Painters Path runs 3.43 miles round trip
Day hikers can head up a trail that tops out 105 stories above Palm Desert, offering a fantastic view of the city and surrounding communities.
The Painters Path runs 3.43 miles round trip, rising 1050 feet elevation gain along the way. The trail beyond a gate closes from Feb. 1-April 30 as bighorn sheep enter the lambing season.
To reach the trailhead, from Calif. Hwy. 111 near the Palm Desert-Rancho Mirage border, turn onto Painters Path. Park in the strip mall where the Olive Garden is located. Take the sidewalk back to Hwy. 111 and go left/northwest toward Rancho Mirage/Cathedral City. Before crossing the dry run, head left/west and head up the wide trail.
The trail starts at 230 feet elevation and ascends the entire way. It’s definitely a workout.
A day or two after a rainfall marks a good time to hike the trail. The creosote bush, common along the trail, usually blossoms afterward with a fragrant, five-petaled yellow flower.
A wide variety of creosote bush species are a common sight across the American Southwest, as they cover much of the desert floor and the flat alluvial fans of the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts. If no flowers are present, the shrub usually smells like creosote, a preservative used on railroad ties.
The bighorn often can be spotted near the trail. About 950 bighorn sheep live in the mountains surrounding the Coachella Valley. They blend in quite well with the tawny landscape, but their size gives them away. Adult rams can weigh between 150-200 pounds – as much as a full-grown man – and ewes usually are 100-125 pounds. The adult ram’s horns sometimes reach 30 inches each in length and at the base are 15 inches in circumference.
Bighorn typically feed on acacia, encelia, krameria and sweetbush, but they will adapt their diet to what’s available. Indeed, some bighorn have migrated onto local golf courses where they browse on the greens and drink from water hazards.
The trail tops out at 1280 feet elevation. You’ve gone higher than the Empire State Building and almost as high as the Chicago’s Willis Tower (the former Sears Tower), the United States’ tallest building.
The Merriam’s chipmunk usually can be spotted at the trail’s top. Perfectly colored to match the rocky gray terrain, the chipmunk can be found in the Santa Jacinto mountains and the nearby Transverse, South Coast, Peninsular, and Southern Sierra Nevada ranges.
Merriam’s chipmunks typically live between below 8800 feet elevation and can be found in a variety of habitats, including chaparral and forests. It is very closely related to the much rarer California chipmunk; the major difference is that the Merriam’s variety has a bushy tail.
Part of the Merriam’s chipmunk’s success can be traced to it non-picky eating habits. It dines on more than seventy species of plants, though at higher elevations the acorn is a major food source. In addition to plants, the chipmunk eats insects, lizards, sparrow’s muscle tissue, and California quail eggs.
If you should come across a chipmunk, resist the urge to feed it. They’ll be healthier when they stick to their natural diet and won’t eat from the same seed pile, which can spread disease. Should they bite you while you feed it, know that their diseases can spread to humans.
The trail’s summit is a great place to watch a sunrise and to see the lights of Palm Desert and the surrounding desert cities at night. Bring a flashlight for the walk back in the dark.
Once you’ve taken in the sights, retrace your steps to your vehicle.
05 Painters Path topo map
- Painters Path heads up a foothill in Palm Desert southeast of Sensei Porcupine Creek.: Rob Bignell
- At night, the lights of Palm Desert and surrounding desert communities can be seen from the trail’s top.: Rob Bignell
- Painters Path usually closes in spring during bighorn sheep lambing season.: Rob Bignell