You would not expect to find a Whitewater River in the vicinity of Palm Springs, but this surprising river is vital for the fertility of the Coachella Valley, bringing wonderful water from the San Bernardino Mountains to the desert below where it empties into the Salton Sea. Journeyman hikers can pass through Whitewater Preserve on the Pacific Crest Trail and day hikers can get in on the action too. Venture up a stretch of the PCT on Canyon View Loop Trail, a 3.75-mile hike with 650 feet of elevation gain that achieves panoramic views over the 2,851-acre preserve. The loop crosses the Whitewater River and climbs a ridge to big views up Whitewater Canyon into the San Bernardino Mountains and down the canyon toward the San Jacinto Mountains.
Start from a ranger station next to a series of trout ponds at the end of Whitewater Canyon Road and set out north up a well-groomed trail lined with large rocks. Near the start, you will pass a boulder that has been inscribed with the distances to some of the possible destinations from this trailhead. In case you were curious, it is 219.1 miles to Mexico and 2,445.4 miles to Canada via the Pacific Crest Trail. To reach the PCT (even for the shorter Canyon View Loop Trail), you will pass through a pair of early junctions that are well marked. At 0.15 miles from the start, bear right at a wooden post, following an arrow for the PCT. Shortly thereafter you will reach a second junction where you will turn left, again following an arrow for the PCT. This will take you west across the bottom of the canyon over the floodplain that borders the Whitewater River. On either side of the canyon there are tall walls of cream-colored sandstone.
Half a mile from the start, you will cross the Whitewater River, where you can use a short wooden footbridge to get across (unless it’s been swept away by a recent flood). The river flows year round, but if the water level is low, you might be able to rock hop across it too. Continuing up the trail, you will pass through a wilderness boundary and come to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, 2/3 of a mile from the start. If you want to stretch your legs with a trek up to Yosemite National Park or the Canadian border, you would turn right to hike north up the Pacific Crest Trail. This side of the PCT can also be used to reach Red Dome, another destination within Whitewater Preserve. To hike Canyon View Loop Trail, turn left and head south up the PCT.
The Pacific Crest Trail ventures into a side canyon off Whitewater Canyon and launches into a string of switchbacks. With each turn, you will gain broader views over Whitewater Canyon and see farther and farther north into the San Bernardino Mountains. Climb out of the side canyon, gaining 475 feet over 0.9 miles to come to another junction marked by a wooden post. Turn left here onto Canyon View Loop Trail (unless you’re trying to hike to Mexico).
Canyon View Look Trail follows a ridge south along the west wall of Whitewater Canyon. The ridge is fairly level, allowing easy hiking and extended views up and down the canyon.
As you hike south, you will enjoy new views down the canyon toward the corridor between Palm Springs and Banning that is occupied by the 10 Freeway and the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm. Across this gap rises another mountain range, the San Jacinto Mountain, and farther in the distance, the Santa Rosa Mountains.
Canyon View Loop Trail crosses a shallow dip on the ridgeline and pops over another panoramic crest where you will pass through a cattle fence as the trail turns seriously downhill, 2.35 miles from the start. A steady string of switchbacks will take you off the ridge and back into Whitewater Canyon. As you descend, you will enjoy alternating views up and down Whitewater Canyon. To the south, you can watch windmills churning in San Gorgonio Pass and scope out the summit of San Jacinto Peak on a cloud-free days.
In 3/4 of a mile, you will come to the bottom of Canyon View Loop Trail at Whitewater Canyon Road. Turn left and walk 0.2 miles along the side of the road, crossing Whitewater River to find another trail leaving the road to venture back to the trailhead
From here, 0.45 miles are left in the loop. Stay to the right through two junctions to return to the ranger station. The trail ends near the southwest end of the parking lot, at the opposite end as the start of the trail. If you’re parking on the other side, enjoy a nice walk through the picnic area and past the trout ponds to return to your vehicle.
Dogs are welcome on Canyon View Loop Trail (no bikes). The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Give yourself ample time to get back to your vehicle before dark to avoid being gated in. No fee or permit is required to day hike in Whitewater Preserve (parking at the trailhead is free), so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Palm Springs, go north on Indian Canyon Drive for 4 miles and get on interstate 10, heading west toward Los Angeles. Drive 5.5 miles and take exit 114 for Whitewater. At the end of the offramp, turn right onto Tipton Drive. Go a quarter mile and turn left up Whitewater Canyon Road. Turn left and drive 4.7 miles up Whitewater Canyon Road and turn into the parking area on the left.
Trailhead address: 9160 Whitewater Canyon Road, Whitewater, CA 92282
Trailhead coordinates: 33.989183, -116.656132 (33° 59′ 21.05″N 116° 39′ 22.07″W)
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