When I was little my family took summer trips all the time. Disneyland, Yosemite, San When I was little my family took summer trips all the time. Disneyland, Yosemite, San Francisco, Catalina Island. But, as I got older, softball became more serious. I played competitive travel ball and any trips and traveling during the summer became centered around softball. I went on to play at the collegiate level and summer after Freshman year, I realized that besides working out and practicing on my own, I’d actually have time off. My mom had (and still has) a bucket list of hikes and places she wanted to cross off and at the top of that list was Zion National Park. So we did just that. We enjoyed an incredible 5 day trip exploring Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. And ever since that first summer, like the Morgan Wallen song, “7 Summers,” we’ve crossed off some pretty spectacular places every summer since 7 summer ago.
Zion National Park & Bryce Canyon National Park
This was our first big hiking excursion 7 summers ago. We drove into Kanab, Utah on a Thursday. Friday we hiked Angel’s Landing, which some consider one of the scariest hikes in America. I thought it was incredible.
The trail starts with a moderate hike, offering glimpses of towering sandstone cliffs. As you progress, the path becomes more demanding, with steep switchbacks. Like really crazy steep switchbacks. The final stretch is the most exhilarating, requiring the use of chains to navigate the exposed ridge. However, the effort is rewarded with awe-inspiring panoramic views of the vast canyon, overlooking the Virgin River, and the majestic red rock formations that define Zion National Park.
Saturday we headed down in the canyon of Zion National Park to hike The Narrows. The Narrows hike is considered easy-to-moderate. because there are no steep inclines or declines, and since it is an out-and-back hike, it can be as long or as short as you want it to be. But, the further in you go the deeper the water gets and harder it becomes to hike through. As you venture into the canyon, the towering walls of red sandstone rise above you, creating a dramatic and narrow pathway carved by the Virgin River. It was so vastly different than hiking Angels Landing the day before but equally incredible.
Sunday we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park. I can’t remember exactly what trail we did but it took us through a scenic route of a lot of the park. I remember climbing down these switch backs into a red rock amphitheater, seeing the hoodoos, and the bright orange coloration all around us. It was a third stop that was again so very different from Angels Landing and The Narrows but equally incredible.
After Bryce we headed home and that completed our first National Park excursion! And ever since that first summer, 7 summers ago we’ve planning adventurous family trips each year.
We got so many questions about why on earth we’d want to vacation in Death Valley this spring. But the truth is, it’s such an underrated National Park and the different landscapes and hiking trails were incredible. We managed to pack in so much in just three days. From vast sand dunes, expansive salt flats, dramatic canyons, and dry (and real) towering waterfalls, below is a look at the 11 different stops/hikes we explored during our time in Death Valley National Park.
Golden Canyon/Red Cathedral
This was a 3 miles/out & back hike that takes you through incredible yellow colored canyon walls, through a slot canyon and out to a red rock amphitheater overlooking the golden hills.
Devil’s Golf Course
This is a location where you can park and see, no hiking required. Devil’s Golf Course is a vast landscape of jagged, crystalline salt formations that cover the ground. We even tasted the salt for ourselves. It was named “Devil’s Golf Course” after a 1934 Death Valley guidebook said, “only the devil could play golf” on this harsh terrain, and the name stuck.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, sitting at an elevation of 282 feet below sea level. It’s a vast salt flat, stretching over 200 square miles made up of evaporated remnants of a large lake. The pathway itself extends about 5 miles so most people don’t walk all the way out. BUT, the further you walk, the prettier it gets!
Natural Bridge is a 2 miles, out & back hike leading you to this natural rock bridge through a stunning orange rock canyon. Just past the Natural Bridge is what was referred to as a dry waterfall, which was a sheer cliff where a waterfall once flowed.
This spectacular view is Zabriskie Point, one of the most photographed locations in Death Valley National Park. It was apparently named after one of the first 49ers (gold rush pioneers) to visit the area, Christian Zabriskie.
Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. This was our 2nd stop on day 2 our hiking adventures in Death Valley and another location where my pictures really don’t do the incredible view a justice. It was also SO windy here!
Artist Palette is one of the most well known locations for photographers. This landscape bursts with an insane mix of colors. Deep purples, rich reds, bright yellows, and soft greens created by minerals and oxidation.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flats was definitely one of my favorite stops of the trip and my pictures really don’t to it a justice. It was so pretty. There isn’t an actual trail here, you just park and walk out into the dunes as far as you want to go. The tallest dune (which is where we decided to go) is about 2 miles round-trip and definitely kicks your butt. Walking uphill in sand is HARD. And running down the mountain for funzies afterwards also kicks your butt, but is so worth it.
