Day hikers can climb to a prominent peak in the foothills surrounding the Coachella Valley via the Clara Burgess Trail.
The 7.1 miles out-and-back trail heads to Murray Hill. Never heard of Murray Hill? You’ve certainly seen it if you’ve ever driven Palm Canyon Drive through Cathedral City or Palm Springs. It’s the highest peak on the horizon southwest of the Trader Joe’s and Starbucks in Cathedral City.
Start the hike to the summit in Palm Springs, however. From Calif. Hwy. 111, park at the backside of the Rimrock Plaza (where the Vons supermarket is located); the closer you can get to the lot’s east side near Palm Hills Road, the better. Where that road turns to gravel, head southeast into the foothills. Technically, you’re not yet on the Clara Burgess but a feeder trail; the section just beyond the trailheads also is known as The Ramp.
The climb initially is gradual as you begin about 1900 feet of ascent to the summit. Cathedral City and Hwy. 111 sit on the trail’s north side.
The first couple of miles of the trail can be busy, especially with bicyclists. A number of trails – abandoned dirt roads, really – known collectively as the Goat Trails branch off the main trail.
Be careful not to leave the wide dirt road for one of the mountain biking trails. Studying a map of the trail in advance and bringing a map with you on the hike always is best.
After passing a twin set of water tanks, the trail veers southwest and heads up a wash. Upon entering the wash, you’ll pass a narrow dirt trail that heads to the water tanks on your right and then a dirt road, known as Jane’s Way, to the left. Take Jane’s Way around the south side of the foothill for a nice view of the wash below.
The trail serpentines around the next foothill. Once the route straightens out west again, go left/southwest onto Clara’s Way at the Burgess Access Trail. The path narrows and heads into a wash then up the other side onto a ridgeline. Be aware that the ridges can be windy.
When the ridgeline ends, the trail splits. Go right/southwest into another wash. Once at the bottom, follow the wash about 100 feet to east and pick up the trail going right/south up the wash’s other side. This heads along the ridgeline that follow the wash upstream.
From there, you’ll reach the Clara Burgess Trailhead, which rambles up and down over ever increasingly steep foothills as you ascend toward Murray Hill’s summit. With the higher elevation, there’s increasingly more vegetation and markedly fewer people.
The summit sits at 2320 feet above sea level; a USGS marker notes the high point. To the east is a cove of Cathedral City while to the northwest is the Indian Canyons Golf Resort and downtown Palm Springs. The Little San Bernardino Mountains are on the northwest horizon while the San Jacinto Mountains rise behind you from the northwest to the southwest.
The summit is a great place to have a picnic lunch. Be sure to pack out what you pack in.
The trail is named for a Montana-born Clara Burgess, who during the latter half of the 20th century was actively involved in the cultural scene of both Palm Springs and Pasadena. In the Coachella Valley, her work with the Desert Riders helped preserve many local Native American trails. She passed away in 2014.
Once you’ve taken in the sights from the summit, retrace your steps back to the valley floor.
An alternate route to Murray Summit runs from the Garstin Trail Trailhead in Palm Springs. Regardless of which route you take, be advised that there’s no shade on the trail, so always don sunscreen and a hat, as well bring water. To avoid heat, limit your hikes to October through March; to avoid crowds, arrive early in the morning.