Palm tree at the west end of the Cahuilla Canyon trail.
Cahuilla Canyon is an often-overlooked area as the masses head south to Indian Canyons. And to be honest, it’s not the most interesting of desert hikes, but it does provide a nice view of south Palm Springs on a relatively easy trail.
From the parking area along South Palm Canyon Drive, you can choose a number of paths through the desert as long as you keep heading due west. Eventually, you’ll come to a ridge and then a gulley, and you’ll want to stay south of both. At this point, there is only one easy-to-follow trail (although I did deviate on a side trip down through the gulley in the map below).
Continue west until the canyon walls start to close in and the vegetation gets thicker. The trail will end at a single palm tree, and there is a seasonal waterfall nearby, although when I visited in mid-February, it was dry. The palm tree is a good place to relax and take in the view of south Palm Springs before heading back the way you came.
The round-trip is about 3 miles and includes a deceptively easy 670-foot elevation gain.
Cows and windmills above the Pacific Crest Trail at the beginning of section C near Whitewater, California
The storied Pacific Crest Trail runs west of Palm Springs and cuts through the San Gorgonio Pass near the small town of Whitewater. Section C begins just northeast of town, and a small parking lot down a dirt road offers easy access to this point.
This part of the PCT dives into a canyon with a number of the area’s signature windmills sitting atop a ridge to the south. If they’re spinning, you can hear the eerie sound of the blades whistling through the air.
The trail itself very slowly climbs in elevation but is fairly easy even for inexperienced hikers. You’ll see a lot of brittlebush and creosote lining the trail. If it’s warm and sunny, lizards will dart across the path. This part of the PCT is popular for horseback riding as well so keep an eye out for fresh piles on the trail. And while I didn’t see any horses, I did round a bend to see four cows staring at me.
You can hike north as far as you’d like before turning around. Or you can leave a car or arrange for a ride in the Whitewater or Mission Creek preserves for a longer thru-hike.
View of the Na Pali Coast
The Kalalau Trail is often considered one of the most scenic and challenging hikes in all of Hawaii.
Starting at the end of the Kuhio Highway on Kauai’s north shore, the Kalalau Trail goes up and down ridges for 11 miles across the otherwise impassable Na Pali Coast.
The trail immediately goes up and within 1/4 mile, you come across a great viewpoint of Ke’e Beach near the start of the trail.
The trail climbs steadily until you reach about 600 feet in elevation, providing amazing views as you look west to the imposing Na Pali Coast. After reaching the top of this first ridge, the trail descends into the Hanakapi’ai Valley until you cross over a stream and see the wide-open Hanakapi’ai Beach stretching out in front of you, about 2 miles from the trailhead.
Hanakapi’ai Beach is the farthest I could get in the time I had, but the Kalalau Trail continues for 9 more miles up and down Na Pali’s ridges. The trail is part of Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, and starting in 2012 camping permits are required for anyone venturing past Hanakoa Valley, 6 miles in from the trailhead. There’s also a 2+ mile spur trail south from Hanakapi’ai Beach to a 300-foot waterfall.
Uluwehi Falls – also known as Secret Falls – is a beautiful 100+ foot waterfall located in Wailua River State Park.
The route to the falls includes a 2.5-mile kayak on the Wailua River, followed by an easy hike of less than one mile. The paddling and hiking are relatively easy, and although it takes a couple hours to complete the journey, the falls are well worth it. And there are scores of people there on pleasant days.
If you have your own kayak, you can make this trip yourself (and if you have your own kayak in the area, you probably already do this on a regular basis). But for tourists, there are a bunch of tour companies offering guided trips down the river to the falls.
The kayak portion, starting at the Wailua Marina just off Highway 56, is an easy paddle down the slow-moving and scenic Wailua River. A high cliff towers over the south side of the river, while traffic on Kuamoo Road flows by on a bluff the north side. At the fork in the river just past the Hawaiian village, head right and the river gets narrow. Your guide will know where to dock your kayak and proceed with the short and easy hike to the falls.
At the falls, there is plenty of room to find a spot in the rocks for lunching, relaxing and gazing at the waterfall. There is a wide pool at the base of the falls to swim in, although the water is often chilly. Be careful as decent-sized rocks can tumble down the falls.
The kayak trip back is with the current, making for a relaxing end to a scenic trip.
View of the Kilauea Lighthouse
Heading from the parking lot to the lighthouse is an easy walk – less than 1/2 mile, almost no elevation change and even features a stop in the gift shop. But what amazing views of the Pacific and the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge!
The most prevalent animal on the day I was there was the nene, the Hawaii state bird. But some visitors are lucky enough to see those, as well as dolphins and humpback whales in the blue waters of the Pacific.
