When you think of Central Valley, you might not think of endless rolling hills, oak woodlands, pine forests, and remote hiking trails full of wildlife. Wind Wolves is a beautiful nature preserve located less than an hour’s drive from Bakersfield that offers all of this and more.
Tucked away in between farms at the foothills of the San Emigdio Mountains, Wind Wolves Preserve is one of the best-hidden gems of the Central Valley. Here you can find a ton of great hiking trails to choose from, enjoy stunning pristine landscapes, observe wild animals and spend the night under the stars at the park’s campground – all free and easily accessible to the public.
If it’s your first-time visiting Wind Wolves Preserve, there are a few trails that you can do. One of the most popular hikes here is the 7-mile-long San Emigdio Canyon Trail. In this guide, we cover where this trail is located, where to park, what to expect, and other tips for a great outing to the Wind Wolves Preserve!
Location & Parking
Wind Wolves Preserve is located about a 45-minute drive from Bakersfield and about a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles.
Getting there from Bakersfield is very easy! You can take 99 South to 166/Maricopa Hwy West and then turn left once you see the “Wind Wolves Preserve” sign. A dirt road will lead you to the main area where you will find the campground and trail starting points. The preserve itself is quite large but there are plenty of signs along the way.
Once you arrive you can leave your car at the large designated visitor parking lot. From there on the road is blocked off, but you can easily reach the trailheads within a couple of minute’s walk.
Upon arrival, we were not sure which trail we wanted to hike but the friendly staff members at the entrance gave us maps and helped us with trail suggestions. It was our first time visiting the Wind Wolves Preserve so they recommended for us to check out the San Emigdio Canyon Trail which is one of the shortest and easiest trails here.
If you’re not sure where to go, I recommend looking up the San Emigdio Canyon Trail on AllTrails and starting the Directions that will lead you right to the trailhead.
The San Emigdio Canyon Trail is 7 miles long and gains around 800 feet in elevation but the increase is so gradual and steady that you won’t even notice it. Keep in mind that you don’t also need to do the full distance – this is an out-and-back trail so at any point you can turn around and head back the same way you came.
Wind Wolves Preserve Address: 16019 Maricopa Highway, Bakersfield, CA 93311
About The Wind Wolves Preserve
Operated by The Wildlands Conservancy, at 93,000 acres in size Wind Wolves Preserve is one of the largest nature preserves on the West Coast. This is a true natural treasure that not many locals know about!
Wind Wolves Nature Preserve is home to many endangered species that The Wildlands Conservancy is trying to rehabilitate including the tule elk, California condor, San Joaquin kit fox, and the Bakersfield cactus (which you can also see at the Panorama Vista Preserve in Bakersfield).
Interesting Fact: Wind Wolves Preserve is named after the tall grasses that sound like running animals. In the 1800s Central California was home to wild wolves and grizzly bears that used to roam these lands but now are extinct in this area.
If you are interested in camping, Wind Wolves Preserve offers free camping at the San Emigdio Campground (with advanced reservations). For camping reservations, you can call 661-858-1115 or see more on The Wildlands Conservancy website here!
For hikers, there are several trails to choose from:
- San Emigdio Canyon Trail – around 7 miles round trip. This is an easy trail and highly suggested for first-time visitors. This is the trail that we opted to hike.
- El Camino Viejo Bike Trail – around 10 miles round trip. This trail has a gentle incline and is great for biking.
- Tule Elk Trail – around 8 miles round trip. Along the Tule Elk Trail, you have a chance to see tule elk that were once near extinction but now flourish at the preserve.
- Wildflower Trail – 1-mile round trip. This is a short hike that’s great for families with younger kids.
What I love about the Wind Wolves Preserve is that it’s also very dog-friendly. This is a great place to bring your dogs to enjoy the outdoors, just please clean up after them to protect the local wildlife and ecosystems.
Best Time To Go
The best time to visit the Wind Wolves Preserve for hiking and camping is in early spring or fall when the weather in Central Valley is at its best.
In springtime, you will also see a lot of wildflowers and lush green fields, especially after heavy rainfall. Usually, by May, the landscape in California has turned dry and brown as the heat starts picking up.
By the time summer comes around, the Central Valley temperatures often spike past 100 degrees making hiking outdoors unbearable unless you get an early head start.
If you plan to visit the Wind Wolves Preserve in warmer months, always go prepared by bringing enough water for yourself and your dogs. It’s also a great idea to let someone know where you’re heading in case you get heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Hiking San Emigdio Canyon Trail
On our visit, we hiked the San Emigdio Canyon Trail that starts near the visitor’s parking lot. From the lot, you can head straight and the trailhead will be visible to the left shortly after.
The San Emigdio Canyon Trail is one of the easiest trails at this preserve so you can expect it to get a bit crowded, especially on the weekends when locals are looking for an escape from the city. Getting an early head start can be helpful to avoid the crowds!
The San Emigdio Canyon Trail is fairly straightforward and comes out to be around 7 miles in length, out and back. But I do want to note that some of the signs along this trail were a bit confusing and the names didn’t match the trail names on our map.
Before our trip, we had downloaded Maps.Me offline map which we referenced a couple of times at junctions and turning points. You can also use the AllTrails app to help guide you although halfway through we lost reception and could not pull up the map anymore.
The trail travels next to the San Emigdio Creek providing a bit of shade and cool water for dogs. There are also a few picnic tables scattered along the trail that are great for enjoying a break and snacks.
The San Emigdio Canyon Trail starts with a bit of incline but flattens out shortly after. It gains around 800 feet in elevation but it’s very barely noticeable. There is an option to go on a short side detour to Raven’s Landing but we opted to skip it on our visit.
Within 5 minutes of hiking, we already spotted a group of deer up on the hills peeking down on us. The creek was also coming to life with loud frog sounds and other critters. Along this trail there are plenty of chances to see wildflowers and spot animals, just keep an eye out for coyotes, snakes, and mountain lions that reside here.
The park is very clean and well maintained making it a great spot for hiking and enjoying the outdoors. Despite the long distance, the hike went by very quickly.
The San Emigdio Canyon Trail is a total of 7 miles long but we turned around a bit early at The Willows picnic site to start heading back. At The Willows you also have the option to cross over and connect with the El Camino Viejo Bike Trail for the way back if you want a change of scenery. Or you can head back the same way you came.
It took us around 3 hours to complete the hike with plenty of stops to take breaks and enjoy the scenery.
Other Wind Wolves Preserve Visitor Tips:
- The preserve is open to day visitors from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
- Restrooms are available at the beginning of the trails near the parking lot.
- There are trashcans at the parking lot but not anywhere along the trail. Plan to bring a small trash bag and pack out any trash that you might have during your hike.
- Bring plenty of water especially during the hotter months of the year.
- If you plan to stay at the campground overnight, you will need reservations. There are 12 sites at the San Emigdio Campground with picnic tables, water, restrooms, and dishwashing stations.
- It’s free to visit, hike and camp at the Wind Wolves Preserve but this park is operated by a nonprofit organization based on donations.
Shop My Favorite Hiking Gear:
- Ankle height hiking boots to prevent slipping and twisting your ankles
- Durable merino wool hiking socks for extra cushion and comfort
- Nike One Luxe leggings that are made from sustainable materials
- A comfortable flannel shirt – perfect for hiking and camping outdoors
- A travel hat to protect yourself from getting sunburned
- Polarized Sunglasses to help with harsh sunlight
- Sunscreen which is essential for day hikes in California
- Reusable water bottle with a filter
- Headlamp and a first aid kit for emergencies
- Portable phone charger in case your phone runs out of battery
- A light day pack. I use the REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack which fits everything I need for a day hike and comes with a breathable back & mesh straps for extra comfort.
We hope this blog post has helped you prepare for a wonderful visit to the Wind Wolves Preserve. If you have any questions, feel free to ask us in the comments below!
Here are some other great hiking trails near Bakersfield that you may like:
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