Sammy the dog enjoys life at Lake Gregory.

We have spent much of June and July under excessive heat warnings here in the Coachella Valley—and it’s possible the worst is yet to come: The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts this year’s summer heat could peak in late August into early September.

So how do we get outside and exercise during all of this continuous extreme heat? Last month, I mentioned making schedule adjustments to beat the heat by getting outside early, and discussed some day trips to cooler climes just an hour or so away, including the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Idyllwild and Oak Glen.

This month, I am extending that day-trip distance to 100 miles or so. One great perk of living in the Coachella Valley is that it’s very centrally located: We’re just a short drive to both quaint mountain towns and gorgeous Southern California beaches, where one can find a wide range of fun, exhilarating, outdoorsy things to do—including trails everywhere!

An hour or so away, off Highway 38 in San Bernardino County, is the small, unincorporated community of Forest Falls. At an elevation of 5,700 feet with average summer temperatures in the low- to mid-80s, Forest Falls is the home of Big Falls waterfall, one of the largest year-round waterfalls in Southern California. It’s spectacular!

Forest Falls Trail is a dog-friendly path that’s very short—less than a mile out and back—and it’s a very easy hike, at that. There are many different waterfalls in the area that cascade down from Big Falls. Big Falls, the top waterfall with an approximate 150-to-200-foot drop, can be viewed from the overlook. (The trail to the top has been closed for the past two years due to a high number of rescues in the area.)

Also located near Forest Falls, at the east end, is the Vivian Creek Trail, which goes all the way to the summit of Mount San Gorgonio (Old Greyback), the tallest mountain in Southern California, at 11,503 feet. This is a significant hike—19 miles out and back—and while I have not yet done it, this trail is definitely on my bucket list.

Crestline/Lake Gregory, located in the San Bernardino Mountains, is the closest mountain resort town to the largest cities in Southern California. The easiest way to get to Crestline from the desert is to take Interstate 10 west, to Interstate 210 west, to Highway 18. The elevation of Crestline is just over 4,600 feet, with average summer temperatures in the low- to mid-80s. One dog-friendly trail in the area is a loop, just a bit more than two miles, that goes around beautiful Lake Gregory. Other activities at Lake Gregory include fishing, boating, swimming and more.

Located near Cedarpines Park and Camp Seely, the dog-friendly Heart Rock Trail meanders along a creek with some small waterfalls, including a 10-15 foot waterfall near Heart Rock.

Another favorite trail, an easy loop under two miles, is Heart Rock Trail. Located near Cedarpines Park and Camp Seely, the dog-friendly trail meanders along a creek with some small waterfalls, including a 10-15 foot waterfall near Heart Rock. It’s the perfect place to pack in a picnic lunch—but always remember to pack everything back out!

From Crestline, you can continue on Highway 18 to Lake Arrowhead (the Alps of Southern California) and then Big Bear Lake (the jewel of the mountain), two of Southern California’s most-popular mountain resorts. Lake Arrowhead is about a 15-minute drive from Lake Gregory and is over 5,000 feet in elevation, while Big Bear Lake is further up the mountain at 6,700 feet. The average summer temperatures range from the mid-70s to low-80s, and both mountain towns offer a vast variety of things to do. They’re perfect for a day trip, a weekend getaway or a week-long stay. Beyond the many mountain trails, both places have shopping, fine dining and entertainment, while the lakes offer activities such as boating, water-skiing, jet-skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding and so much more.

And then there are nearby beaches! One of my favorite beach cities is Laguna Beach, a small coastal city in Orange County. Laguna Beach has much to offer, with average summer temperatures in the mid-70s to low-80s on the hottest of days. You can enjoy a nice run on the beach, a hike along one of the many coastal canyon trails, or browsing at the most amazing art galleries. About 100 miles away from Palm Springs, Laguna Beach is perfect for a day trip to get in a great hike, enjoy a nice meal and catch a beautiful sunset before returning to the desert.

The Coachella Valley is an amazing place to live—but the summers present challenges, and it is important to know that there is life outside of the desert. All desert-dwellers should enjoy a nice summer breakaway now and then—so we can continue to get outdoors, keep exercising and having fun!

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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...

4 replies on “Hiking With T: The Coachella Valley’s Central Location Means There Are Nearby Mountains and Beaches Where You Can Beat the Extreme Heat”

  1. I am new to Coachella Valley. I love the outdoors and miss being outside. I stumbled on your article through Facebook. Are you familiar with any hiking groups for women?

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