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!SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
tina t says
Thanks so much for posting these hikes, Nina.
I live just up the grade in yucca valley and have been closed out of paw friendly hiking places in this area by private property or wilderness/conservation areas. I have resolved to move back further into the desert–maybe Barstow or Ridgecrest area since its key to my fitness and both areas are surrounding by open BLM lands.
I look forward to checking out a couple of these trails you mention and thank you as always for your fascinating travelogues.
Sooooo glad I could give you some tips. I know what a pain it can be trying to find dog-friendly hikes, so I’m only too happy to share. By the way if you end up near Barstow the area around Owl Canyon is a GORGEOUS area to hike (and 100% dog-friendly).
tina t says
funny, I used to live in Barstow–twice. And was there only a couple weeks ago for first time in a few years. To nearby Mule Cyn. Which has turned into a hall of shame for urban animals with guns which were around every curve firing full-auto. We took pictures of some of the sad sights: piles of brass, shotgun shells, broken neon orange clay pidgeons, and beer bottles, cans that made me shudder. It used to be a haven for jeeps, trucks and quads. Now its an utter dump for shooters.
Those are some fine looking hiking areas. White Water and Mission Creek look especially interesting.
Teresa van Bryce says
We travel with two dogs so are always looking for good places to walk and, you’re right, this area is particularly tough, even for California. Thanks for the great suggestions. We’ll definitely check them out next time we are in the Palm Springs area.
Glad I could give ya some tips!
Eva Towner says
So nice to meet you and Paul briefly on Sunday. We went to Whitewater afterwards. Love that area but the Mecca Hills Wilderness area is spectacular and we hope to take our golden puppy out there in January now that we, thanks to you, have a trail map that doesn’t involve ladders!
Rigtig glædelig jul,
Eva and David
Thanks for coming by. It’s always a blast to meet another Dane. Good travels to you and Glaedelig Jul!
One of my favorite hiking areas in the world, (in the winter that is) My wife and I usually hike the Ladders loop in Mecca Hills with our little dog.
I’m amazed your doggie can do the ladders! It’s a gorgeous hike, but too difficult for Polly.
Haha, yeah well, there is a lot of carrying that goes on.. She was only 9 pounds the last time we took her though. And we have done it enough that we know to avoid the ropes 😉
Peter C says
Enjoy your blog, I know we will regularly reference your tips and reviews as we head out on the road this winter. There is a pretty good book on hikes in the Palm Springs area that we have used – 140 Great Hikes in and near Palm Springs by Phillip Ferranti. He dedicates the book to his dog and identifies what trails are dog friendly.
VERY good tip. I’ll look up the book!
What a great diversity of hiking among these 5! Love the pic of Paul and Polly on the Araby. We’re hoping to get over to the Mecca trails while in AB at the end of the month. Thanks again for “scouting ahead” for Tessa :-))))
The Mecca Wilderness area is just so gorgeous! We didn’t go this year, but I do want to try some of the other hikes there. The BLM doesn’t have much info on its website so you kinda have to know about the hikes from others (or find them in books). It makes them harder to find, but also means very few people out there once you do. Enjoy!
Really appreciate this info. We’ll be heading down to that area in January and you’ve just given us some great hiking info we didn’t know about, thanks!
Excellent! There are lots more great hikes in the area if you are paw-less.
nikki wynn says
Great post! We are headed that direction in January and the whitewater preserve hike looks like a good one for Singa (because that cat goes crazy without a nice long hike to wear him out). Thanks for sharing!
Oh that spot would be perfect for Singa. There’s even a trout pond with huge trout in it at the visitors center. And I bet Singa would be the first cat to ever set paw there LOL. Making kitty history!
George Dawson says
Again, I love your blog.
A couple of weeks ago, you posted that wonderful information about healthcare. I am still deciding what to do, what was your decision? Texas, Florida or something else?
We’re sticking with SD and buying the Avera Silver Plan (option #2, with out-of-state co-insurance) that I mentioned in that blog post. It’s really not ideal at all, but that’s what we’re running with for now. If you have a choice in domicile this year I would recommend FL. They still have good nationwide options for 2016. Of course it could all change again in 2017, so beyond this coming year everything is a guess.
Jim and Barb says
It is not always easy to find hikes that are dog friendly, we have stayed at many state and national parks and very few have dog friendly trails and when you do find one it is usually blacktop and a combination bike trail that everyone is using. It is nice that you found some more remote areas to take them!
Totally agree. When we find good doggie walking areas, we are in paw heaven 🙂
Tina Garcia says
Thank u Nina, I hope to meet u one day to say hi. I have been following u for 2 years. My husband and I have the 2 stafishishires and really thank u for your doggie posts. Our first trip will be from Ca to ME to see my daughter. In the spring full time from there!!! Woo hoooo. I hope we can boondock some of the way to help with the money part. Getting the house ready to rent is the toughest. And mapping out the trip. I have to look at some of your posts on mapping. I am not as orgaginized as u. Merry Christmas. Thank u again? Tina Garcia
Jeff Agueda says
You guys are awesome! It’s as if you are writing about these areas knowing that I am heading that direction, and doing all the leg work (pun intended) just for me, ha-ha. I don’t have a dog but like to hike and bike. This is great information and I really appreciate it. Thank you and Cheers!
