Agua Tibia Mountain

General Information
Some Interesting Tidbits about Agua Tibia
Sources and Other Information

General Information

Agua Tibia Mountain is the northwest part of the Palomar Mountain Range. Most of it is in the Cleveland National Forest, with the southernmost lower elevation part contained in the Pauma Indian Reservation. Nearly the entire Cleveland National Forest portion, 15,934 acres*, was set aside as a wilderness area, the Agua Tibia Wilderness (ATW), on 9 January 1975.

Being part of the Palomar Mountain complex, there are no clear boundaries for the Agua Tibia portion. Roughly, it is bounded by Highway SR-79 on the north, the Arroyo Seco River on the east, Fray Creek on the south, and Pala Road on the west.

The "peak" of Agua Tibia is a nearly-level ridge over 3 miles long that varies from 4400' at its northwest end to 5077' Eagle Crag at its southeast end. The low point along the ridge is Crosley Saddle at 3931'.

Until the 1987 Palomar Fire and the 16,000 acre 1989 Vail Fire, the entire Agua Tibia mountain had not burned for well over a century, not since at least 1877, which allowed century-old manzanita and ribbonwood plants to reach giant heights of up to 20'. Those two fires burned over 6800 acres, most of the eastern half of the wilderness, killing most, but not all, of those giant shrubs. The dead trunks still remain in a few places in 2000, with a percentage of them coming down each winter, often blocking trails.

The Agua Tibia Fire of August 2000 essentially burned the part of Agua Tibia that did not burn in the 1989 fire (the western and southern parts):

Leona Rodreick, the USFS Wilderness Manager, said on 9/4/00:

The trails that were affected by the fire are Dripping Springs and Palomar-Magee. The Fire burned the intersection of the Dripping Springs and Palomar-Magee and burned north to just above the second set of switchbacks on the Drip trail and burned east approximately 1 to 1 1/2 miles on the Palomar-Magee. It also burned out the blowdown that had fallen across the Palomar-Magee trail, which will make it much easier when it comes to trail work.

Permission was granted for dozers in the Wilderness and they created a dozer line south from the Crosley Homestead area and up a ridge above the trail to just east of the Crosley Saddle and then follows that same ridge line between Marion Creek and Agua Tibia Creek. Since then we have had mechanical excavators in there to mitigate and cover with brush the dozer lines, as well as to repair parts of the Wildhorse trail and Palomar-Magee trail that the dozers were on.

Agua Tibia is firmly in the Temecula Valley, weather-wise, and hence is very hot in the summer, with typical daytime temperatures exceeding 100° in most of the Wilderness, and even above 85° at the highest locations. There is very little shade except at the very highest elevations, and no sources of water in the summer at all. The ATW should thus be viewed much more as a desert environment than a mountain environment, at least in terms of visitor use. The best times to visit are November through April. During the rainy season, Agua Tibia receives far less rain (~25 inches) than its very close neighbor Palomar Mountain (~45 inches).

The 245 acre Emerson Oaks Preserve of UC Riverside is to the west of the Agua Tibia Wilderness.


Map: TopoZone Map

USGS 7.5' x 7.5' Maps: Pechanga, Vail Lake, Pala and Boucher Hill, coordinates: NW end: (33.42441° N, 116.99333° W, 4400'); SW end (Eagle Crag): (33.38726° N, 116.95647° W, 5077')

By Car: The only drive-in entrance is the Dripping Springs Campground, 11.2 miles east of I-15 on SR79, clearly marked with a "campground 1/4 mile" sign from both directions. The Campground is also easy to locate by noting that it is at the lowest elevation of the road in that area as the road crosses Arroyo Seco Creek. The Campground has recently begun to be closed in late spring due to the Arroyo Toad, but the trails are still open. In 2000, the Campground was closed in April and May.

By Trail: Agua Tibia is reachable by the Cutca Trail from the High Point Fire Road on the north slope of Palomar Mountain.


There are 31 miles of trail on Agua Tibia (25 miles of trail in the Wilderness Area):

The Wild Horse Trail from the DS Trail to the Crosley Trail (7.0 miles) was built in spring 1992. The Cutca Trail (3.0 miles) was built in 1979.

The best time to hike Agua Tibia is the cooler part of the year, since temperatures at its base are similar to those of Temecula, with highs regularly reaching in the 100s in the summer, and temperatures at its summit often reach the 90s. I went on 9/12/99, and the temperature stayed quite constant from 89-91° as I hiked, despite this being a cool day in Fallbrook with an official high of 81° and relatively so on Palomar Mountain with an official high of 85°.

A Wilderness permit is needed only for overnight use. Day hikers can just sign in at the trailhead. There is weak cell phone reception at the trailhead, and better reception near the peak.

The Dripping Springs Trail

U.S. Forest Service's Wildhorse Trail (7/22/99)

U.S. Forest Service's Palomar-Magee Trail (7/21/99)

Tom Hill's Agua Tibia Peak, Eagle Crag, Brown Mountain (2/7/99)'s Palomar District Hikes.

GORP's Agua Tibia Wilderness

Jerry Schad's Sidewalk San Diego Agua Tibia Loop and North Palomar Traverse have been taken offline in 1999, but may reappear in the future at Signon San Diego. In Schad's 1998 book, he now says that the upper part of both of these hikes, the McGee - Palomar Truck Trail, "is completely impassable", and "there is doubt [it] will ever be passable again". However, the Forest Service says in the webpage above "a lot of down timber and brush makes passage extremely difficult".

Afoot and Afield in San Diego County, Jerry Schad, third edition, 1998, Wilderness Press, Area M-1, Trips 1 and 2, p. 127 and 129. The information about a Wilderness Permit is no longer applicable. In fact, several years ago I tried to get a permit at the Dripping Springs Fire Station, and no one there had any idea what I was talking about.

Some Interesting Tidbits about Agua Tibia

Some tidbits about the ATW from the 1977 Wilderness Management Plan and the 1993 Implementation Schedule:

Sources and Other Information

Agua Tibia Wilderness Management Plan, Cleveland National Forest, California, 1977.

Agua Tibia Wilderness Implementation Schedule, Palomar Ranger District, Cleveland National Forest, February 1993.

Rare plants found only in and near Agua Tibia:

Other rare plants: Prostrate spineflower (Chorizanthe procumbens)

Paleoseismology Of The Elsinore Fault At Agua Tibia Mountain Conclusions: major earthquakes along the Elsinore Fault at the flank of Agua Tibia occur every 550-600 years, with the last earthquake sometime between 1655 and 1810. Hence the probability of the next major earthquake in the next 50 years is only ~5%.

Total Escape!'s Cleveland National Forest has a small amount of information on Agua Tibia.

The Boy Scouts of Fontana's Dripping Springs Campground has the same small amount of information.

* Schad quotes 18,000 acres in the 1986 and 1998 Afoot and Afield in San Diego County, but I haven't been able to find any confirming references. The USDA Forest Service List of National Forest Wilderness Areas lists 15,394 acres, which is said to be the "official" acreage in the 1977 Wilderness Management Plan.

Links checked 4/30/00.

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Copyright © 1999-2001 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 5 February 2001.