My Favourite Places in Joshua Tree & Palm Springs

I have just returned from my second annual pilgrimage to Palm Springs to watch the Indian Wells tennis, and experience the joyous rapture of wearing shorts in early March. Both trips have been fantastic – full of sun, hikes, and daily margaritas. Here are a few of my favourites outdoor adventures from my time in Joshua Tree National Park, as well as Palm Springs and surrounding area.

Joshua Tree National Park

This year, we once again visited Joshua Tree National Park and primarily spent our time re-visiting our favourite “exhibits” from the previous year’s trip. It’s important to note that most of the park does not have cell reception (asides from Key’s View, I found), and you need to bring your own water in with you. As well, in March, the temperature can vary if there’s a breeze, so bring a windbreaker.

Jumbo Rocks

Jumbo Rocks is my favourite place in Joshua Tree National Park. As the name suggests, there are massive boulders here and look down from height over the park. You can choose-your-own-adventure up the boulders to achieve a far-reaching view. The whole area gives major “Pride Rock” Lion King vibes. Love it.

Key’s View

At the southern end of the park, you can go up to Key’s View and look down at Palm Desert, the Salton Sea, San Andreas Fault, Indio Hills, and Palm Springs below in the Coachella Valley. This is the only place I found to have cell reception outside of the park, as I presume you pick up the cell tower coverage from the towns below. A great, sprawling view from which to contemplate life. It can be quite windy up here so bring a windbreaker if it’s cooler. 

Cholla Cactus Garden

I really enjoy the approach to Cholla Cactus Garden; if you approach it from the West, you will descend lower down into the valley and get an impressive view of the Pinto Basin. We have tended to do this during the end of the day, so it’s particularly beautiful with the light and shadow dappling the basin. It’s also noticeably warmer. The cactus garden itself is adorable – full of small cholla cacti. These tiny cacti are cute, but deadly. There’s a sign that  basically says “I will kill your family” before you enter the garden, so be mindful if you are with small children who might be enticed to touch the adorable cacti. 

Hidden Valley

This 1-mile loop weaves through massive boulders that used to be used by castle rustlers to hide their takings. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this section of the park is that you can spot a lot of rock climbers summiting the heights. There’s also a lot of plant and animal life concentrated here that are not commonly found together in other areas of the park, including Joshua Tree, pinyon, juniper and oak together with mesquite, yucca, and nolina. I really enjoyed this as a quick leg stretch shortly after arriving in the park. 

Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail

If you don’t want to pay to enter Joshua Tree National Park, the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail was recommended to me and is located just South of 29 Palms. This 3-mile out-and-back hike goes up along a ridge line, before dropping down into a palm canyon lined with – probably – 49 palms. As you walk along the ridge line, the shock of the palms against the rocky foreground is a welcome and striking sight. Apparently, this trail closes during the summer months, since the high temperatures make it critical for sheep to access the water source. You probably wouldn’t want to hike then, anyways.

Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells

Indian Canyons 

My favourite outdoor adventure that I’ve done near Palm Springs is in Indian Canyons. Most go to the nearby Tahquitz Canyon, but since the parking lot was full last year, we headed to the bigger park. There is a fee to get in, but it’s worth the experience, in my opinion.

After a quick dip into Andreas Canyon en-route, we drove the car further along to a dirt parking lot to go up to Seven Sisters waterfall. After a quick walk to the connecting Andreas Canyon trail, you walk up Murray Canyon, which is lined with palm trees through which a gentle stream flows. The gentle stream makes for a fun challenge, as there are lots of crossings through which you have to leapfrog across rocks in the stream, walk along felled palm trees trunks or – heaven forbid – place you feet in the drink itself (either by choice or not). If you have poor stability, I would not recommend this hike. We went all the way up to the Seven Sisters waterfall, which isn’t particularly remarkable, to be honest. I did enjoy a smaller waterfall en-route that I named “Shield Waterfall” as the water rolls off a shield-like rock into the stream below.

Once we reached the terminus, we backtracked before veering off to the Coffman trail, which takes you up and over a hill, with a great view of the park, Palm Springs, and the San Jacinto mountains rising behind the canyon. Note that this trail is also used by horses, so there is some…evidence of that. Most people stick to the palm canyon trail, so I found this to be a great way to get away from humanity and get a great view. 

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

I really enjoyed this zoo in Palm Desert, which has a wonderful collection of animals by regional section including Africa, Australia, and the Americas. The Africa section was particularly impressive, with giraffes, cheetahs, meerkats, zebras, and a leopard. Plus, it’s a whole lot cheaper than going on safari to Africa. I also particularly enjoyed seeing wallabies, emus, a jaguar, a mountain lion, and a golden eagle. 

Indian Wells Tennis

The initial reason for our trips is the Indian Wells Tennis tournament. For the past two years, we’ve gone to the early rounds, as it’s a great way to see as many top players as possible, since hardly anyone has been eliminated yet. I particularly enjoy going to the practice court area, which is basically set-up like a zoo, with the ability to walk on high rises above the courts and look down at the animals – I mean players. This time we were able to see great players like Swiatek, Sabalenka, Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Ruud, Pegula, Gauff, Voundrousova, Sakkari and more. And, the games themselves were great – we were able to see Shapovalov, Paolini, Jabeur, Volynets, Kokkanakis, Kenin, and Andreeva play. The tennis garden is beautiful, with amazing views from the stands of the hills and valley. Even when you arrive in the parking area, you feel like you’re on a plateau looking out at beautiful snowcapped mountains. So recommend going to this tournament if you’re a tennis fan! We got Grounds Passes that were available in-person – even if they weren’t online. These enable you to go to every court except Stadium 1, for which you need reserved seats to enter (at much higher expense).

Coachella Valley Vista View Point

Finally, we drove up to the Coachella Valley Vista View Point, which is an easy route up from Palm Desert, and provides a lovely look back at the valley from high above. Last year, we drove further along the Palms-to-Pines Highway to the Santa Rosa Summit, which was beautiful, but it does cool down a lot as you go higher up in elevation, so be prepared.

Those are my favourites so far. I’m sure there’s much more to discover, but passing along in case you might be heading that way for Spring Break or in the near future!