Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Hikes
From the floor of the Sonoran Desert to peaks above the tree-line, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument offers a variety of unique and unforgettable hikes. Whether the classic Cactus to Clouds epic hike, or a shorter hike to The Cross, there's something for everyone in this spectacular landscape.
|Art Smith Trail Guide||16.6||Hard||Palm Desert||3700||N|
|Bear Creek Oasis Trail Guide||9||Hard||La Quinta||2540||N|
|Murray Peak Hike (Palm Springs)||7.5||Moderate||Palm Springs||2340||N|
|Museum Trail (Palm Springs)||2||Hard||Palm Springs||920||N|
|Araby Trail Guide||3.4||Moderate||Palm Springs||1200||N|
|The Cross Hike (Palm Desert)||2.4||Moderate||Palm Desert||770||Y|
|Bump and Grind Trail Guide (Palm Desert)||4||Moderate||Palm Desert||1430||N|
|Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hike To Mt San Jacinto||11||Hard||Palm Springs||2620||N|
|Cactus to Clouds Hike||21||Very Hard||Palm Springs||10800||N|
What is the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument?
- The Monument is about 280,000 acres.
- It contains an assortment of other land organizations including
- BLM’s California Desert Conservation Area
- San Bernardino National Forest
- Santa Rosa Wilderness Area
- San Jacinto Wilderness Area
- Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
- The Monument was created in 2000 by Congress “in order to preserve the nationally significant biological, cultural, recreational, geological, educational, and scientific values found in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains”
- The area is home to the endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep
- There is a visitor center at 51-500 Highway 74, Palm Desert, CA 92260 that has good interpretive displays and a movie
- The Friends of the Desert Mountains are a volunteer group that help preserve the Monument and educate visitors.
The Art Smith Trail offers a skillfully routed hike through the desert foothills, making you feel like you are many miles away from civilization. Referenced to by the Forest Service as “truly one of the signature trails in the (Santa Rosa & San Jacinto) National Monument,” the Art Smith Trail features palm oases, dramatic rock formations, sweeping views, and unlike many other foothill hikes in the area, some solitude. There’s climbing, but it’s not too steep, and it’s spread over a more extended series of ups and downs, making it a good workout without extreme gradients.
Palm Desert, CA - 16.6 miles, Hard
The Bear Creek Oasis Trail hike in La Quinta, CA is just spectacular; there’s no other way to slice and dice it. The first mile is flat and easy as you follow the Bear Creek wash up into the Santa Rosa foothills. And then you start climbing, winding your way up like a bighorn along the ridges and switchbacks, eventually getting to a point where you can see for miles: San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, the Coachella Valley, and the Salton Sea. But wait, there’s more! Toward the end, you wind down into a canyon nestled in the desert mountains to find a beautiful hidden fan palm oasis. It a tough one, but the payoffs are incredible.
La Quinta, CA - 9 miles, Hard
Most hikes in the Palm Springs area are up and down desert tracks in the foothills. But if you venture a little farther (7.5 miles total) and do the Murray Peak hike, you’ll leave the big crowds behind and get a taste of the raw beauty of the Santa Rosa Mountains. You’ll climb up along a quiet canyon in the shadow of the San Jacintos, crest a ridge with views into the Santa Rosas, and then end at a panoramic viewpoint where you can see the Coachella Valley, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Joshua Tree. It’s one of my favorite peaks and worth a visit.
Palm Springs, CA - 7.5 miles, Moderate
Don’t let the short distance fool you; the Museum Trail in Palm Springs is a tough one. You’ll climb up a rocky and steep slope, covering almost 1000 vertical feet in about a mile. But at the top, you are rewarded with a picnic area that offers panoramic views of Palm Springs. The Museum Trail is also the beginning of the epic Cactus to Clouds hike, rated one of the hardest in the USA. So if you do this short hike, you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to do this grueling classic without all the distance and risk.
Palm Springs, CA - 2 miles, Hard
The Araby Trail is one of the more popular hikes in Palm Springs. You not only get the natural beauty of the Santa Rosa Mountains and all the views that they offer, but you’ll also get to go by some iconic architecture in a gated community that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. And while the trail is challenging, you’ll be heading uphill for about 1.7 miles; it’s not a big mountain hike and is doable by most folks with a reasonable level of fitness.
Palm Springs, CA - 3.4 miles, Moderate
The Cross Hike in Palm Desert is a great out-and-back hike for all levels. You’ll hike through classic desert hill terrain to reach the cross, standing 30 feet tall on the hilltop, a religious experience for some and a fun destination for all. Whatever you believe, the views from the top are great, and the workout is a good one. This hike is a local favorite for a quick hiking fix.
Palm Desert, CA - 2.4 miles, Moderate
The Bump and Grind Trail, one of the most popular in the Palm Springs area, is a short yet challenging loop hike that packs a lot of fun. You’ll get the incredible scenery of the desert foothills, a challenging but doable climb, a visit to a refuge for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, and views of the two high peaks of Southern California, Mt San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. For the best experience, leave at sunrise or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and heat. This guide will show you how to navigate the Bump and Grind Trail and have a great time.
Palm Desert, CA - 4 miles, Moderate
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hike to Mt San Jacinto is a great way to bag Southern California’s second highest peak without putting in a huge effort. It’s still a tough 11 mile hike, but it’s nothing like climbing to Mt San Jacinto from Palm Springs or Idyllwild. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway cuts about 6,000 feet of climbing off the hike, and offers a nice base station where you can grab a snack after your successful summit. The summit of Mt San Jacinto is one of my favorites because it straddles the line between Coastal California and the Sonoran Desert, allowing you to see the transition between the two. On a clear day you’ll see from the Pacific Ocean to Mount Charleston in Las Vegas. A really fun and insanely beautiful hike.
Palm Springs, CA - 11 miles, Hard
The Cactus to Clouds hike is epic. It was rated one of the hardest day hikes in the world by Backpack Magazine. You start in downtown Palm Springs and climb over 10,000 feet to the summit of Mt San Jacinto, with a large stretch on the treacherous Skyline Trail. The Cactus to Clouds hike should only be attempted by the very experienced and very fit hiker, and only under the right conditions. This guide gives you all the info you need to do this incredible hike safely.
Palm Springs, CA - 21 miles, Very Hard