Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs

The Palm Springs area is a great, if surprising hiking destination ~ there are well over 100 hikes in what locals call, “the desert.”  I lived in La Quinta (where the current season of  “The Bachelorette” is being shot) for seven years, & return each Christmas; some of the hikes on this list I’ve done over 50 times!!  So whether you’re visiting Palm Springs or Palm Desert: I’ve got hiking options for virtually every city in the valley, & all fitness levels.  We’ll start with the easier hikes….& work up to one of the most challenging hikes in the country.  Here are my picks for the “Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs!”

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

The Palm Springs area offers more than 100 hikes, which makes it a little-known yet EPIC hiking destination. And you can comfortably hike for 8 months of the year here: from October through May, temperatures are typically in the 70’s & 80’s. If hiking during the hot summer months: START EARLY!

Map of Best Hikes by Palm Springs

Ladder Canyon Trail Head (Mecca)

Bump N Grind Trail

Boo Hoff Trail (La Quinta)

Hike to the Palm Desert Cross

Indian Canyon (Palm Springs)

Cactus to Clouds (Palm Springs) = CRAZY HARD!!!

Hikes Rated Easy to HARD!

  • Palm Canyon Trail/Indian Canyon (in Palm Springs): 2 miles; 295 foot elevation gain (easy).
  • Hike to the Palm Desert Cross (aka “Homestead Trail”): 2.6 miles out-and-back; 640 foot elevation gain (moderate).
  • Boo Hoff Trail (in La Quinta): 12.8 miles total ~ but you can also turn around at the loop & turn it into a 5-mile hike (which my friend & I do often); 2,290 foot elevation gain for 12-mile hike, more like an 800-foot elevation gain for the 5-mile hike (moderate to hard).
  • Bump N Grind Trail (in Rancho Mirage): 4 mile loop; 1,105 foot elevation (moderate to hard). 
  • Cactus to Clouds Trail (in Palm Springs): 19.8 miles; 10,500 foot elevation gain (VERY HARD!!!!!). You’ll need to train for this one!!

 Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs

1. Palm Canyon Trail (in Palm Springs)

The mellow Palm Canyon Trail (also referred to as Indian Canyon) is a classic hike for visiting guests: nearly everyone can handle its gentle 300-foot ascent, & most of the trail is shaded, so it works even on a warm day.  Entry for adults is $12, & dogs are NOT allowed ~ but kids will love this scenic & beautiful trail that finds you winding your way through a grove of palms (pictured below), & past incredible rock formations. 

Directions to Palm Canyon Trail: Take South Palm Canyon Drive south all the way until you reach a toll gate; from there, continue just over 2 miles to the Trading Post & park in the lot.

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Palm Canyon Trail

The Palm Canyon Trail is also known as the “Indian Canyon” area. You can make this an easy, 2-mile hike ~ or turn it into a 6-mile adventure to the stone pools!

Tips for Palm Canyon Trail: Bring a picnic lunch & some cool beverages to enjoy at the oasis picnic area by the creek.  If you’d like to make the hike longer, continue on to the stone pools for a 6-mile hike.

2. Hike to Palm Desert Cross (aka “Homestead Trail”)

This is another great, family-friendly hike ~ except dogs ARE allowed on this one (on leash).  The trail is wide which makes for a pleasant ascent, & this hike won’t take all day, as it’s under 3-miles round-trip.  With 5 of us (including kids), it took a little over an hour with plenty of photo stops.  This is a busy trail & popular with locals, so if you want to avoid the crowds: go early!  It’s also a great spot to catch the sunset, as you have views up Highway 74 towards Big Horn, as well as down into the valley & all the way to the Chocolate Mountains.

Directions to Homestead Trail: If you type “Homestead Trailhead” into Google maps, that should get you right to the base of the trail, which is off of Thrush Road in Palm Desert (off Hwy 74).  Park in the dirt spaces next to the trailhead.

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I like this photo because it gives a good overview of the entire Homestead Trail (aka the “Hike to the Cross”). There is a moderate incline pretty much the whole way, & if you look where my niece & nephew are pointing ~ you’ll just be able to make out the Palm Desert Cross on top of the hill.

Best Day Hikes in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

View from the top of the Hike to the Cross.

3. Boo Hoff Trail (in La Quinta)

The trails at the “Top of the Cove” in La Quinta are often overlooked by visitors to the valley, as they’re tucked away from the main drag ~ but check them out if you’re an avid hiker (or mountain biker)!  I love these trails, because unlike the two previous, they offer: WIDE OPEN SPACE!!  You’ll see more dogs off-leash up here, because the area is so large with far fewer people.  The Boo Hoff Trail goes for 12+ miles ~ but really, you can turn back anytime you want to make it a shorter hike.  My friend & I turn around at the 2.5 mile mark (at the top of a steep hill), taking a different track down, making it a 5-mile loop hike.

Directions to the Boo Hoff Trail: Take Avenida Bermudas in La Quinta all the way south, into the “Top of the Cove.” Where Avenida Bermudas intersects with Eisenhower, look for two large, dirt parking lots on the left-hand side of the road. Park in either to reach the trail.

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Boo Hoff Trail

Though you can take the Boo Hoff Trail for 12.8 miles total as a big loop ~ Jill & I turn-around right here (taking a DIFFERENT, less steep track down), making the hike a total of 5 miles instead. This hike is puppy-approved : )

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Boo Hoff Trail

Many visitors don’t know about the trails in La Quinta at the “Top of the Cove” ~ but they’re no less striking than hikes elsewhere in the valley.

Tips for Boo Hoff: Unlike the previous two hikes (which have well-marked trails), Boo Hoff is trickier to find: there are signs, but the “Top of the Cove” area is so large, it can be difficult to find the right track. Either bring a map, take a photo of the map in the parking lot, or ask locals for help with directions ~ lots of people come up here every morning, so they can point you in the right direction.  Also, bring a hat & ample water, as there is little to no shade here.

 Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs

4. Bump N Grind Trail (in Palm Desert)

And now we come to my favorite hike in the desert: the infamous Bump N Grind trail!  In terms of bang for your fitness buck: few hikes beat this one ~ its relentlessly steep incline will get your booty & legs shaped up in no time.  There are two ways up the mountain: the super steep way (trail to the left) or the less steep way (trail to the right).  Both are a hell of a workout, as you’ll gain 1,100 feet of elevation in under 2 miles.  As a bonus: if you hike in April or May during super bloom season, you’ll find purple & yellow wildflowers along the trail, & possibly bighorn sheep if you’re lucky, in the steep surrounding hills. 

Because of the bighorn sheep & steep, narrow trail: NO DOGS allowed here.

Directions to Bump N Grind: Park BEHIND Target at the Desert Crossing Shopping Center in Palm Desert. Take Fred Waring Drive west until it nearly dead-ends into Moller’s Garden Center, turn left on Painters Path, & park anywhere along the street. Palm Desert Raceway is on the right side, which is next to the Bump N Grind trailhead.

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Bump N Grind Trail

Bump N Grind is my favorite trail in the desert ~ its steep ascent never gets easy & makes for a killer workout every time. I’ve done this trail more than 50 times!! (This shot was taken on the “steep” way up, which is a very narrow trail, & why I recommend coming down the “less steep” way.)

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Bump N Grind Trail

Some people say the Bump N Grind trail isn’t beautiful. I DISAGREE. This was shot about half-way down, looking out over the private Porcupine Creek Golf Course, in April when the wildflowers are on full display.

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Bump N Grind Trail

This photo was taken near the top of the trail & shows that the whole hike is NOT incredibly steep (but a lot of it is)! Going at sunset is particularly lovely & there are (usually) less people.

Tips for the Bump N Grind: If you want a fitness challenge, take the “STEEP” way up ~ but ALWAYS take the “less steep” way down. Not only will it save your knees, but it will prevent any bad falls on the way down, as the path on the steep section is very narrow (see photo below). And dress in workout gear!!! I can’t tell you how many tourists I’ve seen stumbling along this trail in jeans or flowy dresses: this is NOT the trail for that!! Wear workout clothes & sturdy trail running shoes.

5. Cactus to Clouds Trail (in Palm Springs)

This is the only trail on here I haven’t done (because I’m not crazy)! 

And it’s a day hike…..if your day starts at 3AM!  With a gain of over 10,000 feet (3X the height of massive El Capitan in Yosemite), this is a destination hike that REQUIRES training & proper planning.  People have died while attempting this hike, so please: don’t go unprepared.  Cactus to Clouds (also called the “Skyline Trail”) can only be hiked during certain months, to avoid extreme heat in the valley vs. snow & ice nearer the top of San Jacinto.  The best months for attempts are during October & possibly November, as well as May.  DO NOT hike this trail in the summer, due to extreme heat; & know that if you go during winter, you’ll be dealing with ice & snow trekking. 

For an extremely complete guide to hiking this trail, visit this page on the Hiking Guy’s website.

Directions to “Cactus to Clouds” Trail: The trailhead is located at the Palm Springs Art Museum on Museum Drive. If you plan to take the tram down (which you most definitely should!!), consider parking another car at the base of the tram. 

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Cactus to Clouds Trail

The killer of all killers: the Cactus to Clouds Trail, which takes you from downtown Palm Springs all the way UP to the tram. This hike is NOT for inexperienced hikers: you must plan & train for it!!

Tips for “Cactus to Clouds” Hike: The best tip I found on the Hiking Guy’s website was this: if you reach the first picnic area & have any reservations about continuing ~ STOP & turn around there. After that point, turning around & heading back into the desert heat may not be a safe option.

Best Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, San Jacinto

If you want to reach Mt. San Jacinto’s peak, you can also START your hike at the tram & hike 6 miles up from there: I’ve done this hike & by itself, it’s a fantastic workout with killer views & pretty, forest inclines. This is for those of us who’d rather climb 2,300 feet than 10,000!

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs

Another great desert hike is Ladder Canyon in Mecca.  It’s a unique, 6-mile trek that involves climbing ladders in a tight, slot canyon…then traversing back through rainbow-colored rock canyons.  It’s very fun & family-friendly!

Happy Adventuring! 

xoxo Noelia 

Read Next: Top Hiking Tips for Indian Canyons in Palm Springs

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Top Five Day Hikes in Palm Springs, California, Girl Who Travels the World