Are you looking for some great trails to share with a group of friends—holiday visitors, perhaps? Whether you live in the Palm Springs area or are just visiting, the Indian Canyons are a must-see—and they’re especially great to hike between October and June.
The Indian Canyons are on tribal land managed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The nature preserve is open for day visits (no overnight camping) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last vehicle in at 4 p.m. Ranger-led interpretive hikes are offered from October through June. Visitors pay a modest entrance fee and can enter by car, bike, horse or foot. As Daniel Polk, a social-equity and environmental-health writer and researcher, perfectly pointed out: “It’s well worth it!”
The Indian Canyons are Polk’s favorite place to take guests who are visiting the desert. “It’s just a few miles from downtown Palm Springs, but it feels like it’s a world away, serene and secluded between the rock faces and stately palms,” he said.
As secluded as the Indian Canyons are, they host some of the most-popular trails near Palm Springs—more than 60 miles of hiking trails, in fact. Here are three hikes within Indian Canyons that are good for all ages.
• Murray Canyon offers an easy-to-moderate hike at just less than 5 miles. It follows along the stream under a cool tree canopy and is mainly known for ending at the Seven Sisters waterfall, a perfect spot to take a break and have a picnic lunch before heading back. As it is less traveled, Murray Canyon is known for its isolated beauty. If you’re lucky enough, you may spot peninsular desert bighorn sheep or other wild animals that roam the high ground above the canyon. Also, according to the Indian Canyons website (www.indian-canyons.com/indian_canyons), the endangered least Bell’s vireo bird is known to nest here.
• Palm Canyon is a 15-mile-long area offering many moderately difficult trails of great beauty that wind deep into the canyon and make for amazing exploring experiences, hikes, horseback-riding and picnics. There are plenty of great spots for meditation, too. The upper canyon offers an easy 2-mile out-and-back hike, starting and ending at the Trading Post.
• Andreas Canyon has an easy, 1-mile scenic loop hike that runs along the creek and among the world’s second-largest California fan palm oasis, offering spectacular views of unusual rock formations, sycamores, cottonwoods, willows and wildflowers. The trail begins at the information board and ends at the parking area. It is excellent for photography, bird-watching, and maybe a picnic stop at one of the tables along the trail.
The Trading Post offers trail maps (some can also be found at www.indian-canyons.com/trail_maps), souvenirs, books, refreshments and more.
On a recent visit, Polk brought two guests to see Palm Canyon. He noted that from the parking lot, before descending downward, you can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the canyon, where a canopy of towering palms proliferates, with bunches standing shoulder-to-shoulder. “These are, of course, the California fan, the only palm native to the Western United States,” he said. “On the canyon floor, after a short stroll down, we found the air is cool and calm, with the trees’ dried palm leaf skirts seeming to filter out intruding sounds. The sandy bottom, almost like beach sand, seemed to also slow us down.”
Polk mentioned a sudden yet exhilarating experience that he and his guests encountered while hiking Palm Canyon—and it’s a great reminder that one must always watch one’s step. “While walking back, my hiking companions and I were stopped by a gentleman in front, who pointed into the brush: ‘Careful! There’s a rattlesnake!’ Sure enough, we saw the tail end of a thick yellow diamondback. It was not in a hurry, and we left it in peace—though more mindful to watch our every step.”
Polk and his guests continued on to check out Andreas Canyon. “After parking, we walked over to a large granite slab with depressions—mortars—worn into its surface by centuries of grinding.” The Cahuilla historically used such mortars to grind acorns and mesquite beans, staples of their traditional diet. “Setting out, we followed Andreas Canyon, which offers a leisurely loop trail that wanders beside the streambed, sometimes coursing lazily, yet steadily in the shade and sometimes pouring into several small pools. More water can be found here than in Palm Canyon, typically. The sound of flowing water, whether a trickle or roar, especially in the desert, is magical, inviting you to pause, sometimes in meditation and sometimes in wonder.”
Nickie Nicolas is a fitness and wellness coach with her own business, FitbyNic. She has been a Coachella Valley resident for 30-plus years, and has walked, hiked and biked all over the valley—and is a big fan of Indian Canyons, where she often assists clients on their first hike. She said that once, back in the mid-to-late 1990s, she even saw a small herd of wild horses.
She said she finds the canyons to be a great place to escape from her busy lifestyle and enjoy the beauty and serenity.
“I don’t wear headphones or listen to music; I listen to sounds of the desert, which are beautiful,” she said.