Palm Springs Hiking Trails
Palm Springs has some great hiking trails. It's a unique spot in the desert at the foot of the highest mountains in Southern California, make it an excellent spot for world-class hiking. Whether you want to do a short trail away from the crowds, or an epic hike in the mountains (with or without the help of a tram ride), there's something for everyone. Leave the golf courses and pools behind to experience the natural beauty of Palm Springs.
The hike to Mt San Jacinto Peak on the Deer Springs Trail is one of the toughest and most beautiful hikes in Southern California. You’ll climb over 5000 feet on the ascent of San Jacinto Peak, hiking through old-growth pine forests until you crest the summit. On the way back down, we’ll hike the Wellman’s Cienega Trail, which hugs the mountainside, offers incredible views of Tahquitz Peak and Suicide Rock, and feels more like Yosemite than Southern California. You can tackle this underrated hike in one day or break it up overnight in Little Round Valley Campground.
Idyllwild, CA - 19 miles, Very Hard
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
Just opened in 2020, the East Indio Badlands Trail hike offers a spectacular loop through a classic badland topography formed by thousands of years of erosion and an active San Andreas Fault. You’ll hike through slot canyons, in the shadow of tectonic uptilts, and along a prominent ridge with 360 views from the Salton See to San Gorgonio Mountain. It’s an extremely fun hike at a shorter distance that makes it accessible to almost all types of hikers.
Indio, CA - 5.5 miles, Moderate
Considered one of the best desert hikes in Southern California, the Ladder Canyon Trail, with a loop through Painted Canyon, is a must-do. The hike weaves through the canyons in Mecca Hills Wilderness, a rugged and beautiful series of rock formations and slot canyons created by the San Andreas fault and thousands of years of erosion. And, of course, there are the famous ladders. To do the hike, you’ll climb up and down several ladders to scale the steep cliff walls. Don’t worry, the ladders aren’t that scary and I’ll explain the experience in detail here in this guide. Another great thing about the Ladder Canyon Trail is that you have great views of the high mountains when you are not in a canyon. Overall this is an incredible hike.
Mecca, CA - 5 miles, Moderate
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
You can’t go wrong hiking the McCallum Trail in the Coachella Valley Preserve near Palm Springs. The trail starts in the Thousand Palms Oasis, making its way through the native fan palms over a boardwalk. Then you’ll have a sandy stretch before you reach McCallum Pond, a desert oasis that is one of the rare areas where the endangered Desert Pupfish can live. A short hike extension takes you to a vista point where you can see San Andreas Fault below you. This hike packs a lot of scenery into a small package, and is excellent for families and beginning hikers.
Desert Hot Springs, CA - 2.5 miles, Easy
The hike to Pushawalla Palms in the Coachella Valley Preserve is a must-do hike in the Palm Springs area. You’ll follow a ridge on top of the San Andreas Fault to the hidden Pushawalla Palms grove, fed by water that has risen to the surface through cracks in the fault. On the way back, you’ll hike through Hidden Palms, full of thick growth fan palms. The Pushawalla Palms loop is a spectacular hike and not to be missed.
Desert Hot Springs, CA - 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 Mission Creek Preserve hike is a great family-friendly adventure that offers a little bit of everything in an easy package. You’ll be able to visit the ruins of an old “glamping” resort, follow a creek that started high in the mountains and is now irrigating the desert, pass a rare wetland, enjoy views of the high peaks, and then visit an old stone ranch house. The trail is wide, the climbs gradual, and it’s easy to follow. Even if you’re an experienced hiker, there’s enough beauty here to warrant at least one visit.
Desert Hot Springs, CA - 3.4 miles, Easy
One of my favorite hikes, the Canyon View Loop Trail at the Whitewater Preserve, between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, offers beauty at every twist and turn. The well-marked trail follows the Whitewater River Canyon until it reaches the iconic PCT and then climbs up to a bluff that offers non-stop views into the canyon and high peaks of the San Gorgonio Wilderness area. It’s a hike that’s worth making a trip for, so give it a try.
Whitewater, CA - 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
Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.
Banning, CA - 8 miles, Hard
Backpacking the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) is like a mini thru-hike of Joshua Tree National Park. The CRHT takes you through some of the most remote parts of Joshua Tree, away from the crowds, and does it using gentle trails ideal for backpacking. There are some incredible camping sites with breathtaking views, and the 38 mile distance makes it doable as a 2 or 3 day hike. The only tough part is caching water and arranging a shuttle for the point-to-point route. This guide will tell you everything you need to know for a spectacular time on the California Riding and Hiking Trail.
