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Winter hiking in the California desert
By Tom Adkinson

palm desert hiker
Palm Desert hiker; image by Tom Adkinson.

PALM DESERT, California – Many winter visitors come to this part of California to golf or sit poolside at the resorts in Palm Springs and other Coachella Valley communities, but many come to hike the trails that lace their way through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Friends of the Desert Mountains is the private-sector support organization for the 280,000-acre national monument (about half the size of Great Smoky Mountains National Park), and it has built, restored or improved access to more than 310 miles of trails. The terrain is magnificent because the valley floor is almost at sea level, while the surrounding mountains rise quickly to as high as 10,000 feet.

palm desert cactus
Palm Desert cactus; image by Tom Adkinson.

The Randall Henderson Trail at Palm Desert is an especially popular example because the trailhead is at the national monument’s visitor center. It offers three loops that range from easy to moderately difficult. The longest is 2.5 miles long, and the shortest is 1.1 miles long. Volunteers from Friends of the Desert Mountains lead hikes every Thursday morning from November through April on the Randall Henderson Trail and three other trails easily reached from the visitor center. If you hike the Randall Henderson Trail at other times, a handout map leads you to 18 markers along the route that explain just exactly what you are seeing in this desert environment – and that’s everything from cacti to bighorn sheep.

Trip-planning resource: and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published December 6, 2019

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