Covington Crest (Joshua Tree National Park)

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunset on the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset on the Covington Crest Trail

Joshua Tree at dusk, Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree on the Covington Crest Trail

Covington Crest (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: High desert near Yucca Valley. From Highway 62 (23.6 miles east of I-10 and 18 miles west of Twentynine Palms), head south on La Contenta Road. It becomes dirt after a mile when it crosses Yucca Trail. Continue on the dirt road, which is generally in good condition and should be passable by all vehicles. After 1.9 miles, bear left at the fork, following the signs for the park and Covington Flat. Follow this road into the park for a total of 6 miles and turn right on another dirt road. Follow it to its end, turn left and drive 1.8 miles to Covington Flat.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • USGS topo maps: “Joshua Tree South”, “East Deception Canyon”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip description here; Flickr album here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
Covington Crest Trail Head, Joshua Tree National Park

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short trail is a little bit off the beaten path, but it is well worth the effort to reach it. Highlights include views of some of the biggest Joshua trees in the park, pleasantly cool high desert air (almost a mile above sea level) and an exceptional view of the Coachella Valley at the end. The trail’s remote location gives it a very isolated feel.

Grove of Joshua Trees on the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:19 – Grove of Joshua Trees (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the signed Trail south. You walk through a forest of Joshua trees, some towering more than thirty feet high. Other vegetation includes cacti and junipers; at about 1.2 miles from the start you walk through a hallway like passage with the trees close on both sides.

Soon after, Toro Peak, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio all come into view. You will notice the land dropping off not far in front of you and then you reach the lip of Covington Crest.

Juniper trees on the Covington Flats Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:32 – “Garden” of junipers

Here, you get as dramatic a view as you will find of the Coachella Valley.  The Santa Rosas in particular look spectacular from this angle, rising above Palm Springs and off course the “Saints” never disappoint.  Sunsets are excellent here so take your time and enjoy them; the route back is short enough and easy enough that with a headlamp, or a good phone flashlight, it can be done fairly easily in the dark.

Dusk view of San Jacinto Peak from the end of the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:45 – Dusk view of San Jacinto and the Coachella Valley at the trail’s end

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Lost Horse Loop (Joshua Tree National Park)

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Eastern panorama from the Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Looking east from the Lost Horse Mine Loop

Desert landscape, Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees on the Lost Horse Mine Trail

Lost Horse Loop  (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62 in the town of Joshua Tree (about 6 miles east of Yucca Valley, 27 miles east of I-10 and about 15 miles west of Twentynine Palms) take Park Blvd. (signed for the park) south, past the entrance booth, and drive for a total of 15.6 miles. Bear right onto Keys View Road, drive 2.4 miles and turn left onto Lost Horse Mine Road. Follow the dirt road (should be easily passable for all vehicles) a mile to its end at the Lost Horse Loop trail head. The park entrance fee is $15 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or $30 per vehicle for an annual pass. The America the Beautiful inter-agency pass ($80 per year) is also accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 6.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season:  October – April
  • USGS topo map: Keys View
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here (only to the mine); Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
Lost Horse Trail Head, Joshua Tree National Park

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Lost Horse Mine, one of the more successful gold mines in the area, is a popular Joshua Tree attraction. It can be reached with a moderate 4 mile out and back hike, but it’s worth allowing extra time and energy to hike the entire loop trail, adding challenge and scenic variety. Keep in mind however that this area is only open from sunrise to sunset. The trail head sign indicates the distance is 6.2 miles, but it is closer to seven if you make the extra trip to the mine.

Panoramic view of Joshua Tree National Park from the Lost Horse Mine Trail

0:30 – View from a saddle, just over a mile from the start (times are approximate)

The loop can be hike in either direction, but you might want to consider hiking clockwise, which will bring you to the mine more quickly, allowing you to shorten the hike if necessary. From the parking area, follow the signed trail uphill. As you ascend you get good views of San Gorgonio to the west. A mile of moderate climbing brings you to a saddle with a view of Ryan Mountain and it’s surrounding plains. The trail dips briefly, makes a wide semi-circular curve and the mine comes into view on the opposite ridge.

Lost Horse Mine, Joshua Tree National Park

1:00 – Lost Horse Mine

A short spur heads left, leading up a switchback to the Lost Horse Mine. Unfortunately the stamp mill is fenced off but you can still enjoy a panoramic view of the desert and read about the history of the mine, including how it got its name.

Steep descent on the Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:16 – Starting the steep descent

From the mine, retrace your steps back down to the loop trail. Continue climbing to a saddle where you can enjoy an excellent view to the east. Malapai Hill stands above the wide expanse.

Here, the trail drops steeply and dramatically into a wash. Even as you appreciate the panorama, make sure you respect the steep and sometimes loose trail. You pass by two filled in shafts that mark the site of Lang Mine and then the trail reaches a saddle.  A brief descent brings you to a tall cairn with abandoned metal equipment strewn beneath it. This is the former site of Optimist Mine; it is the approximate halfway point (although if you are hiking clockwise you will already have done the majority of the climbing by now).

Geology and sunlight on the Lost Horse Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:24 – Crossing the wash

Continue your moderate ascent to the top of a ridge where you can see the Santa Rosas, San Jacintos and San Bernardinos (about 4 miles from the start). The remainder of the hike is a gradual descent in and out of various washes, passing Joshua trees of many shapes and sizes. The trail is never difficult to follow; the few places where it becomes at all ambiguous are well signed. At about 6.2 miles, keep an eye out for something that may seem like a contradiction of terms: a shade Joshua Tree, whose branches spread out enough to actually provide some shelter.

Optimist Mine, Lost Horse Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:35 – Optimist Mine

At 6.7 miles, just before the dirt road, a side trail branches off to the right. Take it 0.2 miles to the parking lot, completing the loop. If you got off to an early start don’t be surprised if the lot is considerably more packed; on busy days, latecomers may likely have to park farther down on the dirt road.

View of San Jacinto Peak from the Lost Horse Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:46 – View of San Jacinto

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Joshua Trees on the Lost Horse Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

2:48 – “Shade” Joshua Tree near the loop’s end

Coachella Valley Preserve (McCallum Nature Trail)

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

McCallum Nature Trail, Coachella Valley Preserve, Thousand Palms, CA

View of the desert on the McCallum Nature Trail

Cottonwood Tree, McCallum Nature Trail

Cottonwood Tree, McCallum Nature Trail

Coachella Valley Preserve (McCallum Nature Trail)

  • Location: East of Palm Springs, Coachella Valley.  From I-10, take the Bob Hope Drive exit.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn left and go 4.8 miles to Thousand Palms Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 2 miles to the visitor’s center. Turn left into the lot.  Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency: Coachella Valley Preserve
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo map: “Myoma”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information:  Preserve homepage here; Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 5
Visitor center, Coachella Valley Preserve, Thousand Palms, CA

0:00 – Visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short trail serves as a nice introduction to the landscape of the Coachella Valley Preserve. If you don’t have time for the longer Pushwalla/Horseshoe loop, the walk to and from McCallum Pond is an enjoyable excursion.

0:02 - McCallum Trail Head, Paul Wilhelm Palm Grove (times are approximate)

0:02 – McCallum Trail Head, Paul Wilhelm Palm Grove (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head toward the visitor center. The rustic building, cozily hidden in the tall palms of the Paul Wilhelm Grove, is worth a visit; inside you will find displays including fragments of Indian pottery, animal bones, maps, guides to plant and animal life and more. You may also be able to get a trail guide here.

The McCallum Nature Trail begins past the visitor’s center, near the restrooms. Follow it into a the palms, where you will walk on a boardwalk. Stay right as another trail (also a boardwalk) branches off to the left and soon you will exit the grove. The trail meets up with another trail from the parking lot; stay straight and head toward the palms, which will now be in sight.

Trail junction, McCallum Nature Trail, Coachella Valley Preserve

0:12 – Junction with the other trail from the parking lot

Just before the grove, you’ll reach a Y-junction. Head right and soon you’ll reach the pond, where you can sit and enjoy its peacefulness beneath the shade of the palms. The pond is home to the endangered Desert Pupfish.

Continuing past the pond, you reach another junction. You can extend your hike to a part of the preserve known as Moon Country by heading right but if it’s a hot day and you’re short on time, you can return to the visitor’s center by heading left. Soon you’ll rejoin the McCallum Trail, heading back to the visitor’s center.

