Trails and Trailhead Locations at the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
Advice and Reminders
Much of this landscape is remote and challenging. You can’t always depend on a signpost or a ranger to get you out of a fix. Pack so that you could take care of yourself overnight, if necessary.
- Hike with a friend. Or tell a friend where you will be hiking and when you expect to return.
- Carry as much water as you can. As a rule of thumb, you need at least one liter of water per hour of hiking. When half of your water is gone, turn around and head back.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Dress in layers. Wear a hat, sunglasses, protective clothing, and sturdy footwear. Use sun screen. Bring warm layers and a waterproof shell on longer hikes as the weather can change quickly.
- Know your trail. Carry a map and pay attention to the terrain so you can find your way back.
- Beware of rattlesnakes. Watch where you put your hands and feet, especially in warm weather when snakes are active.
- Keep children near you.
- Stay on the trail. Cross-country travel may adversely affect Peninsular bighorn sheep, and often damages plants and soils. Short-cutting of trails at switchbacks not only causes erosion, but creates an eyesore.
Please note: Dogs are not allowed on most trails in the National Monument. At lower elevations, this prohibition is enforced for the protection of endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, which react to dogs as they would to coyotes, a natural predator. In the San Jacinto Mountains, which are usually accessed via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway or from the alpine community of Idyllwild, dogs are prohibited in Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness. Dogs are also prohibited in the Indian Canyons.
One of the limited opportunities for taking your dog on mountain trails in the Monument is available on the loop connecting Homme-Adams and Cahuilla Hills Parks in the City of Palm Desert. From Homme-Adams Park, follow the Homestead Trail to the Hopalong Cassidy Trail, then south on the “Hoppy” to the cross or north to the Gabby Hayes which will take you down to Cahuilla Hills Park, or vice-versa. Be aware, however, that dogs are prohibited on segments of the Hopalong Cassidy Trail that extend south of the cross and north of the Ganny Hayes Trail. At higher elevations, dogs are allowed on Forest Service trails, though be sure not to continue with your dog into Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness or the Indian Canyons.
For details about where dogs are allowed and where they are prohibited, please contact the National Monument Visitor Center at (760) 862-9984.
To help you decide which of the many trails to take – especially if you’re a newcomer – we have divided the National Monument into three areas: the San Jacinto Mountains west of Palm Canyon divide, the Northern Santa Rosa Mountains between the Palm Canyon divide and Highway 74, and the Southern Santa Rosa Mountains from Highway 74 to the Monument’s border with Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Each area has its own personality – a description of each area along with a sampler of trails is provided below. Trails are rated as easy, moderate, or strenuous in accordance with the following criteria:
Easy – Generally a leisurely walk, but don’t expect the trail to be flat.
Moderate – A serious hike, but not difficult for those in reasonably good condition.
Strenuous – Some trail segments require being in very good condition and/or the trail is long and requires stamina.
Difficulty ratings are based on one-way trips. When assessing how difficult a trail may be for you, consider whether you plan to return on the same trail, thereby doubling your distance, or by using another trail which also adds mileage and difficulty. Be aware that using two moderate trails to complete a loop may result in a strenuous hike.
The best time of year for hiking lower elevation trails is November through April; for higher elevation trails, the best time is May through October.
Many trails are open to all forms of non-motorized travel – hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking – but not all trails are open to everyone. Mountain bikers are prohibited in designated wilderness areas, in the Indian Canyons, on certain trails near Murray Hill, or on any part of the Pacific Crest Trail . Check with the appropriate agency if you don’t know the rules. Be safe and enjoy!
SAN JACINTO MOUNTAINS
If you approach the National Monument from the west via San Gorgonio Pass, you’ll first encounter Mount San Jacinto (10,834 feet), a landmark peak that is sacred to Indians all over Southern California. The San Jacinto Mountains are the high point of the Peninsular Ranges that run south from here to form the backbone of Baja California. In these mountains, topped with granite domes and spires, you’ll feel like you’re in a Sierra Club calendar. Mule deer and woodpeckers forage in forests of ponderosa and Jeffrey pine; streams slash through meadows dotted with lemon lily and azalea blossoms.
Often compared to the Sierra Nevada for their craggy elegance, the San Jacintos are accessible from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway or from trailheads in Idyllwild. For hikers, the keyword is “steep.” The mountains are famous for their vertical relief and their peacefulness – the rapid rise effectively mutes the buzz of cities below.
Devils Slide Trail – 2.5 miles, elevation change of 1,623 feet, strenuous.
