Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.
Palm Canyon Trail to the Stone Pools
- Location: On the Agua Caliente reservation, south of Palm Springs. From Palm Springs, head south on North Palm Canyon Drive. Stay straight where several lanes branch off onto East Palm Canyon Drive to the left. Continue 2.8 miles on what is now South Palm Canyon Drive to the toll gate. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors or students and $5 for children age 6-12. Drive 2.5 miles more to the end of Palm Canyon Drive and park near the trading post at Hermit’s Bench. The Palm Canyon Trail leaves from the south side of the parking lot.
- Agency: Agua Caliente band of Cahuillas (call 760-323-6018 for more information)
- Distance: 5.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
- Best season: October- May (8am – 5pm daily or by special arrangement)
- USGS topo maps: Indian Canyons
- More information: Trip description here; trail map here
- Rating: 9
South of Palm Springs, on the eastern slope of the San Jacinto Mountains, the trails of the Indian Canyons feature striking geological, botanical and topographical scenery. Snow melt from high in the mountains flows down, creating pools, waterfalls and streams in the desert, almost ten thousand feet below.
There are almost countless possible hiking trips to take in this area, from short nature strolls to challenging treks, and the hike to the Stone Pools falls right in the middle. From the parking lot, pick up the Palm Canyon trail and head downhill. You walk along side a stream, under some palm trees, passing by interesting geology. Stay left at a junction with the West Fork Trail, and at a mile, you come to a split, where you bear to the right and begin a climb out of the canyon. (Note: you are staying on the Palm Canyon Trail; avoid the turn-offs for the Victor, Vandeventer or East Fork trails.)
The bulk of the elevation gain on this route comes here, as you make your way up to a desert plain. Here, there are great views of the Palm Springs area to the north and the San Jacintos to the west. There’s also a lot of cacti, including cholla, barrel and more.
Just over two miles into the hike, stay straight at a junction. You are now on the Indian Potrero trail, which parallels the Palm Canyon Wash. Shortly after the junction, look for a short spur heading down to the water (if you get to a steep ascent to the potrero, you’ve come too far, although the Potrero is a nice place to explore too). Here, the stream flows through a shallow, rocky canyon known as the Stone Pools. You can check out the area’s geology and enjoy sweeping vistas of the desert to the north before heading back–perhaps for a well earned snack at the trading post, or dinner at one of Palm Springs’s swank restaurants.