McCallum Pond, Coachella Valley Preserve, Thousand Palms, CA

0:22 – McCallum Pond,

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mission Creek Preserve

1 Comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Mission Creek, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

Water in the west fork of Mission Creek

Dirt road leading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Heading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Mission Creek Preserve

  • Location: Eastern San Bernardino Mountains, northwest of the Coachella Valley. From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 4.7 miles and turn left on Mission Creek Road (dirt but passable by all vehicles). Follow it 2.3 miles to its end at the entrance to the preserve. From the Yucca Valley/29 Palms area, follow Highway 62 southwest to Mission Creek Road, which is 16.2 miles past the junction with Highway 247. If you hit Pierson Blvd, you’ve come too far. Turn right on to the dirt road and follow it to its end.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo map: Whitewater, Morongo Valley, Catclaw Flats
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Mission Creek Preserve home page here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The 4,760-acre Mission Creek Preserve occupies an important transitional zone near the eastern base of the San Bernardino Mountains, offering as good a view of the range as can be found from almost anywhere in the desert. The preserve will be a crucial piece of the proposed Sand to Snow National Monument.

Cottonwod tree, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains

0:25 – Cottonwood tree in the Painted Hills wetlands (times are approximate)

If you contact the preserve, you may be able to have them unlock the gate, allowing you to drive 1.6 miles to the Stone House and begin your hike from there (high clearance vehicles recommended). Otherwise, start at the lower trail head outside the gate.

Follow the wide dirt road, passing by the ruins of some stone cabins, and continue up canyon with the San Bernardino Mountains looming in the distance. At about a mile from the start, you pass an impressive cottonwood tree and make a sharp right turn, climbing out of the canyon. Soon after you reach the Stone House, where you can look at maps and other displays inside or enjoy a picnic beneath one of the shaded tables. You also can enjoy a wooden rocking chair on the porch of the house.

Stone house in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

0:41 – The stone house

Past the Stone House, the road ends and becomes a single-track trail, weaving in and out of the stream bed, following the trail arrows. At about 2 miles from the start, you reach the reserve boundary. You head up the west fork of Mission Creek, through an increasingly diverse landscape of cottonwoods, cholla, yuccas and more.

Trail in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

1:22 – Heading into the canyon on Mission Creek’s west fork

At 3.7 miles from the start, you reach the Pacific Crest Trail, the turnaround point for this hike. A popular alternative is, with a pre arranged shuttle, to continue south for 4 miles to the Whitewater Preserve. (People who do this route often do it start from Whitewater, which has less of a net elevation gain).

Mountains, sky and bushes in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

1:40 – Looking back from the Pacific Crest Trail

Note that as of this writing, water levels are low and the trail is easy to follow as it crosses the creek. However, if conditions make navigation difficult, keep in mind the following GPS coordinates : N 34 00.997, W 116 37.690 for the stone house; N 34 01.049, W 116 37.971 for the preserve boundary and N 34 01.493, W 116 39.556 for the junction with the P.C.T.

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Randall Henderson Trail

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

San Jacinto Mountains at dusk on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

Dusk on the Randall Henderson Trail

Ocotillo cacti on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

Ocotillo on the Randall Henderson Trail

Randall Henderson Trail

  • Location: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitors’ Center, 51500 Highway 74, Palm Desert. From I-10, take Monterey Avenue south for 9.7 miles (Monterey Avenue becomes Highway 74). The Visitors’ Center will be on the left, 3.8 miles after the junction with Highway 111. If you are coming from the west on Highway 74, the Visitors’ Center is 20.4 miles east of the junction with Highway 371 and 33 miles east of Highway 243.
  • Agency: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer. The Visitors’ Center and parking lot is open from 9am to 4pm, Monday-Friday. If you are visiting outside of those hours, park at the Art Smith Trailhead on the opposite side of Highway 74.
  • USGS topo maps: “Rancho Mirage”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: here; Trail descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 5

This short loop is one of the few trails in the Palm Springs area that can be done year-round. It also features several types of desert flora including cat’s claw acacia, ocotillo, cholla, beaver trail and barrel cacti.

Randall Henderson Trail Head, Palm Desert, CA

0:00 – Randall Henderson trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

If you start at the Art Smith Trailhead, carefully cross Highway 74 (there’s no signal or crosswalk but traffic is usually fairly light) and walk into the monument parking lot. The signed Randall Henderson Trail departs from the lot’s southeastern corner. Follow it a short distance to a fork; the start of the loop.

