Idyllwild is less than 50 miles away from the Coachella Valley—but it’s 20 to 30 degrees cooler. Credit: Theresa Sama

The hottest time of the year is upon us!

Good news: After record-breaking summer temperatures last year, The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts this summer will be cooler than normal, with the highest temperatures in mid-June (seems right so far!) and late August. Still, even “cooler-than-normal” desert heat is far too intense for hiking … or even being outside, period, through mid-September. So what can running/hiking/biking/camping fanatics do to continue getting outside and exercising—in order to keep our sanity and stay fit?

I do two things. First: I adjust my schedule. I’m up and outside at daybreak—around 5 to 5:30 a.m.—and I’m back inside by 7 to 7:30 a.m. on the hottest days. I always take more water than I should need, at least one liter per hour, and have either a wet gaiter or bandana around my neck. These can be literal life-savers while hiking in the desert heat.

The second thing I do: I get away to cooler climates when I can. We are very fortunate to live in an area that is surrounded by a vast array of beautiful national parks and forests, state parks, and quaint mountain towns, all of which offer various trails and other outdoor activities—where temperatures are 10 to 30 degrees cooler than they are on the Coachella Valley floor. Many of these places are less than 50 miles away and make for an easy and enjoyable day trip.

Let’s start with a short 10-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs to the Valley Station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tram car. After only a 10-minute tram ride—and nearly 6,000 feet of elevation gains—you’ll reach the amazing beauty and pristine wilderness of Mount San Jacinto State Park. Temperatures there are usually about 30 degrees cooler, and there are more than 50 miles of hiking trails. The Mountain Station features observation decks offering breathtaking views of the desert floor and beyond, a natural history museum, documentary theaters, a gift shop and fine dining—all at an elevation of more than 8,500 feet. It’s like being a whole world away, but you’re actually only 20 minutes (plus a possible wait in line for the tram) from downtown Palm Springs. Learn more, including prices and hours, at pstramway.com.

With temperatures 25-30 degrees cooler than those in the desert cities, Idyllwild is a perfect breakaway. Things to do range from hiking, biking, camping and climbing, to delicious eateries, a winery, art galleries, shopping and much more.

Less than 50 miles west of Palm Springs and Palm Desert, nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, sits the town of Idyllwild. With temperatures 25-30 degrees cooler than those in the desert cities, Idyllwild is a perfect breakaway. Things to do range from hiking, biking, camping and climbing, to delicious eateries, a winery, art galleries, shopping and much more. As for hiking trails, Humber Park offers a variety of hiking, from an easy stroll along the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail to more strenuous hikes that lead to the peak. The Idyllwild Nature Center is surrounded by hiking trails, with guided tours available for specific interests. Just 10 miles outside of Idyllwild, along Highway 243 toward Banning, is Lake Fulmor, where you can fish, picnic and take a walk around the lake. From Palm Desert, it’s fastest to take Highway 74 to Highway 243. From Palm Springs, take Interstate 10 West to Highway 243. Learn more at www.idyllwild.com.

Another great place to keep cool is Oak Glen, located less than 40 miles west of Palm Springs, just off of Interstate 10 in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. Oak Glen is a small farming community known for its you-pick apple orchards; there are also various activities and hiking trails. It’s a great place to keep cool, forget about the desert heat (with temperatures nearly 20 degrees cooler) and get some exercise. Lean more at www.oakglen.net.

Early morning hikes at Joshua Tree National Park are another fairly close option for escaping the valley. The West Entrance to the park is approximately 40 miles from Palm Springs, off of Highway 62; the South Entrance (from Interstate 10) near Cottonwood Springs is about 30 miles from Indio. According to the National Park Service (www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/hiking.htm), there are about 15 short walks and nature trails that range from one to five miles, and a handful of moderate hikes that are two to five miles. Temperatures in the park are typically 10 to 15 degrees cooler than they are in the Coachella Valley—but it can still be dangerously hot, with temperatures reaching upwards of 110 degrees, so it’s important to monitor the weather forecasts. Temperatures can be in the 70s with an early start between 5 and 7 a.m., but plan to finish your hike by 9 or 10 a.m. Also, there is no cell service in portions of the park—so be sure to tell someone where you’re going. Again, bring more water than you think you might need—at least one liter per hour, so bring at least two liters—even for shorter hikes; wear sunscreen and sunglasses; and don’t forget a hat.

This is just a start; there are other nearby cool-me-down places that offer various activities for us desert-dwellers to break away for a bit and keep our sanity during the months of unbearable heat. Be smart; be safe; and smile knowing that we have cooler options!

Theresa Sama

Theresa Sama is an outdoor enthusiast who writes the Independent’s hiking/outdoors column. She has been running and hiking the Coachella Valley desert trails for more than 10 years and enjoys sharing...

2 replies on “Hiking With T: Yes, It’s Hot—but It’s Still Possible to Enjoy the Great Outdoors With Schedule Adjustments or a Little Travel”

    1. Thank you, Scott! It would be great to catch up with you. Please do let me know when you’re out this way. 😉

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