Note: This post was written in February 2020 before the start of the pandemic. Palm Springs will always hold a special place in my heart as the last place I visited before the the world went into lockdown. Read now and save for future travels!
Palm Springs has been a destination for those seeking to relax and recharge for decades (just look Hollywood A-listers ranging from Sinatra to DiCaprio and countless others in between). Beyond the easy-breezy lifestyle of pools, golf courses and spas it’s also a great destination for hiking, especially if you visit in the winter months where daytime temperatures average around a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Take that winter blues.
When planning my own trip I found that there were almost too many incredible hiking trails to choose from, but somehow I managed to narrow it down to three distinctively different areas. You’ll find options varying in difficulty (easy to hard) and terrain (mountainous canyons to lush green palms), each giving hikers an opportunity to experience the desert beauty that makes Palm Springs a unique destination. It’s important to note that you should always arm yourself with more water than you think you’ll need and should not attempt hikes in high temperatures (you can find more tips here). Read on for more about the hikes that made the top of my list and comment below with some of your favorites!
Downtown Palm Springs
Just in the downtown area alone you’ll find a ton of easy-to-reach options that make for the perfect early morning hike to kick-start your day. Some of the most popular ones include the North Lykken and Museum trails, which offer incredible views overlooking Palm Springs. Both are a moderately strenuous straight up (and eventual down) through rocky terrain with many places to stop to take in the scenery along the way. If you start at the North Lykken Trailhead at the end of Ramon Avenue you’ll begin your ascent above the Historic Tennis Club neighborhood. The city becomes smaller as you climb higher, and when you reach the area with picnic tables you have the option of continuing along the North Lykken Trail or can begin your descent down the steep path of the Museum Trail that leads towards the back of the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Where I Hiked
Trail: North Lykken Trail
Distance: Full length is 3.5 miles out and back but can be shorted to 2.2 miles when connecting to the Museum Trail that ends behind the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Location: 33.816272, -116.555762
How to get there: Head south and turn west on Ramon Road and continue until the street dead-ends at the North Lykken Trailhead.
Located south of downtown Palm Springs, Indian Canyons is part of the ancestral land of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and is home to 3 different canyons – Andreas, Murray and Palm Canyon – each with a handful of different trails to choose from. We chose the appropriately named Palm Canyon Trail in its namesake canyon where you’ll find the largest naturally-occurring fan palm oasis in the word. Descend down from the trading post parking lot into the otherworldly oasis, which looks like something right off of a Hollywood movie set where a thick canopy of palm trees offers hikers a hidden refuge from the often harsh desert sun. After about a mile of following the stream the trail opens up to a rocky gorge where you can hike as far as you want before turning back.
Where I Hiked
Trail: Palm Canyon Trail
Distance: The entire trail is 15 miles however the palm oasis begins close to the trailhead and spans a little more than 1 mile, which makes for a good 2-mile round trip hike at a minimum.
Location: 33.737795, -116.538828
How to get there: Drive south about 10 minutes from downtown Palm Springs along Palm Canyon Drive. You’ll pay for daypass as you enter Indian Canyons and will find various parking areas for each of the three canyons. The road ends at the parking lot for the Trading Post, which is also the start of the Palm Canyon Trail.
Joshua Tree National Park
If you have a car Joshua Tree National Park is a worthwhile daytrip from Palm Springs, especially if you’re looking for some pretty incredible hiking opportunities. The park spans 2 distinct desert ecosystems that create a unique landscape with varying flora and fauna, including its enchanting namesake trees. There are trails for every type of hiker and many people choose to start with the Hidden Valley Trail. We instead decided to skip that one and headed to the Barker Dam Trail, which loops around an early 20th century dam built by cattle ranchers. We then continued to the nearby Wall Street Mill Trail, an out and back trail to a former gold milling site with remnants of the mill’s past like abandoned vehicles and the ruins of an old ranch house along the way. Other trails throughout the park take you to dramatic rock formations like Skull Rock and Arch Rock, through a “lost” palm oasis and within safe distance of the peculiar yet menacing Cholla cactus garden. Read more in my post Visiting Joshua Tree National Park.
Where I Hiked
Trail: Barker Dam Trail and Wall Street Mill Trail
Distance: The Barker Dam Trail is a 1.5-mile loop
Location: 34.025276, -116.142092 and 34.027991, -116.138391
How to get there: Joshua Tree National Park is about 1 hour from Palm Springs by car. After passing through the west entrance gate near the Visitors Center continue along Park Boulevard and look for the turnoff for the Barker Dam Trail parking area off Barker Dam Road. There is a separate unpaved parking area for the Wall Street Mill Trail off Queen Valley Road, however if you intend to hike both trails you can leave your car and follow the dirt path that connects the two.
ON THE MAP