Given its reputation for turquoise swimming pools and emerald fairways, Palm Springs may seem an unlikely hiker’s paradise. But within a few miles of the posh resorts are some of the most wonderful hiking opportunities in the American South west—scenic canyons lush with palms and mountaintops where the views seem to extend into the next time zone. And winter with its moderate temperatures is prime season to hike these trails.
More than just a lush oasis of palm trees and natural spring waters, these canyons were home to ancestors of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla (pronounced Kaw-we-ah) Indians. No visit to the Coachella Valley is complete without a tour of these historic canyons that maintain their timeless mystery and beauty.
Band of Cahuilla Indians
Centuries ago, ancestors of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians settled in the Palm Springs area and developed extensive and complex communities in Palm, Murray, Andreas, and Tahquitz canyons. Abundant water and hundreds of plants and animals found throughout the area ensured stable living conditions. Crops of melons, squash, beans, and corn were grown, animals were hunted, and plants and seeds were gathered for food, medicines, and basketweaving. Many traces of these communities exist in the canyons today, including rock art, house pits and foundations, irrigation ditches, dams, reservoirs, trails, and food processing areas.
The Indian Canyons are comprised of three canyons: Palm, Andreas, and Murray. Each offers visitors a breathtaking journey through an abundance of plant life that stands in stark contrast to the surrounding desert mountainsides. Scenic trails wind through rocky gorges that give way to wandering natural springs; some continue to run throughout the year. Visitors also find bedrock mortars and metates used by the Cahuilla people centuries ago to prepare food.
Fifteen miles long, Palm Canyon with its indigenous flora and fauna, which the Cahuilla peoples used, and its abundant Washingtonia filifera (California Fan palm trees), are breathtaking contrasts to the stark, rocky gorges, and barren desert lands beyond. A moderately graded, paved foot path winds down into the canyon for picnicking near the stream, exploring, hiking, or horseback riding. While in Palm Canyon, visit the Trading Post for hiking maps, refreshments, Indian art and artifacts, books, jewelry, pottery, baskets, and weavings.
A scenic foot trail leads through Andreas Canyon, passing groves of stately skirted palms, unusual rock formations and the perennial Andreas Creek, where one can still see the bedrock mortars and metates used centuries ago for preparing food. The contrasting greens of magnificent fan palms and more than 150 species of plants within a half-mile radius beckon the desert-weary traveler to this lush oasis. This tranquil setting is excellent for photography, bird-watching, or a picnic at one of the tables along the trail.
Murray Canyon is an easy hike south from Andreas Canyon. Foot and equestrian trails lead to beautiful recreational spots among the many palm trees. Peninsular Big Horn Sheep and mule deer still roam the high ground above the canyon. Being less visited, Murray Canyon has its own secluded beauty.
Tahquitz Canyon (pronounced tah-quish) is one of the most significant in terms of Cahuilla history and folklore. It is known as the “home of Tahquitz, guardian spirit of all shamans.” Tahquitz Canyon is home to a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, pools of precious water that can be found throughout the area, rock art, ancient irrigation systems, and artifacts. A moderate hike follows Tahquitz Creek into Tahquitz Canyon and culminates at Tahquitz Falls.
The Agua Caliente people enjoyed a rich and varied ceremonial life, with the sacred and medically beneficial hot springs often serving as a focal point for these activities. The site of the present day Palm Springs Spa Casino Resort is located on a Cahuilla Indian hot spring. There was first a rough-planked structure in this location, followed years later by a building containing private bathing cubicles. Today’s spa and hotel is noted throughout the world.
The canyons and associated resources noted above are especially sacred to the Indians today and are historically important to scientists and lovers of nature. Appreciate and respect.
Located 38520 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Open daily October 1-July 4, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; weekends only, July 5-September 30, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Seniors, students, military: $7.00
Children ages 6-12: $5.00
Ranger led hikes available: 1½ hours and 1 mile in length; register at Palm Canyon Trading Post
Children ages 6-12: $2.00
Additional information: (760) 323-6018
Located 500 West Mesquite, Palm Springs
Open daily October-July, 7:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; Friday-Sunday only July-September, 7:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Children ages12 and under: $6.00
Ranger led hikes available: No additional charge
Additional information: (760) 416-7040
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson