If I’ve ever thought of a desert, I’ve always thought of the Sahara. But I’ve never even considered hiking as an option there. Hiking and deserts were two completely different things for me. I certainly haven’t expected to find our perfect little desert in Southern California, least that hiking in a desert could be so much fun!
Hiking in the Indian Canyons near Palm Springs
Okay, I admit we hiked the best part of it: the palm canyons. It really has a feeling to hike in an oasis and have a rest on the trunk of a palm tree. So this corner of the desert we found is called Indian Canyons, and it’s located in Agua Caliente, the land of Cahuilla Indians.
Indian Canyons have three fan palm canyons, so everyone can decide the ideal length of their oasis hike and choose a palm canyon accordingly. We hiked all three canyon trails during the 2 days we spent here and we just couldn’t get enough of them!
Such a charming walk: Andreas Canyon Trail
This one mile walk along a nice creek in the shade of huge California fan palm trees enchanted us – such a nice refreshment in the middle of the desert. Despite it’s so short, we spent several hours sitting under the trees, having a picnic and having fun, cooling down our feet in the surprisingly cold creek.
The trail in Andreas Canyon is also quite diverse. You can spot more than 150 species of plants – if you have the patience to count. Or just get lost in the beautiful green colors.
The canyon to the waterfall: Murray Canyon Trail
This 4 miles round trip hike took us further into the San Jacinto Mountains than Andreas Canyon Trail. It also runs along a small creek, and since water means palm trees here, we hiked in the pleasant shade of the huge palm trees most of the way.
But the funny thing is that palm trees grow only in a narrow zone along the creek, so we really felt that we are in the smallest and most enjoyable part of the desert. Finally, we reached the small Seven Sisters Waterfall where we were resting for a while and were frightened by a huge tarantula before heading back. It didn’t care about us at all, by the way.
But it’s also the proof how abundant wildlife is here (yes, in a desert): countless species of insects, birds, lizards and some snakes live in the area. If you keep your distance and don’t disturb them, you can leave with unique memories – and photos, of course.
THE Palm Canyon
The longest of the canyons has really a lot of fan palms! Though we haven’t found much water in the creek, the beginning of this 15 miles hike was completely shaded by the huge California fan palms.
Later, palms get replaced with different kind of cacti and other strange, thorny, spiky plants we couldn’t even know by name. There were groups of fan palms from time to time on the way, though we haven’t seen that many as in the beginning of the hike. It also means that while the beginning of the hike is in the shade, most part of it later is not. So have sunscreen and lots of water!
Best time to visit the Indian Canyons
Hiking in the Indian Canyons is hardly comparable to any of our other hikes. Here we felt the hot and the harshness of the desert and the green and the cool of the oases at the same time. Water truly means life here. And no matter the time you visit, you should bring plenty of water, as well.
Now when to visit it? South California is hot in general. You can image how hot the deserts can be. The ideal time to hike there is from October to April. We did it at the very end of November and it felt like summer – not to complain though, we really don’t mind experiencing summer in November. But we had to water our heads to avoid getting a heat stroke when hiking the not shaded part of the long Palm Canyon Trail.
Good to know before you visit
So this place is neither a national nor a state park, the canyons are located on the land of Cahuilla Indians. They can be visited individually during the day though, there’s no need for reservation in advance or mandatory guided tours. You drive there, park there, hike there – you will get a map when paying the entrance fee. But we recommend to check the Indian Canyons official home page for opening hours and current fees.
More hiking in the area
Tahquitz Canyon is also located on Agua Caliente Cahuilla tribal land. Its main attraction is a 60 feet seasonal waterfall. No palm trees there though.
Joshua Tree National Park is only about an hour drive from Palm Springs, and it offers tons of hiking trails to explore more of those rocky desert landscapes. There’s one thing we’re truly sorry we missed there: stargazing at night. Located high above sea level and far from major cities, Joshua Tree is said to be one of the best places for stargazing in the whole United States.
You can also explore the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains, they are very close to Palm Springs. We liked their wild, deserted mountainous landscape. Our favorite short hike there was a trail to Lake Cahuilla.
Have you ever hiked in a desert? Do you want to?
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