The cactus-covered ridges and palm-lined canyons just west of Palm Springs are wonderful to hike and explore. Contained within the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indian Reservation, these rugged lands are laced with trails open to the general public for a modest admission fee. Visitors discover hidden creeks, waterfalls and lush groves of California fan palms beneath the towering granite hulk of San Jacinto Mountain.
The Indian Canyons include four major gorges: Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon and Murray Canyon. Each is rich in rocky scenery and desert flora and fauna. Lizards, snakes, and songbirds abound in the canyons, while bands of peninsula bighorn sheep (an endangered species) are occasionally glimpsed on the rugged slopes above. In the springtime, the cacti and other desert plants bloom colorfully.
For centuries the canyons were home to bands of Cahuilla Indians. The year-round spring water, game, edible plants and abundant sunshine supported permanent human settlements at the base of the mountain. Archeologists tell us that the natives cultivated melons, squash, beans and corn in the sandy soil to supplement a diet of naturally occurring seeds, nuts and fruit.
So-called morteros, or grinding holes, are found in each of the canyons where generations of Indians ground seeds into flour. Several of the canyons also contain panels of ancient rock art whose meaning has been lost in the passage of time but whose cultural significance is priceless.
Visitors have a choice of hiking trails from short interpretive strolls of less than a mile to challenging paths that switchback many miles up the mountainside. A number of the Indian Canyons trails are open to equestrian use as well.
Some visitors may be content to linger at the Palm Canyon trading post to enjoy the view and purchase Indian art and crafts.
We have hiked several of the trails in the Indian Canyons and our favorite is the four-mile roundtrip to Seven Sisters waterfall in Murray Canyon. The trail weaves beneath elegant palm trees and crisscrosses a babbling stream numerous times before reaching a remarkable, seven-tiered waterfall carved over time into solid granite.
In Taquitz Canyon, perhaps the most beautiful of all, ranger-led hikes are available past cultural sites to 60-foot-tall Taquitz Falls where several Hollywood films were shot. The canyons were affected by a big forest fire in the fall of 2013.
Subsequent flash floods wiped out trails and access roads. After months of closure for road and trail repair, the Indian Canyons were reopened to the public in late 2013.