Day hikers can head to the Palm Desert Cross on an easy hike into the foothills.
Though short at 2.6 miles round trip, it’s uphill much of the way to the cross with an elevation gain of 643 feet. The hike starts on the Homestead Trail then includes a segment of the Hopalong Cassidy Trail.
To reach the trailhead, from Calif. Hwy. 111 go north on Calif. Hwy. 74 (the Pines to Palms Highway). In a little more than a mile, turn right/west onto Thrush Drive; when it splits, veer left/west onto Thrush Road. Then turn right/north onto Cil De Los Campesinos. Park in the gravel turnout where the road ends.
The trail heads west from the turnout into a wash at Palm Desert’s Homme Park. In about 400 feet, Upon leaving the wash, the trail turns north and ascends the side of the Santa Rosa Mountain foothills. Wooden boards along the way help to minimize erosion.
You’ll soon reach a flat area with a structure. It’s a good spot to take a break and enjoy the first of many great views of Palm Desert below and the Little San Bernardino Mountains in the distance. Should you find a small heart-shaped rock here or farther up on the trail, be sure to pocket it (more on that later).
Continuing on, the trail turns west and climbs again, this time on a couple of steep switchbacks.
The trail then heads along the ridge’s backbone. Upon intersecting another ridge, go right/west rather than left, which heads down to the wash.
In about 400 feet, the path reaches the Hopalong Cassidy Trail, which goes both straight west and to the right/north. Continue straight west. From here, the trail rolls up and down small ridges. Along the way is a garden of heart-shaped rocks that hikers have created over the years. Be sure to leave yours here.
A short walk from the rock garden, you’ll arrive at the cross. A Palm Desert icon, the cross at night can be seen from miles away thanks to its 39 6-watt LED bulbs powered by photocells. St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert and the Stone Eagle Golf Course – which sits to the west on the ridge’s other side – maintain the cross.
A College of the Desert student raised the first cross at the site around Christmas 1981. Then in 1996 the current 16’ by 30’ cross was erected with underground wiring later added as an Eagle Scout project. St. Margaret’s holds services there on Ash Wednesday and other select days.
At Christmastime, sometimes hikers decorate the desert bushes around the cross. While the intention is noble, it is ill-advised. Bighorn sheep that resides in the mountains often attempt to eat the shiny decor, which can cause them to become ill or even die.
To return home, retrace your steps back to the intersection with the Homestead Trail. Then in 400 feet when reaching the ridgeline you came up on, if you’re intrepid head right/southeast down another ridge. This goes into the same wash that you entered after parking but offers some different views of the valley below. It’s also a but steeper than the ridge you came up on.
Not an iota of shade can be found the entire way, so be sure to don sunscreen, brimmed hat, and sunglasses. The trail is dog friendly trail and fairly busy, especially at sunset; indeed, it’s a great summer evening hike as the mountains generally casts a shadow over the foothills.