Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 4-6 San Jacinto/Santa Rosa Mountains & Joshua Tree Season: All year

Randall Henderson Trail


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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.

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