From Humber Park in Idyllwild, Devils Slide Trail climbs steeply out of Strawberry Valley. As you climb, you’ll enjoy good views of Lily and Suicide Rocks. Upon reaching Saddle Junction, where five trails meet, your options for continuing include an ascent of Tahquitz Peak (8,846 feet), an easy stroll to Skunk Cabbage Meadow, or a trek to San Jacinto Peak. Be sure to obtain a wilderness permit before starting up the trail.
If San Jacinto Peak is your goal, take the trail to the left of the saddle and climb steeply up the ridge following signs to Wellman divide. Along the way there is a large cienega with (usually) a good showing of wildflowers in spring and summer. Two miles after passing Wellman Divide, you’ll reach the summit, which affords superb views of the Santa Rosa Mountains as well as Mount San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California at 11,499 feet. This is a strenuous roundtrip hike of more than 14 miles with an elevation gain of over 4,000 feet.
Tramway to San Jacinto Peak – 5.5 miles, elevation change of 2,455 feet, strenuous.
The easiest and most popular hike to the peak begins at the Mountain Station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Leaving the Tram, descend into Long Valley and self-register for a Wilderness permit at the Mount San Jacinto State Park ranger station. Past the ranger station the trail traverses the tree-covered flanks of Long Valley Creek until reaching the broad grassy meadow of Round Valley. Deer are plentiful and relatively tame if you keep your distance.
Round Valley has numerous campsites for overnight hikers. Be sure to obtain a permit for camping before leaving the ranger station (reservations are a good idea, but not required). You’ll quickly discover that the trail from Round Valley to Wellman Divide is the steepest part of the hike, but this section is only one mile long. From here follow the clearly signed trail to the peak. This approach is easier than the hike from Idyllwild, but is still strenuous with an 11-mile roundtrip and elevation gain of about 2,500 feet.
Long Valley Loop Trail – 1.2 miles, elevation change of 138 feet, easy.
For an aerial view of Palm Springs and other desert cities without boarding an airplane, try the Long Valley Loop. This short, easy hike circles Long Valley and includes overlooks of the Coachella Valley, with views as far as the Salton Sea.
From the Tram’s Mountain Station, descend into Long Valley via the concrete path. The trail (to your left) that begins where the concrete ends is clearly signed. Most years, visitors enjoy abundant wildflowers and birdlife as they walk alongside Long Valley Creek, which flows in springs and early summer.
The San Jacinto Mountains portion of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) has been called the most diverse of all the segments. The entire 2,600-mile trail stretches from Mexico to Canada. From the high point in this section, hikers going north descend some 7,000 feet in about 20 miles, passing through varied terrain from pine forest to desert scrub. Hikers who decide to take on the entire 57-mile San Jacinto leg of the PCT will need to consult a guidebook to navigate the sometimes-confusing network of trails – it’s not a straight shot. Finding water along the way is also a challenge, so long-distance hikers are advised to carry a minimum of four liters of water to start, and plan to replenish at a spring or a water source off the trail.
To get started, or to sample the route, drive 23 miles up Highway 74 from Palm Desert and look for the PCT sign and trailhead to your right along a straight stretch of the road, about one mile east of Highway 371. Or to start from the bottom and hike uphill, begin from the village of Snow Creek near the junction of Highway 111 and Interstate 10. (Be sure to park before the village sign on Snow Creek Road, not in the village itself.)
From Highway 74, the PCT takes you through a tangle of Manzanita, yucca, and ribbonwood. Six miles from the start, the trail tops out on a long ridge called the Desert Divide, following it for roughly 20 miles. (Near the junction of the PCT and the ridge, the detour to Live Oak Spring makes for a bucolic lunch stop or turnaround.) Eventually you come to a major intersection of trails at Saddle Junction, and then pass Strawberry Cienega en route to another long ridge-walk atop Fuller Ridge. Finally, you tackle the famous switchbacks – a descent that seems to some hikers to take forever – to a paved road that leads to Snow Creek Village. The official end of this section is under the I-10 freeway at Haugen-Lehmann Way, but many hikers jump off the trail at the village.
NORTHERN SANTA ROSA MOUNTAINS
There’s no sign to alert you when you’ve crossed from the San Jacintos to the Northern Santa Rosa Mountains. But you’ll know you’re there when you reach the Indian Canyons, home to the largest system of native fan palm oases in the United States. East of Palm Canyon divide there’s less of an alpine feel to the mountains and more desert influence.
While the San Jacintos claim photogenic star power, the Santa Rosas have a mystery that’s equally appealing. You’ll hop over endless boulders, climb alluvial fans, and stroll through dry washes. Pinyon pine and yucca dot the rolling plateaus at higher elevations. The Santa Rosas are home to an extraordinary diversity of plants and animals, including the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep.
