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Art Smith Trail Guide

Art Smith Trail Guide

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Art Smith Trail
  • Parking for the Art Smith Trail
  • Insider Hike Tips & Recommendations
Total Distance (?)16.6 miles (26.7 km)
Other Options 6 miles roundtrip to first oasis
Hike Time6-8 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)3,700 feet (1128m)
Highest Elevation2,480 feet (756m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
Park Phone760-862-9984
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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.
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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.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Latest Price on Women’s Shoe
REI | Amazon

Latest Price on Men’s Shoe
REI | Amazon

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Latest Price
REI | Amazon

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated October 2021.

My October 2021 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Art Smith Trail Maps

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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.

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

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

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Art Smith Trail Directions 5
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.
Art Smith Trail Directions 17
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.
Art Smith Trail Directions 22
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.

Art Smith Trail Directions 23
The trail pops out of the hills and you get views across to the higher points in Joshua Tree National Park.
Art Smith Trail Directions 24
The trail markers are still with you as you start your first descent.
Art Smith Trail Directions 25
As you hike downhill you’ll see the Art Smith Trail wind around  the hills in front of you.
Art Smith Trail Directions 26
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.
Art Smith Trail Directions 27
We still have some trail markers as the trail slopes up.
Art Smith Trail Directions 28
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.
Art Smith Trail Directions 29
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.
Art Smith Trail Directions 33
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.
Art Smith Trail Directions 36
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.

This guide last updated on May 4, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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