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Hiking In Palm Springs: The Three Must Do Hikes

Hiking in Palm Springs: The Three Must Do Hikes

Palm Springs in late fall and winter is a welcoming spot. You walk off the airline into an open air terminal with sunshine pouring in….and immediately start stripping since if you live in Canada or the northern US, you haven’t felt such intense sun for many months already. And you’re likely dressed in black. Keep your sunglasses handy. You’ll need them immediately.

And the hiking is fabulous. Here are three trails – and several other suggestions by Phillip Ferranti – author of the guidebook to hiking in Palm Springs.

Three Must do Hikes in Palm Springs

"Indian Canyons area - known for its great hiking"

Indian Canyons area known for its great hiking

There are 140 hikes within a 70 mile radius of Palm Springs. These range from 1 mile to 22 mile affairs and in fact the hike with the biggest one day vertical in the US is probably here. It’s “The Cactus to Clouds” hike with an elevation gain of 10,400′ over 22 miles. Don’t miss a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s here that you can admire other worldly boulder formations and high mountain desert plants….and it’s just over an hours drive away.

Here are three hikes in the Palm Springs area I hiked.

1. The Mirage Trail aka The Bump and Grind.

The trail is easily accessed above Rancho Mirage. It’s not the prettiest hike but you’ll get a good cardio workout in less than two hours and you get a good view of the Coachella Valley from the top.

The Bump n Grind Trail near Rancho Mirage

The Bump and Grind Trail near Rancho Mirage

2. A circle loop in the Indian Canyons.

If you can arrange a car shuttle then consider starting at the trading post and follow the West Fork Trail to the West Fork North Trail to the Murray Canyon Trail to the Andreas Canyon Trail. Pick up your car in the Andreas and Murray Canyon parking lot. These trails are well marked, very scenic and cover about 9 miles. You will have to pay to do any hiking in the Indian Canyons ($8 per adult) and season passes are available. You can also join a ranger led interpretative hike. Call 760- 323-6018 for the schedule. Any and all hikes in the Indian Canyons area are scenic.

"A lush section on the Indian Canyon hike"

A lush section on the Indian Canyon hike

3. Little Utah Canyon in the Mecca Hills area.

This is an easy two hour hike which offers views of the Salton Sea and the colourful canyons.

Hiking in the Mecca Hills

The Mecca Hills area is a great one for hiking but don’t forget the water

Trails in the Mecca Hills area

Hiking in the Mecca Hills area

Other Palm Springs Hiking Suggestions

From online research and a chat with Phillip Ferranti, the author of one of the Palm Springs guidebooks, the following hikes also come highly recommended.

  • Araby Trail – Also known as “The Trail to the Stars” since it climbs above Bob Hope and the late Steve McQueen’s houses. Climb 800 feet over a six mile roundtrip hike. Close to Palm Springs.
  • Art Smith Trail – This is a full day hike that takes you up 1200 feet over 16 miles. There are plenty of palm oases along the route for shady breaks. Access is via Highway 74 out of Palm Desert.
  • Bear Creek Urban Trail – The hike takes you along the western edge of La Quinta and offers great views, especially at sunrise and before sunset on the way to an oasis. It’s about 6 miles roundtrip.
  • Big Split Rock Slot Canyon Walkabout – This is an easy 6 mile Mecca Hills hike with lots of slot canyons to explore.
  • Cactus to Clouds hike- This probably gives you the biggest elevation gain in one day in the entire continental US. Hike 22 miles over 10,400 feet of vertical and then take the tram down. Access the start of the hike from Palm Springs.
  • Clara Burgess Trail – This takes you to the top of Murray Hill. You’ll get great views and a strenuous workout as you climb 1400 feet. Close to Palm Springs.
  • Lost Canyon via the Boo Hoff Trail – Enjoy diverse terrain and amazing views on this strenuous 8 mile, 1500 foot hike in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains, accessed by driving several miles south of Indio.
  • North and South Lykken Trail – The South Lykken Trail is a favourite of many Palm Spring locals. The trail traverses the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs. Hike 9 miles one way with a moderate elevation gain of 800 feet.
  • Palm Canyon Pines to Palms Trail – Phillip Ferranti calls this a 5 star hike. Lose 3200 feet of elevation over 16 miles as you hike through a number of ecosystems. Access this one off of Highway 74, 18 miles from Palm Desert.
  • Spitler Peak Trail – Hike 10 miles and climb over 2000 feet to reach the summit. It can be done year round. Access the trailhead in the hills close to Idyllwild.
  • Zen Center to Red Tahquitz Overlook – Try this 12 mile hike on a very scenic section of the Pacific Coast Trail. It’s about 37 miles from Palm Desert high in the hills off of Highway 74.

Safety Precautions Hiking on Palm Springs Area Trails

"Rattlesnake Warning"

Rattlesnake Warning

The backcountry trails of the Coachella Valley are often not signed and tend to be on the remote side. Take more precautions than you would on your average well trampled National Park trail.

  • Don’t hike alone and do communicate with someone to let them know your planned destination and your expected time of return.
  • Take plenty of water. Plan on consuming one litre of water per hour and when you’ve finished half of your water turn around.
  • Carry a map and a compass or GPS (but know how to use them too). Pay attention to the trails. This is particularly important in some of the canyon country where it is easy to get confused with the side canyons.
  • Carry sun protection – lip balm, sunscreen and sunglasses. Also carry an extra layer of clothing for when the sun goes down.
  • Beware of rattlesnakes. To avoid a bite be vigilant looking for them and stay on marked trails. Wear high top boots, long pants and carry a walking stick. Make noise.
Palm trees in the most unlikely of places

Palm trees in the most unlikely of places

Most of all enjoy the sunshine and the truly lovely hiking that few people take advantage of when they visit Palm Springs.

Leigh McAdam


Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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