Palm Desert Foothills Attracts Hikers via Hopalog Cassidy Trail
Hikers can head through the foothills overlooking Palm Desert on the Hopalong Cassidy Trail.
The 9.5-mile round trip trail runs through the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. It’s popular with trail runners as well as hikers.
To reach the trailhead, from Calif. Hwy. 111 in Palm Desert, take Fred Waring Drive west. Turn left/south onto Painters Path. Park along the curb behind the Desert Crossing Shopping Center. At the trailhead, go left/south onto the Hopalong Cassidy Trail. The other route, heading straight/northwest, is the Mike Schuler Trail.
The trail is a moderately strenuous hike during the first quarter mile. As ascending higher into the foothills, though, it goes up and down canyons. The upside is an invigorating workout with increasingly expansive views of the Coachella Valley atop the ridge lines as you ascend.
At about 0.66 miles, the route junctions the Herb Jeffries Trail, which runs to the left/southeast. You’re near Fox Canyon just north of Cahuilla Hills Park. To stay on the Hopalong Cassidy, continue right/west.
Though seemingly barren from the distance, as hiking the singletrack, you’ll spot a great variety of flora. Three desert plants dominate, though – barrel cactus, cholla, and creosote.
A connector trail leads to the Gaby Hayes Trail at 1.66 miles. If you want to shorten the trail, this is a good spot to do so, by taking the connector to Gaby Hayes, which links up with the Herb Jeffries, then back to the trailhead. This abbreviated hike comes to about 3.4 miles round trip.
Ignoring the connector trail and continuing upward, however, and at 1.8 miles from the trailhead you’ll reach the junction with the Gaby Hayes Trail, which comes in from the left/east. The Gaby Hayes leads to Cahuilla Hills Park. Stay right to remain on the Hopalong Cassidy.
Along the way, watch for barrel cactus. There actually are a variety of species that carry this moniker, but as their name suggests, all are barrel shaped. Look for their brilliant yellow or orange flowers on the barrel’s top in April. While tiny, they are tough little plants. In fact, they’ll probably outlive you, as they boast a lifespan of 100 years.
At 2.85 miles feet, the Homestead Trail heads downhill to the left/east. Continue right/west up the hill.
Cholla also can be seen long the trail. Several varieties of cholla grow across the American Southwest, but all have cylindrical stems. The California variety often looks like a miniature saguaro.
The trail reaches the edge of Stone Eagle Golf Course at about 3.3 miles.
Creosote is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to almost 10 feet high. It is so named because of its smell, which is similar to a preservative used on railroad ties. When the bush’s oldest branches die, the crown usually splits with the new one becoming a clone. In fact, the King Clone creosote bush found in nearby Lucerne Valley is one of the Earth’s oldest living organisms, having been around around for an estimated 11,700 years.
At 4.75 miles, the Hopalong Cassidy Trail ends at the Palm Desert Cross. A Palm Desert icon, the cross at night can be seen from miles away thanks to its 6-watt LED bulbs powered by photocells. St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert and the Stone Eagle Golf Course maintain the cross. The 16’ by 30’ cross was erected as an Eagle Scout project in 1996. St. Margaret’s holds services there on Ash Wednesday and other select days.
After taking in the cross and valley views, retrace your steps to the parking lot. To add a little variety to route, take the Gaby Hayes Trail to the Herb Jeffries Trail then back to the main route. This is a slightly longer route, however, then simply following the Hopalong Cassidy Trail the whole way.
The Hopalong Cassidy Trail is named for the famous fictional cowboy who first appeared in short stories then in the 1930s through the 1950s was wildly popular first in film then television. Palm Desert resident William Boyd played Hopalong in the franchise’s first movies. The Gaby Hayes Trail is named for an actor who played one of Hopalong’s sidekicks, the grizzled Windy Halliday. The Herb Jeffries Trail is named for the “Sensational Singing Cowboy” actor who played in several western films aimed at black audiences.
The entire route is open to the sun, so be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat as well as bring plenty of water. No dogs are allowed on the trail.
- The Hopalong Cassidy Trail: Rob Bignell
- Cholla cactus: Rob Bignell
- Palm Desert Cross: Rob Bignell
- 04 Sunset on the Hopalong Cassidy Trail.: Rob Bignell