flats; double-track trails for riders and hikers only; smooth and secure footing.
Difficulty : Rider: Beginners should be very safe; Horse: intermediate and beyond, solid and spook-resistant.
Facilities : Staging area built especially for equestrians at the west end of the trail; portable toilet, water, manure cans, picnic tables, some shade, tie rails.
Cost : Five dollars per rider.
Operating times : Open all year, dawn to dusk; trails closed during and following rain.
Directions : From I-15 in Temecula, take Highway 79 (Winchester Road) north to Construction Road; turn right to the guard shack, and follow the directions. From I-15 in Sun City, take Highway 74 east to Winchester Road, turn right to Construction Road, turn left to guard shack. From I-10 in Beaumont area, take Highway 79 south to Hemet, turn right on Highway 74 (Florida), turn left on Winchester Road, turn left on Construction Road to the guard shack.
Information: (877) 385-5253; www.dvlake.com .