Hike It: Desert View Trail Above Palm Springs

Here's a cool escape, and a chance to see the beauty of the San Jacinto wilderness

Desert View Trail is a 1.5-mile loop that leads through sandy open spaces, grassy knolls, and lush pine forests dotted with pine cones.

Ashley Breeding

A former avid hiker who recently moved to Palm Springs from Laguna Beach, Calif. in the middle of summer, I was eager to hit the trails after a few weeks of sedentariness (i.e. morphing into a pasty, puffy marshmallow) in the comfort of the air-conditioned indoors.

Seeking chillier temperatures and less challenging terrain, the San Jacinto wilderness seemed like the most desirable summer destination, and the moderate Desert View Trail was the perfect path back to fitness and my favorite pastime. Per the No. 1 hiking rule (take a friend), I called a companion to come along for the adventure. An offer to escape the triple-digit daytime temperatures in the desert doesn’t take much convincing.

Half the excitement of this excursion is the mode of transportation to the trailhead: the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (which is closed for maintenance and will reopen Aug. 31). We boarded the rotating cable car at Valley Station — situated a few miles from North Palm Canyon Drive at a cooler elevation of 2,643 feet — and ascended 5,873 feet through five “life zones,” from the sweltering Mexican Sonoran Desert to the crisp alpine wilderness. A 40-degree dip from below, the climate at the top was a breezy 68 degrees in mid-afternoon.

Taking a few moments to drink in the sweeping desert and mountain views from the Mountain Station verandas, we then descended a concrete path to Desert View Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that leads through sandy open spaces, grassy knolls, and lush pine forests dotted with pine cones.  Stone cairns mark the path where it would otherwise be unrecognizable, making it impossible — well, for most  — to get lost.

The mostly even trail passes five rocky Notches (or lookouts), each offering a panoramic perspective of the scenic valleys below.

Mellow hikers can explore the base of these boulder lookouts, observing the colorful rocks, plants, and wildlife that abound (wallflowers and Western Gray squirrels seemed most prevalent this time of year). Those who want to kick the intensity up a notch — as we did — can climb to the lookout summits for more spectacular views of the Coachella Valley.

Most of this hike is exposed to the elements, but Notch 4 offers a shady respite beneath the fir trees; a few small boulders serve up the perfect place for a picnic.

We managed to turn a 40-minute jaunt into a three-hour trek, bringing us back to “base camp” just in time to relax with a cocktail at the Lookout Lounge bar before catching the sunset from Grubb’s mountain-view terrace.

Whatever your skill level, this trail is a great way to introduce yourself to the San Jacinto wilderness. More challenging adventures to come.

Desert View Trail
Experience Level: Beginner to intermediate
Distance: 1.5-mile loop
Elevation: Approximately 8,000 feet
Pack: $23.50 for the tram, as well as sunblock, protective clothing, energy bars, and plenty of water!
Fun Fact: San Jacinto Peak, visible from Notches 2 and 3 on Desert View Trail, towers at 10,834 feet.
Tip: Pick up a field guide in one of Mountain Station’s two gift shops, and learn about the wildlife you can encounter just outside.
Explore further: Mt. San Jacinto boasts 54 miles of hiking trails within the 14,000-acre wilderness. All trails are accessible via Mountain Station.

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