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Palm Springs Area is a Hiking Paradise

Hiking ☼ Paradise

Expert Philip Ferranti suggests trails for year-round hiking

Adapted with permission of the publisher from Philip Ferranti’s book, 140 Great Hikes in and Near Palm Springs (Big Earth Publishing).
Above Palm CanyonAbove Palm Canyon 

Philip Ferranti

Blessed with idyllic weather for much of the year and diversity of topography and flora, the Coachella Valley is a haven for hikers. Where else can you explore elevations ranging from 11,000 feet to below sea level, and hike throughout the winter beneath sunny skies with an average 78-degree temperature? Spring and fall also offer great climes for taking to the trails. And when summer comes, hoofers hightail it to higher grounds. With more than 140 hikes and counting within a 60-mile radius of Palm Springs, you can meander among canyons and palm oases, traverse mountain switchbacks, and step along several earthquake faults, including the infamous San Andreas. The area also features scenic state and national parks, nature preserves, and the popular Indian Canyons.

Lost Horse Mine Loop
Length: 6.5 miles
Hiking Time: 4 hours
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Season: September to June
Information: Joshua Tree National Park,
Twentynine Palms, 760-367-5500

Take Hwy. 62 from I-10 to Joshua Tree. Turn right on Park Boulevard (Joshua Tree National Park sign). Once inside the park continue to Cap Rock Junction, turn right onto Keys View Road and drive for another 2.5 miles. On the left, look for the dirt road directing you to Lost Horse Mine.

Located near the center of Joshua Tree National Park, the Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail combines three hikes into one, offering a visit to a once-successful working gold mine, spectacular mountain vistas, and a delightful meander through a gentle wash filled with Joshua trees, yucca, juniper, and many other High-Desert plants. Views look south toward the Coachella Valley.

Begin hiking the trail found east of the parking lot. The trail takes you up two miles until reaching the Lost Horse Mine. Here you can explore the remains of the mine and read about its history. Continue on the trail, but beware there will be few hikers (most reach the mine and return to their vehicles).

Less than 0.5 miles from the mine, the trail climbs to a series of fantastic overlooks into Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant valleys, and even to the distant, jagged Coxcomb Mountains, the farthest eastern boundary of the park.

The trail begins a descent along a ridge, showcasing the rugged environment, then winds alongside a mountain, offering vistas of the valleys below and the distant mountains. After 0.5 miles, the trail turns right and down into a small valley to an old rock fireplace. Then it continues west, climbing onto a plateau that offers grand vistas of the distant Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.

In another mile, after you’ve exited a short, dry wash, you will reach a turn to the right, marked by rock cairns. For the next 1.5 miles you will trek a flat valley, over sandy trails marked sporadically by cairns. This section takes you back to the parking lot.

Big Colorful Canyon
Length: 6 miles
Hiking Time: 3 hours
Elevation Gain: 350 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Season: October to April

Directions: Take 1-10 several miles past Indio heading east. Take the 86 S. Expressway exit toward Brawley. After turning right on the 86 S. Expressway, travel approximately 10 miles to 62nd Avenue. Turn left and drive several miles until reaching Johnson St. Turn right and drive several miles to 66th Avenue. Turn left onto 66th Ave. (Box Canyon Road.). Proceed almost 5 miles over the All-American Canal, and look for the green Painted Canyon sign on your right. Keep driving on Box Canyon Road for 2.4 miles past, staying on the paved Box Canyon Road. Turn left (after 2.4 miles) onto a dirt road until you reach boulders blocking the canyon.

This hike takes you into the Mecca Hills Wilderness complex. Of key interest: the colorful rock wall, accented by layered and colorful rock strata — a collection of automobile-sized boulders — a bright red-orange burst of color embedded into mauve, creamy coral, burnt sienna, and gray bedrock — from which smaller canyons branch off.

Pass the boulders, favoring the canyon veering left. Floods have washed away most loose sand, easing the way. After 0.25 miles, you will see Pyramid Canyon. Continue into the wider canyon as it winds left past a relief of sharp uplifted strata and then curves back and forth. After 0.8 miles, a narrow canyon breaks to Slot Canyon Cave Trail. Stay in the main canyon as it narrows past Slot Canyon, then enlarges and turns left. A few hundred yards up to your right, a hillside spills its sandy boulders. Examine the boulders and they crumble into fine sand.

The canyon veers left, narrowing before it leads into an open space. Continue in the main canyon until you see a high relief of dark, colorful rock walls, then a creamy white mountain on the farthest horizon.

