A lush desert oasis awaits day hikers on the Andreas Canyon Trail in Palm Springs’ Indian Canyons.
The 2-mile round trip hike sits on the historic Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tribal grounds. It’s a fairly flat trail, boasting a mere 50 foot elevation gain, that children can handle and will enjoy.
To reach the trailhead, from Hwy. 111 go south onto South Palm Canyon Drive. In two miles, you’ll reach the Indian Canyons tollgate; there is a fee per adult and a lower rate per child. Shortly after the toll, the road splits; turn right and heads to a gravel parking area. The trailhead is northeast of the lot.
Begin the hike along the canyon’s right/northeast side. In a reminder of man’s smallness to nature, a pile of giant slabs and boulders that have broken off a formation greet you.
The trail follows a year-round stream, fed by mountain runoff, with lush vegetation through a rocky canyon. Cascades with bubbling sounds sound downright refreshing in the desert. A number of birds live alongside the stream, and more than 150 plant species flourish in the oasis.
Most noticeable among them are California fan palms. The only palm native to the Western United States, the Cahuilla and other Native American tribes ate its fruit both raw and cooked as well as ground it into cake flour. The palm’s stems were fashioned into cooking utensils while the leaves served as the raw material to make a wide-range of items, from sandals and baskets to thatched roofs.
When the fan palm’s fronds die, they droop around the trunk, forming a skirt protecting it from the desert sun. Many small birds – among them the brilliantly colored orange-yellow hooded oriole – make their homes in the skirt.
A hardy plant, the fan palm can live up to 250 years. In the decades ahead, you’ll probably see more of them across Southern California, as their range is expanding due to global warming.
A mile in, the trail reaches a wire fence. Carefully cross the stream here and continue back along the left side. This part of the walk heads through desert so is exposed to sun but gives a view of the canyon bottoms from above.
In another mile, the trail nears the parking lot. Turn north through the fan palms to reach it.
Picnic tables are near the trailhead, so consider bringing a basket lunch to replenish your energy. If you eat at the end of the hike, be sure to leave your food in a cooler with ice.
While the stream and shade keeps the trail’s right side slightly cooler than the surrounding desert, the hike still is best done in October through April when temperatures are more comfortable. Wear hats and sunscreen and always carry water.
Indian Canyons opens at 8 a.m. and closes at night, so this is no spot for a dawn hike. A popular trail, it can be crowded on weekends. Informative tribal ranger tours are available Friday through Saturday.