Yucca Valley, CA - 38 miles, Hard
If you want to dip your toe into desert hiking at Joshua Tree, the hike on the Pine City Trail is a great place to get started. The Pine City Trail is straight and easy to follow, with no climbs. But you hike through some beautiful pinyon pine and Joshua Tree vegetation until you reach Pine City, not much of a city anymore. In fact, the only thing left are two hidden mine shafts. But you do get beautiful sweeping views into Pine City Canyon and onward toward Twentynine Palms in the distance. It’s a great hike for everyone, including families.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 4.2 miles, Easy
As one of the longer recommended day hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, the Boy Scout Trail is a popular hike. Starting at the Keys West Trailhead, you’ll hike across an open desert full of Joshua Trees, then transition into a rocky descent through the Wonderland of Rocks that offers panoramic viewpoints. And then, 1,000 feet lower, the trail makes its way through washes and canyons to Indian Cove. The hike is unusual in that you get a taste of the upper Mojave desert with it’s Joshua Trees, and then lower Mojave desert, with cactus and yucca. Do the out-and-back hike for 16 miles, or just hike to the viewpoint for a respectable 9.5-miler.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 16 miles, Hard
The Desert Queen Mine hike is a cool one; you can actually touch and explore the ruins of a mine that dates back to the 1890s and has a rich story involving cattle rustlers and gunfights of the Old West. And of course, you can enjoy all the natural beauty of Joshua Tree at the same time. If you’re feeling adventurous, I highly recommend the optional extended hike to Eagle Cliff Mine, a remote mine and rock cabin perched above a beautiful overlook.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 1.8 miles, Easy
The Split Rock Trail in Joshua Tree is one of those hikes that packs a lot of scenery into a small package. The hike is just over 2 miles with minor ups and downs, and offers a mini “best-of” scenery tour, with some of the best rock viewing including Face Rock. And unlike the roadside attractions like Jumbo Rock, a small effort to do this hike will mean that you leave the crowds behind. The Split Rock Loop Trail is one of my favorite short hikes here in Joshua Tree. It’s easy, great for beginners, and a feast for the eyes.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 2.5 miles, Easy
This hike on the 49 Palms Oasis Trail takes you to a pristine fan palm oasis, tucked into a hidden desert valley. The trail to 49 Palms Oasis is well-maintained and easy to follow, and along the way, you’ll enjoy some great views as you climb the ridge on the way to the oasis. After 1.5 miles, you reach the grove of towering fan palms, fed by a cool spring that is a favorite watering hole for bighorn sheep. 49 Palms Oasis is a perfect place for a snack and rest as you take in the spectacular scenery.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 3 miles, Moderate
The hike to Willow Hole in Joshua Tree takes you through quintessential desert scenery to a hidden willow grove that has its own microclimate. Willow Hole, a seasonal water source protected by a thicket of Willow trees, is nestled in a small canyon in the Wonderland of Rocks. The hike starts tame, making its way through some popular climbing areas, then it begins to feel like a real adventure, snaking through washes and canyons until you reach Willow Hole. And although the hike is 7 miles, it’s relatively flat and doable by most hikers.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 7 miles, Moderate
The Lost Horse Mine Trail hike offers not only a peaceful trip to a neat mine that’s over 100 years old but also a great deal of natural beauty and diversity. Hiking to just Lost Horse Mine is only 2 miles (4 out and back), but I highly recommend hiking the full Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail, which offers expansive views and over Joshua Tree National Park, more ruins, groves of robust Joshua Trees, and quiet. Either way, you do it, it’s a fun adventure.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 7 miles, Moderate
The Ryan Mountain Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree for a good reason. Ryan Mountain, at 5,457 feet, right in the middle of Joshua Tree, offers panoramic views as far as the eye can see. On a clear day you’ll be able to see the massive peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, the highest point in Southern California. The actual trail is straightforward but tough, climbing 1,050 feet to the summit of Ryan Mountain. It’s a must-do hike in Joshua Tree, so give it a try!
Twentynine Palms, CA - 3 miles, Moderate
Hiking the Lost Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park is a unique experience. The trail is in the southern part of the park, which has more of a Sonoran Desert feel than the majority of hikes in the northern part of the park. You won’t see any Joshua Trees on the Lost Palms Oasis Trail, but you will see the park’s largest grove of California fan palm trees, tucked into a hidden canyon. There are no big climbs as you make your way over the ridges and washes through the desert. It’s a fun desert hike that’s worth your time.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 7.4 miles, Moderate
A hike on the Mastodon Peak Trail loop is a fun way to explore the rugged southern part of Joshua Tree National Park without a huge effort. You’ll hike on sandy trails that are more Sonoran than most trails in Joshua Tree, then hike up stairs carved in the stone to the base of Mastodon Peak. It’s an easy scramble to the top of Mastodon Peak where you are treated to panoramic views of the desert and mountains. After that, the hike passes the abandoned Mastodon Mine on a long easy downhill back to the finish.
Twentynine Palms, CA - 2.6 miles, Moderate
Tucked into the foothills around Idyllwild, the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail offers backcountry beauty without heading into the big mountains. This family-friendly hike is easy to follow, has a gentle climb, and offers lots of shade. Even though you’re right next to a residential area, you’ll feel like you’re miles away as you hike through the forest.
Idyllwild, CA - 5.2 miles, Easy
The Tahquitz Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail hike is one of the most popular hikes in the San Jacinto area for a reason. The scenery and views are incredible, the trails are in excellent condition and are well-marked, and the summit includes a visit to the highest fire lookout in San Bernardino National Forest at 8,846 feet. Because of its popularity, there are times when you need to apply for a permit and other times that you don’t. I’ll explain it all in the guide.
Idyllwild, CA - 8.5 miles, Hard
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