To the uninitiated, Palm Springs may seem like little more than a string of golf courses, swimming pools, shopping malls, and tennis courts spread out among the lush greenery of a desert oasis. But outdoors enthusiasts will find a surprising range of activities possible in and around Palm Springs, including two separate canyon hikes to secluded desert waterfalls, a thrilling gondola ride from palms to pines, and the chance to snowshoe or cross-country ski in the morning and lie out by the pool in the afternoon.
Just about everything in Palm Springs has a legend behind it, and Tahquitz Canyon is no exception. Named for an Agua Caliente shaman who abused his powers and was banished from his tribe, Tahquitz Canyon is a spectacular outdoor museum of desert flora and fauna. Amid lush stands of desert lavender, mesquite, and creosote, the canyon is home to plentiful bird life, Native American rock art, and a spectacular 60-foot waterfall. Yet the rumored curse of the shaman Tahquitz remains so powerful that even today local Agua Caliente tribe members refuse to venture into some parts of this rock-studded canyon.
The two-mile loop trail to Tahquitz Canyon Falls gains 350 feet in elevation. You can hike on your own or in the company of a ranger. Movie buffs will recognize the showering falls as the entrance to the land of Shangri-La in Frank Capra's 1937 film "Lost Horizon."
Info: A $12.50 fee is charged per adult; $6 for children 12 and under.
Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center, 760/416-7044.
Located on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, Murray Canyon is a vestige of what Palm Springs used to be--wide open vistas of red rock, an oasis of fan palms, a life-giving stream, and an abundance of desert flora. A hike through this canyon passes by nearly 1,000 Washingtonia palm trees, plus hundreds of barrel cacti that line the canyon's walls. After an easy walk of 1.5 miles, you'll pass the turnoff for the Kaufmann Trail on the left, then climb up and over a jumble of boulders. Continue for another 10-15 minutes until you suddenly come upon a delicate waterfall, sculpted out of fine, polished granite. The fall has two 20-foot cascades, each with a mirror-like pool at its base, set about 50 yards apart. A half-dozen more cascades await farther back in this canyon, earning these falls the name "Seven Sisters."
One caveat: The reservation closes its gates at 5 p.m. sharp each day. Make sure you've completed your hike and are driving out by 4:55 or thereabouts, or your car may be locked in for the night.
Info: An $8 day-use fee is charged per adult; $4 for children 6-12. Indian Canyons Visitor Center, 760/323-6018.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Too hot in the desert? Then take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, but don't forget to bring a fleece, even on the warmest days. This 2.5-mile-long gondola whisks you from palms to pines in about 20 minutes, topping out at 8,500 feet in elevation at Mount San Jacinto State Park. In summer, hike 5.5 miles to the top of 10,834-foot Mount San Jacinto. In winter, bring along your snowshoes (or rent them at the top) and shuffle around in the white, fluffy stuff. No matter what activity you choose, the sweeping desert views afforded by the tram's rotating cars and big windows are sure to take your breath away.
Info: A round-trip ticket is $22.95 for adults, $15.95 for children ages 3-12, 888/515-TRAM, 760/325-1391
Article Written By Ann Marie Brown
The author of 14 guidebooks on California outdoor recreation, Ann Marie Brown is a dedicated outdoorswoman. She hikes, bikes and camps more than 150 days each year in an all-out effort to avoid routine, complacency and getting a real job. In addition to her best-selling guidebooks, Brown's writing has appeared in "Sunset," "VIA," and "Backpacker" magazines.