This area is accessible from many points, including the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs or the National Monument Visitor Center on Highway 74 in Palm Desert.
Palm Canyon Trail – 16 miles, elevation change of 3,566 feet, strenuous.
From the Indian Canyons Trading Post, Palm Canyon Trail heads south in and along the canyon all the way to Highway 74 – 16 miles and 3,566 vertical feet away. Along the way, hikers experience a fascinating transition from Sonoran desert fan palm oases to cool pinyon-juniper forest. The hike is also a lesson in geology. Watch for exposed bedrock tipped by the giant fault that separates the San Jacinto Mountains from the Santa Rosas.
Called “Trail of a Thousand Shrines,” this was a major Cahuilla Indian route from the valley to the mountains. The canyon provided water, food, and other important resources for the native Cahuilla. The trail shrines may be gone, but archaeology still abounds. Please leave artifacts undisturbed for others to discover.
For a one-to-two-hour hike, follow Palm Canyon Trail through the main oasis, returning via Victor Trail on the cliff overlooking the canyon. To explore the upper reaches of Palm Canyon, stay on the trail as it heads south. You’ll meander in and out of verdant oases for many miles.
For those who can cover long distances and navigate by map, there are many enticing destinations along Palm Canyon Trail: Little Paradise, Agua Bonita Spring, Hidden Falls, and trail connections up to the Pacific Crest Trail on the Desert Divide. Caution: Palm Canyon is a torrent during storms but has few reliable waterholes in drought. Stay on the trail and ask about local trail conditions when venturing beyond the main oasis.
Art Smith Trail – 8.3 miles, elevation change of 1,465 feet, strenuous.
This is truly one of the signature trails in the National Monument, offering scenic views across the Coachella Valley to the Little San Bernardino Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park, and over the bustling cities of Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. Hikers escape the sights and sounds of the urban area as the trail climbs through hidden canyons and alongside lush palm oases. Although the oases beckon, stick close to the trail to avoid disturbing desert animals that depend on these vital habitats.
Named for the longtime trail boss of the Desert Riders equestrian club, the Art Smith Trail starts at Highway 74 near the Visitor Center. You’ll gain more than 1,400 feet in 8.3 miles, then come to the trail’s intersection with Dunn Road, but don’t expect to be picked up here as the road is closed to vehicle traffic. To travel another 8 miles to Palm Springs, pick up the Hahn Buena Vista Trail followed by the Wild Horse and Garstin Trails. Or you can descend to Cathedral City by way of Dunn Road and Cathedral Canyon Trail.
Hopalong Cassidy Trail – 8.3 miles, elevation change of 1,345 feet, strenuous.
Hiking the Hopalong Cassidy Trail – named for the famous movie cowboy of the 1940s and ‘50s – is like taking a low-level airplane flight over residential enclaves and golf courses in Palm Desert. In places the trail clings to the mountainside while it slices across the escarpment. Be warned: You’ll have to earn the great views along this roller-coaster trail. Whether you start at the Art Smith Trailhead – which requires a 1.5-mile jaunt before you reach the “Hoppy” – or behind the Desert Crossing shopping center, you’ll climb and descend again and again along the entire 8.3-mile route.
For shorter hikes on the Hopalong Cassidy Trail, access the trail via the Homestead Trail from Homme-Adams Park, the Gabby Hayes Trail from Cahuilla Hills Park, or the Herb Jeffries Train near Fox Canyon just north of Cahuilla Hills Park. Once you’re south of Homme-Adams Park, however, your only exit options are to turn around or go the distance.
SOUTHERN SANTA ROSA MOUNTAINS
Traveling southeast past Highway 74, you’ll enter the Southern Santa Rosas. If you venture onto the trails in this area, you’ll be visiting places known to few, even locals. The highest peaks – pine- and fir-clad Santa Rosa (8,070 feet) and Toro (8,716 feet) – don’t jump out at you like Mount San Jacinto does. (Look for the bull’s horns of Toro Peak above Palm Desert.) The landmarks here are subtle, and the vegetation varied. Pinyon-juniper forests adorn the mid-elevation country. On lower slopes hikers dodge agave spears and the so-called “jumping” cholla cactus. Cahuilla Indians once harvested pinyon nuts, acorns, yucca fibers and wild game on these slopes, and left behind many of the trails you may walk on today.
Cactus Spring Trail – 11.7 miles, elevation change of 2,639 feet, strenuous.
