If you are ever in Palm Springs, California, don’t miss the Tahquitz Canyon Loop Trail, one of the most beautiful areas of the in the Sonoran Desert of the Coachella Valley. This 2 mile loop that travels through a dramatic desert landscape on a narrow rocky trail is one of the hidden gems in the USA.
Many people think the North American Desert region is this arid land where nothing grows. A landscape dominated by sand and rocks. But that’s not the case of the Tahquitz Canyon, which enjoys a lot of desert vegetation and even a seasonal waterfall.
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The Legend of Tahquitz Canyon
The people became angry and they banished Tahquitz to this canyon that now bears his name. He made his home high in the San Jacinto Mountains in a secret cave below the towering rock known today as Tahquitz Peak.
The legend says that his spirit still lives in this canyon. People can sometimes see him as a large green fireball streaking across the night sky. When he stomps about the canyon, the ground is shaking and strange rumblings are heard deep within the mountains.
A Brief History of the Canyon
Owned by the Agua Client tribe of the Cahuilla Indians, the Tahquitz Canyon wasn’t always the well-maintained area you see today. For centuries, tales of a Cahuilla Indian shaman who was roaming the canyon kept people away from it.
In more recent times, the Canyon became an attraction for some gangs who liked to party here. Hippies and homeless took up residence in the canyon caves and began spray-painting graffiti on the boulders and trashing the area.
In 1969, after several such incidents, the Cahuilla Indians were forced to close the canyon to the public. Tahquitz Canyon remained closed for 30 years, until 1998, when the Aqua Caliente Tribal Council organized a big clean up and the restoration of the canyon.
It was only in 2001 that Taquitz Canyon was finally open to the public for hikes.
Hiking the Tahquitz Canyon Trail
To get on the trail you have to pass through the Visitor Center. There is a $12.50 entry charge which may seems a little steep for such a small attraction. However, seeing how well they maintain the area, you realize it’s not actually that much.
At the Visitor Center you will receive a map with some points of interest which you can easily locate along the trail. You have the option to walk through the canyon by yourself, which we did, or opt for a guided tour.
Going up the canyon, take the left side which is a little shaded and come back down on the right, which is the easier part of the trail. The 2 mile long looping trail is a little steep and sometimes rocky, with many rock steps to climb, but is not difficult.
The views are gorgeous, you walk surrounded by beautiful native plants and you may even spot some wildlife. For the most part of the year, a sparkling stream runs through the canyon floor — a flow that for thousands of years made life possible for the Indians who populated the area. There are a couple of small bridges crossings the water which proves the trail is really maintained.
The Tahquitz Canyon Fall
The climaxing the hike up the canyon is the spectacular Tahquitz Canyon Fall that has remained unchanged for thousands of years. The 60-foot drop of water pours beautifully over the rock straight into a pretty deep pool.
Even after the drought of the past several years, there is still enough water in the waterfall. For the desert area this kind of waterfall is quite impressive, since in Southern California waterfalls are rather small and scarce.
From the Tahquitz Canyon Fall, the trail turns back towards the valley and starts descending. Along the way, you find a shaded smaller waterfall with a pond.
Tips for Hiking the Loop Trail
Best time to visit the canyon and hike the trail is in the early morning, before the sun is overhead. The desert gets hot pretty quickly, even if it’s not summertime. We visited the area in April and the temperature was around 85ºF in midday. In summer the temperatures go up to over 100ºF in this area.
Besides the loop trail there are also some side trails that are fun to hike, so be sure to pick up the trail map at the Visitor Center.
The canyon has very little shade, no restroom facilities and no drinking fountains. Be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water. Also, use the bathrooms at the Visitor Center before you start the hike.
The hike is good exercise, although relatively short – about one hour return. The canyon and the waterfalls are well worth the effort and the entrance fee that you pay. Parking is also very easy.