This hike is 3.4 miles, out & back and it leads you through narrow, marble looking canyon walls to another dry waterfall. As you venture into the canyon, you’ll be greeted by stunning rock formations, resembling a mosaic masterpiece.
Father Crowley Overlook
Father Crowley Overlook is located near the western end of park. This vista point is a famous spot for fighter jets to practice going through a narrow canyon and the area is actually an official military “low altitude flight training area”. Think Top Gun.
At around 18 feet tall, Darwin Falls is one of the only year-round flowing waterfalls in Death Valley National Park. It was a 1.9 mile, put & back hike and so green along the way. Crazy how we were hiking through a desert canyon that morning and then a lush oasis later that same day.
Ready to plan your own Death Valley excursion now? Yeah, we know.
Hopefully this gave you a little insight on some of the most mesmerizing places to visit inside the park!
Looking to take a drive through Joshua Tree National Park? Here are my must-stop locations that don’t involve much hiking. The park has three different entrances so be sure to do your research on where each of these stops are located so that you can map out the best route.
You can reach this iconic site by embarking on a moderate half-mile hike. The trail offers picturesque views of hundreds of Joshua Trees, diverse flora and large rock formations leading to the awe-inspiring rock formation characterized by a natural arch.
Located in the same area as Arch Rock, Heart Rock can be found with just a half mile walk from where you park your car. The trail will lead you do a sign with one direction pointing towards Arch Rock and the opposite direction pointing towards Heart Rock.
Cholla Cactus Garden
Cholla Cactus Garden is located in the park’s Pinto Basin and showcases a dense congregation of cholla cacti. You can explore the garden via a short quarter-mile walk.
At an elevation of 5,185 feet, Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park offers a breathtaking panoramic vista of the surrounding Coachella Valley. Accessible by a short drive from the park’s entrance, this iconic viewpoint provides visitors with a spectacular overlook of the desert landscape, including the Salton Sea, San Andreas Fault, and the distant peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.
Skull Rock is a unique rock formation that resembles a skull. The rock’s distinctive shape was carved by wind and erosion.
Jumbo Rocks is an area with massive granite boulders. The towering rock formations create a playground for climbers, while hikers can venture through the maze-like formations, and campers can witness stunning sunsets and star-filled night skies.
Barker Dam is a historical and scenic site that offers a glimpse into the region’s past. This small reservoir was constructed by early cattle ranchers and homesteaders in the late 19th century. Today, visitors can embark on a short hike to reach the dam and explore its surroundings.
Wall Street Mill
Wall Street Mill is also a fascinating historical site.. Accessible via a moderately easy hike, this well-preserved mill stands as a testament to the region’s gold mining era in the early 20th century.
Hidden Valley is a picturesque and secluded area within Joshua Tree National Park. Tucked away from the main road, Hidden Valley is accessible via a short walk from the parking area. This enclosed area is surrounded by towering rock formations, creating a natural amphitheater. Hidden Valley is also a popular spot for rock climbing and bouldering
I hope this blog provided some insight on quick stops for an afternoon exploring Joshua Tree National Park. As always, travel on my friends.
Last weekend my parents and I spent the day in Joshua Tree and here’s what we did.
We met at Joshua Tree Coffee Company at 10 a.m. because every trip to Joshua Tree National Park must begin with a cold brew from JTree Coffee Co. It was packed there that morning (maybe due to Coachella Fest) and my cold brew took quite a while to make. I didn’t have much of a breakfast that morning and noticed a pop-up shop next to the coffee shop serving fresh quiches and wow, best decision. I wish I knew the name of the little place next door but I will say, if they’re always there, go. Run!
My cold brew was fantastic too, of course.
We then drove into the park via the West Entrance, which is about 10 miles east from the city of Yucca Valley. We were there on a Saturday and thought it was going to take a while to get in but the wait was quick. I also bought a new National Park Pass, which I renew every year. If you’re a frequent hiker/traveler, I would highly recommend getting the pass! It’s $80 and most day passes into parks are $30-$40. We live close to Joshua Tree National Park and usually plan a trip to at least one other park each year, making the pass so worth it. It also gets you access to a lot of other state parks and landmarks!
Once inside the Park we headed toward Ryan Mountain, which is located in the central part of the park. We actually had never hiked this trail before and it was tougher and steeper than we thought it was going to be. Ryan Mountain is definitely one of the most rewarding hikes within Joshua Tree National Park though, offering stunning views of the desert landscape from its summit. The trail, which is 3 miles round trip, is clearly marked and easy to follow. It has a total elevation gain of 1,050 feet and the elevation at the top is 5,457 feet. Although the ascent is steep in parts, hikers of all levels can complete the journey. Once at the top, you can take in the awe-inspiring panoramic views of the surrounding desert. We were shocked at how green the landscape looked due to the amount of rain we had this spring. We could also clearly see three snowcapped mountains in the distance: San Jacinto, Big Bear and what we think was San Gorgonio.
After hiking Ryan Mountain, we planned to stop and see two more landmarks within the park (Arch Rock & Heart Rock), which I thought I remembered being in locations where you just park your car, get out and see them…but, I was a bit off unfortunately. We were quite tired from our hike and it was a very sunny day and Arch Rock/Heart Rock ended up being another 1.4 miles out & back. It was an easy route that took another 30 minutes to complete. It sure was pretty though! My parents had never been to Arch Rock and we all hadn’t seen the Heart Rock before.
We ended the afternoon with a celebratory, post hike beer on the patio at Joshua Tree Saloon. We were surprised with beautiful weather and fun live music and delicious iced cold beer.
Get ready to spring into action with me as we dive into my spring bucket list of adventures! As the days get longer and the flowers start to bloom, I’m itching to get back out on the trails and check out a few new places. From seeing the iconic California poppies during this year’s superbloom, to hiking at National Parks to checking out new local events, here is my checklist of experiences I hope to cross off in the next two months! So grab your shades, pack your sunscreen, and let’s make this spring season one for the books with epic adventures and endless sunshine!
Take a Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park
This spring, we are planning to take a day trip out to Joshua Tree National Park and conquer Ryan Mountain (a 3 mile hike with a 1,050 ft. elevation gain). We have been hearing that the wildflowers are really starting to bloom inside the park and would love to do a hike and a little bit of exploring one weekend.
* Got to check this off on Saturday April 15th!Such a great day!
See the California Poppies
Back in 2019, Jordan and I hiked in Walker Canyon and saw the superbloom of California poppies scattering the hills. This year, unfortunately most of the most well known trails to see poppies are closed to protect them from tourists. I have been seeing a few other trails that don’t normally bloom like they are this year that are covered in poppies so I’m hoping I can check out a trail in the next few months that have some beautiful flora and fauna.
Visit Death Valley National Park for the First Time
I’m also excited to explore Death Valley National Park for the first time. My family and I have a hiking trip planned for the second week of May. We have never been and have heard the wildflowers this year are blooming later because of all the rain we had in March and it’s supposed to be beautiful.
See a Baseball Game
I am also hoping to catch a home baseball game this year at Angels Stadium for the the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Last year we saw two away games for the Angels, one in Arlington, TX and one in Seattle, WA but I haven’t actually been to Angels Stadium for a baseball game in years!
Go to an Outdoor Country Concert/Festival
Another must-do on my spring bucket list is attending the Stagecoach Festival, an outdoor country music festival held in Indio, California. I haven’t been since before the pandemic and I cannot wait.
Go to Local Farmers’ Market
I’m also looking forward to visiting one of the local farmers’ markets around town. Pretty much every city in the Coachella Valley has one weekly and I never make time to go. The one in Old Town La Quinta is supposed to be amazing and I hope to make it out there one weekend soon!
Experience Glow in the Park a the Living Desert
I can’t wait to see Glow in the Park at the Living Desert. This unique spring event is supposed to be spectacular this year with mist-filled bubbles, interactive light displays and hundreds of illuminated light displays. I am hoping to take my little cousins to check it out before the end of April!
* I was able to check this off Sunday, April 16th! So Fun!
Get some much needed sunshine
And last but not least, I plan to get some much needed sunshine this spring. It’s been a rainy colder winter and I have been working quite a bit. I cannot wait to get outside and feel the sun on my face, hit the trails, and get ready for river season!
Stay tuned as I embark on these exciting adventures and share my travel tales on social! What’s on your spring bucket list?
With the unusual amount of rain California has had this winter, nature lovers are expected to see the first Superbloom since 2019. In 2019, Jordan and I were able to hike in Walker Canyon and see the flourish of California poppies coating the hills. It was incredible. I was so sad to learn they closed the trail this year due to the traffic it created and the damage visitor’s caused by trampling the flowers for Instagram worthy pictures. With that closure, I’ve been doing my research, looking up other trails that are supposed to be vibrantly blooming this year and this is sort of just a bucket list blog of places I want to explore this spring rather than an experts guide on where to go and what to see this spring. Let me know if you stopped by any of these locations yet or have any other suggestions!
