Coachella Valley

Ladder Canyon

Ladder Canyon

In 2016, the Coachella Valley is known for one thing, and one thing only: the Coachella Music Festival. However, it is an area with a rich pre-European history; an interesting mining history; and plenty of unique places such as Salvation Mountain, Slab City, Bombay Beach, the Mud Pots, the International Banana Museum, and many more. Most importantly, it is also where California’s most enjoyable desert hike is located, Ladder Canyon. While I realize this is a bold statement, I feel comfortable making it after all the time I’ve spent over the years in California’s deserts. It’s also important to note that while Ladder Canyon is California’s most enjoyable desert hike, it is not the most accessible, nor the most challenging. Having said all of that, for those outdoor adventurers that are willing to devote a little time and effort in getting to the location, it is a spot that is well worth a visit.

Canyon View Loop Trail, Whitewater Preserve

Whitewater River, looking up Whitewater Canyon

This week on, true confessions. Confession number one: I have been going back and forth from Southern California to the Coachella Valley region and areas North of it for over twenty years off and on. Until about a month ago, I had no idea that there was an area of pristine flood plain, containing miles of hiking trails, and great views of the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the area. No. Idea. At. All. I feel at this point that there should almost be some sort of demerits taken against my wilderness specialist card. After all, the area I’m talking about is part of the Pacific Crest Trail (“PCT”) – how could I miss this? However, it’s better to arrive at the party late than not arrive at all.


Yes, what I am talking about is the Whitewater Preserve, an area of over 2,826 acres that is owned by the Wildlands Conservancy. The region is situated directly on the floodplain of the Whitewater River, and is surrounded by large swaths of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the San Gorgonio Wilderness, providing one large area to explore, and one colossal wildlife corridor. The Wildlands Conservancy holds a number of pieces of land within California, and in my experience, each of them are well managed, well maintained, and well protected, something that is definitely needed with the Department of Parks and Recreation in California facing continuing budget cuts. Due to time constraints, I didn’t get as far out into the backcountry as I would have wished, but I did get out on the Canyon View Loop trail, which leaves directly from the picnic area/Ranger Station/interpretive center, and in my opinion, provides a great scenic overview of the preserve for the first time visitor.

Looking at the Ridgeline of Whitewater Canyon

 Directions: To enter the Whitewater Preserve, exit the I-10 at the Whitewater exit, and head North up the Whitewater Canyon Road for five miles until the road ends. There is a parking lot at the end of the road, but do note that the area is popular for picnics as well as hiking, and the lot does fill up. From the parking lot, the trailhead is directly to the North, and is the main jumping off point for all of the hikes into the backcountry. The trail is well marked from the beginning, and leads past a large boulder with mileage distances along the PCT as well as the preserve. After about a half mile (.5), you will see a turnoff to the West, which will lead you over the Whitewater River on a well maintained footbridge.

As 2012 has been a dry year for Southern California, the water was well below the bridge; but I suspect that in a wet year, the river could be difficult to cross; something you should keep in mind depending on when you are visiting. Once across the bridge, the trail heads through some brush before heading uphill through some switchbacks to the top of the ridge, where the Canyon Loop Trail is again well signed. From here, you can see some great views of the canyon as you head South before ultimately looping back around to the Ranger station and parking lot. Roundtrip, this hike will be about three and a half miles (3.5), and I would rate it as easy and suitable for all ages. Do note that there is indeed some uphill portions; but overall, the hike is not overly strenuous.

 Whitewater Canyon

Tips: There’s a secret river and park near Palm Springs! What more do you want? Ok, let’s go for bonus tips: due to the fact that the preserve is connected to large swaths of backcountry, it is a wildlife corridor for many animals, including black bears which do head into the canyon on a regular basis. From my observations, it’s also a great place to view animals, as I saw plenty of small animals in the area during the middle of the day. Last, if you don’t feel like hiking, it’s a great place to sit back and relax among the trout ponds and river to beat the desert heat.

See you on the trail!



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Bump-N-Grind Trail, Palm Desert (aka Bump-AND-Grind)

View of San Jacinto from the "top" of the Bump-N-Grind Trail

Sometimes, when you’re on the road, you find locations that are great hikes, but since you’re not a local, you may end up calling the location by a new name that has no relation to the old or actual name. Case in point: for years, I’ve been visiting Palm Desert. About ten years ago, I got tired of running around the same flat streets, and while running by the Target in Palm Desert, I saw people climbing a hill. I figured, “Hey, that looks like some good variety, not too tough, I’ll hit that up tomorrow”. Needless to say, when I “hit it up” the next day, I found that it was a lot more strenuous than, “not too tough” (more on that later), but I still had a great time. I found it so enjoyable that every time I was in Palm Desert after that, I went up and around it. All this time, I thought it was called the “Painter’s Path” trail, because I thought I had seen a sign near Highway 111 at the start that said that.

When I went to do a little research to write this piece about the hike, I found that it is called “The Bump-n-Grind” trail, “Dog Poo Trail”, “Patton Trail”, or “Desert Drive Trail”, but more often than not, “The Bump-n-Grind”. At first I was in denial - surely, I had a picture of the trailhead sign that proved I was right. Nope. No pictures of that purported sign. Then, I thought that it was an isolated nickname – surely, there was another name for it that confirmed I was right. Nope. Bump-n-Grind seemed to be chapter approved by locals. At this point, while bemused – I had been telling people about this hike for years – “you go up over behind the Target”, and calling it by my name, it was clear that I was wrong. Then again, a hike by any name is surely better than no hike at all?

Directions: Park in the Target parking lot right off Highway 111 in Palm Desert ( The trail leaves off the back of the parking lot and is readily apparent; there is also an access point slightly North of the Target entrance up Highway 111 past the Tilted Kilt. Either way, be prepared for a short but very steep ascent that heads up for about  ~1000 vertical feet before dead-ending at a spot in the mid-foothills that overlooks the Coachella Valley, and all of Palm Desert below. From the dead-end spot, there are other foot trails that head up further into the foothills, but they are not “approved” trails or routes. From the dead-end, the hike heads back down the hill to the parking lot. Total distance: a little over two miles roundtrip.

Tips: Did I mention above that I thought it’d be not too tough, but was surprised? Yeah, that’s right. It’s steeeeeeeeeeeep. Think about it: you start at around ~200 feet and you go up to ~1250 feet in a little over a mile. That’s steep. But fun! If you’re going to run it, it’s a leg burner. If you’re going to walk it, it’s still a burner. Is it doable? For sure, there will likely be tons of people on it. Enjoy it, and the view. Do bring water – it’s the desert. Don’t head up midday in the dead heat of summer, unless you can really handle that 110 degree heat and physical exertion. Do call it what you will, but do know that it is officially the “Bump-N-Grind”.

See you on the trail! 

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