The Cactus Spring Trail reaches into the heart of the Santa Rosa Wilderness, one of the most rugged and remote areas in Southern California. Access is from the Sawmill Trailhead off Highway 74 near the community of Pinyon. Several distinct trail segments provide a variety of experiences. At 2.5 miles, the trail crosses Horsethief Creek – a perfect stopover destination. The creek normally flows year-round while tall shade trees reach skyward between steep canyon walls. En route, hikers encounter cactus gardens, pinyon pines, and junipers – and in wet years, profuse spring wildflowers. Look for the abandoned dolomite mine along the way.
Ambitious hikers can aim for Cactus Spring, 4 miles from the trailhead, or Agua Alta Spring 8.8 miles out. Not far from Cactus Spring, the Guadalupe Trail branches off to La Quinta Cove. Or complete the 17.6-mile route to Martinez Canyon Trailhead. Scenic views, intimate canyons, and solitude characterize these hikes. The trail beyond Cactus Spring, however, is difficult to follow. Hikers venturing past this point should be experienced and well prepared. There is little shade and water is scarce, so carry an ample supply.
Boo Hoff Trail – 8.8 miles, elevation change of 1,916 feet, strenuous.
To walk the Boo Hoff Trail is to trace the history of trail use in the Santa Rosas. The trail started as an historic Indian path and was later improved by the Desert Riders, an equestrian group that did much to protect and enhance our trails. It’s named for a founder of the group. Access the trail from the top of La Quinta Cove.
As you venture from the urban edge of La Quinta into the Santa Rosa Wilderness, you’ll soon forget how close you are to civilization. Up here, stately ocotillos burst with green leaves a few days after a rain. Barrel cacti cling to the rugged slopes. You are now in the habitat of the bighorn sheep, so keep an eye out for them. Please stay on the trail to limit your impact.
Along the way, enjoy spectacular vistas of the Salton Sea and the peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. You may continue deeper into the Santa Rosa Wilderness via the Guadalupe Trail, which can be difficult to follow in places – hiker rescues are not uncommon here. This is a strenuous hike so be sure you know the route and are prepared. You can also stay on the Boo Hoff as it heads east toward Lake Cahuilla; end your hike here if you have arranged for a shuttle. Or loop back to La Quinta Cove via the La Quinta Cove-Lake Cahuilla Trail – a round-trip distance of 12 miles.
Randall Henderson Trail – 2.4 miles, elevation change of 423 feet, easy.
This easy trail offers a good introduction to desert hiking for the novice. Starting at the National Monument Visitor Center on Highway 74, this loop trail – named for a founder of Palm Desert – gently rises about 400 feet over its 2.4-mile route. Typical plants of the Colorado Desert, such as creosote bush and cholla cactus, adorn the trail as it meanders through small canyons and across low ridges. Check with Visitor Center staff for times and dates of guided hikes during the fall and winter months. Parking is available at the Visitor Center during operating hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Other Trails and Trailhead Locations
Along with the trails listed above, the following trails are some of the more popular ones in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Please contact the National Monument Visitor Center for additional information about hiking opportunities and trailhead locations. It is advised that you obtain a map showing how the trail you choose twists and turns, and where it intersects other trails.
North Lykken Trail (southern segment) – 1.8 miles, elevation change of 850 feet, moderate.
From South Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, turn west on Ramon Road and drive to where it ends. Parking is adjacent to the road on the dirt area. This segment of the North Lykken Trail combined with the Museum Trail (see below) comprises a challenging, but enjoyable loop overlooking the city. Return to the trailhead via the streets of Palm Springs.
Museum Trail – 0.8 miles, elevation change of 831 feet, strenuous.
From Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, turn west on Tahquitz Canyon Way, then north on Museum Drive. The trail begins in the north parking lot of the Palm Springs Art Museum. This is one of the steepest trails in the San Jacinto Mountains.
South Lykken Trail – 4.4 miles, elevation change of 1,004 feet, strenuous.
The north end of the trail starts at the west end of Mesquite Road, just south of downtown Palm Springs off South Palm Canyon Drive. However, no parking is available at this location. Plan on parking near the turnoff from South Palm Canyon Drive and walk along the road to the trailhead. The south end of the trail begins on South Palm Canyon Drive. Follow South Palm Canyon Drive toward the Indian Canyons, and park on the street where the road narrows from four lanes to two. Hike westerly along a dirt road adjacent to a residential development before beginning the ascent on the trail.
Garstin Trail – 1.5 miles, elevation change of 893 feet, moderate.
