This trip visits Smoke Tree Mountain by way of three trails that are popular with local hikers and equestrians alike: the Earl Henderson (not to be confused with the nearby Randall Henderson Trail); the Shannon Trail and the Garstin Trail. Highlights include views of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains and a bird’s eye view of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley.
From the signed trail head on the east side of Barona, head uphill to a junction where the Henderson Trail heads left (north) and the Garstin Trail heads east. If you are short on time and want to reach Smoke Tree Mountain, do it as a 2.4-mile out and back via the Garstin Trail. If you want to do the loop, consider hiking it clockwise as described below, especially if you are starting later in the day, as some of the ascent will be on east-facing slopes that will block out the sun.
The Henderson Trail is named for former Desert Riders president Earl Henderson. The Desert Riders (who also brought us Jane Lykken Hoff of Hoffbrau Oasis fame) were responsible for building many of the trails in this area. The Henderson Trail meanders along the east side of Palm Canyon Wash, passing some nice specimens of barrel cactus. After 1.1 miles of gentle up and down, you reach a junction with the Shannon Trail.
Now your work begins: the Shannon Trail climbs almost 800 feet in less than a mile. However, the grade is never too unrelenting and as you ascend higher the views get better and better. At a hairpin turn (1.4 miles from the start) you’ll notice the former estate of Bob Hope on a ridge below with its characteristic circular shape and charcoal-gray roof. Soon after, the trail starts hugging the east side of the ridge, providing welcome shade in the afternoon. Another pair of switchbacks brings you back into the open where you’ll follow a narrow ridge with drops on both sides, finally climbing to meet the Berns Trail (2.1 miles.) Turn left and follow it one tenth of a mile to Smoke Tree Mountain’s summit, marked by a large pile of rocks.
After enjoying a 360-degree view including Murray Hill to the southeast, Palm Springs Airport and the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the north and San Jacinto to the west, retrace your steps past the Shannon Trail and continue on the Berns Trail which soon merges with the Garstin Trail. The Garstin Trail follows a ridge, briefly splitting and rejoining before beginning its steep drop back to the trail head.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.