5 Great Dog-Friendly Hikes in Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs, CA
We’re enjoying our very last week here in Desert Hot Springs which means we’re winding down to San Diego (our next stop) and my flight home to Europe for Christmas. Whoo whee! I know this makes me sound like an old geezer, but time really flies!
One of the blog posts I wanted to write before we left was to round-up my fav hikes with doggie in this area. You see there’s actually a TON of hiking around Desert Hot Springs/Palm Springs but, rather disappointingly, a lot of it is on Preserves or Indian land that does not allow dogs. So, many of the “classic” hikes like Indian Canyon, Thousand Palms and Tahquitz Canyon are not paw-friendly. In fact when I first got to this area ~5 years ago I had a helluva time finding ANYwhere to take the doggie. The online info is terrible and you have to dig deeeeeep into trail-hiker comments to get any indication of whether doggie might be allowed. Even then it’s vague.
Thankfully experience is a beautiful thing, despite the wrinkles that accompany it. Five winters here have made me pretty savvy to the best spots which means I’m able, in my wizened state, to share them with others. So for all you doggie-nutters out there, here are my 5 absolute fav hikes in the area:
1/ Whitewater Preserve
By far my favorite doggie area in ALL of this area is Whitewater Preserve. Not only is it a wonderfully remote and pretty area only ~15 miles from Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs, but it has WATER which is both a precious and stunning thing in the desert.
Whitewater Preserve is located on the site of a former Whitewater Trout Farm (thus the name…and the water), but the farm and an additional 2,851 acres was acquired in 2006 by the Wildlands Conservancy and forever set aside in preservation. It’s surrounded by the expansive San Gorgonio Wilderness area (BLM) which means that once you get your butt out here there is nothing but beautiful desert as far as the eye can see.
For doggie-friendly hiking this place is a GOLDmine. There’s a wonderful ~3.5 mile loop trail that starts right from the visitor center goes through the creek (wet paws!), up over a stunning ridgeline and back again. And if you’re looking for more challenging walk you can connect to the Pacific Crest Trail and keep hiking for weeks (months) until you get all the way to either Mexico or Canada! Finish your hike with a relaxing picnic under the shade trees by the trout pond at the entrance and you’ve got yourself a full day of fun. We come here at least once or twice every time we’re in town.
- Whitewater Preserve -> Click HERE for info and HERE for detailed hiking maps.
- Directions -> From Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs take I-10 West to exit 114 for Whitewater Canyon Road. Drive Whitewater Canyon Road ~5 miles until it ends. Approx GPS coordinates 33.989078, -116.656000 (you can enter these coordinates directly into Google Maps or just click on them and you’ll be automatically re-directed)
2/ Mission Creek Preserve
Mission Creek Preserve actually sits just the other side of the mountain from Whitewater Preserve and is also managed by the same paw-friendly folks at the Wildlands Conservancy. It boasts yet another creek (not quite as dramatic as the one at Whitewater, but still very nice) and another 4,760 acres of doggie-friendly hiking. Plus it’s got the draw of some cool stone houses.
This is mostly an out-and-back hike into a pretty valley, but if you’re feeling energetic and have 2 cars you can do an 8-mile through-hike from one Preserve to the other (Mission Creek to Whitewater) over the Pacific Crest Trail. This is such a pretty area (and so rarely visited) that it’s well worth the time just to come and see it.
- Mission Creek Preserve -> Click HERE for info and HERE for detailed hiking maps.
- Directions -> From Palm-Springs/Desert Hot Springs take either Dillon Road or I-10 West to Hwy 62. Drive Hwy 62 around 5.5 miles north to Mission Creek Road. Follow the road until you hit the gate. Park and hike up the road to the trailhead. If you’re able to plan ~1 week ahead you can get the gate opened and park closer to Stone House by calling TWC (sometimes you get lucky and the gate will be open anyway). Approx. GPS coordinates 34.000693, -116.612324.
3/ Flag Mountain
I first heard of this hike in 2011 from some fellow Canadian RVers here at Sam’s Family Spa. It’s a ~6 mile moderately-hard roundtrip with excellent views that you can do right from your RV site! It took me almost a week of “hunting” to finally find the trail, but once I did I was hooked.
