Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs, CA

  • The majestic Tahquitz Canyon comes complete with an evil shaman
  • Cahuilla Indians lived off its bountiful vegetation
  • Hollywood captured it on film
  • Hippies communed with its wilderness
  • Jim Morrison used it as a stage

When we’re in Coachella Valley, we like to hike. There are so many great trails to choose from—but none can surpass Tahquitz Canyon. This hike is a must-do! Nowhere else can you to see a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, rock art, an ancient irrigation system, numerous species of birds, and plants—all in the space of a few hours.

Tahquitz Falls: This is Shangri-La! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tahquitz Canyon (pronounced tah-quish) is at the northeast base of 10,804-foot (3,241-metre) Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs. San Jacinto can be seen from almost any place in the desert valley.

Located at the entrance to the canyon, the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center, at 500 West Mesquite, just west of Palm Canyon Drive, offers exhibits, an observation deck, and a theatre room for viewing a video that narrates the legend of Tahquitz Canyon.

The canyon is named for an Indian shaman whom was banished to the canyon by the Cahuilla Indian tribe. Tahquitz, by legend, changed himself into a green ball of fire and flew to the top of the canyon where he lives in a cave. He eats the souls of the local Cahuilla Indians who venture into the shaman’s rock-studded canyon…and sometimes an occasional hiking snowbird.

Tahquitz Canyon is owned by the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians. In 1969, the tribe closed the canyon after more than 1,000 concert-goers defaced pictographs and littered the area with beer bottles and other trash. Most of this was cleaned up over the next four years. Tribal elders decided to re-open it to the public and built a beautiful visitors’ center at the entrance to the valley from proceeds of their Spa Resort Casino in town, and in 2005 they started to allow self-guided hikes.

The Cahuilla have a saying: “Use every drop of water seven times.” Despite the lack of rainfall (Tahquitz receives only several inches a year), the canyon is lush and green with numerous flowers, including purple head, honey mesquite, and the bright red chuparosa.

The canyon also is filled with sycamores and oaks and some 800 types of plants, about 200 for which the Cahuilla have uses. This marvelous array of trees, plants, and flowers entice quail, three species of hummingbirds, bluebirds, and numerous other species of tweeters.

Palm Springs is a hiker’s delight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tahquitz Canyon Trail is a two-mile loop trail which leads to Tahquitz Falls. From the Visitor Center to the falls is an elevation gain of 350 feet/106m.

The hike itself leads in a southwest direction mostly along the western side of the canyon. The trail map that is provided at the visitor center is inverted (the top of the map is south). Most of the canyon is in the shade especially if hiking in the afternoon.

Hollywood director Frank Capra put Tahquitz Falls in his 1937 film Lost Horizon. In the film this is called Shangri-La.

Ranger-led hikes are available for guests who wish to hear the Cahuilla legends and folklore associated with each canyon.

The legend of Tahquitz
Tahquitz was the first shaman created by Mukat, the creator of all things. Tahquitz had much power, and in the beginning he used his power for the good of all people. Tahquitz became the guardian spirit of all shamans and he gave them power to do good. But over time, Tahquitz began to use his power for selfish reasons. He began to use his power to harm the Cahuilla People.

The people became angry and they banished Tahquitz to this canyon that now bears his name. He made his home high in the San Jacinto Mountains in a secret cave below the towering rock known today as Tahquitz Peak.

It is said that his spirit still lives in this canyon. He can sometimes be seen as a large green fireball streaking across the night sky. The strange rumblings heard deep within the San Jacinto Mountains, the shaking of the ground, and the crashing of boulders are all attributed to Tahquitz as he stomps about the canyon.


Tahquitz Canyon

Where: 500 West Mesquite, Palm Springs

Directions: Drive south on Palm Canyon Drive through downtown Palm Springs and turn right on Mesquite Avenue for ½ mile to the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center
When: 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.

Distance: 2 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Recommendations: Dress appropriately for weather conditions, carry sun screen and plenty of water, and wear hiking boots or sturdy sneakers. Don’t forget your camera.

Admission: Adults $12.50; children ages12 and under $6.00 (includes guided tour)

Contact: (760) 416-7044

Worth Pondering…
We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.
—Anais Nin

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