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Santa Margarita River


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Santa Margarita River 2
Santa Margarita River 1

Formed by the confluence of Temecula and Murrieta creeks in southwestern Riverside County, the Santa Margarita River immediately flows into spectacular Temecula Gorge and crosses the San Diego County line just northeast of the town of Fallbrook. From there, the river flows through the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton and thence to the Pacific Ocean.

One of the last free flowing rivers in Southern California, the Santa Margarita River is widely recognized by various local, state and federal agencies to be an irreplaceable scenic and ecological treasure. The river's 27 miles of lush riparian vegetation is a singular natural resource in this rapidly urbanizing region. Its diversity of vegetative and aquatic habitats are home to numerous plants and animals, including 500 plant species, 236 bird species, 52 mammal species, 43 reptile species, 26 fish species and 24 species of aquatic invertebrates.

The riparian corridor contains the highest density and overall diversity of bird species of any natural area in the south coastal river basin. The Santa Margarita's lush riparian growth supports a substantial percentage of the nation's entire population of the endangered Least Bell's Vireo. This small migratory song bird has been extirpated from 95 percent of its historic breeding range, but has found a home in the Santa Margarita River canyon. The lower portion of the river supports extensive coastal wetlands which provide important habitat for other sensitive and endangered bird species, including the Light-footed Clapper Rail, Belding's Savannah Sparrow and California Least Tern.

The Santa Margarita River also supports the largest remaining native population of Arroyo Chub, a small fish which was formerly abundant throughout Southern California. Large runs of coastal steelhead trout have been extirpated from the Santa Margarita, but the river remains one of the few nearly pristine coastal watersheds in which to reintroduce this biologically unique species.

In recognition of the river's outstanding ecological values, the Bureau of Land Management has determined that a small segment of the river flowing through scattered public lands is eligible for National Wild & Scenic River status. Connecting the BLM parcels is the 4,000 acre Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve which encompassess state land administered by San Diego State University. In addition, the Nature Conservancy has recently purchased river frontage just downstream of Temecula and is considering further acquisitions along the river. Altogether, nearly six miles of the river downstream of Temecula to the Riverside and San Diego county line is in public ownership. The remainder of the river is largely owned by the Fallbrook Public Utilities District and the Marine Corps.

The Santa Margarita has been targeted by dam builders since 1945, but no viable project has surfaced due to prohibitive costs, egregious environmental impacts and widespread public opposition. Despite its free flowing nature, the river already provides an important water supply by restoring groundwater aquifers utilized by local residents and the Marine Corps. Water quality and flood control are emerging issues as the watershed becomes increasingly urbanized.

How To Get There

Santa Margarita River Locator Map

Access to to much of the Santa Margarita River is restricted due to private land and the miliatary reservation at Camp Pendleton. However, a short segment of the river on utility district land is accessible to hikers and equestrians from De Luz Road, 10 miles north of the town of Fallbrook.


Recreation And Visitor Information
Friends of the Santa Margarita River
P.O. Box 923
Fallbrook, CA 92028
or call (619) 728-7836

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