Day hikers can take in panoramic views of Mt. San Jacinto and the San Gorgonio windmill farm on the Swiss Canyon Trail.
The 2.1-mile out-and-back trail in northeast Desert Hot Springs makes a steady ascent of 475 feet over half of its distance. It starts at 1326 feet elevation, already higher than much of the Coachella Valley.
To reach the trailhead, from Palm Drive in Desert Hot Springs go right on Eighth Street then in a half-mile turn left onto Verbena Drive. After passing Yucca Drive, park on the street; the trail goes east from Verbena.
Initially a flat road of sand and rock, the trail heads into the foothills of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. The mountains extend for 40 miles and mark the boundary between the valley’s Colorado Desert ecosystem and the higher, Joshua tree-laden Mojave Desert to the north.
The trail consists of three segments – open desert, a canyon, and a scenic overlook.
Standard scrub brush lines the route through the open desert. A chain link fence on the trail’s right side marks the location of a country club planned for a decade ago but that was put on hold during the Great Recession.
Soon the path enters a canyon of boulders and cacti. Tall gray rock walls rise more than a story high on either side of the trail.
At 1.05 miles, the trail reaches its high point. The small hill at sits at 1801 feet elevation and overlooks the valley with fantastic views of Mt. San Jacinto and the windmill farms in San Gorgonio Pass.
Mt. San Jacinto is an impressive sight from the hill. Rising 10,834 feet, it’s the sixth highest peak in the lower 48 states. Making the San Jacinto even more dramatic is that 10,000 feet of that elevation rises in just 7 miles, one of the steepest gains in the lower 48.
The San Gorgonio Pass on the mountain’s north side is among the windiest spots in Southern California, an ideal place for a windmill farm. More than 3200 turbines in the pass deliver 615 MW of electricity to the area, enough to power 615,000 homes. As the windmills range from eight to 16 stories in height, they easily can be seen from the hill despite being five miles away as the crow flies.
Once taking in the sites, retrace your steps back to the trailhead. A couple of small side trails are available along the way (see map).
As there’s no shade, be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat, as well as bring plenty of water. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail.