Palm Springs is California’s quintessential outdoor destination, with abundant sunshine and activities that keep the whole family occupied. From adrenaline-filled rides and cross-country skiing to laidback nature walks and world-class golfing, you get to experience all kinds of adventures in the Coachella Valley.

    It's no surprise that Palm Springs is a hiker’s paradise, thanks to miles of scenic trails amid iconic landscapes such as Joshua Tree National Park and Mount Jacinto State Park. Check out our guide to the best outdoor adventures in Palm Springs.

    1

    Ride a hot air balloon

    Take in an aerial view of the desert

    • Adventure
    • Couples
    • Families
    • Photo

    See Coachella Valley from a unique perspective with a hot-air balloon ride. You can spot a host of interesting sights during the flight, from mountains and golf courses to apple orchards and vineyards.

    Various vendors in Palm Springs offer this service, though Balloons Above is one of the city’s most popular options. Flights are family-friendly, with complimentary shuttle service available from major desert resorts. In-flight champagne is available for parents. For a real surprise, treat your child to a birthday or graduation celebration thousands of feet in the air. It’s only available in summer, so book tickets well in advance.

    Location: Washington St, Bermuda Dunes, CA 92203, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +1 760-347-0410

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    2

    Indian Canyons

    Explore historic native trails on horseback

    • Adventure
    • Couples
    • Families
    • Photo

    The Agua Caliente Indian Canyons, once home to the native Cahuilla people, is a nature preserve and recreational activity mecca just south of Palm Springs. Nature lovers will find miles of hiking trails leading to dramatic canyons, such as the popular Palm Canyon.

    Looking for a romantic date night? Go for a guided moonlit horseback ride from the historic Smoke Tree Stables. Knowledgeable guides take you on adventurous trails and share interesting folk tales of the native people. Make sure to stop by the Trading Post visitor centre to grab a map.

    Location: 38520 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +1 760-323-6018

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    3

    Joshua Tree National Park

    Camp under the night sky

    • Adventure
    • Photo

    Joshua Tree National Park is a remarkable yet bizarre destination for those looking to get closer to nature. Accessible within a 45-minute drive east of Palm Springs, the landscape of twisted Joshua trees and alien-like rock formations make for great photo ops.

    The 794,000-acre preserve has hiking trails and back-country camping opportunities, offering unparalleled views of the stars at night. Due to its remoteness, light pollution is non-existent, but just keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and scorpions while gazing heavenwards. Make sure to bring food and water, as there’s no place to buy these once inside the park.

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    Location: 6554 Park Blvd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, USA

    Phone: +1 760-367-5500

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    4

    Mount Jacinto State Park

    High-altitude, cross-country skiing

    • Adventure

    Mount Jacinto State Park is a year-round paradise for outdoor lovers in Palm Springs. The area enjoys mild temperatures during summer, making it a favourite destination for hiking and camping. Wintertime brings a whole different crowd to the park – cross-country skiers. Ski rentals are easily available in the nearby mountain village of Idyllwild.

    Make sure to plan as Mount Jacinto State Park is only accessible by hiking or taking the Palm Springs Tramway. Note that you need permits for overnight camping.

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    Location: 25905 CA-243, Idyllwild, CA 92549, USA

    Phone: +1 951-659-2607

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    5

    Coachella Valley Preserve

    Palm-flanked nature trails for self-guided walks

    • Adventure
    • Photo

    The Coachella Valley Preserve is a myriad of desert creatures and lush greenery, attracting those looking to enjoy a scenic walk. You can embark in a self-guided journey or opt for the McCallum Trail guided tour to learn all about the desert ecosystem from enthusiastic volunteers. If you want to raise the heart rate, try the more difficult Herman's Hike Loop or Pushwalla Palms Trail.

    Don’t miss the stunning 1,000-acre palm oasis, the crown jewel of the preserve. It was the backdrop for the 1961 American Biblical epic film, King of Kings. Coachella Valley Preserve in within a 10-minute drive of the golf course mecca of Palm Desert.

