At one time, Martinez Canyon was the valley’s equivalent of the 111.

Day hikers can explore the little visited eastern corner of the Santa Rosa Mountains on the Martinez Canyon Trail.

A 16-mile round trip path takes hikers deep into the canyon. If interested in backpacking and if willing to do some rock scrambling, you can go much farther; the famous Martinez Canyon Rockhouse sits 10 miles from the trailhead, but that’s a day hike only for the hardiest of the hardy.

Explore Martinez Canyon Trail on Day Hike

Martinez Canyon Trail topo map

To reach the trailhead, drive Calif. Hwy. 111 to Coachella. Turn south onto Cesar Chavez Street/Harrison Street. You’ll head out of town into an agricultural area. Go right/west onto 72nd Avenue, which turns to gravel. A quality road ends at the fields’ western edge, but if you have a 4WD vehicle, you can continue on for about a mile more, otherwise you’ll need to hoof it.

Presuming you parked at the edge of the fields, hike a mile on the faint trace of the road into the wash. Once the road runs out, keep hiking straight/west cross-country about 0.35 miles to the trail. Turn left/south onto it. You’re now in Martinez Canyon.

At about 1.85 miles, the canyon narrows as heading around the back/south side of Martinez Mountain in the Santa Rosa Wilderness.

Established in 1984, today the Santa Rosa Wilderness covers 72,259-acres. It includes the southernmost portion of the western mountain wall forming the Coachella Valley.

The wilderness area is home to the largest herd of Peninsular bighorn sheep north of Mexico. About 60 adult bighorns live there.

Explore Martinez Canyon Trail on Day Hike

Martinez Canyon sits in the Santa Rosa Wilderness Area.

Martinez Canyon is one area in the wilderness where the sheep usually concentrate during summer. You stand a good chance of seeing them on the cliffs above the farther you hike.

Mule deer, quail and doves can also be seen in the canyon. Of course, a variety of the desert’s ubiquitous lizards can be seen scrambling about at times.

Plenty of interesting fauna is found in the canyon as well. Among them are smoke trees and pygmy cedar. On the higher slopes, ocotillo and yucca dominate.

At one time, Martinez Canyon was the valley’s equivalent of the 111. Cahuilla Indians frequently used it to harvest agave at Pinyon Flats and to hunt bighorn sheep in Rockhouse Canyon. Cahuilla artefacts can be found deeper in the canyon.

All along the trail’s north side looms Martinez Mountain looms on the north. It summits at 6516 feet. Slightly higher Dawns Peak is on the canyon’s south side.

Rock making up the canyon and the Santa Rosa Mountains began forming around 97 million years ago during the Age of the Dinosaurs. At that time, the Pacific tectonic plate was slipping under the North American plate. Over time, sediment covered this granite.

More recently, the tectonic plates began sliding against one another, as they do today. The granite blocks rose and tilted, forming the mountain range we see today. Erosion of the sediment atop the granite has left a rugged terrain.

A good spot to turn around is about 8 miles in when the canyon turns northwest. While the waterway continues up the mountain side, it’s quite steep with plenty of loose rock.

Most of the trail, especially in the wide wash, has no shade, so be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat.  Sturdy hiking boots are a must, and a trekking pole a good idea.








Image Sources

  • 03-Martinez-Canyon-Trail-topo-map: Rob Bignell
  • 02 The deeper portions of Martinez Canyon can be quite verdant.: Rob Bignell