5 Best Desert Hikes | Outdoor Activities | Greater Palm Springs, CA
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5 Amazing Desert Hikes Near Palm Springs

Outdoor adventure seekers, you have arrived at the mecca for amazing hiking. Nowhere in such a concentrated area will you find the diversity of topography and flora. With elevations of 11,000 feet to below sea level, this desert resort area is fast becoming one of the country’s pre-eminent hiking destinations.
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ADAPTED WITH PERMISSION OF THE PUBLISHER FROM PHILIP FERRANTI’S NEW BOOK, 140 GREAT HIKES IN AND NEAR PALM SPRINGS (BIG EARTH PUBLISHING) AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM

Where else from November to April can you hike beneath sunny skies with an average 78-degree temperature? As temps rise on the desert floor, hikers seek the high country, making this a year-round destination for hikers to refresh themselves physically and spiritually. The following hikes represent a sampling of the scenic variety the area’s trails offer.

Big Split Rock Slot Canyon Walkabout
Slot Canyon Walkabout
 Photo courtesy: Geo's Journal

 The “Big Split Rock” Slot Canyon Walkabout lies in the Mecca Hills, in the northeast corner of the Coachella Valley, along the boundary of the North American Tectonic Plate, where the San Andreas Fault converges with other fault lines to form the uplifted, geologically exotic area known as the Mecca Hills. The canyons and low mountains here strike the eye of any visitor as a place “off-planet,” resembling a lunar landscape, especially under the soft light of a full moon. By day, however, this contorted, compressed land is blessed with a profusion of vibrant color, the result of minerals deep in the Earth having been exposed over eons of time to the erosion of wind and water, while abundant iron-based minerals have combined with the elements to form washes of red, lilac, orange, coral, burnt sienna, and other desert hues more reminiscent of Southern Utah than Southern California.

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Los Palms Oasis Trail at Cottonwood Spring
Lost Palms Oasis Trail at Cottonwood Spring
 Photo courtesy: Geo's Journal

The Lost Palms Oasis Trail at Cottonwood Spring is in Joshua Tree National Park. On the southernmost boundary of Joshua Tree National Park, several minor earthquake fault lines — branches of the San Andreas Fault line 20 miles southwest — cut through the low mountains overlooking Interstate 10. By doing so, the fault encourages water to seep to the surface. At one such point, you can explore a lush growth of California fan palms for their stately beauty. This particular grouping of fan palms is known as Lost Palms Oasis and makes a beautiful day hike through washes and over plateaus, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, including the distant San Jacinto Mountains to the west.

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Whitewater Canyon
Whitewater Preserve
Photo courtesy: Geo's Journal 

The Whitewater Canyon/Pacific Crest Trail Ridge Loop is found in the Whitewater Preserve, where the  Canyon forms the boundary between the Coachella Valley desert area and the San Bernardino Mountains to the northwest. The canyon is home to Whitewater River, whose waters over thousands of years have charged the aquifer beneath the Coachella Valley with fresh drinking water. Whitewater Canyon/Pacific Crest Trail Ridge Loop takes you first over, then above, Whitewater River. In less than a half-mile, you will access the famous Pacific Crest Trail. Wind your way to the top and hike the ridge above Whitewater Canyon. Especially after a wet winter, this hike can be accented with tall green grasses and a profusion of wildflowers and flowering bushes. Striking scenic vistas of distant mountain ranges in all directions and the valley below make this hike a must.



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Palm Canyon Trail to Stone Pools
Palm Canyon Trail, Indian Canyons
Photo courtesy: Geo's Journal  

The Palm Canyon Trail to the Stone Pools is in the Palm Springs Indian Canyons. This trail takes you through the lush jungle-like river bottom of Palm Canyon and out to backcountry High Desert plateaus, where the entire horizon seems to open up. Looking 14 miles south toward the distant Santa Rosa Mountains, the trail is surrounded by the San Jacintos, which soar dramatically from the canyon floor. Stunning views of the desert and Palm Springs appear to your rear, followed by a series of magnificent plunging cliffs, waterfalls, and exotic pools fed by clear, shimmering ribbons of water racing through the rock gorges.

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 Spitler Peak Trail
Spitler Peak Trail

Spitler Peak Trail is in the San Jacinto Mountains. Visitors will be rewarded with the scenic, mountainous high country above Palm Springs by exploring this Trail. A more than 2,000-foot elevation climb and 10 miles round-trip length might satisfy hikers wanting a more challenging experience. But if you want an easy six-mile round trip and only 500-feet elevation gain, do the first three miles only of the hike. The vistas from this hike include Lake Hemet to the south, along with Thomas Mountain and Garner Valley beneath you and the San Jacinto Mountains to the west and east. A great mountain experience!

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Find more Greater Palm Springs hiking on the Outdoor Recreation page.