You’ll love these hikes, even paw-less. Enjoy your time here!
Robyn D says
Thank you, Nina, this is great. Mrs. Susie (the dog) and I really appreciate it. Have it saved for reference as we frequently go through that area.
Excellent. Polly has given this post 4-paws up so I’m sure Mrs. Susie will enjoy these areas too.
I wonder if you’ve ever tried the Borrego Springs area. We don’t own a dog but sometimes our grand daughter comes with us and brings her dog. It’s a really fun place with lots to do and the desert is beautiful with lots of Ocotillo around. I thought the places you shared around the Palm Desert area were nice too and we need to check some of them out. When we’re in Borrego we like to spoil ourselves with a stay at “The Springs.”
Thanks for the nice post once again…
Yup we’ve been to Borrego Springs the last 4 years too! If you do a “search” on it in my search bar you’ll find tons of posts. Sadly though the State Park there does *not* allow dogs on their trails, so when hiking with doggie in Borrego you’ve either got to seek out stuff on park roads or go outside the State Park boundary.
bess in eugene, oregon says
Hi, i saw your link on RVSue and her canine crew and wanted to say i love your blog.
a friend recommended your pickled onion recipe and i tried it. Delicious, the best i have ever tried. thank you
happy trails and i will read your older posts to learn more about your travels.
Always nice to see folks from RV Sue. Thanks for the lovely compliment and for being part of my travels 🙂
Thanks so much for posting this! Great info. Kelly and I just pulled in to Desert Hot Springs (we are sorry to hear we missed you by one day!). Me and Max will definitely be checking out a few of these hikes. Beautiful photos.
Awww! Sorry we missed you too, but hope you have a paw-fantastic time in the area!
Drivin' & Vibin' says
Thanks for the info – it was just what we were looking for. It’s very challenging finding great hikes with our furry companion. We hiked Whitewater yesterday!
Oh awesome!! Glad I could help you find a good hike.
Would love to have your thoughts about whether to lock the door of your rig when you have to leave the pets behind or whether you leave the doors unlocked. Some states have laws against leaving an animal in a vehicle when it is locked. Also, are there any safety devices that track temperature when you have to leave the pets behind?
We sometimes lock the door of the rig, sometimes not (depending on where we are), but we ALWAYS leave a window cracked open. Also we always leave our AC on with a temp set for it to start (so, for example when temp hits 80 inside the rig, the AC automatically kicks on). And finally we leave the auto-generator-start enabled so that if power kicks off, the generator will kick in and keep the AC running.
There are devices you can buy that track temp (and that you can access via your phone, for example), but we don’t have them installed.
My brother arrived in Palm Springs yesterday from Oregon and was super-concerned he wouldn’t find any places to hike with his dog. So, thank you! Very generous of you to not only inform everyone, but also to provide the trailhead and gps information. Well done!
So glad I could help you. We felt the same way the first time we came to the area, so I’m glad we can now pass our knowledge of paw-friendly spots on. Enjoy the hikes!
You are a godsend! We’re currently sitting in Indio CA and I’ve been scouring sites looking for dog friendly hikes and coming up bust. Google found your blog entry, can’t wait to try these out with Opie!
Very happy I could help out 🙂
Great hike this morning at Flag Mountain. Only made it up to the 2nd flag 1.5 miles in, but looking to go farther next time. Thanks for your excellent directions!
Outstanding!! So glad you enjoyed the hike!!
Thanks for the blog post, it’s very helpful! Are any of these areas suitable for off-leash dogs, or do they all require dogs to be on a leash?
Felicia Phillips says
Did the Whitewater hike this morning. Such a great dog-friendly hIke. Get there early!! People were linedoing up waiting for parking spots when we left! Thank you for this article!! We’ve been doing the same hike in Palm Springs for years because it was the only one we thought there was!! Really appreciate you sharing this!
SO glad you and your pooch enjoyed the walk! CHeers for the tip on the early start.
Michelle Neale says
I found this post in a google search for dog friendly hikes in Palm Springs – we are spending the month at Sam’s. What great information! We haven’t done Flag Mountain yet, but I found the trail based on your description, and today took our little dog to Araby Trail, which was great, and just as described. I posted a pic on Instagram @neales_on_wheels. Looking forward to checking out the rest of the hikes!
So glad you enjoyed the hike! Hope you have many more fun outings with pooch!
Thank you so much for posting this. We are relocating to the Palm Desert area from Georgia next spring and when we visited twice to check around, I was really worried where we’d be able to spend time hiking. Awesome job! Much appreciated!
Katya Malikov says
Wanted to thank you for posting the dog-friendly hiking trails. We hate to part with our chocolate lab
and look forward for a wonderful weekend together, thank you to you!
So glad the post is helpful! Enjoy your time in the area.
Hey, great info! Are any of these hiking areas offleash optional for the dogs who obey voice commands?