Indian Canyons – Palm Springs
While I have been here many, many times, I’ve heard the wildflowers are popping right now! Located just a few miles south of downtown Palm Springs, the Indian Canyons are home to a variety of wildflowers that bloom from March to May. There are three canyons within Indian Canyons worth exploring; Murray Canyon, Palm Canyon and Andreas Canyon. Each canyon offers several hiking trails where you can see a wide range of desert wildflowers, including lupine, poppies, and desert marigolds! You can also take a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide who can point out the different species and share interesting facts about the area’s flora and fauna.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is only a short drive from Palm Springs (and about 20 minutes from where I live) and is one of the best places to see wildflowers in the region! The park’s high desert landscape is home to a variety of wildflowers that bloom from February to April, including desert dandelions, Mojave asters, and desert primrose. I keep seeing pictures of the trails starting to bloom and beautiful Joshua Trees lining a soft green landscape and I’d love to hike out there sometime soon!
Anza-Borrego State Park
Located about an hour’s drive southeast of Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of the largest state parks in California and is home to a stunning array of wildflowers. I was actually just here back in January and it was stunning but we did miss the wildflowers. The park’s vast desert landscape is home to a wide range of wildflowers that bloom from February to April, including desert sunflowers, sand verbena, and lupine.
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Located about 30 minutes west of Palm Springs, the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a protected area of desert habitat that’s home to a variety of wildflowers. The preserve offers several hiking trails that take you through lush canyons and along the streams, where you can see wildflowers such as California poppies, desert marigolds, and lupine. The Morongo Preserve is actually walking distance from where I live in the city of Morongo, near Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree. I actually haven’t made my way over there in quite a while and want to head over soon to see if spring is in full bloom!
Located about 20 minutes north of Palm Springs, the Whitewater Preserve is a protected area of desert habitat that’s home to a variety of wildflowers. The preserve offers several hiking trails that take you through the lush riparian area and up to the rugged canyons, where you can see wildflowers such as desert dandelion, lupine, and sand verbena. The White Water Preserve is one of my absolute favorite places to hike, especially during spring. There’s a trail, “White Water Ranger Station to Cottonwood TH via the PCT” that allows dogs and is a vibrant green every spring so I can only image what the trail is looking like this year.I can’t wait to go!
Mission Creek Preserve
Located about 20 minutes northwest of Palm Springs in the city of Desert Hot Springs, the Mission Creek Preserve is a protected area of desert habitat that’s home to a variety of wildflowers. The preserve offers several hiking trails that take you through the rugged canyons and up to the high ridges, where you can see wildflowers such as Indian paintbrush, chia, and desert dandelions. This is another area I love to visit because it’s dog friendly and my pups love to play in the fresh water. Last year the hills were a vibrant bright yellow so again, I can only image what they’re looking like this year. I can’t wait to take the pups over there soon.
By the Windmills in Palm Springs
This one isn’t really a hiking area but I keep driving by the windmills off the Interstate 10 on my way to work down in La Quinta and really want to stop one day and snag a few pictures. I read that visitors can see a variety of wildflowers here, including desert sunflowers, sand verbena, and purple mat, which you can see displayed in the carousel post from Greater Palm Springs below!
Chino Hills State Park
Located about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, Chino Hills State Park is a beautiful park that’s home to a variety of wildflowers. The park’s rolling hills and canyons are covered in wildflowers in the spring, including California poppies, lupines, and Indian paintbrush. Visitors can see the flowers on the park’s many hiking trails, which offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. When I look up wildflower locations this spring, Chino Hills State Park keeps popping up as a top location. It’s only about an hour and 15 minutes for me so I’m hoping I can cross this one off my list this year.
Death Valley National Park
Located in eastern California near the Nevada border, Death Valley National Park is a surprising place to see wildflowers in the spring. The park’s lower elevations receive less rainfall than other parts of Southern California, but when conditions are right, wildflowers will bloom vibrantly across the entire desert floor. I am so excited for this one. My family actually has had a trip planned for early May for a while now before even knowing how much rain we’d be getting this winter. It sounds like we will be visiting during the perfect time and the perfect year to see the the wildflowers in full bloom.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Located about 75 miles north of Los Angeles, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is a must-visit destination for wildflower enthusiasts. The reserve is home to the largest remaining stand of California poppies in the state, and the bright orange flowers typically bloom from late February to May. The reserve also offers several hiking trails and picnic areas for visitors. I probably won’t make it out this location since it’s over 3 hours away from me but man, I sure want to. It looks like THE place to see poppies.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Located in eastern San Luis Obispo County, the Carrizo Plain National Monument is a remote and rugged area that’s home to a wide variety of wildflowers in the spring. Visitors can see a carpet of California poppies, lupines, and other flowers covering the hills and valleys of the plain. The area also offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the Temblor Range. This is another location I probably won’t get to check off my list, but wow it looks stunning!
Point Mugu State Park
Located along the coast in western Ventura County, Point Mugu State Park is a great place to see wildflowers in the spring. The park is home to a variety of coastal wildflowers, including California poppies, lupines, and sea figs. Visitors can see the wildflowers on the many hiking trails that wind through the park, offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding coastline. This is another location that is over 3 hours away for me but the pictures of the poppies with an ocean view, ugh, I would love to explore here.
And that completes my list of places I want to explore to see the wildflowers this year! What locations did I miss and have you had the chance to stop by any of these destinations yet?
While I am a summer girl through and through, I do love spring so very much. April is my birth month, and I love when when nature begins to bloom it starts getting warm enough to hit the trails again. May you all have a wonderful and “vibrant” spring this year!
As many of you many know, it is my goal to one day visit all 63 U.S. National Parks. I spend a good amount of my travels and blogging sharing my favorite hikes and adventures regarding visiting these parks. But, there are honestly so many other hidden gems to discover throughout just the United States alone that actually aren’t National Parks! We tend to go on quite a few quick weekend getaways in California destinations and have found so many cool spots along the way. From cute coastal towns to vineyards and wild nature spots, here is a simple round-up of some of the bucket list places we’ve visited throughout California so far!
I grew up in the Coachella Valley and have never been to Anza-Borrego, nor did I know so many incredible things were out there. We came across a few social media posts showcasing epic adventures and decided to start researching and planning a day trip. Here’s a guide to all we managed to pack into one fun-filled day!
Anza-Borrego is located in Southern California, east of San Diego, south of Palm Springs, and west of the Salton Sea. If you’re familiar with off-roading, it’s just minutes away from Ocotillo Wells.
Summers are very hot and dry with temperates often in the triple digits. Fall and spring temperates usually range from the mid-70’s to low-90’s and winter temperates tend to be chilly in the mornings (low 40’s) and perfect 70’s in the afternoons with occasional rain. We visited at the end of January and experienced great weather. If you want to see the wildflowers in full bloom, visit end of February through March depending on how much rain the area has had that winter!
Day Trip Itinerary
We began our day bright and early on a Saturday morning in January. We arrived at the slots around 8:30AM. We read a recommendation to start with the slots early morning as traffic through the canyon gets busier come late morning. The slots reminded me of a less bright orange/red version of Antelope Canyon; truly a hidden gem in the middle of the desert
Trailhead address: Borrego Mountain Wash, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA 92004
Distance: 1 mile out & back (or 2.2 miles if you do the full loop)
Difficulty: Easy Total Ascent: 100 feet (or 330 feet if you do the full loop)
There’s a $10 cash only parking fee
There are 2 restrooms at the parking lot
No dogs allowed
After Slot Canyon, we headed over to the Wind Caves. Wind Cave Trail is another short hike, about 1.25 miles round trip, taking you to these incredible rock formations with big holes that you can actually climb through. To get to the trail, you’re require to drive on a dirt road for about 4 miles. You will need a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. We drove in a Kia with 4WD and it was still very rocky and bumpy in some areas.
Trailhead address: Fish Creek Wash, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA 92004
Distance: 1.25 miles out & back
Difficulty: Easy Total Ascent: 250 feet
No dogs allowed
Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
After the wind caves, we headed for our final hike of the morning, Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. If you ‘re familiar with Palm Springs, this trail, just like its name suggests, reminds me a lot of the Palm Canyon trail in Indian Canyons. It takes you to a neat palm oasis in the middle of the desert. My mom printed out this numbered guide that corresponded with 15 numbered markers along the trail that gave information on the surrounding area, which was fun to follow along with. To reach the trailhead, you must drive through the entrance of Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, which requires a $10 dollar fee. If you’ve already paid at the Slot Canyons, show the ranger and they’ll provide you with a pass, no extra charge.
Trailhead address: Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA 92004
Distance: 3 miles out & back
Difficulty: Rate moderate Total Ascent: 300 feet
10 dollar parking fee
No dogs allowed
Lunch in Town
After our final hike of the day we head to the actual town of Borrego Springs to have lunch. We ate at a place called Carlee’s I believe?
From there, we then drove over to the famous sculptures most often seen in pictures of Anza-Borrego. Artist/welder Ricardo Breceda, crafted over 130 metal sculptures scattered around the area. Interesting to say the least.
Fonts Point Overlook
Finally, we ended the day with an incredible view at Fonts Point Overlook. We almost missed it because again it required another 4 miles of off-roading and the directions we had were not correct. We had given up and were driving home when we saw the correct turn off sign and decided to go for it. Wow, was it so worth it. Here you’ll find an incredible overlook into the Borrego Badlands. People also say sunrise and sunset are spectacular there.
Address: From Christmas Circle in Anza Borrego, head out on S-22 for ten miles. Right after the 29-mile marker, you will see a dirt road on the right and a sign that says Font’s Point, 4 miles. This is where you will turn and start the off-roading to Font’s Point.
Distance: Requires a 4 mile drive on a dirt road to get there
We really managed to pack in just about everything there is to see and do in Anza-Borrego in one day. Such a fun day trip!
Hiking Cactus-to-Clouds has always been a bucket-list goal of mine and this past November, I accomplished it. I am by no means in the best shape of my life, but hey, I freaking did it! If this trek is a goal of yours too, below is a few training and packing tips to help prepare! Happy hiking!
What is Cactus-to-Clouds
Cactus-to-Clouds is a 21 mile assent from the Palm Springs valley floor, at about 400 feet, up to the San Jacinto Peak at 10,834 feet. It is rated one of the hardest day hikes in the United States and the trail actually has the largest elevation gain out of any hike in the United States. Skyline trail takes you up about 9.4 miles, starting behind the Palm Springs Art Museum ascending up all the way to the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Then, to do the full Cactus-to-Clouds hike you must continue on for another 11 miles to the peak and back down to the tramway station to ride the tramcar back down to the valley floor.
I wrote a separate blog called Training for Cactus-to-Clouds, where I mostly talked about hiking different trails throughout the Coachella Valley each week with my mom to train for this hike. The blog was more centered around our journey together and not so much about what you realistically need to be able to do in order to be as prepared as possible for a hike like this. So, in this blog, I’ll list out a few tips and information for more practical advice!
How to Train for Cactus-To-Clouds
Tip #1: Cross-Training. As mentioned in my last blog, we did one hike each weekend at the start of our training and then increased to twice a week, taking on more strenuous trails as the date got closer. Aside from hiking though, we also added in other workouts on our own during the week. I was actually working with a personal trainer at the time who created a lifting program for me that I followed. Each workout program was four workouts each week for four weeks and then I’d get a new plan for the next four weeks and so on and so forth. Lifting weights allowed me to really strengthen my legs and increase my stamina. I would highly recommend cross-training in the gym or just with weights at home as a means for preparing yourself for a full day of hiking on an incline.
Tip #2: Mindful Eating. I am still very far from where I want to be with my daily eating habits, but, I did fairly well leading up to this hike. I didn’t drink any alcohol for about 2 weeks prior to the hike and my trainer was working with me on learning to track macros. Again, this is still a work in progress for me and I’m definitely not the person to give out advice in this area, but, I felt that I was at least being mindful of what I was fueling myself with which really helped me feel more prepared. I focused on drinking a gallon of water every day, and tried to preplan my meals to hit a specific number of calories and grams of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. I also stopped drinking coffee as breakfast and began focusing on having a good nutrient dense meal before any caffeine intake. Lastly, I discovered these magical magnesium tablets from a brand called Voost that seemed to really help aid in muscle and bone recovery! They also have electrolyte tablets that I’d highly recommend as well!
Tip #3: Write Out a Plan
This tip was already completely done for me by my wonderful master planning mother. BUT, for those of you that don’t have a mom with a mapped out notebook filled with hikes by week to follow, I’d recommend making your own! We started planning about three months ahead of our hike date and my mom wrote out which trails we’d be doing each week in order to feel ready. For reference in creating your own plan, avid hikers who know this trail like the back of their hand have said you should be able to do the Bump n’ Grind trail in Palm Desert (up the hard side) four times in a row to be able to take on a trail like Skyline (let alone Cactus-to-Clouds).
