Thanks to the coronavirus, hiking spots are difficult to find these days in and around the Coachella Valley. Coachella Valley Preserve, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument and most other local parks and nature preserves all were recently closed, and for good reason.

We still can plan future hiking trips, though. Here’s one local route that even if there were no coronavirus you wouldn’t do until autumn when temperatures cool down…

Hiking Trail leads through Coffee Bean Canyon

Parts of Coffee Bean Canyon are sandy washes.

Day hikers can explore exotic rock formations on the Coffee Bean Canyon Trail in the Mecca Hills.

Up to 10 miles of trails covering 800 feet of elevation gain await in an area often compared to the canyon country of Moab, Utah. Coffee Bean Canyon is not the gulch’s official moniker but the nicknamed given by local hikers, as the color of the dark rock walls match that of a coffee bean. It’s an apt name.

To reach the trailhead, take Interstate 10 south toward Indio. Exit south onto Calif. Hwy. 86 then at Thermal onto Airport Boulevard heading right/east. Cross the Coachella Canal and turn right/southeast. At the first dirt road, go straight/southeast (going left/east leads to a quarry). In quick order, you’ll some to a gate. If the gate is open, continue onward, driving about 2 miles.

Hiking Trail leads through Coffee Bean Canyon

The rocks in the canyon were set down some 18-20 million years ago when rivers and lakes covered what is now the Coachella Valley.

If the gate isn’t open, park off the side of the road. You’ll have to hoof it to the canyon. This unfortunately adds 4 miles round trip to the hike. The dirt road fortunately is not a bad walk in itself, as you’re treated to views of the Santa Rosa Mountains, the Salton Sea, the Mecca Hills and across the canal vistas of farmland. It’s flat as well, making for an easy stroll.

But it’s nothing compared to what’s ahead.

The entrance to the lower Coffee Bean Canyon sits to the east side of the canal road. It’s a small, sandy wash that increasingly narrows as gaining elevation.

The Mecca Hills formed thanks to tectonic action. As the Pacific and North American plates slide against one another at the San Andreas Fault, sometimes individual segments of the fault overlap and link together. This creates a “block” of earth between the two plates known as a restraining bend. The plates both slide against the block. The Mecca Hills is one such block, and thanks to the pressure of the two moving plates, is being uplifted and compressed.

Hiking Trail leads through Coffee Bean Canyon

Erosion has turned the Mecca Hills a Badlands-like area by carving out dozens of canyons.

Water and wind has carved the raised block of the Mecca Hills into interesting shapes as it erodes the weakest spots of rock. The effect is a Badlands terrain.

The coloration comes from sediments deposited here from about 20.45 million to 2.58 million years ago. Some of the layers were deposited as river sediment when the area was a low-lying plain. Some of the layers are materials deposited in lake beds when almost the entire Coachella Valley was under water. The colors match the different sediments eroded off the nearby higher terrain and carried here.

Watch for a BLM sign in the canyon. Once you pass it, you’ll reach a widening in the canyon. From there, you can explore three small canyons or continue straight southeast to the end of Coffee Bean Canyon. All are narrow and have neat rock wall shapes thanks to erosion. If you take the easternmost of the three small gorges, you can climb out of the upper canyon and enjoy a great view of the Salton Sea.

Hiking Trail leads through Coffee Bean Canyon

Coffee Bean Trail topo map

The hike ought to be done mid-October through mid-April to avoid the heat. Early morning is best to truly enjoy the light show as the sun rises upon the canyon walls.

Carry sunscreen, sunglasses and a sunhat with you in case you have to hike the canal road, as it is entirely exposed. Should rain have fallen in the past couple of days or if it is forecast, do not hike the canyon, as flashfloods easily can sweep through it.


Lead Photo caption: Coffee Bean Canyon is so named because the rock walls there tend to be the color of the coffea plant seed.








Image Sources

  • Parts of Coffee Bean Canyon are sandy washes.: Rob Bignell
  • 03-the-rocks-in-the-canyon-were-set-down-some-18-20-million-years-ago-when-rivers-and-lakes-covered-what-is-now-the-coachella-valley.: Rob Bignell
  • : Rob Bignell
  • 01-coffee-bean-canyon-is-so-named-because-the-rock-walls-there-tend-to-be-the-color-of-the-coffea-plant-seed.: Rob Bignell