Recreation and Drinking Water Along the Santa Ana River

The Santa Ana River connects the San Bernardino Mountains, from Big Bear Lake to Huntington Beach. Streams that feed the rivers flow from high in the mountains down to the beach. In fact, the Santa Ana River is the largest coastal stream system in Southern California. Collectively, the drainage area surrounding the river form the Santa Ana River Watershed. This natural river is a major source of drinking water for people in Orange County.


The Orange County Water District (OCWD) oversees the Santa Ana River flows in this area and manages a six-mile stretch of the river. While flows can be unpredictable and are dependent on water availability from upstream, OCWD captures the river flows for recharge. As the river travels down through the soil layers to vast underground groundwater basins, the water is naturally treated and cleaned and then later pumped for drinking purposes. Thousands of people downstream of the river are dependent upon the water from the Santa Ana River.

Santa Ana River Trail

While the Santa Ana River does serve as a source of water supply for the watershed, it is also a major draw for recreational activities in the watershed. The Santa Ana River Trail runs alongside the water to create a recreational path from San Bernardino to Riverside and down through Orange County. This 50.3 mile path includes asphalt and concrete surfaces that can be utilized for biking, inline skating, horseback riding, walking and is even wheelchair accessible. For most of the river in the San Bernardino and Riverside County areas the water is a natural open channel, however in Orange County the river eventually reaches concrete drainage channels constructed to protect adjoining land development from flooding. . The Santa River Trail begins at South Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino, continues through Colton and shortly after goes through Riverside, including Mt. Rubidoux. There is a break in the trail in the Norco area so it is recommended to split up your recreational activities as separate activities upstream and downstream of Prado Dam. The trail continues through Corona and Yorba Linda along Green River Road. Next is Chino Hills, Anaheim, City of Orange and ends in Huntington Beach. The trail is an ideal route to spend time along the river and exploring the outdoors.

Off the Beaten Path

If you are looking for recreation activities along the river, but feeling more adventurous, take the road less traveled. Several options can help you appreciate this beautiful natural resource with a more rugged approach. Big Bear Lake provides biking, boating, kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking. In a forest atmosphere, the fresh mountain air provides a perfect weekend getaway to appreciate the headwaters of the river.

Big Bear.jpeg


Hidden Valley Nature Center is also a site to visit, located along the river in Riverside, east of Norco. Sitting along the bluff of the local mountains, the Nature Center is sits within the Hidden Valley Wildlife Area, 1,500-acre nature preserve that provides 25 mile of hiking and equestrian trails. From up on the top of the hills here, you can view the Santa Ana River below. Hidden Valley offers picnic areas, scout programs and nature trails. It is a beautiful location for admiring wildlife and spending a day off the beaten path.

Big Bear

Through Norco, horseback riding along the river is another option for an adventure along the Santa Ana River. Riders of all experience levels can enjoy trails on horseback through the peaceful hills of Norco. Western Trails Horseback Riding provides rides at reasonable rates in the rustic beauty of the watershed.

Kayaking in Newport Estuary is another option for viewing the river. In fact you aren’t just viewing it, you are literally in the river! Paddle board rentals are another way to enjoy the Santa Ana River. Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is a location for riding horses, biking, hiking, canoeing and kayaking. The estuary is one of only a few remaining in Southern California.

Kayaking Newport.jpg

The Santa Ana River combines recreation and drinking water for the people who utilize it in three Southern California counties. The benefits of the watershed go beyond a visual natural resource to appreciate. Beauty, functionality and enjoyment, for humans and wildlife, encompass the Santa Ana River Watershed.

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