Day hikers can explore the foothills bordering La Quinta on The Cove to Lake Trail.

The 6.6-mile out and back trail heads across the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument on its way to scenic Lake Cahuilla. Parts of the route sometimes are referred to on maps and guidebooks as the Morrow Trail.

Explore the Cove to Lake Trail on Day Hike

Cove to Lake Trail topo map

To reach the trailhead, from Calif. Hwy. 111 in La Quinta, take Washington Street south. Next, turn right/west onto Eisenhower Drive. At Avenida Bermudas, go right/southwest; be aware that the street name changes to Calle Tectate. Turn left/south into the parking lot for the trailhead, which is directly across the street from Avenida Ramirez.

From there, you’ll cross the sandy, gradually ascending wash that sits at the Cove Oasis’ head.

At 0.5 miles, the path reaches the Boo Hoof Trail. Go onto the Boo Hoff then at the next trail junction turn left/southeast to remain on The Cove to Lake Trail proper.

Explore the Cove to Lake Trail on Day Hike

Among the spring wildflowers blooming along the Cove to Lake Trail is the desert five-star.

March through April  marks a great time to hike the trail as desert wildflowers often can be seen. Among them are the desert five-spot and the ghost flower.

The magenta desert five-star is easy to spot with its colorful petals against the tawny scrubland. Five pink to red circles on the petals form a dot-to-dot circle.

The white to manila ghost flower does not produce nectar so relies on mimicry to pollinate. It looks like the sand blazing star and so deceives the Xeralictus bee into checking it out.

At 0.67 miles, a side trail heads into the foothill to the left/northeast. Stay on the main trail.

Shortly after that junction, the trail turns steep as it enters the foothills. This 1.5-2 mile stretch of the hike includes two crests with the highest elevation and some ups and downs. In all, you’ll gain about 290 feet in elevation from the trailhead to each crest. As a reward for the effort, on the crests you’ll get nice views of the Salton Sea in the distance.

Explore the Cove to Lake Trail on Day Hike

The ghost flower blooms March through May on The Cove to Lake Trail.

Bighorn sheep often are spotted on the foothills and nearby golf courses. The sheep soon could be limited to the foothills, though, as plans call for erecting 9.5 miles of fencing to keep them out of town. Twelve sheep recently have died from various causes related to feeding on the golf courses – drowning, poisoning by eating oleander, struck by a car, and pneumonia spread when lambs ate too closely together.

In short order, the trail crosses a divide in the ridgeline and descends through a wash toward Lake Cahuilla. The foothills on the divide’s north side are the Coral Reef Mountains – so named because they look like their namesake (but aren’t such fossils remains) – while the Santa Rosa Mountains are to the south.

After passing a few long ponds, you’ll come to The Quarry at La Quinta development. Stay north of this golf club, as the trail hugs the foothill and veers toward the lake.

At 3.3 miles, the trail reaches Lake Cahuilla. It first passes through La Quinta County Park and then the Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area.

Explore the Cove to Lake Trail on Day Hike

Lake Cahuilla is a man-made reservoir along The Cove to Lake Trail.

Lake Cahuilla’s sparkling blue waters nicely reflect the rocky Coral Reefs and Santa Rosas, and after crossing the dusty brown desert, is a pleasant visual relief. The Jack Nicklaus Golf Course of PGA West fame is on the lake’s far side.

The waterbody is named after ancient Lake Cahuilla, which during the last Ice Age covered much of the Coachella Valley. It’s not a remnant of that ancient lake, however, but a man-made reservoir to prevent flooding from snowmelt and rain flowing out of the Santa Rosas.

After taking in the lake, retrace your steps back to the cove. Alternately, to keep this an easy day hike, have someone drop you off at the trailhead and then pick you at the county park or recreation area.

The entire trail is open to the sun, so be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and hat as well as bring plenty of water. Quality hiking boots for the sandy wash and a trekking pole to maintain your footing on the trail’s steep portion are recommended. Carry cash, as you will have to pay to use some of the recreational area’s facilities.

Lead photo caption above: A smoke tree grows in the sandy wash of The Cove to Lake Trail.





Image Sources

  • Cove to Lake Trail topo map: Rob Bignell
  • Among the spring wildflowers blooming along the The Cove to Lake Trail is the desert five-star.: Rob Bignell
  • The ghost flower blooms March through May on The Cove to Lake Trail.: Rob Bignell
  • 05-lake-cahuilla-is-a-man-made-reservoir-along-the-cove-to-lake-trail.: Rob Bignell
  • A smoke tree grows in the sandy wash of The Cove to Lake Trail.: Rob Bignell