If you’re looking for a good trail that’s a bit challenging and off the beaten path, but not so difficult to get to, the Windy Ridge Trail might be the trail for you.
On days that it’s not too windy, that is.
It’s located in the foothills of Desert Hot Springs, just above Mission Lakes Country Club, near Indian Canyon and Highway 62, about 5.5 miles north of Interstate 10. You should find parking along Augusta Avenue, across from Clubhouse Boulevard. From there, continue past the Mountain View homes sign—before the gate, on the back side of the fence—and follow the gravel hill about three-quarters of the way to the top; veer left, and the trail starts just a few feet from there, on the left.
You may find the trail to be a bit challenging, as it starts out with a short, steep climb—then add an additional three more climbs before reaching the top of the ridge, at over 2,000 feet, with an elevation gain of about 810 feet in less than a mile. The trail is very technical on all three hills, and can be treacherous, both going up and coming down. It’s rocky with washouts and ruts that can be a bit tough and gnarly to maneuver.
If you think this is challenging, the biggest challenge of all may actually be finding the trailhead, since it’s not marked (as of this writing). Someone recently put up a wooden stake as a marker, but it didn’t stay up long. When I moved to the area more than 10 years ago, I immediately noticed a small portion of the trail visible from the road. Being the trail connoisseur that I am, I set out to find the trailhead … and failed three times! But finally, I found it—and the trail has been my little slice of heaven every since.
I’ll be honest: I hesitated to write about the Windy Ridge Trail. It had long been one of those “best kept secret” trails, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, making people want to get out of the house and take hiking excursions where they could safely exercise and have socially distant visits. Then, the secret was out.
The Windy Ridge Trail showed up on AllTrails.com in 2020, listed as a 3.6 mile, moderately challenging, out-and-back trail. Shortly after that, the trail was one of six trails listed on the City of Desert Hot Springs Trails and Parks Map, released in July 2021. Most recently, this February, California.com rated the Windy Ridge Trail among the “Best Desert Hikes in Southern California.”
I will vouch for that—it truly is among the best! For more than a decade now, I have experienced not only amazing views of Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio from this trail; I’ve watched the steady growth of the city of Desert Hot Springs and beyond. There are 360-degree views, with rolling hills from the east to the west. The San Andreas Fault runs along the north end of the hillside, and looking south, you can see past Palm Springs. As you turn southwest, you can see the beautiful San Jacinto Peak. There’s just so much beauty, with the spring blooms, the wildlife and the peacefulness; it’s really hard to explain and is best experienced in person.
However, a warning: The trail certainly lives up to its name, as it is often very windy up there. The wind will push you around—and not just from one direction: The wind may hit you on one side one minute, then whip around and hit you from behind or from the other side the next. It’s crazy! During windy times, you may have to fight to stay on the top of ridge. Excuse the TMI, but at times, the wind will literally suck the snot right out of your nose. It’s quite the unpleasant experience. The wind does help make the extreme temperatures feel a bit cooler, at least.
It’s not always windy, thankfully, and the trail is also great for mountain biking and trail running. Despite the recent attention, the trail still doesn’t have much foot traffic; it’s unlikely you will encounter many others il during weekdays. Mostly, I see more wildlife than people, including horned lizards, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, coyotes and even burrowing owls that hang out along the housing-development. (I tend to see the burrowing owls more when I do a 4-mile loop from the ridge trail, rather than just an out and back.)
Please be careful: Rattlesnakes are almost a given during the extreme-heat months; in fact, some of the biggest rattlesnakes I’ve ever seen have been on this trail. Please be mindful of all wildlife, and remember: They share their trails with us, so be considerate to them, and always give them their space.
Although there are no trail restrictions at this time, the best times to visit are September through May; during the rest of the year, you’ll want to stick to the early morning hours. Dogs are welcome and should be on a leash. There’s absolutely no water, of course, so please remember to bring lots of it, especially during the summer months. Don’t forget the essentials for desert hiking; wear proper hiking shoes; and always pack in and pack out.
Enjoy the trails!