What to Pack
Here is a list of everything I packed, with links to a few recommended essential items.
Layers, Layers, Layers. – I wore biker shorts and a long sleeve dri-fit with a hat, which was perfect for the heat during the first half of the trek, and then I packed, sweatpants, a hoodie, a light wind breaker, and a larger warm jacket, a beanie and mittens. By the time I reached the peak I had every layer on and was so glad I packed it all.
1 Galloon of water (and some extra) – I brought four, one liter smartwaters. Not the most environmentally friendly I know, but, it was the most comfortable and cheap way I could think to pack them all on my back. I also packed four additional 16.9 ounce plastic water bottles that I preprepared with the Voost magnesium and electrolyte tablets ahead of time (linked below).
First-Aid Kit with some sort of compression wrap in case of a sprained ankle or other form of injury.
Headlamp (I started and ended the hike in complete darkness)
Walking sticks (these were life savers for my legs)
Runner’s Goo (linking my favorite below)
Snacks! I cut up two protein bars into small bite size pieces and put them in a baggie to snack on throughout the day. I’d also recommend some sort of salty snack like trail mix, crackers, etc. I also packed a peanut butter and honey sandwich which is alway my go-to trail food.
Hiking Backpack large enough to fit everything mentioned above (linking the pack I used below!)
Know Before You Go
Aside from what to pack, here’s a few other useful tips/information to consider.
Start at the Right Time – It is recommended you start this hike between 12 a.m. and 4 a.m. to allow yourself enough time to finish before the last tram car down at 9:30 p.m.
Hike During the Right Time of the Year – Fall and spring are the best seasons to do this hike so that the temperature isn’t too hot at the beginning and isn’t too cold as you reach the top. Temperatures in Palm Springs are in the triple digits during summer and temperates at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway are typically around 30 degrees in the winter with plenty of snow.
Pack AT LEAST 1 Gallon of Water – There are two rescue boxes along the trail that sometimes contain extra water left behind by other hikers and you can also fill up at the ranger station at the top of the tramway, but, I would highly, highly recommend not relying on these sources. You will be hiking for many hours and need to be properly hydrated the day before the hike AND during the hike.
You Will Need a Permit – You must obtain a permit before continuing on once you reach the top of the tram. The permits are free and located at the ranger station. This not only allows rangers to protect the wilderness but is also meant to keep you safe. With limited cell service in the San Jacinto mountains, permits allow the rangers to know if you’ve safely returned from your hike.
Know Where to Park at the Trailhead – 101 N Museum Dr, Palm Springs, CA, 92262, USA. Do not park in the museum parking lot or the parking garage across the street or you will be ticketed (or worse, towed). There is however, free street parking around the museum with plenty of spots if you start early morning. Also keep in mind, you will be finishing the hike at the parking lot at the bottom of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which is actually around 20 minutes from where you began your journey behind the Palm Springs Art Museum. Be sure to have a plan for how you will get back to your car.
Lastly, here are some trail markers that are helpful to know so you can see how far you’ve traveled and how many miles you still have left to go!
Cactus-to-Clouds is a 21 mile assent from the Palm Springs valley floor, at 400 feet, up to the San Jacinto Peak at 10,834 feet. It is rated one of the hardest day hikes in the United States and the trail actually has the largest elevation gain out of any hike in the United States. It is a bucket list trail for many avid hikers from all over the world!
I only heard of Cactus-to-Clouds just a few years ago, and I’ve grown up living in the desert my entire life! When I moved back to the Coachella Valley in 2018, I had just finished up my final softball season as a collegiate athlete. I was in prime shape. Jordan and I decided on the whim one day to hike Skyline trail, starting at around 9am that morning (very stupid idea but hey, we did it). Skyline trail takes you up about 9.4 miles from behind the Palm Springs Art Museum to the top of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, whereas the full Cactus-to-Clouds hike continues on for another 11 miles or so to the peak. Skyline was THE hardest hike we had ever done, BY FAR.
After that day, I vowed to never do that trail again. And then sure enough, just a few short weeks later I started getting the idea in my head that I wanted to complete the full Cactus-to-Clouds. Not sure why, but it became a someday goal of mine. A one day goal.
