If you enjoy palm trees, Thousand Palms Oasis/Coachella Valley Preserve features trails to six different oasis. While Willis Palms Oasis doesn't see many visitors, the loop is a nice four-mile walk with an oasis and views. However, you'll need to bring your sense of adventure and be good at watching for signs if you want to hike this trail.
The hike starts at a small trailhead on Thousand Palms Road (directions below). Walk around the fence and start the hike on the wide, dirt road. Just a few steps away from the parking lot, hikers get their first glimpse of the Willis Palms Oasis in the distance.
The trail crosses a couple washes as it heads toward the oasis. At the start of the trees is one of the first brown trail markers. While it points equestrians one way and hikers two other ways, the hiker trail doesn't really go anywhere. Stay on the main trail along the south side of the oasis, until you see the trail signs that say "Willis Oasis" and "Willis Palms Oasis."
At this spot, visitors for the oasis go into the palms, but those of us hiking the loop stay on the same, dirt trail along the front side of the oasis.
Continue past the trees, until you see a yellow sand dome about 0.8 miles from the trailhead. Continue on the main trail, around the yellow dome, past a couple more yellow sandy areas, until you see a brown trail sign with an arrow directing you to veer right. Don't turn left here, there's some sort of ranch that way.
As you hike up the valley, about a mile from the trailhead, the trail suddenly drops into a wash. Turn right here. How do you know to turn right? 1. You'll see the footprints. 2. Look upstream and you should spot another brown trail sign.
About 1.3 miles from the trailhead, there was a very obvious trail split. I had no idea which way to go, until I spotted yet another brown trail sign. This one had fallen into the shrubs, but it appeared to point right. (It did.)
The trail now goes up a canyon with mud walls. It gets narrower as it winds its way up the valley. Follow this for about another half mile to a place where the canyon gets wider and another trail split appears. Another brown sign appears to point hikers to the right.
As you hike this section, keep your eyes open. The trail goes up at some point. It's about 0.4 miles (about 2.2 miles from the trailhead) from the last split to the turnoff up the hill. Quite honestly, because there was no sign, no cairn and no marking in December 2013, I ended up going up the canyon. I knew I was in the wrong place when I stopped seeing brown trail signs and when I got to climbs no horse could make (this is a horse and hike trail). I backtracked and spotted the turnoff.
From here, the trail climbs about 100 feet of elevation in 0.2 miles to a marked trail split. Here you'll see a sign pointing the way to Moon Country, Herman's Hike, Willis Loop and Willis Palms Oasis. Turn right to continue the loop.
After enjoying the canyon, now you're above it. Enjoy the views of the canyons, the mountains in the distance and even the city.
As you walk this wide road, you'll pass two unmarked left turns that don't go anywhere. Stay on the main trail. It's about a mile from the major trail split to the next signed split for Willis Palms and the trailhead. Here you have two options -- go back to the oasis or take the cutoff back to the parking lot. Because I had walked by the oasis already, I decided to take the cutoff back to the trailhead. But if you want to explore the oasis more, take the trail to the oasis, down into the trees, then return on the same trail (the one in front of the oases) that you hiked in on.
Details: The hike around the loop is about 4.1 miles with about 375 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Interstate 10, exit Ramon Road and drive north about 4.5 miles to 1000 Palms Canyon Road. Turn left and drive 2 miles to the preserve's Visitor's Center on the left. The parking area for the Willis Palms trail is about 1.5 miles south of the Visitor's Center, or 0.5 miles from the intersection of Ramon Road and 1000 Palms Canyon Rd.
Fee: The suggested donation is $5 per person.
Map: Before taking the trail, I highly recommend a stop at the Visitor's Center for a map and to check on trail conditions.