With its warm days and wildflowers in bloom, springtime is ideal for touring the Coachella Valley’s diverse ecosystems on foot. Here is one of the area’s best hikes:
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve Walkabout
Length: 3 miles
Hiking time: 2 hours
Elevation gain: 200 feet
The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is truly seasonal. Serving as a transitional zone between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, it offers visitors a rich landscape suggestive of New Mexico hill country. An explosion of cottonwoods, red willows, cattails, bulrushes, and other riparian species contrasts sharply with the barren desert landscape nearby. In fall, the yellow cottonwoods scent the air with the musty odor of approaching winter, whereas in spring, vibrant, crisp shades of green re-emerge to color the canyon once again.
The preserve is a favorite escape of mine — its clear, cool morning air complementing majestic San Gorgonio Peak to the west, while the mountains slope down from on high with their verdant forests. Spring is the most inviting of seasons, as more than 250 species of birds are found in the canyon. So different is this area from the nearby lower deserts that in just a few miles visitors have traveled back both in time and in place, refreshed by the brilliant foliage and colors, odors, flowing water, and wildlife. No pets, smoking, or camping are permitted in the preserve. The area remains a true sanctuary of serene natural beauty — peaceful and refreshing to the spirit. Trail maps, birding information, and other useful materials are available on the property.
After you read the available trail and wildlife brochures, begin discovering Big Morongo Canyon by walking east toward the trees from the parking lot. Five trail systems interlink, allowing for a 3-plus-mile hike around the immediate canyon area. Visitors will be amazed at the year-round contrast between lush wetlands and surrounding desert slopes — and following a wet winter in March and April, those slopes support a colorful display of wildflowers and blooming cacti. Pack a picnic lunch, take your camera, and let the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve work its magic on you.
Directions: From I-10, turn north onto Hwy. 62 just west of Palm Springs. Drive for 11.5 miles into the town of Morongo, turning right on East Dr., then left into preserve. 760-363-7190; www.bigmorongo.org
Adapted with permission from Philip Ferranti’s book 140 Great Hikes in and Near Palm Springs (Big Earth Publishing); www.philipferranti.com. To read more about local hikes, visit the Palm Springs Life archives online.
Photo by Chris Miller / Imagine Imagery
Follow sensible hiking practices in the desert, such as protecting your head with a hat and walking with other people.
Hiking Safety Tips
- Carry at least 2 quarts of cool water for hikes up to 6 miles, and more water for longer distances.
- Protect your head with a hat.
- Use sunscreen.
- Carry extra food, sunglasses, a windbreaker for the higher elevations, and basic first aid essentials such as aspirin, tweezers, Band-Aids, and moleskin adhesive bandages.
- Carry a comb in case you brush against a cholla cactus. (Guide the comb down through the thorns and flick off the entire ball of cactus.)
- Carry a compass and a map of the area where you are hiking.
- Hike with someone else.
For other tips, call the Coachella Valley Hiking Club at 760-345-6234 or visit them online at www.cvhikingclub.net.