The annual pilgrimage to Flag Mountain has been a goal of mine every year since and the views from the ridge never disappoint. The flags at the very top of this hike are one of the iconic things here, but they are sometimes ripped and tattered by the notorious Desert Hot Springs wind (they’re usually replaced once a year by one or more of the regular hikers) so you can never quite predict what they’ll look like. There is also a second, and sometimes third set of flags further down the trail, so if you want a longer hike, keep going and see if you can find them. Enjoy!
- Directions -> It’s a bit tricky since there’s no official trail-map or markings, but the Flag Mountain hike starts around GPS coordinates 33.935785,-116.434275. For those who prefer “regular” directions, from Sam’s Family Spa turn left at the main exit and walk ~1/2 mile along the road to a raised dirt road on your right. Follow that road approximately straight back to the mountain (last 1/3 will be bush-whacking). Then locate the ridge trail that goes slightly right and all the way to the top.
4/ Araby Trail (Bob Hope’s House)
This is a quick, but vigorous downtown Palm Springs hike that not only gets you great views, but also a sneak peek into one of the most famous houses in the valley, Bob Hope’s House. Only the FIRST ~1.5 miles of this hike are dog-friendly (you will see signs prohibiting you from walking w/ paws further than this), but it’s enough to get you a workout and a thoroughly enjoyable hike.
The hike starts in what looks like a private area right next to a trailer park, but winds through lovely trees (yes, actual trees) to the open mountain and then up a somewhat steep and very barren (but very scenic) trail to the top. You’ll see Bob Hope’s House perched at the very top with the trail winding right behind it.
Go early morning while the trail is cool and finish off your hike with a trip to the famous Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, a 100% pooch-friendly spot (they even offer doggie biscuits & bowls of water at the entrance) with a lovely outdoor, heated seating area and a VERY full breakfast menu. Just do it. You won’t regret this one!
- Araby Trail -> Info & trail map for the hike HERE.
- Directions -> From Palm Springs take East Palm Canyon Drive eastwards until you hit Rimrock/Southridge Road. Park at the large dirt lot right off Palm Canyon Drive. The trail starts just up the road from here on your left (it’s marked). Approx. GPS coordinates 33.797304, -116.510410.
5/ Mecca Hills Wilderness Area
This unusual little badlands area is a slightly longer drive (~45 miles East of Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs), but is also one of the most remote and interesting of my dog-friendly hiking areas. The landscape consists of narrow steep-walled canyons that wind their way through 26,243 acres of BLM land providing slot canyons, ridge hikes and 360-degree views from the Salton Sea to Mexico.
You can actually legally boondock here (although it’s rather soft and there’s no cellphone access), but even if you’re just coming for the day it’s well-worth the trip to see the area. There is tons of hiking here, including a rather popular slot canyon hike, but we prefer the ridgeline to Sheep Hole Oasis/Hidden Grottos trail for its expansive views. Go as little or far as you like on this 8-mile trail. A thoroughly enjoyable hike for both paws and you!
- Mecca Hills Wilderness Area -> BLM info & maps of the area click HERE
- Directions -> This hike starts around GPS coordinates 33.587810, -115.929013. From Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs area take I-10 East towards Indio. Get off at State Road 86S. Follow for ~9 miles to 62nd ave. Follow 62nd to 66th to Box Canyon Drive. Drive around 6 miles to large dirt parking area on your right. Trail map HERE.
That’s it folks. As with all desert hiking make sure you bring plenty of WATER for both you and doggie (we carry ours in two Hiking Size CamelBaks and we’ve taught Polly how to drink from the Camelbak nozzle). Always carry a compass, a pair of tweezers (in case doggie gets cactus in his/her paws), a basic first aid kit & emergency food (e.g protein bars). Snakes are not much of a problem in winter (pretty much all are in hibernation), but don’t let your dog go sniffing under rocks just in case. Oh and and watch the heat. Sometimes that desert sun can sneak up on you, even in December. ENJOY!