Some of the best hiking near Palm Springs—and in the deserts of California—can be found at Indian Canyons, which is located at the western edge of Palm Springs. The land is owned and protected by the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians, who settled in the Palm Springs area centuries ago. Today, these people diligently care for the trails and invite visitors from near and far to experience the stunning desert scenery.
There are three primary hikes in the Indian Canyons: Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon and Murray Canyon. All three are thought to be easy to moderate trips, but more advanced hikers can combine different hikes and take small paths with greater elevation gains up the mountains. Some of the features of the hikes include waterfalls, panoramic views and of course, the sprawling desert landscapes. All of the trails are clearly marked.
It’s a breathtaking 8-minute journey to the peak of Mount San Jacinto aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Along the way, you’ll travel through 5 vegetation zones, from arid desert to alps.
At the top, the incredible desert views are surrounded by 54 miles (87 km) of hiking trails in Mount Jacinto State Park. The restaurant and cafeteria at the summit mountain station are surrounded by terrific views. The headquarters for the state park are also at the mountain station.
In winter there’s cross-country skiing or snowshoe treks, and on summertime guided nature walks you might spot deer and other wildlife.
The endangered fringe-toed lizard is given room to roam at the Coachella Valley Preserve, which was specifically designed to protect these desert creatures.
Guided hikes through the preserves’ sand dunes and rocky escarpments are led by knowledgeable naturalists who can share their insights into the life cycle of this threatened reptile.
The preserve has more than 25 miles (40 km) of hiking trails. While you walk, look out for eagles, California fan palms, bobcats, horned owls, cottontail bunnies, kestrels and lizards.
The Mount San Jacinto Wilderness State Park is dominated by 10,834-foot (3,250-meter) Mount San Jacinto, Southern California’s second-highest mountain.
In summer, miles of hiking tracks wind through the state park wilderness of sub-alpine forests, ferny mountain meadows and granite peaks. Snow falls here in winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoe fun.
Much cooler and higher than the neighboring Great Basin Desert to the north and the Sonoran Desert to the south, the Mojave Desert is considered a rain shadow area, which occurs when an area of land is forced to become a desert due to mountains that block out rain that would otherwise allow most plants to grow. The Mojave Desert spans across a large region of southeastern California and through portions of Nevada, Arizona and Utah. In total, it encompasses more than 25,000 square miles of land.
The most notable areas by name are the Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks. The area also includes Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Mojave National Preserve, meaning the Mojave Desert is home to an array of stunning, protected areas. The desert sits between 3,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation, much higher than the nearby Sonoran Desert. The elevation keeps temperatures slightly cooler.
Home of the potential Big One! The San Andreas Fault is an 810-mile (1,300-kilometer) long continental transform fault located in California, which forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific and the North American tectonic plates. The fault is most famous for having reached a sufficient stress level for what is commonly referred to the next "big one," a 7.0+ magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. Both the public and the scientific community continue to speculate on the size and date of the next earthquake, and most importantly the potentially catastrophic damages caused by it, considering that California is the densest state in the United States. However, scientists have concluded that quakes on the Cascadia subduction zone, which stretches just a little further up north from Vancouver Island to northern California, may have triggered most of the major quakes on the fault within the past 3,000 years – including the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Palm Springs’ Living Desert Zoo & Gardens presents animals and botanical gardens in the Sonoran Desert. Focusing on flora and fauna from desert landscapes around the world, the living desert includes replicated gardens from Africa and North America.
The Mojave Garden replicates the high desert, while bighorn sheep, lizards, mountain lions, bobcats and amphibians are joined by exotic giraffes and meerkats in the Africa section.
Take a wander through cactus and agave gardens, wildflower and palm gardens, yucca and salvia gardens . You’re bound to be inspired by the drought-tolerant planting schemes.
Driving from Palm Springs through the nearby small desert towns with cacti and scrub brush on both sides and the heat of summer pressing down on you, a cold treat awaits: the famous date shake at Oasis Date Gardens. This 175-acre date ranch and its accompanying store are situated at the epicenter of California’s vast date production area. This spot features a small gift shop, an educational theater that plays a movie on the history of dates in California, a window through which date processing can be observed and a luncheonette counter that serves food incorporating the region’s fresh dates.
This industry in California makes up 95 percent of the entire U.S. output of the crop. The majority of California’s dates are grown in the Coachella Valley, which produces more dates annually than almost any other region in the world; farmers produce more than 35 million pounds of the date fruit every year.
From the top of Ryan Mountain—the 5,461 ft. highest point in California’s Joshua Tree National Park—the true emptiness of this high-desert expanse is evident in the craggy rock formations and scruffy looking Joshua trees which poke up around California’s 800,000-acre desert park.
Traditionally known as one of the country’s premier rock-climbing and bouldering locations, Joshua Tree National Park is also a favorite Southern California outpost for landscape photographers looking to capture the explosive reds, fiery oranges and dull browns of the high-desert. Joshua Tree National Park is also frequented by wildlife photographers hoping to snap a photo of bighorn sheep, black-tailed jackrabbits, or any number of the 250 bird species which call this harsh desert environment their home.
Sprawling from the Mexico border in the south to the Mohave Desert in the north, the Colorado Desert encompasses 7 million acres of land. The two most well-known destinations within the area are Coachella Valley, famous for its annual music and arts festival, and Joshua Tree National Park, which occupies 800,000 acres of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. There are also the Imperial Valleys. The Coachella Valley houses seven towns, including sunny Palm Springs.
The Colorado Desert is generally considered a lower elevation area, with few points reaching above 3,000 feet. There’s no better way to describe the climate other than with the use of the word hot. This desert has higher summertime day temperatures than others at higher elevation, and it also receives more rain than the typical desert. There are many indigenous flora and fauna, including regional variations of cacti and brush scrub.
Protected by the Wildlands Conservancy, Mission Creek Preserve spans more than 4,700 acres between the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. Endemic flora and fauna of both deserts can be found in the preserve, which also includes wetlands and a picturesque stream running through. Many species of wildlife call the preserve home, including deer, bears, big horn sheep and mountain lions.
The majority of people who visit Mission Creek Preserve do so for its incredible hiking. Views of eroded painted hills and Mount San Gorgonio are offered up as a reward for a hiker's efforts. The main trail leads to the Pacific Coast Trail and to the Whitewater Preserve, another area protected by the Wetlands Conservancy. Veering off the Mission Creek Preserve trail up to the top of the Whitewater Preserve offers spectacular views of the Whitewater Valley below.