Desert Hidden Wonders: Coachella Valley Preserve

For many locals, the Coachella Valley Preserve has been – for the most part – a well-kept secret in the valley, offering hikers of all ages and levels the opportunity to explore miles of wildlife and trails, learn about the San Andreas Fault that runs through the oasis, and take in beautiful sites and views, all within the hills of the Thousand Palms Canyon.

The Preserve is unique to other hiking locations in the desert as it offers approximately 20,000 acres of hiking trails, and is home to the Thousand Palms Oasis, which is fed by water coming from the San Andreas Fault in the form of springs, ponds, and creeks throughout the property. These same springs, ponds, and creeks are also the main water source for the California fan palms, otherwise known as Washingtonia filifera, that are also found all throughout the Preserve.

What makes this place special for my husband, Anthony, and I are the memories it holds for him of his childhood. Anthony used to come here a lot with his dad and brothers growing up, and spent much time exploring the area. He told me he was always intrigued with the Oasis, and often wondered, as a kid, how there could be water in the middle of the desert and where it came from.

Taking advantage of the amazing weather we have been experiencing out here in the valley recently, Anthony and I decided to make our way out to the Preserve and immerse ourselves with nature, all while getting in a much-needed workout to start our Saturday morning.

Hiking trails at the Preserve include the McCallum Trail, Herman’s Hike, Moon Country, Pushawalla Palms, Hidden Palms, Indian Palms, Horseshoe Palms, and Willis Palms. They range from easy to moderately difficult, and include flat terrain to rugged hilltops that may cause you to lose your breath here and there (take it from someone who knows this and experienced this while out there)!

Upon arriving to the Preserve, Anthony and I decided it was best to start by visiting the Visitors’ Center, known as the “Palm House,” located in the Paul Wilhem Grove, right in the entrance of the Preserve, to get a couple of maps and general information on where to head first. As we entered the Palm House, we were greeted by the sweetest volunteer, who gave us a brief history lesson about the Preserve and advised us on what we could see and do while there. To my surprise, he explained that the land had originally been someone’s home back in the early 1900’s, and that the Visitors’ Center has been around since the 1930’s and 1940’s, when campers started coming around to explore.

As we started on our two-mile round-trip hiking adventure on the McCallum Trail, what stood out to me the most was the beauty and wonder that this place holds. Before beginning the hike, each visitor is greeted by massive California fan palms that guard the hike trail entrance, in the most inviting way possible. Making our way into the trail, the first thing we encountered was a wooden bridge that took us over a swampy creek that eventually led us to a clean, sandy walkway where we then encountered wildflowers and open desert views.

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What was most enjoyable about this hike was the end, as we came up to the McCallum Pond – an area where most stop for a break, take in the desert oasis scenery, or just sit back and enjoy watching the fish in the pond as they swim along.

Further down the way from the McCallum Pond, we came across a Vista Point trail, which we definitely had to follow! The Vista Point is somewhat of a distance to reach, and I do remember thinking if we'd ever get there at one point, but we eventually made it.

We climb a hilltop ridge that overlooked most areas of the Preserve, as well as other nearby trails. As we looked at the valley in front of us, it felt nice visiting the Preserve together and relaxing for a moment at the top, before descending back down. 

Visiting the Preserve is free, but donations are accepted and greatly appreciated for the maintenance of the Palm House and the continued work and improvements done to the trail grounds.

Other activities to take advantage of at the Preserve are the free-guided tours offered by volunteer hike leaders, equestrian trails, or enjoying a picnic while in the Oasis, McCallum Grove or Pushawalla Palms.

If you are interested in visiting, the Coachella Valley Preserve - Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is located at 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Road, Thousand Palms, CA, 92276. Parking is limited and is located to the left-hand side of the road. I recommend arriving early and carpooling with friends if possible, to avoid parking on the street.

Hours of operation are 7 am to 5 pm from the months of October through April, and 6 am to 8 pm from the months of May through September.

To learn more about the Preserve, visit www.coachellavalleypreserve.org

Notes by Cin