The Coachella Valley, nestled between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, is best known for music festivals and golf courses, but the Coachella Valley Preserve System protects a fragile and diversely beautiful desert habitat in an area otherwise overrun by suburban sprawl. The 880 acre Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve section is shaped by the San Andreas fault zone and contains rare palm oases and desert wetlands. From the Visitor Center, 28 miles of trails alternate across rocky desert wash and lush hidden pools protected by native California fan palms. An easy hike to the hidden pools of the McCallum Grove combines with a loop through the alien hills of Moon Country to bring home the spectacular desert contrasts.
Begin the hike with a stop at the Visitor Center tucked deep into a palm grove for a map and chat with the staff.
The hike begins at a set of wooden stairs a few yards north of the Visitor Center. A wooden pathway and stairs cut through the towering palm grove.
When the stairway emerges from the grove, you will be in broad, sage-filled Thousand Palms Canyon with the barren hills of Moon Country on your left (west).
The next clump of fan palms ahead of you is the McCallum Grove, sheltering deep oasis pools. Head toward the grove on the dirt path–it is flat and easy to follow.
As you approach the grove, the trail splits. The Moon Country Loop makes a deflated, backwards P to your left. I recommend continuing straight ahead to visit the oasis first for the most stunning contrast. After the Moon Country loop, if you haven’t had your fill, you can always stop back by the shaded pools.
Aaahhh, the McCallum Grove, or as the trail sign says, McCallum Pond. There is more than one pool. Take the time to breathe it in.
Retrace your steps and return to the signed split. Take a right to add on the Moon Country Loop. To shorten your hike, you can always return to this Visitor Center/Parking Area and skip Moon Country altogether. A visit to the McCallum Grove only will make your hike an easy, flat 2-mile round trip.
Heading into Moon Country, the trail goes over a rise as it heads toward a wash and Moon Country Canyon. The landscape contrast is startling. Creosote bushes dot the mostly barren hills.
The trail is signed and outlined with rocks, but it can disappear into the hard-packed landscape.
After the rise the trail drops into the wash, which runs roughly back toward the McCallum Grove, Visitor Center and parking lot.
After it hits the wash, you will turn left at a signed junction to head back toward the McCallum Grove and Visitor Center. The sign also points in the direction of Moon Country Canyon. The trail does continue, but this is not a through-canyon and you would have to backtrack to pick up the loop again. You will likely want to head back now on the return loop. The loop gives you the gist of the landscape without broiling you under the exposed sky.
Your path follows the wash southeast to connect with the split just south of the McCallum Grove. At the split, you will turn right. The landscape becomes more refreshing again as you return on the same out and back you used to reach the McCallum Grove.
As you approach the Visitor Center, there is a shortcut to the parking lot.
The trail begins as a set of wooden stairs and a walkway leading from Visitor Center level. The bulk of the trail is a level, well-maintained dirt trail with signage.
The Coachella Valley is suburban with plenty of lodging including great options in the towns of Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs. The best nearby camping is available at Cottonwood Campground in the southern section of Joshua Tree National Park, about 45 minutes away.
From the intersection of S Palm Canyon Drive and Ramon Rd in Palm Springs, take Ramon Rd. east. Continue for 12.6 miles. Turn left onto Thousand Palms Canyon Road and continue for 2 miles. The entrance to the preserve will be on your left.