It’s a great time of year to be visiting the desert regions of the Southwestern USA. The weather is warm and pleasant, the wildflowers are in bloom, and the oppressive heat of summer is a distant memory. This is the time of year to go on a hike in the Mojave and that’s what we’re going to look at today: a walk up tranquil Tahquitz Canyon just outside of Palm Springs, California. This is one of several canyons in the area, each with its own character, each awaiting exploration!
Centuries ago, ancestors of the Agua Caliente Indians settled in the Palm Springs area. They adapted well to life in the desert and developed a complex network of communities in the canyons around Palm Springs, including within Palm and Tahquitz Canyons. Each of these canyons was an oasis, with abundant water. And with the water there was opportunity for irrigated agriculture, a growth of usable native plants, and game for food. You can still find traces of these communities in Tahquitz Canon, like rock art, house pits, and grinding rocks (for food) like you see an example of in the photos below.
Hiking Tahquitz Canyon
The highlight of Tahquitz Canyon is a dramatic 50 foot (16 m) waterfall during the winter and spring, when there’s snow melting on San Jacinto mountain. The hike is on tribal land and you can do a self-guided walk or at select times go on Ranger-led hikes (these are generally very worthwhile but didn’t coordinate with our schedule, so we did a self-guided hike). There’s a small visitor center as you enter where you’ll have to pay a fee to gain access to the area: Adults $12.50, children half price. For North America this is a rather steep toll to go on a hike, but Tahquitz Canyon is a special place and the money is used to maintain and clean the canyon, so I didn’t have a problem with it.
It’s a fairly easy hike, only 2 miles return but with a few steeper areas and a total elevation gain of 350 ft (just over 100 m). The lower part of the trail just beyond the visitor center is a gentle climb into the mouth of the canyon, past large rocks, a stream, and lots of wildflowers. We did see some historic Indian relics along the way. The steeper part of the climb is the later half, towards Tahquitz Falls.
There are several water crossings on nicely crafted bridges. It’s really a beautiful place to be on a winter day, as it was still plenty warm (almost hot). It’s hard to imagine trying to do this in the summer as the heat would make it quite challenging. The waterfall is beautiful and its splash pool is almost five ft (1.5 m) deep; considering it’s in a desert, it really is quite impressive. And the water is COLD as it’s fed by snow melt (which is why it dries up when the snow’s off the mountains).
The area around the waterfall is a perfect place to rest and get a drink of (your bottled) water or to have a picnic. Shade is limited and there are no restroom facilities beyond the visitor center. Appropriate hiking precautions should be observed (carry water, use sunblock, wear sturdy shoes). I recommend trekking poles for the steeper steps up near the waterfall. But you can spend an enjoyable few hours exploring this place.
Hiking Tahquitz Canyon is a worthwhile activity when in the Palm Springs area, especially during winter and early spring.