As the canyon narrows, look for a large, green tamarisk tree to the left. Approach quietly; owls could be nesting there. Continue until the canyon splits a hill formation. Stay left, and note the large canyon to your left. This is Burnt Sienna Cutoff Ridge Loop. Continue until, after 0.2 miles, the canyon again opens. Favor the wash to the right, from which you can see a large, dark, dead tree, killed by dehydrating desert mistletoe.

Pass the tree and, as you turn past a side canyon wall, you will see the walls of Big Colorful Canyon. Favor the left side, aiming for the large rock formations.

Finish by continuing up the left side for another 0.25 miles. Turn around and trace your route back to your car. Notice the view of the Salton Sea as you return. This hike is best done on clear, sunny days, early in the morning. On cloudy days, the color is almost absent.

Palm Canyon Trail to the Stone Pools
Length: 6 miles
Hiking Time: 3 hours
Elevation Gain: 880 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Season: October to May
Information: 760-323-6018

Drive through Palm Springs on Highway 111 until reaching the juncture with South Palm Canyon Drive. Turn onto S. Palm Canyon Drive, following the signs to the Indian Canyons for 2 miles. From the tollgate, proceed 2.5 miles to the Palm Canyon parking lot where the trading post is. Head east down the road/trail at the east end of the parking lot.

This trail takes you through the lush jungle-like river bottom of Palm Canyon and out onto backcountry high-desert plateaus where the entire horizon seems to open.

Looking 14 miles south toward the Santa Rosa Mountains, the trail is surrounded by the soaring San Jacintos, which thrust up dramatically from the canyon floor. Stunning views of the desert and Palm Springs appear to your rear, followed by magnificent plunging cliffs, waterfalls, and pools fed by clear, shimmering ribbons of water racing through the rock gorges.

Drop into Palm Canyon from the trading post and continue for almost 0.5 miles until you cross Palm Canyon Creek to the left. As you pass the right fork of Palm Canyon, veer left and follow the streambed and trail for another 0.5 miles until you reach the marker indicating that the trail crosses the stream and climbs up the south bank and the ridge above. Head south along this trail. Very soon, the climb takes you into the open country, where you can appreciate the full, magnificent beauty of these canyons. The trail stays on a high plateau, with some occasional glimpses into small adjacent canyons. After two miles of hiking, you will reach a wide dirt wash/Jeep road. Take the trail straight, rather than follow the wash to the left. You will eventually arrive at a place where the trail melts away into the sandy rock, but is still faintly visible on the slowly climbing rise above the canyon to your right.

Turn right and down toward the canyon when it is obvious that the canyon bottom is less than 30 feet from the trail, and when a small trail comes off the main trail to take you to the area known as the Stone Pools along Palm Canyon Creek. In a wet year, water flows freely and deep, often creating a series of small pools (hence the name). In a dry year, you can see only sporadic water. Feel free to explore up and down the canyon bottom before returning to the main trail and back to the trading post. It’s a great spot to enjoy lunch!

Devil’s Slide Trail to Tahquitz
Peak Lookout Loop
Length: 13 miles
Hiking Time: 7 hours
Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Season: May to November
Information: U.S. Forest Service, Idyllwild, 909-382-2922 or 951-659-2117

To reach this trailhead, drive into Idyllwild on Highway 243 from Banning and 1-10, or take Highways 74 and 243 from Palm Desert. In Idyllwild, turn east on North Circle Drive (at The Fort Shopping Center). Proceed north for over a mile until you reach S. Circle Drive. Turn right, and then take your first left onto Fern Valley Road. Take this to Humber Park (about 2 miles from downtown). Park as the road begins to turn around at the trailhead and loop back on itself. Be advised that on busy weekends you need to get there early.

This loop hike offers a chance to see the full range of peaks and valley views from the southern portion of San Jacinto Mountain and Wilderness Area. It is a strenuous full day of exploring the ridges and vistas above Idyllwild, and can be either a shuttle from the Devil’s Slide Trailhead to Tahquitz Peak Lookout and down to South Ridge Road, where you park at both trailheads, or a full loop made by returning to Humber Park via the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail.

After reaching Saddle Junction, take the trail to the right for Tahquitz Peak. During the next mile-plus, you will gradually ascend along a ridge that affords you dramatic views of the desert to the north and the flanking eastern slopes of San Jacinto Mountain. You reach a crossroads of several trails after hiking 1.4 miles. From there, take the trail to the south as it makes its way up to Tahquitz Peak Lookout. This section of the hike is dominated by granite mountains and steep slopes, less forested than at lower elevations. After reaching the lookout tower, head down the trail to South Ridge Trailhead. If you made this a full loop and not a shuttle, then once down South Ridge Road to where it meets Tahquitz View Drive, turn right up the road for about a mile until it meets the south end of the Ernie Maxwell Trail. This trail will take you back to your vehicle at Humber Park.

Palm Springs Life


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