Palm Springs hiking throughout the Coachella Valley will reveal wonderful views of this beautiful desert region that is punctuated by the San Jacinto Mountains on one side and Joshua Tree National Park on the other. The Joshua Tree National Park contains part of two very extensive deserts, the Colorado Desert (home of the Salton Sea and Death Valley) and the Mojave Desert.
The more than 140 Palm Springs hiking trails cover more than 1,250 miles that can take you from elevations of 11,000 feet to below sea level, and free Palm Springs hiking can be found on most of them, although there are vehicle fees to enter national parks, and some trails are accessed from parking areas that do have fees. If you are hiking on Indian land (the source of all the region’s casinos), there will also be an entry or vehicle fee.
Some of the best free Palm Springs hiking can be found right outside the door of your hotel room or your vacation rentals. Some of the best of these will be found around the town of Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains to the southwest. The Quiet Creek Inn is an excellent example, offering a number of secluded and sophisticated mountain cabins and homes that are excellent for family vacations and groups coming for special events like weddings. There are easy trails through the forest and alongside meandering creeks that can be enjoyed in a just a brief morning or afternoon excursion.
On the other end of nature’s spectrum, you can find free Palm Springs hiking in the desert at resorts in Desert Hot Springs. Or go even farther off the track and go camping in Joshua Tree National Park. You will pay camping permit fees for your campsite, but then you are free to wander up or down any of the established trails that suit your abilities.
If you don’t mind paying a fee in return for a truly extraordinary experience, you might consider the Living Desert, a unique wildlife and botanical park showcasing desert flora and fauna (the only such institution in the United States) and located in Desert Hot Springs. Here you can enjoy several hours of leisurely Palm Springs hiking as you wander through the extensive zoo and park observing everything from ostriches and hedgehogs to wolves and warthogs. There is a more extensive wilderness trail in the facility’s Eisenhower Park, with marked trails providing brief 30-minute hikes showcasing beautiful desert views to a full three-mile hike up rock formations and into deep canyons taking three to five hours.
Perhaps the most popular of all Palm Springs hiking trails is the Mecca Hills/Painted Canyons trail that takes you five miles or so into a deep slot canyon called Big Split Rock. The highway turnoff for this splendid hike is about ten miles southeast of the town of Indio, and then another ten miles or so to the trailhead near Joshua Tree National Park. A little farther south of Indio is the Salton Sea Recreational State Area. This beautiful area with many miles of hiking trails has a day-use fee and fees for camping.
While the Coachella Valley is an important agricultural region for the state of California, it nonetheless is desert. Many of the Palm Springs hiking trails take you deep into desert and/or high into mountains, much of which is pristine protected wilderness. Because of this, it is important that you follow some commonsense guidelines even if you are on easy trails near civilization. Remember that it can be extremely hot in the summer (upwards of 110∞ Fahrenheit), and quite cold during the winters. While winter weather can be quite balmy (70s and 80s), both desert and mountains get very cool at night. It is advisable to hike with at least one other person and bring plenty of water. Use sunscreen and a hat, dress appropriately (layers work well to accommodate a range of temperatures), and don’t wander off established trails. Let friends or family know when you expect to return. If you are staying in one of the area hotels or resorts, advise the front desk of your intended route and expected return time. During the summer months, it is best to attempt no Palm Springs hiking at all unless you are very experienced and in excellent shape.