Long Valley Discovery Trail is short 1.3 miles with 255 feet in elevation change
With the Coachella Valley broiling in the summer heat, one great way to escape it is a hike on Mount San Jacinto.
Towering 10,824 feet into the sky – a full 1.95 miles above Palm Springs – San Jacinto is the highest point in the San Jacinto Mountains and Riverside County, and the sixth highest in the lower 48. It dominates Palm Springs’ skyline and can be seen throughout the valley.
Daytime temperatures are a good 20 to 30 degrees cooler on the mountaintop than on the Coachella Valley floor. That alone almost makes Mount San Jacinto’s fragrant evergreens, shaded trails, and fantastic views a mere afterthought.
One great hike on the mountain is the Long Valley Discovery Trail. A short, easy 1.3 miles with a mere 255 feet in elevation change, the trail circles Long Valley. It’s variously referred to as the Long Valley Loop Trail, the Discovery Nature Trail, or simply the Discovery Trail in various guidebooks and maps.
The best way to reach the trail is to cheat a little by taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tram. From Palm Springs, drive Calif. Hwy. 111 north to the tram’s Valley Station, which sits at 2634 feet elevation. The tram climbs 6000 feet and lets you start the hike at 8516 feet in Mount San Jacinto State Park. There is a fee to use the tram, which just reopened for the season.
After taking a few steps off the tram, you’ll probably wonder why you’re breathing a lot harder. There really is less oxygen up there, so take it easy for a bit. Fortunately, the tram’s mountain station is a good spot to acclimate yourself to the higher elevation. The station includes an observation area, restaurant, snack bar and gift shop.
From the station, descend into Long Valley via the concrete path. The trail heads left/south where the concrete ends.
When the trail splits, go right/south. In short order, the trail crosses Long Valley Creek, an intermittent stream that runs through the pine forest. The stream usually flows in spring through early summer.
Thanks to the stream, a large number of wildflowers bloom along the trail.
Birds also thrive here. Mountain chickadees, Steller’s jays and white-headed woodpeckers usually can be seen flitting about in summer. When passing Jeffrey, sugar, and lodgepole pines, keep an eye out for the noisy Clark’s nutcrackers and red crossbills, which feed on pine seeds.
A short spur goes to the right/southwest. It follows a lollipop route of a stem and a loop; be careful not to take the connector trail northwest to the Walnut Creek Trail.
At 0.5 miles, the trail recrosses the creek. It officially ends here, but you can make it a loop by going left/northeast onto a segment of the Desert View Trail.
Later up the trail, the Desert View splits. Continue left/northwest on it. This takes you back to the concrete path. From there, go right/east back to the tram station.
- The Long Valley Discovery Trail heads through a forest of Jeffrey, sugar, and lodgepole pines.: Rob Bignell