While Coachella Valley Preserve may be known for its palm oasis, it also boasts a trail with great views – Herman’s Hike. The loop hike takes hikers to three oasis, two viewpoints and shows off the area’s scenery to the north, south, east and west.
I recommend starting the hike at the Visitor’s Center (directions below). It’s a good place to get a preserve map and check on trail conditions before you head out. While the docent recommended doing the Herman’s Hike loop clockwise, I decided to hike it counter-clockwise because I’ve struggled to find the trails at Willis Palms.
From the Visitor’s Center, walk outside and turn right. You’re now hiking through Thousand Palms Oasis – one of the largest groves of desert fan palms in California. This oasis has a system of boardwalks through the palms and over the water in the area. Hopefully you’ll notice the numbered signs in the area. Those numbers correspond with the trail guide on the back of your map. If you read the trail guide as you hike by the signs, you’ll learn more about the palm trees (like they grow up to 60 feet high), the San Andreas Fault in this area, the plants, the climate and the animals who live here.
The nature trail winds through the desert toward McCallum Grove (oasis). About a half mile from the Visitor’s Center, you’ll come to a “neighborhood” of sorts with at least two houses. There’s also a trail split here for Moon Country. I recommend staying on the main trail to McCallum Grove. Just before you reach McCallum Grove, you’ll come to another trail split for Moon Country. I recommend hiking the short distance to McCallum Grove and walking around the ponds here. McCallum Grove is a peaceful place. There is typically a good sized pond here. As you walk around the water, look for crayfish and frogs in the water and maybe ducks on the surface.
When you’re done exploring McCallum Grove, return to that last trail split for Moon Country and head west.
After hiking across the flat desert, the trail to Moon Country begins to gain a little elevation in this next section. Notice the hills here and of course, the views. Follow the signs for Vista Point. It’s about a third of a mile from the last trail split to a sign that marks Vista Point. Turn and walk a few steps to a nice view point of the area. Look for the tell-tale green areas that mark the nearby oasis. Enjoy the views of the nearby hills and the wash below you. You may even see a few homes.
When you’re done, return to the main trail as it begins to wind through moon country. Soon the trail gets rockier as it winds through the hills. About 2.4 miles from the Visitors Center, the trail drops back to the main wash and a split. As you hike down to the wash, look across the wash to the hills across the way, you should see a trail crisscrossing up the hill on the other side of the wash. That’s Herman’s Hike.
At the wash, you can turn right and head into the nearby canyons, but I suggest heading across the wash straight toward Herman’s Hike. The bottom of the trail had a generic sign for the preserve in 2013 – it only said Coachella Valley Preserve. However, the trail going up the hill, on the southwest side of the wash, is the Herman’s Hike Trail.
Now the hike gets harder. You’re about to climb some 600+ feet in the next mile. When the trail gets steep, take a break and enjoy the views. As you get higher, you’ll see views of the Moon Country canyons to the northwest and even the Visitor’s Center to the west. At the top, you’ll get great views to the south including the Coachella Valley stretching from the east to the west.
It’s about 3.5 miles to the top of the mountain at 1,260 feet high. (You can cut that by about 0.75 miles by skipping McCallum Grove and taking the shorter Moon Country Trail in the wash, instead of the ridge, but that wouldn’t be as scenic.)
The plateau at the top doesn’t last longer and just a few steps later, you’ll find you’re already hiking downhill. Watch your step and enjoy the views. Make sure you look at the ridges and canyons below you – one canyon looked very “moon-like” to me with muddy craters.
It’s about another mile from the top to the next split at the Willis Loop. Take a look at your map. Hikers can turn right here to add a little more distance and come out on the far west side of the Willis Palms oasis. I wanted to see Willis Palms, but I didn’t need the longer distance so I turned left here. Interestingly, the trail changed here. It went from a single-track hiking trail, to a wide road. On the map, it showed the trail changed from a hiker-only trail to a hiker and equestrian trail – maybe that’s why it was wider.
As I continued downhill, I saw a couple more trail splits that were unmarked. However, I think both were old trails, because when I looked closely, they either went nowhere or they had a line of rocks across the path to mark them as closed.
Eventually I hit another signed trail split marking Willis Palms or trailhead. Well, since I walked all this way, I chose Willis Palms. The Willis Palms Trail is a skinnier, hiker-only trail again. It crossed a plateau, went over a ridge and then dropped down into the oasis. The trail down to the oasis is rocky and steep, but it was worth it. When the trail ended in the oasis, the temperature in the trees was cooler and refreshing.
Quite honestly, I lost the trail here. I’m not sure where it went. But since I had been to Willis Palms before, I knew to hike down the hill, through the trees, to the wash below. It was just a short distance from the canopy of the trees to the trail that runs along the south side of the oasis. However, as soon as I left the tree cover, the temperature went back. It was a good reminder that you need to hike here when it’s cooler and bring plenty of water.
At the wash/trail, turn left/southeast. Enjoy the palms as you walk through them and by them. You may notice many of the palm trees here have burned trunks. A fire swept through this area in November 2010. It appears the fire burned the dead fronds and debris, but most of the trees survived. In 2013, the green fronds were growing on top and the trees looked healthy. Be careful walking through the trees though, you don’t want to damage the fragile landscape. As for the cause of the fire, most articles say the cause was never determined.
The hike from the Willis Palms oasis back to the main road is about a half mile. At the very small parking lot, it’s decision time. Technically, the trail crosses the road and winds through the desert on the east side of the road. Quite honestly, I took the road back, but hiking in the desert will be more scenic and safer. From the Willis Palms trailhead back to the parking lot is about 2 miles.
Details: The hike around the loop with the loop around McCallum Pond, hiking the Moon County ridge and taking the trail to Willis Palms is about 8.25 miles with about 800 feet of elevation gain.
Check out more than 25 other great hikes in the Coachella Valley area.
Admission: Please consider a $5 donation per person.
Directions: From Interstate 10, exit Bob Hope Drive and north. Go to Varner Road and turn right/east. Turn left/north on Ramon Road and drive north about 4.5 miles to 1000 Palms Canyon Road. Turn left and drive 2 miles to the preserve's parking lot on the left.