The refuge is only open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on federal holidays. There is a fee of $5 per person for those over 16 (kids are free).
The lighthouse itself is no longer in use. It was built in 1913 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here for more information on the lighthouse.
View from the Sleeping Giant on the Kuamoo-Nounou trail
Some of the best hiking in the Wailua and Kapa’a area on Kauai’s eastern shore leads up to the Sleeping Giant. The Kuamoo Nounou Trail is one of three that winds up to this spot.
The Sleeping Giant got its name because this hill is said to look like a huge man laying on his back when viewing it from the ocean side.
This trail climbs up to the giant and traverses his chest from the southwest. It starts with a wide grassy pathway skirting the edge of the Wailua Homesteads neighborhood. You’ll cross a bridge over the small Opaekaa Stream and start heading up through the forest.
While it’s a moderate hike, the rocky (but easy to follow) trail does have a constant steady incline of a little over 300 feet for most of its 2-mile length. A shelter with a couple picnic tables about 3/4 mile in provides a shady spot for lunch or a quick rest. At the 2-mile marker (there are mile markers every 1/2 mile), the trail joins up with another trail that leads down a different route. We turned around and went back down the way we came.
One note of caution: Mosquitos are present and definitely have a taste for humans. Take appropriate precautions.
Thunder Mountain Trail on Mt. Baldy
Mt. Baldy, the highest peak in Los Angeles County and also known officially as Mount San Antonio, is known for its skiing in the winter. But when the snow melts, those ski runs turn into hiking trails.
If you’re not up to the daunting task of tackling Baldy’s peak at 10,069 feet, a trip the opposite way to Thunder Mountain is a moderate hike that still has fantastic views at just over 3 miles round-trip with a 800-900 foot elevation gain.
The trail is a wide road littered with rocks that serves as a ski run during the winter. Once at the top, a ski shack with a deck is a great place to stop and enjoy the views. The return trip is an easy gradual decline back to Baldy Notch, and the restaurant there is decent but overpriced.
Thunder Mountain is one of the “Three T’s” collected by LA-area hikers, including nearby Telegraph Peak and Timber Mountain.
Grubbs Notch on the Desert View Trail
The Desert View Trail is a great trail for families or those wanting to enjoy the solitude of Mount San Jacinto State Park without venturing into the wilderness areas (unlike most trails in the park, Desert View does not require a free permit).
At about 1.5 miles and with very little elevation change, it is a relatively easy introduction to the trails at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The trail also features the amazing desert views (hence the name of the trail) of Grubbs Notch. This point is actually five notches – or openings in the tree cover that expose the fantastic views of the Palm Springs area, about 8,000 feet below.
Once past the notches, the trail loops around to the north to head back to the mountain tram station. Warning: The concrete walkway back up to the station is less than fun after a day of hiking.
A creosote bush on the Randall Henderson Trail in Palm Desert.
The Randall Henderson Trail is an easy trail with little elevation gain suitable for the entire family. As a bonus, it starts at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center, which has some nice exhibits.
The Henderson trail, while easy, does contain a number of common desert plants, including cholla cacti, barrel cacti, creosote, brittlebush and more. In fact, the annual Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival, held in March, offers free guided tours using the Henderson, which is when I walked it.
If you conquer the Henderson quickly and want more, there are several trails that connect up to the Henderson for further exploration.
View of the palm oasis on the Palm Canyon Trail near Palm Springs.
The hike from the Indian Canyons trading post to the stone pools via the Palm Canyon Trail is one of the most popular in Palm Springs. On land owned by the Agua Caliente tribe, there is an entrance fee of $9 per adult, but the fee is well worth it for the bright splashes of green that pop out from the otherwise brown desert.
The Palm Canyon trail starts at the trading post and immediately drops about 70 feet into a huge palm oasis. Follow the stream toward the back to find the trail, which is the left fork at the split. The trail snakes through the palm oasis until it ends after about a mile and then climbs a ridge so hikers get an bird’s eye view of the oasis below. This ridge is the steepest part of the trail. After this, the trail runs mostly straight and flat through open desert with expansive views of Mount San Jacinto to the north and the Santa Rosa chain to the south and west for about two miles before hitting the stone pools. When I went in mid-February, the pools were dry, but in the spring, they can fill up, especially after winters with heavy rain (a relative term in the desert).
The trail soldiers on to the south for many more miles, but a lot of hikers turn back at the stone pools. If you want an alternate route, take the high road once you arrive back at the south tip of the palm oasis. That trail will climb a ridge to the east of the oasis and adds an extra mile to your trip, which ends again back at the trading post.