3 great desert treks near Palm Springs California

Painted Canyon hike mecca salton palm springs hike desertWhen you’re surrounded with some of the world’s most beautiful desert scenery, choosing a perfect hike can be a bit like walking up to a buffet. There’s endless options, and everything looks good; so how can you possibly choose?

Great desert hikes in Palm Springs

Over the last few months we’ve been taking a look at some fun and enjoyable hiking trails in the Palm Springs area. This time we’re going slightly further out than the city boundaries for some popular hikes in the Greater Palm Springs area.

The Slot near Borrego Springs, CA

This hike is hard to locate, but easy to execute. You’ll probably miss the dirt trail that passes for a road that runs out to the canyon; it’s not well marked and it blends in with the surrounding desert like camouflage.  Print or save these helpful directions from California Through my Lens and The Last Adventurer and follow them closely. (We passed the road about four times before we finally saw it.)

Once you take the sandy road to the trailhead (which can be done easily in a car without 4WD), it’s an easy scramble down into the canyon, and a very easy walk through it.  Claustrophobics be warned: there are some extremely narrow spots here, and in some places rocks are wedged overhead, but it’s a very unique and beautiful stroll.

Lost Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park

There are so many hikes in Joshua Tree Park.  Depending on how much you want to exert yourself, what kind of scenery you’re into, and whether you want to deal with elevation gains, you can choose any number of trails.  

A good half-day moderate hike is the route to Lost Palms Oasis. This trip can take 3-4 hours depending on speed and experience, but you’ll get to see a variety of sights.  The trail is well marked but quite exposed so plan accordingly. The scenery along the way includes an old mine site and the ‘wonderland of rocks’, and culminates in a beautiful palm oasis that’s a perfect spot to stop for lunch.

The Mastodon Mine loop is a shorter and easier option, but you’ll miss the oasis.

Painted Canyon hike mecca salton palm springs hike desert
Gorgeous Painted Canyons

Check out more details from the Parks Service on this hike.

Painted Hills Canyon/Ladder Canyon nearPainted Canyon hike mecca salton palm springs hike desert Mecca, CA

This hike is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Palm Springs and is located north of Mecca, California near the Salton Sea. The name Painted Canyons comes from the wonderful variety of colours in the rock here which, depending on the sun’s light, can look like an intense watercolour. There are a couple of hiking options out here.

Easy Option: Painted Canyon

You can do the easy Painted Canyon trail which is largely flat and sandy, and provides beautiful views of the canyon. Walk up the wide slot canyon as far as you wish and enjoy that feeling of being very small in a big place. You can meander along the canyon floor and back, as I’ve done with friends and visitors who weren’t equipped for a proper hike, or you can watch for the signs (often including an arrow in the sand made of rocks) and climb ladders to the top of the canyon rim.

Moderate Option: Ladder Canyon

Arrow painted canyon hike Painted Canyon hike mecca salton palm springs hike desert
An arrow fellow hikers have made pointing to the ladders access point

Using the ladders installed throughout the canyon you can climb in a series of steps to the top and follow a relatively easy loop trail. Another set of ladders will bring you back to the desert floor.

A few important notes about hiking in this area; it’s rather remote, and the ladders are maintained by a group of volunteers. You’ll want to use your best judgement here.  Check out the tips and advice from the Hiking in Palm Springs website for some more solid guidance and helpful maps.

Do you have a favourite hike in Palm Springs or the Coachella Valley?  Post your favourite in comments! And for some amazing tips from a local Palm Springs hiking guide click here.