Southern California’s Coachella Valley is arguably one of America’s best, most unique places to hike. Its proximity to the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) means it’s convenient for trekkers to reach some of California’s tallest peaks.
You’ll also find hiking diverse trails winding through Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge (home to California’s largest fan palm grove) and the stark desert landscapes in Joshua Tree National Park.
Coachella Valley’s epic position is most evident along the Cactus to Clouds Trail, which stretches from Palm Springs to San Jacinto Peak and has the greatest elevation gain — 10,000 feet — of any day hike in America. As John Muir wrote, San Jacinto Peak is, “the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth.”
Though ascending San Jacinto Peak is really only for the most athletic, adventurous hikers, those in the know can get a more accessible glimpse of the epic trail or set out to discover the region’s plethora of other great treks.
Discover five of Coachella Valley’s must-hike trails below.
Head to the Palm Springs Art Museum, where you’ll find the Museum Hiking Trail, which encompasses the first section of the Cactus to Clouds Trail. You’ll get a taste of that iconic hike without committing to its length and intensity.
The Museum Trail begins behind the Art Museum, naturally, and though just two miles round-trip, it is characterized by a steep, 1,000-foot elevation gain. The reward, however, is panoramic views of the city and the sprawling desert landscape of the valley below. Pack a lunch to enjoy at the picnic-table overlook at the top.
Coachella Valley Preserve
Coachella Valley Preserve is unique in that it’s a protected habitat and preserve for threatened species, especially the fringe-toed lizard, found only in this corner of the world.
The uniqueness of the preserve continues with its many palm oases, including Thousand Palms Oasis, a palm-lined grove that is fed by springs from the nearby San Andreas Fault.
The preserve, located just north of Indian Wells, has more than 25 miles of hikes, most of which are easy with mild elevation gain. In addition, volunteer docents offer guided hikes on scheduled days.
Andreas and Murray Canyons
Andreas Canyon is one of a series of canyons at Indian Canyons, located on the Agua Caliente Reservation (nominal fee required). While the hike here is just a one-mile loop, keep your eyes open, as the trail is home to more than 150 different desert plant species, including fan palms and different fern varieties.
For a longer, more difficult hike, head just south of Andreas Canyon to Murray Canyon for a four-mile round-trip hike near Palm Springs with several-hundred feet of elevation gain. Continue the hike to its end to gawk at the Seven Sisters, a terraced waterfall (flow dependent on recent rainfall and season).
The Araby Trail is conveniently located in Palm Springs, just off East Palm Canyon Drive. Residential at first, the trail weaves past one of Southern California’s most famous homes, the UFO-shaped Bob Hope Estate.
The trail then quickly climbs, affording panoramic views of Palm Springs and the desert valley further afield, which continue for most of the hike. The six-mile hike, round-trip, is moderate in difficulty, with steep sections and approximately 1,000 feet of total elevation gain.
Bump and Grind Trail
Just a few miles due west of Indian Wells, the Bump and Grind Trail is one of Coachella Valley’s most popular hiking trails, featuring a 3-mile loop and 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Its convenient location, wide path and sweeping views of the valley make it a great introduction to hiking the Coachella Valley and a great workout for trail runners. Note that veering off to the left of the trailhead results in a steeper hike, though as loop hikes, both trails follow the same ultimate route.