Nestled at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, the Indian Canyons encompass approximately 60 miles of hiking trails within an awe-inspiring landscape of lush palm groves, fantastic rock formations, and meandering mountain-fed streams.
Many first-time visitors are surprised to learn such scenic splendor exists only a few miles from downtown Palm Springs. As the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, these lands, which comprise three distinct canyons—Andreas, Murray, and Palm—remain one of the most culturally sensitive areas throughout the Coachella Valley with Andreas Canyon listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hikers are required to bring at least 16 ounces of water for every mile hiked.
Here’s everything else you need to know before you go.
This lush oasis is a popular spot for birdwatching, picnicking, and hiking. More than 150 species of plants reside within a half-mile radius thanks to the perennial Andreas Creek, which flows down from the mountains through shaded groves of native California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera). Desert lavender, Canterbury bells, fiddlenecks, cottonwood trees, and other native flora also abound, painting the canyon with splashes of color in the spring.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM BREWSTER
Andreas Canyon Loop
Distance: 1.2 miles – loop trip
Elevation gain: 200 feet
Great for: Families and beginners
This easy loop trail begins near the Information Board in the parking area and winds through a large grove of stately skirted Washingtonia filifera palm trees and past magnificent rocks and boulders. Keep an eye out for dozens of stone cottages perched on the hill above the trail; the cottages were constructed in the 1920s by a private group called the Andreas Club, which is still in existence today. You’ll also pass what appear to be a series of small holes ground down into the rock. Known as bedrock mortars, these sites were used for generations by early Agua Caliente women to prepare and grind food.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Maynard Mine Trail
Distance: 6 miles – round trip
Elevation gain: 2,080 feet
Great for: Experienced hikers and history buffs
This narrow, rugged trail, which can be accessed south across from the bridge in the Andreas Canyon parking lot, was originally an access route for a tungsten mine. Remnants of old mining equipment remain at the mine site from the 1940s, when “mountain man” Jim Maynard set out with his mule and wheelbarrow to dig for tungsten in the canyon. Maynard was considered a friend of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and one of the few non-Tribal members who became fluent in the Cahuilla language.
did you know?
Murray Canyon offers a secluded beauty all its own and, thanks to fewer crowds, is ideal for wildlife spotting and horseback riding. Bright yellow brittlebush and fragrant desert lavender blanket the lower foothills, where you’ll occasionally spy mule deer, chuckwalla lizards, coyote, fox, and peninsular bighorn sheep. Don’t forget your binoculars—the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo bird
is even known to nest here.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KATE ANDERSON
Seven Sisters waterfall in Murray Canyon.
murray canyon trail
Distance: 4.7 miles
Elevation gain: 450 feet
Great for: Equestrians and nature lovers
Running south from Andreas Canyon, the trail begins in open desert, crossing flat, sandy terrain before reaching a small oasis of Washingtonia filifera palm trees. Don’t be surprised if you get your shoes a little wet—from here, the path crosses seasonal Murray Canyon Creek, which flows from mountain fed streams. Hikers will cross the creek at least 15 times before reaching the spectacular Seven Sisters waterfall. Many hikers pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at the base of the falls, named for the seven pools of water that cascade down rocks from the creek.
Did you Know?
As the world’s largest naturally occurring oasis of Washingtonia filifera palm trees, this canyon couldn’t be more aptly named. The canopy of green fronds provides a breathtaking contrast to the surrounding rocky gorges and sandy desert beyond. Stretching 15 miles long, Palm Canyon offers a peaceful retreat for hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, or even meditating near the stream. Be sure to stop inside the Trading Post near the parking lot; besides refreshments and hiking maps, you’ll find Native American art, books, jewelry, pottery, baskets, and more for sale
PHOTOGRAPH BY KATE ANDERSON
Palm Canyon Trail
Distance: 15 miles
Elevation gain: 295 feet
Great for: Families and nature lovers
This trail divides the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains and runs parallel to Palm Canyon Creek, lined with towering palms as well as cottonwood and willow trees.
Though the main route extends 15 miles all the way to Highway 74, many hikers venture a mile or two in before turning back. A free ranger-led interpretive hike is a great way to experience some of Palm Canyon’s best-kept secrets, such as natural hot springs and ancient bedrock mortars. You’ll also learn about native fauna and flora found along the trail, such as wolfberries, which produce sweet red berries consumed historically by Agua Caliente people.
West Fork/West Fork North
Distance: 8.7 miles
Elevation gain: 1,990 feet
Great for: Experienced hikers and adventure-seekers
Climbing mostly uphill and in open sun, the West Fork Trail leads hikers above the tree line and across rocky, cactus-spotted terrain, eventually crossing the stream for which it’s named. With fewer people, West Fork offers a tranquil yet challenging outing. About 2.5 miles in, you’ll turn onto West Fork North, where spectacular views of the mountains unfold in all directions.
did you know?
PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM BREWSTER
West Fork Falls.
A Quick-Guide to More Palm Canyon Trails
For Scenic Views
Distance: 2.7 miles
Elevation gain: 365 feet
Venture out of the shaded palm trees and onto a ridge overlooking Palm Canyon, ultimately returning to the Trading Post in a loop.
For a change in landscape
East Fork Trail
Distance: 7 miles – round trip
Elevation gain: 850 feet
Explore one of the seldom-seen parts of the Indian Canyons, where lush palm trees give way to patches of teddy-bear cholla and agave lining the trail.
For picturesque scenery
Dry Wash Trail
Distance: 6.6 miles – round trip
Elevation gain: 870 feet
This mostly flat and scenic hike connects Palm Canyon Trail to Dunn Road and also provides access to the East Fork Loop Trail.
For rock formations
Indian Potrero Trail
Distance: 8.9 miles
Elevation gain: 1,260 feet
Venture to the upper region of Palm Canyon, where a series of seasonal stone pools await, before hiking to a hidden plateau surrounded by rock formations and native plant life such as agave, ocotillo, and teddy-bear cholla.
For a challenge
Hahn Buena Vista Trail
Distance: 12.3 miles
Elevation gain: 1,915 feet
At the peak of this scenic hike, you’ll get a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and desert cities below. Only conditioned hikers should attempt.
This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2022 edition of Me Yah Whae, a publication of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. To view the digital edition, click HERE.