The loop can be hiked in either direction. The right fork follows an exposed ridge; a good choice if you are starting early in the morning or if the weather is cool.  If the sun is up and the temperature is warm, take the left fork, which heads up a wash, providing up-close looks at some intriguing geology. The narrow-walled canyon provides some shade. Other than some minimal rock-scrambling, the terrain is pretty straightforward. The trail is generally marked well and while some other washes might at first seem a little confusing, the main route never strays outside of the canyon.

Junction on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:02 – Start of the loop (times are approximate)

After about half a mile on either trail, a short connector joins them. Both trails continue up canyon, reaching a T-junction just under a mile from the start. Here, you can shorten the hike by turning right if you came up the wash or left if you came along the ridge, and following the other route back to the trail head. However, if you want to extend the hike, head in the opposite direction (turn right if you came  along the ridge or left if from the wash). You reach a dirt road, where you’ll make a hairpin turn and head across the top of the canyon, enjoying some nice views of the eastern end of the San Jacintos. This stretch of road is 0.4 miles long and connects the two ends of the trail. Follow the single-track back into the canyon, either retracing the route you did earlier or taking the opposite one for variety.

Junction on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:18 – Junction at the top of the canyon; complete the loop by turning around or extend it by heading toward the dirt road

In case you were wondering, Randall Henderson (1888-1970) was a prominent member of the desert community, whose work as a writer and publisher helped build interest in the Coachella Valley. For more information on Henderson, click here.

Sunset from the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:32 – Sunset as seen from the dirt road at the top of the loop

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Panoramic view of Chino Hills State Park from the North Ridge Trail

View from the North Ridge Trail shortly before the junction with the Sycamore Trail

Oaks in Telegraph Canyon, Chino Hills State Park

Oaks in Telegraph Canyon

McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

    • Location: Yorba Linda.  From the 57 freeway, take Orangethorpe exit and head east for 4.2 miles.  Turn left on Kellogg, go 1.8 miles and turn right on Yorba Linda Blvd.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Fairmont.  Go 1.6 miles and turn left on Rim Crest.  Follow Rim Crest to its end and park on the corner of Blue Gum and Rim Crest.  From the Riverside area, take the 91 freeway to Yorba Linda Blvd.  Go northwest on Yorba Linda Blvd. for 2.4 miles, and turn right on Village Center.  Go a mile and turn left on Fairmont.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Rim Crest.
    • Agency:  Chino Hills State Park (home page here)
    • Distance: 8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo map:  Yorba Linda
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trail map here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6
Trail head on Rim Crest Drive, Chino Hills State Park

0:00 – Rim Crest trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop explores some of the lightly traveled high country in the middle sector of Chino Hills State Park.  To be sure, the views and scenery aren’t as varied or attractive as they are on more popular destinations such as Gilman Peak or Water Canyon–expect power lines and barbed wire–but the hike still offers a solid workout from the conveniently located (and free) Rim Crest trailhead.  On clear days, the vistas from the North Ridge Trail include Old Saddleback, the Orange County coastal plains, the ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains and more.

Sycamore Trail and Telegraph Canyon, Chino HIlls State Park

0:40 – Junction with the Sycamore Trail (times are approximate)

From Rim Crest, follow the Easy Street trail half a mile as it drops into Telegraph Canyon.  Turn right and head east, gradually uphill on Telegraph Canyon, Chino Hills State Park’s main artery, passing the turnoffs for Gilman Peak and the Little Canyon Trail.  As you ascend, the terrain becomes more pleasantly shaded, both from oaks and sycamores.

Picnic table in Telegraph Canyon

0:57 – Picnic table in Telegraph Canyon

At 1.6 miles, you reach a Y-junction with the Sycamore Trail.  This is the start of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction.  By going counter-clockwise, as described here, you can continue your moderate ascent in the shade of the canyon.  At 2.3 miles, you pass by a picnic table; this is a nice place to rest for a few minutes before continuing east.

At 2.9 miles, you reach the McDermont Trail, a fire road which leaves the friendly confines of the canyon.  The next mile or so is the most thankless section of the hike, as the McDermont Trail heads sharply uphill on exposed terrain.  The grade levels out after about half a mile and the trail bends east, reaching a T-junction (3.8 miles from the start).  Turn left and make another steep but short climb on a connector trail, bringing you to North Ridge.  Here you get a panoramic view of Telegraph Canyon with San Juan Hill, the highest point in the park, to the south.