From South Palm Canyon Drive, which heads toward the Indian Canyons, turn east on Bogert Trail. Just after crossing the bridge over Palm Canyon Wash, turn left into a cul-de-sac and park along the road. The trail begins at the end of the cul-de-sac, climbing steeply onto a short ridge. From here, the hiker can take several different loops. Ascend the Garstin, descend via the Shannon Trail, and then return to the trailhead by way of the Earl Henderson Trail. Or ascend the Garstin, roll along a 0.3-mile segment of the Wild Horse Trail, turn onto a couple of unnamed trails for 0.7 miles which take you to the intersection of the Araby and Berns Trails, then follow the Berns Trail back to the top of the Garstin. Be sure to take a map with you to avoid getting lost!
Wild Horse Trail – 2.7 miles, elevation change of 510 feet, moderate.
Access the Wild Horse via the Garstin Trail (see directions to the trailhead above) or Fern Canyon Trail from the Indian Canyons. Serves as the primary trail linking trails north of Murray Hill (Garstin, Shannon, Araby, Berns, Henderson, and Goat Trails) with those to the south (Clara Burgess, Fern Canyon, Vendeventer, Hahn Buena Vista, East Fork, and Dry Wash Trails).
Clara Burgess Trail – 2.2 miles, elevation change of 1,339 feet, strenuous.
This trail is the only route to the summit of Murray Hill, the prominent conical peak just south of Palm Springs, best seen when heading south on Gene Autry Trail (Highway 111). Although only 2.2 miles in length, you must take other trails to get to the Clara Burgess, all of which require additional gains of elevation. Commonly, it is approached via the Garstin or Fern Canyon Trails. These trails lead to different ends of the Wild Horse Trail from which the ascent to the top of Murray Hill begins on the Clara Burgess. Ascending or descending the Clara Burgess via the switchbacks on the north face of Murray Hill is not advised unless you already know the route – it’s somewhat confusing getting to or from the bottom of the hill on the north side.
Bump and Grind Trail – 1.1 miles, elevation change of 523 feet, moderate.
This has been heralded as the most popular low-elevation trail in the National Monument, frequented by exercisers looking to raise their heart rates. A loop opportunity is afforded by starting behind Desert Crossing shopping center on Painters Path in Palm Desert. Beginning at the Hopalong Cassidy-Mike Schuler Trailhead, follow the “Hoppy” to the Herb Jeffries to the Bump and Grind, then return to your starting point via the Mike Schuler Trail. This yields a loop of about 3 miles. Going the other way, however, avoids climbing the steep Herb Jeffries Trail, instead challenging your knees on the descent.
Bear Creek Oasis Trail – 4.5 miles, elevation change of 1,989 feet, strenuous.
From the Cove Oasis Trailhead at the top of La Quinta Cove, follow Bear Creek Canyon to where the trail leaves the sandy wash – look for the signs. A beautiful palm oasis awaits those hikers who can go the distance. From Highway 111 in La Quinta, go south on Washington Street, turn right on Eisenhower Drive (which eventually curves to the south) and continue going south to Calle Tecate. Parking is available in the trailhead parking lot or on the street.
La Quinta Cove to Lake Cahuilla Trail – 2.9 miles, elevation change of 548 feet, moderate.
This trail crosses a divide separating a peninsula known as the Coral Reef Mountains to the north and the main Santa Rosas to the south. En route to Lake Cahuilla, be sure to follow the trail where it leaves the wash next to The Quarry golf course – the trail will take you away from the golf course in a couple of places. Access to the golf course is strictly prohibited, so do not even think about venturing onto it. Vehicle access to Lake Cahuilla County Park allows for a one-way hike with a shuttle pick-up.
Trails in the Indian Canyons
Trails in the Indian Canyons provide hiking opportunities that range from easy to strenuous. While the Andreas Canyon loop of 2.9 miles with an elevation change of 442 feet offers an easy stroll along a perennial stream, the 9.2-mile combination of the West Fork and Jo Pond Trails gaining 5,977 feet to reach the Desert Divide and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail is a strenuous undertaking, even for the experienced hiker. Other trails include the Maynard Mine Trail (a strenuous 3.2-mile climb gaining 2,036 feet in elevation) and the easy Murray Canyon Trail, a 1.7-mile jaunt with an elevation change of only 524 feet.
Trails in the Idyllwild and Garner Valley Areas
A number of trails starting in and around Idyllwild and Garner Valley lead into the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, including the Deer Springs, South Ridge, Spitler Peak, Fobes, and Cedar Spring Trails. Be sure to check with the San Jacinto Ranger Station of the San Bernardino National Forest for permit requirements.