Indian Potrero Trail is best done October to April to avoid summer heat

Indian Potrero Trail Ideal for Holiday Day Hike

Reaching the Indian Potrero Trail requires passing through the scenic Palm Canyon Oasis.

Hikers can explore the desert canyons in the Palm Springs foothills on the Indian Potrero Trail.

The 8.5-mile round trip hike gains 950 feet elevation when combine with segments of the Palm Canyon Trail. It’s best-done October to April to avoid the summer heat. Much of the hike is on the Agua Caliente Indians’ homeland.

To reach the trailhead, from Calif. Hwy. 111 in Palm Springs, go south onto South Palm Canyon Drive. In two miles, you’ll reach the Indian Canyons tollgate; there is a fee per adult and a lower rate per child. Shortly after the toll, the road splits; go right to the parking area next to the Trading Post. The trailhead is on the lot’s southeast side.

The trail initially heads through the Palm Canyon Oasis. The largest of the fan palms towers 10 stories high and stretches three-feet wide. Some of the palms grow in fun, unique shapes, including one whose trunk has curled like an elephant trunk so its fronds can catch sunlight.

Indian Potrero Trail Ideal for Holiday Day Hike

Once out of the oasis, the desert agave is a common sight on the Indian Potrero Trail.

Follow Palm Creek to the junction with the Vandeventer Trail at 0.9 miles. Go right/south, staying on the Palm Canyon Trail.

The trail ascends out of Palm Canyon. Ahead are views of Desert Divide that Palm Canyon flows out of and of San Jacinto Peak.

A rocky ridge to the west soon hides Palm Canyon from view.

Patches of agave, ocotillo and teddy bear cholla can be seen along the way.

The agave’s fibrous leaves have sharp teeth on their edges. Its stem typically is very stout, giving the false impression that it has none at all. When flowering, the agave’s flower sits atop a stalk that grows out of the plant’s center. The stalk can grow up to 12 feet high.

On gentler slopes and the ridgetops, ocotillo stand out. Though the large, spiny sticks look like cactus, the ocotillo is more closely related to blueberry and tea shrubs. The plant can reach a height of 33 feet. After a rainfall, ocotillo sprouts small leaves and during spring, summer, and sometimes fall will bloom with bright, crimson flowers.

Indian Potrero Trail Ideal for Holiday Day Hike

Interesting rock formations line the canyons of the Indian Potrero Trail and the Palm Canyon Trail needed to make it a loop.

The teddy bear cholla, with its distinctive trunk, can grow up to 5 feet tall. A detachable sheath covers their sharp 1-inch needles. Surprisingly, most of its seeds are infertile. Instead, the teddy bear cholla reproduces when stem joints fall off. Thanks to tiny barbs on its spines, they can quickly latch on to anything brushing against them – including you.

At 2.1 miles in, you’ll reach a dry wash for Cedar Creek; some maps and guidebooks refer to as the Dry Wash Trail. Continue straight-right/south onto the Indian Potrero Trail.

The trail enters a plateau, surrounded by rock formations, that was once used as a pasture. The trail itself is named for this feature, as the Spanish word “potrero” means a paddock or pasture for horses or cattle.

At 4.3 miles, you’ll arrive at a higher point of Palm Canyon. If the winter is wet, the stream flows here, and there will be pools as well. There are plenty of lush areas along the canyon bottoms as well.

Indian Potrero Trail Ideal for Holiday Day Hike

Indian Potrero Trail topo map

The trail reaches the Cedar Creek draw wash at 6.4 miles. Turn left/west into the dry wash.

In a couple of hundred feet, you’ll arrive at the beginning of the loop. Go right/northwest, continuing on the Palm Canyon Trail.

At 7.6 miles, you’ll reach the Palm Canyon Oasis. Turn left/north onto it and back along the lush creek to the parking lot.

Except for the oasis, there’s no shade, so be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Good high boots and a trekking pole are a must for the rocky bottomed canyons.









Image Sources

  • Reaching the Indian Potrero Trail: Rob Bignell
  • Interesting rock formations line the canyons of the Indian Potrero Trail: Rob Bignell