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Art Smith Trail Guide
Palm Springs Hiking Trails

Art Smith Trail Guide

  • 16.6 miles - Hard Effort
  • Or: 6 miles roundtrip to first oasis
  • 6-8 Hours (Total)
  • 3,700 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 2,480 feet
  • No Dogs Allowed

what does this mean?

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.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Art Smith Trail
  • Parking for the Art Smith Trail
  • Insider Hike Tips & Recommendations

When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

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.

Where is the Art Smith Trail?

There is a nice big parking lot for the Art Smith Trail located here:
Art Smith Trailhead, Roy Wilson Memorial Hwy, Palm Desert, CA 92260

Art Smith Trail Directions 3
There are a couple of parking areas near the trailhead. Look for this big sign on the side of the road, and then drive down through the gate to the lower paved parking area.
Art Smith Trail Directions 4
The parking lot is massive. The trail is shared with mountain bikers and road bikers often use the lot to ride up Pines to Palms Highway. The trailhead is at the far end of the lot.

There are no bathrooms or water fills at the trailhead or on the trail.

Gear For the Hike

This is a full-on desert hike. There is no shade. Prepare for the conditions and wear sun protection. In the warmer months, this trail is a non-starter. Bring at least 3L of water for the full hike. Trekking poles will be fine if you're used to them, but otherwise, don't go out of your way to use them. The slopes are pretty easy to go up and down without slipping.

Gear 2022 8

I waste my time with lousy hiking gear so you don't have to. Only the winners get onto my gear page. There's no fluff, sponsorships, or promotions. It's just gear I personally use, have tested, and recommend. Right now I'm liking my inReach Mini 2, Garmin Epix, and Lone Peak 6 shoes.
.
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Art Smith Trail Maps

Art Smith Trail Directions 2
Overall the trail is in excellent condition, thanks to those that maintain it. Trail work is subtle and often blends into the landscape.
Art Smith Trail Directions 1
These Art Smith Trail markers are your friend. There are a good amount of them on the first few miles of the hike, which sees the most traffic. As you continue toward the end at Dunn Road, they thin out, but the trail is still easy to follow.

One thing to note is how cleverly built this trail is. For most of the route you are only a couple of miles away from the development in the Palm Desert Area, but because of how this trail is routed, you rarely see or hear it. It feels like you are much deeper into the desert than you actually are.

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Elevation Profile

Art Smith Trail Guide Elevation
Here is the one-way elevation profile. The climbing looks more substantial here than it actually feels on the trail. After the initial climb on the first half, you have two dips before heading up to the high point at the end of the hike.

3D Map

Art Smith Trail Guide 3d Map
From Rt 74 you head northwest through the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Who is Art Smith?

Desert Rider Barbque
Art Smith was a member of the Desert Riders, a popular club started in 1931 by Carl Lykken that celebrated horse recreation and cowboy life. In this photo from 1937, the Desert Riders are enjoying a backcountry barbecue. Stars such as Clark Gable, Henry Fonda and Gary Grant all rode with the Desert Riders. Photo LA Public Library

In the beginning, the Desert Riders simply road wherever they wanted. But as the Coachella Valley became more developed, they realized the need for conservation and started collecting dues to build and maintain trails. It was one of the country's earliest and most successful private trail development projects.

Art Smith, who was considered "trail boss" after 30 years at the club, founded the Desert Riders Trail Foundation in 1972. This nonprofit trust for trail preservation and building focused on making the trails accessible to not only horses, but also hikers. The Desert Riders have created 28 trails in total, many of them adaptations of native Cahuilla footways. Today, having laid the groundwork for this world-class trail system, the Desert Riders have bowed out of the trail building game and have left it up to the various local, state, and federal park and land organizations.

And if you look at the names of trails in the Palm Springs area, most of them bear names of Desert Rider club members like Clara Burgess, Earl Coffman, and Carl Lykken.  This trail, which the Forest Service calls "one of the signature trails," is named after the master trail-builder himself, Art Smith.

Art Smith Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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Look for the trail marker at the end of the parking lot.
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Hike along the stone berm.
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if you look off to your left, you can see the trail zigzagging up the hill.
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At the end of the stone berm, make the left when you get to the fence.
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And soon you'll see the official start of the trail. Start hiking uphill.
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I love the trail signs that have in the Palm Springs / Palm Desert area.
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At the top of the climb, hike to the right to stay on the official trail.
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As you crest the hill you'll get one of the only views into the developed part of the valley, the Big Horn Golf Course.

The Art Smith Trail has a reputation as a good place to spot the local endangered peninsular bighorn sheep.

Art Smith Trail Directions 13
When you get to the next junction, hike to the right. The trail on the left is the unofficial shortcut back to the start.
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The trail winds away from development through the hills.
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This is the only real trail junction on the hike, with the Hopalong Cassidy Trail on the right. Stay left on the Art Smith Trail.
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As you climb you'll get some great views into the Coachella Valley. This is the last part of the trail where you see development. From here we'll be heading into the hills.
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The trail winds through the rocky landscape.
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You'll see some palm trees in the distance as you approach a wash.
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Hike through the trees and wash, looking for the trail continuing up to the left.
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Continue on the gentle uphills through the desert.
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The trail winds back into the rocky foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains. At points you will see Haystack Mountain in the distance, which is the highest point in the area at 3808 feet.
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You'll approach the largest palm grove on the hike, which has trees in several spots along the creek bed and up the canyon.

If you're doing the shorter hike, you can enjoy the palms and just return back the way you came from here.

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The trail pops out of the hills and you get views across to the higher points in Joshua Tree National Park.
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The trail markers are still with you as you start your first descent.
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As you hike downhill you'll see the Art Smith Trail wind around  the hills in front of you.
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At the bottom of the climb you'll cross a wash. Look up to see a very healthy palm grove. From here we're hiking uphill again.
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We still have some trail markers as the trail slopes up.
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I love this section of the climb where the trail follows a ridge in the middle of the surrounding hills, which give you sweeping views.
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As you crest the hill, you'll see the trail wind down to the left in front of you. We're following the trail around those hills.
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As you descend you can enjoy the dramatic scenery of Magnesia Spring Canyon.
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And when you start to climb again, Mt San Jacinto comes into view.
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The last climb looks rough on the elevation profile but is actually pretty gentle as you can see here.
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When you get to the big wash, make the left and hike up it.
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Follow the sandy wash uphill.
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And look for the trail marker on the left, which tells you where to leave the wash.
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There's some steep-ish uphill.
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And then the trail levels out as you get more views of San Jacinto.
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And after about 8.4 miles you'll reach the end of the Art Smith Trail at this picnic area on Dunn Road.

Dunn Road is named after Michael Dunn, who tried to skirt federal land to build a shortcut between Palm Spring and Rt 74. The bulldozer you see in ruins was his, abandoned after a long fight against the government and environmentalists.

Art Smith Trail Directions 39
Check out the cool trail sign at the picnic area and then head back the way you came to finish the hike.

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!).

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