Training for Cactus-to-Clouds
Fast forward to 2022, I actually wrote down Cactus-to-Clouds in my journal in January as a 2022 goal I wanted to accomplish; making someday, a definite objective. As the year went by, I thought about moving it to the following year and started to think it wasn’t in the cards. Then come summer, my mom got this goal of her own in her head. She wanted to hike Skyline trail. And, if you know my mom, then you know if she sets her mind towards a goal, she’s going to do it and she’s going to plan it out to a tee. So, with that, she wrote out our training plans week by week. She convinced our family friend, Brad, who hikes skyline frequently (and can probably do it in 4 hours when the average is 9) to hike it with us as our guide. And along on our journey we went.
Tram to San Jacinto (Brad’s way) – September 11, 2022
Brad frequently has other people asking him to take them up Skyline. And because he knows the trail like the back of his hand, he has a pretty good idea of whether each person is capable or in the current state to actually be able to do it. So week 1, I believe he wanted to test us and see if we were capable. Granted, we hadn’t done a lot of hiking prior to that day, so we were a little worried. He took us up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on the first tramcar up at 8am that Sunday. We hiked to the San Jacinto Peak, except, we didn’t hike the regular 11 mile route, we went up a “super secret fun way” that was about 9 miles total and STRAIGHT UP in the wilderness. It was hard. It kicked our butts. And my mom and I were both feeling a bit deflated after that day. We did it though, and that hike was an accomplishment in and of itself.
Bump & Grind Trail – September 18, 2022
The following Sunday, my parents and I hiked the easy was up and back down the Bump & Grind trail in Palm Desert. It’s about 4.0 miles total, round trip. The Bump & Grind is a popular trail that locals like do for exercise. The left way up is considered the hard side, where as the right side is considered the easier route. Brad says you should be able to do the Bump & Grind 4x, up the hard side and down the easy side to be prepared for Skyline. That’s nuts.
Bump N’ Grind – September 25, 2022
The following Sunday, my mom and I did the Bump & Grind again but we went up the hard way that time. It’s also worth noting that I went wine tasting the night before and it was HOT that morning so, as you can tell by the picture, it kicked my butt.
Indio Hills Badlands – October 1, 2022
The following Saturday we hiked the Indio Hills Badlands Trail. This trail isn’t super strenuous but it is a 6.0 mile loop, so we definitely got our steps in that day. The trial takes you through a little section of slot canyons, with beautiful views of the lower desert throughout.
Bump N’ Grind x2 – October 9, 2022
On week 5 we hiked up the hard side of the Bump & Grind twice, about 8 miles total! It was tough but I will say, it’s really beautiful stopping at the top and seeing the change in the sky about an hour later.
Tahquitz Peak Idyllwild – October 15, 2022
On week 6, we enjoyed a nice fall getaway to Idyllwild Pine-Cove. Saturday morning we got up and hiked Tahquitz Peak. Tahquitz is about 8.5-miles out-and-back, with around 2,800 ft total elevation gain. On average, it takes about 5 hours to complete. The views from the top are stunning and Idyllwild is always a favorite place of mine to go hiking.
Bump N’ Grind – October 19, 2022 Rescue Box 1 – October 22, 2022
On week 7, we stepped it up a notch. We hiked up the hard side of the Bump & Grind on Wednesday evening and then on Saturday, we hiked up Skyline trail just to Rescue Box 1. For reference, it’s about 3 miles to Rescue Box 1 with about 2,000 ft of elevation gain in just those 3 miles. Brutal. The decent down was actually the worst part though. It’s so steep hiking down and my mom unfortunately twisted the same knee she had surgery on two year ago.
Tram to San Jacinto Peak
Week 8 was our final weekend hiking until we took on Skyline/Cactus-to-Clouds. We hiked up to San Jacinto Peak, the regular 11-mile route. It took us nearly 6 hours and my moms knee was really bothering her coming down. She could barely move it the next day.
15 hours, 21 miles and 10,400 ft. elevation gain later, I FREAKING DID IT. Cactus to Clouds trail. The largest elevation gain hike in the United States. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, physically, mentally, emotionally. I freaking did it.
I’d like to write a blog here soon just on the journey itself, so stay tuned!
Every week for two months, my mom and I had hiked together training to do Skyline Trail (and continuing on for another 11 miles afterwards to the peak had been a bucket list goal of mine). Ultimately it was decided that Skyline wasn’t something to go into unsure of about a knee injury, so my mom decided it was best to back out. I was so bummed for my mama and I know she was too but we honestly had such a journey together! It was so fun and rewarding training every week just the two of us.
And while after completing Cactus-to-Clouds, I once again vowed I’d never do that damn trail again, I’ve already told my mama I’d train again with her next year so she can accomplish her goal too.