The trails near DHS often feel more remote and untraveled compared to the trails closer to Palm Springs. Photo courtesy of Susan Detlefsen

If you’re reading this column, you probably love hiking the desert trails. But have you explored the desert canyons? If not, now is the perfect time.

The Coachella Valley and surrounding areas are filled with deep, beautiful canyons that offer endless adventures. For instance, I (with a hiking buddy, of course) can start hiking in the canyons near my house in Desert Hot Springs and explore all the way to Yucca Valley (about 13 miles) and on into Joshua Tree National Park. Or I can keep it shorter for a jaunt into the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, at about 5.5 miles one-way. The canyons have so much to offer; it’s much cooler in the canyons than in other areas, as you are surrounded by lots of shade. I always find it interesting to view the wildflowers and cacti growing from within the rocks; because the rocks hold moisture, there’s almost always some form of plant growth. Also, it is not uncommon to stumble upon old (and sometimes not-so-old) abandoned cars—finds that can make your mind spin.

One person who particularly enjoys hiking the canyons of Desert Hot Springs is Susan Detlefsen. She has been doing so for about five years now, since her move to the desert from the Portland, Ore., area. We sometimes hike together, and I asked Susan if she would share some of her canyon adventures and fascinations.

“Hiking the canyon trails around Desert Hot Springs is my favorite activity,” she said. “There’s a ruggedness to the trails here that is different from the manicured trails of Palm Springs and other Coachella Valley locations.”

Detlefsen often hikes what is locally known as the Desert Hot Springs Loop Trail, off Yucca Drive, east of Verbena Drive. The trail goes up to a wooden cross and a landing that offers fabulous views of the San Jacinto Mountains and surrounding areas. This trail also splits off into other trails. One, leading into Blind Canyon, is about a 4-mile loop to the north. Another, to the east, leads into Swiss Canyon, locally known as Brice’s Canyon—leaving many options to explore the foothills of the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

At the start of the latter trail, there’s a small wooden sign that says “Brice’s Canyon.”

“It’s said that one man, Brice, single-handedly built the series of trails,” Detlefsen said.

Continuing east on this trail will lead you on a nice, cool canyon hike that’s about 2.5 miles out and back. If you’re adventurous enough, you can scale the rock at the turnaround point and continue even further, through a narrow wash with tall rock walls that lead deep into the canyon. Eventually you will come to an open cave area—or, as Detlefsen describes it, “a rather spooky looking cave that until recently was adorned with candles and religious iconography—a rosary.”

There are several offshoots from the main trail, including one that goes east and passes by a giant rock horse. “Or is it a dragon?” Detlefsen said. “So many discoveries to make, and unending invitations to the imagination.”

Susan Detlefsen on the trail in the canyons south of the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. Credit: Theresa Sama

I asked Detlefsen to write, in her own words, why she loves these canyons.

“I suppose part of my fascination for these trails is linked somewhat to an uncertainty, perhaps even a sense of possible danger, as the trails are less traveled, and far from residential areas,” she said. “One might see a coyote on the trail, or a rattlesnake, or even a mountain lion. Luckily, I have seen only coyotes twice so far, and no rattlers or mountain lions.

“One of my most poignant hiking memories is from a hike with T on Easter of 2020, during the pandemic. T had been telling me about a kind of slot canyon up in the hills behind her place. I think we ended up at a different canyon from the one we were looking for that day. It was a narrow slot canyon, with dugouts about shoulder high along one side of the canyon. They reminded me of troglodyte caves that were dug into hills by hermits during prehistoric times.”

She also paid me a compliment: “T is really fun to hike with. And it always feels safe, as she is very conscientious about the most minute details regarding hikers’ safety: Be sure to stay on the trails; don’t disturb any brush—a rattler could be hiding there; don’t sit on a rock if it’s got hiding places for a rattler, etc. She always asks if others have enough water to last the duration of the hike.”

The Desert Hot Springs canyon adventures of Susan Detlefsen are only just beginning. Perhaps I might be able to convince her to join me in checking out one of the newest Coachella Valley trails—the Long Canyon Trail, starting at the end of Long Canyon Road on the east end of Desert Hot Springs. It’s a 12-mile hike through the canyons to Joshua Tree National Park. An official grand opening was scheduled for spring 2021, but it was pushed back to later this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. So far, I’ve only been on three of the 12 miles. I’ll be going back!

Although the weather is cooler now, and hiking in the canyons may offer some shade, always remember to bring lots of water, sunscreen, snacks and, of course, a hiking buddy.

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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...

3 replies on “Hiking With T: The Canyons Around Desert Hot Springs Offer Amazing Adventures”

  1. Desert Hot Springs is flourishing!! It’s going to be a #1 in tourism spas, skate park, Parks, skate shop,hiking, library and TAX revenue like never before! sky is the limit!!!

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