McDermont Trail, Chino Hills State Park

1:15 – Start of the McDermont Trail

Turn left and head west on North Ridge, following the trail through several ups and downs, taking in views on both sides.  At 5.2 miles, turn left on the Sycamore Trail, which heads back toward Telegraph Canyon.  A group of oak trees makes for a nice rest spot on the descent.  The trail makes an S-curve, passes by a rusted water tank and drops back into Telegraph Canyon, where it completes the loop at 6.4 miles.  Retrace your steps on the Telegraph Canyon and Easy Street Trails back to your starting point.

North Ridge Trail, Chino Hills State Park

1:45 – Left turn on the North Ridge Trail

As a variation, you can make the lower portion of this hike into a loop by using the South Ridge and Little Canyon Trails either on your way out or in.  This adds about 100 feet of elevation gain.

Oak tree on the Sycamore Trail, Chino Hills State Park

2:20 – Oak tree on the Sycamore Trail

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Horsethief Creek via Cactus Springs Trail

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Cottowoods at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Mountains

Cottonwoods above Horsethief Creek

View on the Cactus Springs Trail, Santa Rosa Mountains

Desert vegetation and clouds, Cactus Springs Trail

Horsethief Creek via Cactus Springs Trail

  • Location: Santa Rosa Mountains on Highway 74, 15.5 miles southwest of Highway 111, 8.8 miles east of Highway 371 and 21.2 miles southeast of Highway 243. Look for the Cactus Springs Trailhead sign and head south (turn right if you’re coming from the west or left if you’re coming from Palm Springs) onto Pinyon Flats Transfer Station Road. Follow it a short distance to the Cactus Springs Trail Head parking lot, on the left.
  • Agency: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Distance: 4.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season:  November – April
  • USGS topo map: “Toro Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: here; plant guide here; trip descriptions here and here (includes additional distance past Horsethief Creek)
  • Rating: 8
Cactus Springs Trail Head en route to Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Mountains

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Set in the transitional zone between the Santa Rosa Mountains and the Coachella Valley, this hike provides a huge variety of scenery, including geology, canyons, creeks and desert flora. Adding to the appeal is the area’s historical interest; Horsethief Creek takes its name from the legend of gangsters that supposedly used the canyon as a hideout.

Cactus Springs Trail, Santa Rosa Mountains

0:05 – Information board; Cactus Springs Trail leaves Sawmill Road (times are approximate)

The hike follows the upper portion of the 22-mile Cactus Springs Trail, also signed as 5E01, which continues through the Santa Rosa Wilderness and descends into the Coachella Valley. From the parking area, follow the rightmost of the two trails, reaching a junction with the dirt Sawmill Road, which begins its long ascent toward Santa Rosa Mountain. Bear left onto the Cactus Springs Trail, passing by an information board and trail register.

Cactus Springs Trail crosses Deep Creek, Santa Rosa Mountains

0:14 – Crossing the Deep Creek stream bed

Continue eastward through a landscape of pinyon pines, agave and cacti, with Asbestos Mountain towering to the north. At half a mile, trail drops toward the headwaters of Deep Creek, climbs up the other side and passes an abandoned dolomite mine. The trail makes a few ups and downs, reaching a sign indicating the entrance to the Santa Rosa Wilderness at about 1.2 miles, the approximate halfway point.

Sign at the entrance to the Santa Rosa Wilderness, Cactus Springs Trail

0:31 – Entering the Santa Rosa Wilderness

Past the sign, you descend through an attractive valley dotted with cacti and other flora to another tributary of Deep Creek and then climb to a saddle (1.8 miles) with a panoramic view of Horsethief Canyon. Soon after you’ll notice the cottonwoods lining the bottom of the canyon and the trail makes a steep descent, negotiating switchbacks to arrive at the creek.

Descending to Horsethief Creek on the Cactus Springs Trail, Santa Rosa Mountains

0:54 – Beginning the descent to Horsethief Creek, about 1.8 miles from the start

On the opposite side of the stream, which may be dry late in the year, a short spur leads to a flat area beneath a grove of cottonwoods, the turnaround point. Here you can sit and relax before making the steep climb out of the canyon.

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Cottonwoods in Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Mountains

1:10 – Cottonwoods at Horsethief Creek