Day hikers can enjoy a small oasis nestled in the foothills over La Quinta on the Bear Creek Canyon Trail.
This 8.3 miles out and back trail through Bear Creek Canyon and a ridgeline above it is not for the novice hiker. It sports 2,319 feet of elevation gain – that’s equal to about 232 flights of stairs. If you find it too difficult, you always can hike a segment of it.
The trail starts in La Quinta Cove. To reach the trailhead, from Calif. Hwy. 111 in La Quinta, turn south onto Washington Street. Then turn right/west onto Avenue 52 and from there left/south onto Avenida Bermudas. When this street fully curves west, it becomes Calle Tecate. A parking lot for the trail is on the street’s left/south side, across the road from Avenida Ramirez.
From the lot, the trail heads southwest into the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. It’s fairly flat and sandy for about the first two miles as heading across a dry creek bed and wash. Be careful not to turn left/east onto the Boo Hoff Trail or connectors to it.
At 1.3 miles, you’ll encounter boulders and a trail marker. Go right and look for another trail marker than begin a single track trail to the oasis. If you find yourself boulder hopping in a deep canyon, you’ve gone the wrong way.
Though the trail is in great shape, you will need hiking boots to keep your footing as you ascend and so pebbles don’t get in your shoes. The ascent is definitely a good workout, with a few flat spots that offer relief and views.
Bighorn sheep sometimes often are spotted near this trail. Jackrabbits also have been seen, and harmless desert lizards are ubiquitous.
A diverse array of cactus can be found as climbing in altitude. During mid-March, a variety of beautiful desert wildflowers can be seen along the trail, especially after the three mile mark.
Around 3.8 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach the lookout perch at the trail’s highest point. You’ll be treated to great views of the Coachella Valley, from the snow-capped San Jacinto Peak (during winter and early spring), the Little Bernardino Mountains on the other side of the valley, and the Salton Sea to the east. La Quinta stretches out in the valley floor below with Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage to the northwest.
Next, the trail descends and heads around a bend. An oasis can be seen in the distance, about a third of a mile away.
About two-dozen California fan palms sit in a fold in the canyon. Temps here are a full 10 degrees cooler than in the sun, and it’s the only shade on the trail.
Since 2013, the oasis has been dying off, though exactly why is unclear. You’ll notice old, dead palms surrounding the oasis, and most of the ocotillo nearby also has perished. Drought and changing water flow underground as the ground shifts likely are to blame.
Be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat on this hike. Given the exposure to the sun and the trail’s length, bring plenty of water as well. To avoid life-threatening heat, hike this trail only in late autumn, winter and early spring. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
Photo caption above: Temperatures in the oasis at the end of the Bear Creek Canyon Trail are 10 degrees cooler than in the sun just yards away.
- 01-the-first-couple-of-miles-of-the-bear-creek-canyon-trail-crosses-a-wash.: Rob Bignell
- 03-desert-wildflowers-line-the-bear-creek-canyon-trail-during-march.: Rob Bignell
- Much of the Bear Creek Canyon Trail is uphill.: Rob Bignell
- 04-temperatures-in-the-oasis-at-the-end-of-the-bear-creek-canyon-trail-are-10-degrees-cooler-than-in-the-sun-just-yards-away.: Rob Bignell