    Location: 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Rd, Thousand Palms, CA 92276, USA

    Open: Wednesday–Sunday from 7 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)

    Phone: +1 760-34-31234

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    6

    Living Desert Zoo & Gardens

    Meet real-life desert-dwellers up close and personal

    • Adventure
    • Families

    A visit to the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is a unique family day out in Palm Springs. Sprawled over 1,200 acres, the zoo features over 450 wild animals, miles of hiking trails and colourful botanical gardens. It focuses on educating visitors about the creatures and ecology of the deserts of North America and Africa.

    Get up close with rare species such as jaguars and bighorn sheep, and revel in the height of the planet’s tallest animals – giraffes. Make sure to bring your hiking shoes as the Living Desert has acres of undisturbed desert land that’s open seasonally to the public. Arrive early to beat the summer heat and see the animals at their most active.

    Location: 47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 760-346-5694

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    7

    San Andreas Fault

    Go off-roading along the country’s most active fault line

    • Adventure

    The San Andreas Fault gives you a rare glimpse into the world-renowned earthquake zone. The area is also home to among the best off-roading opportunities in the country.

    Discover the desert from the bed of an open-top jeep on a Desert Adventures tour, which has knowledgeable staff and exclusive access to parts of the fault line. If you’re looking to ramp up the adrenaline, rent an ATV or dune buggy from ATV Experience and follow their pre-mapped routes. For a unique adventure, book a stargazing session at Metate Ranch’s recreated mining town.

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    8

    Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

    Hike through this dramatic native heritage park

    • Adventure
    • Budget

    The Santa Rosa & San Jacinto National Monument is a backcountry hiking paradise, with access from both the Palm Springs and Idyllwild sides of the mountains. Managed by the BLM and USFS, the monument is a spectacular place to view wildflowers and take a dip in hot springs.

    Walk in the steps of the native Cahuilla peoples by summiting the sacred peaks of Santa Rosa Mountain and Tahquitz Peak. Make sure to pick up a map ahead of time to navigate the expansive network of trails connecting village ruins, campsites, and other areas of importance. You can enter without paying a fee, and campsites are first-come, first-serve.

    Location: CA-74, Palm Desert, CA 92260, USA

    Phone: +1 760-862-9984

    Map

    photo by Bureau of Land Management (CC BY 2.0) modified

    9

    Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

    The world's largest rotating tramcar

    • Adventure
    • Families
    • Photo

    The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway runs over 2.5 miles along the dramatic Chino Canyon cliffs, taking you to the Mt. Jacinto State Park. During the 10-minute journey, the tram rotates slowly supplying spectacular views of the Coachella Valley.

    Mountain Station is the terminus of the tramway, at 8,500 ft above sea level. It keeps you occupied all day through a variety of activities. Observation decks offer stunning photo ops, while 2 restaurants are on-site to give you much-needed refreshment. Dive into the history of the region at the Natural History Museum and watch a riveting documentary at one of the on-site theatres. You can buy a Ride ‘n’ Dine Pass to keep the family day out affordable.

    Location: 1 Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262, USA

    Open: Friday–Monday from 8 am to 4.20 pm (closed from Tuesdays to Thursdays)

    Phone: +1 888-515-8726

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    10

    PGA West Golf Club

    Play a round at this prestigious desert club

    • Adventure
    • Luxury

    PGA West Golf Club offers 6 championship-calibre courses designed by golfing legends such as Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus. Dramatic mountain scenery, rolling desert hills, and a plethora of sand traps are the courses’ signature features.

    Start your trip with a round at the Stadium Course, paying close attention to the 17th hole, aptly named ‘Alcatraz’ due to the challenging green girt by water. The only 2 other courses open to the public at PGA West Golf Club are Greg Norman and Nicklaus Tournament.

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    Ryan Thomas McNutt | Contributing Writer

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    Attractions and experiences recommended in our guides may be affected. Please check local guidance before you travel.

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