The Coachella Valley boasts more than a dozen areas set aside to protect the natural surroundings – and all of them make great hiking destinations. While some are small preserves, most are expansive areas, covering the bulk of the mountain ranges that form the valley’s walls. From a state park to a national forest, from natural areas ran by local nonprofits to a world-class national park, all can found in or near the Coachella Valley.
The top of the valley and its northwest corner boast a couple of great natural areas. The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in Morongo Valley covers 31,000 areas in the Little San Bernardino Mountains while the Whitewater Preserve west of Desert Hot Springs protects 2,851 acres, including a segment of the Whitewater River.
Hiking paths galore can be found in Palm Springs. The most spectacular are found on the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation, especially its Indian Canyons area, while the best vistas are in the foothills of the Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains National Monument overlooking the city. Palm Springs also is a gateway to Mt. San Jacinto State Park, which sits atop the mountain looming over the downtown.
The Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains National Monument encompasses 280,071 acres, protecting much of the valley’s southwestern wall from Palm Springs to La Quinta. Trails in Cathederal City connect to many others that run deep into mountain range or loop into neighboring Palm Springs.
Part of Rancho Mirage rests inside the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. A few short but well-maintained trails from the valley floor head from the city hall area into the national monument’s San Jacinto Mountains portion.
Palm Desert is the gateway to the top of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument thanks to Calif. Hwy. 74 (the Pines to Palms Highway). On the valley floor, the city is home to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens and is near the 3,709-acre Coachella Valley Preserve.
The two mid-valley cities of Indian Wells and La Quinta hug the Santa Rosa Mountains portion of the Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The tiny but beautiful Fred Wolff Nature Preserve sits in La Quinta Cove.
The valley’s three southern communities of Indio, Coachella and Mecca offer access to a pair of increasingly popular hiking hills, the Indio Hills and the Mecca Hills Wilderness. Both offer a variety of interesting canyons and oases to explore smack dab in the middle of the otherwise flat valley floor.
While not part of the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea is solidly linked to it. Geographically, much of the valley used to be under a lake that covered the sea as recently as the last ice age. The Dos Palmas Preserve protects an impressive oasis on the seas’s north side while the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for waterfowl and offers intriguing geothermal sites.
Joshua Tree National Park sits in the High Desert atop the Little San Bernardino Mountains (the Coachella Valley’s northeast wall). Stretching for 1,235.4 square miles, it traverses two desert ecoystems – the Mojave and the Colorado (the latter of which the Coachella Valley is in) – and boasts 50 trails with a range of 4000 feet between the lowest and the highest.
Several protected areas can be reached with a short drive from the Coachella Valley. The San Bernardino National Forest to the northeast includes Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest point. The Oak Glen Preserve is near Beaumont below Mount San Gorgonio. The community of Idyllwild, atop the San Jacinto Mountains, offers access to Mt. San Jacinto State Park and the San Bernardino National Forest as well as being home to the Idyllwild Nature Center.
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Popular Hiking Destination Links:
The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve: click here.
Whitewater Preserve: click here.
Indian Canyons: click here.
Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains National Monument: click here.
Mt. San Jacinto State Park: click here.
Trails in Cathedral City: click here.
Well-maintained trails: click here.
Top of the Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains National Monument: click here.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens: click here.
Coachella Valley Preserve: click here.
Santa Rosa Mountains portion: click here.
Fred Wolff Nature Preserve: click here.
Indio Hills: click here.
Mecca Hills Wilderness: click here.
Dos Palmas Preserve: click here.
Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge: click here.
Joshua Tree National Park: click here.
Mount San Gorgonio: click here.
Oak Glen Preserve: click here.
Mt. San Jacinto State Park (Idyllwild): click here.
Idyllwild Nature Center: click here.
- 02 A female white-headed woodpecker is one of many songbirds you can see at the conifer-rich Idyllwild Nature Center trails: Rob Bignell
- Eisenhower Mountain Trail: Rob Bignell