hikers in the desert

4 Hikes to Discover the Desert

These four desert treks will get you out of the house, away from distractions, and can be accomplished early in the morning by hikers before the temps rise.

Staff Report Current Guide, Hiking

hikers in the desert
PHOTOGRAPH BY GETTY IMAGES
Canyon View Trail

Day hikers can trek alongside the only river running the Coachella Valley’s entire length. The 3.75-mile looping trail sits in the 2,851-acre Whitewater Preserve, managed by the Wildlands Conservancy. A section of the route is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Its North Fork starts at more than 10,000 feet high on San Gorgonio Mountain. The melted water flowing out of the San Bernardino Mountains makes for a cold stream and a lush canyon. Ultimately, the 54-mile-long Whitewater River drains south of Mecca into the Salton Sea.

Roadrunner and Chuckwalla Trails

Day hikers can explore Rancho Mirage’s foothills without straying too far away from civilization. The 3.8-mile round-trip trail combo roughly parallels Frank Sinatra Drive and loops around the Villas of Mirada. It rambles through largely undisturbed desert hills entirely in the Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The trail initially passes jagged rocks with a few palms and desert willows along the way. Most of the rocks on the loop date to the Age of Dinosaurs, consisting of sediment and volcanic minerals formed 66 to 145 million years ago.

Art Smith Trail

Hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the Coachella Valley and the opportunity to spot rare bighorn sheep on this Palm Desert out-and-back trail, which runs 8.3 miles one way but can be shortened depending on fitness levels. Mornings offer cooler temperatures with the added bonus of blooming wildflowers if hiked after a rainfall. The highlight of the trail is spying the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep. About 950 bighorn sheep live in the mountains surrounding the Coachella Valley. They blend in quite well with the tawny landscape, but their size gives them away.

Panorama Point Trail

Hikers can explore two types of mountain forests in Mount San Jacinto State Park. The 1-mile loop to a scenic viewpoint is perfect for those looking to escape the desert heat or Idyllwild day-trippers. The lower forest largely consists of manzanitas and black oak, which thrive on the drier, hotter slopes. You’ll also find fragrant ponderosa and Coulter pines. The higher forest boasts two common California mountain trees: sugar and Jeffrey pines. On a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean at Panorama Point.

Hiking information supplied by Rob Bignell, author of Day Hiking Trails of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. To purchase his book, click HERE.