Day hikers can explore the foothills in Rancho Mirage without getting too far away from civilization via the Roadrunner Trail/Chuckwalla Trail.
The 3.8-mile round trip trail combo roughly parallels Frank Sinatra Drive and loops around the Villas of Mirada. It’s entirely in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument and rambles through largely undisturbed desert hills.
To reach the trailhead, from Hwy. 111 turn west onto Frank Sinatra Drive. Next, go left/south into Rancho Mirage City Hall. Once you get a space, carefully cross Frank Sinatra Drive to the street’s north side. Walk left/west along the greens. In about 150 feet when the greens run out, the trail heads northwest into the foothills.
The trail initially passes jagged rocks with a few palms and desert willows along the way. After a half-mile, it junctions with the Chuckwalla Loop. Turn right/north onto the loop.
The Chuckwalla Loop is etched out of the hillside, but there are no steep drop-offs. It also offers great views of the Little San Gorgonio Mountains, which form the Coachella Valley’s north/east flank.
At 0.7 miles, the loop reaches a service road. Go straight, following the dirt service road’s north side. This is the trail’s highest elevation at 639.8 feet. When the road veers south, the Chuckwalla descends toward the Mirada Villa. Once at the villas, the trail climbs to the ridge top.
It then heads southwest down the ridge’s other side, offering views of Cathedral City’s Suntown area. At the ridge’s end, the trail winds down to the Ritz Carlton, ending at Frank Sinatra Drive just east of where the road ends in a cul-de-sac.
The trail sits at the edge of valley’s west/southern flank. Six million years ago, the trail would have been farther to the north/east and would meet what are now the Little San Gorgonio Mountains with no basin between. Since that time, thanks the San Andreas Fault and other faults running off it, the valley’s two flanks have separated, widening into a valley.
In addition to separating, the valley is sinking. This is common in basins formed in the same way as the Coachella Valley, but drawing off of water from the aquifer also is contributing. Geologists are working out exactly how rapidly the sinking is occurring, with estimates range from 1.4 to 3 inches a year.
Most of the rock on the Roadrunner and Chuckwalla trails dates to the age of dinosaurs, consisting of sediment and volcanic minerals between 66 to 145 million years ago. It is slowly eroding into the valley.
Once the trail reaches the Ritz Carlton, retrace your steps back up the foothill. A shorter option is to walk alongside Frank Sinatra Drive south to city hall; this cuts the trail to about 2 miles in length.
In all, the trail gains 160 feet in elevation, but except for a couple of brief stretches, it’s fairly level with gradual climbs and ascents. It’s also popular among those who enjoy trail running and road biking but no dogs are allowed. As the trail is entirely exposed to the sun, be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat.