Nature Lovers Need to Trek on Over to The Living Desert Zoo for an Unforgettable Palm Desert Hiking Experience
Written By: Dr. Paula Trimble-Familetti
Photos Provided By: The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens Palm Desert Hikes
If it were not for the delighted laughter of children, you might think you were an early explorer in the Sonoran Desert. Leave the paved walkways of The Living Desert and Gardens and step onto the sandy hiking trails. The massive creosote bushes sway gently in the desert breeze, harboring the delicate desert life which their very existence helps to sustain. Our desert land, the entire bowl of the Coachella Valley, stretches in front of you. Look to your right. You might see a majestic bighorn sheep watching your progress. The Living Desert boasts three dedicated desert hiking trails which are open October through May. Whichever trail you take, be prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.
Palm Desert Hikes
The first and shortest of the trails is the Discovery Loop. It is a quarter mile leisurely stroll on level ground. The terrain is flat, sandy and full of native plants. Look for the palo verde with its green trunk and branches. In the spring, it is covered with tiny yellow or white flowers. You might think the spiny smoketree is dead unless you see it in bloom covered in a riot of delicate purple flowers. The bees, collecting pollen from these flowers, cause the tree to sound as if it has an electrical current running through it. The entire Discovery Loop is about a 10-minute walk, but you may want to pause and read the signs which point out special features of the desert landscape or sit quietly on one of the benches and take in the desert beauty. Don’t try to take a stroller. The sand is very soft. If you are walking with your children, remember that many desert plants are very prickly.
Native Knowledge: The first year that The Living Desert was open, it had 5,000 visitors. Last year, it hosted over 475,000.
The Adventure Loop is a one-mile hike. On this trail, you will explore an arroyo or desert wash, dry stream beds and a gentle rise up the mountain. From the top of the hill, you can look across the Coachella Valley. Scattered along the edges of the path are carpets of white, purple, pink and yellow flowers, a sign of this spring’s superbloom. A sign serves an important reminder: “Stay on the trail. Footprints mar the natural setting and obscure evidence of desert life.”
Native Knowledge: Local Boy Scout troops helped construct the original trails in 1971.
Plan ahead for the Wilderness Loop. This three-and-a-half mile hike is described by many as a spiritual experience. It is also very challenging climbing through the boulder fields of a rocky desert canyon, and switchbacks rising to 1,000 feet. Expect this hike to take three hours or more. Because of the remoteness on this hike, you may see many desert animals. Remember, they are in their natural habitat. Watch where you walk and where you put your hands. Listen to the quiet. It is almost deafening.
Native Knowledge: The 100-year flood of 1976 washed out all the trails and left the residents of Ironwood Country Club, adjacent to The Living Desert, with mud up to their windows. The Coachella Valley Water District cut channels to divert the water.
The miles of paved walkways at The Living Desert are a hike in themselves. A stroller can be pushed easily and smoothly along the flat, even sidewalks. Children delight in the multitude of animals along these trails and walkways. They are also captivated by the concrete prints of animals on the trail. Some of the prints are footprints like roadrunners and bighorn sheep. Others are more ominous like the sidewinder and rattlesnake. Children can see animals from Africa at one end of the park and animals from North America at the other end. Don’t miss the Endangered Species Carousel!
Native Knowledge: The Living Desert’s education programs reach nearly 100,000 children a year.
Adventurous mini-hikes veer away from the paved walkways of The Living Desert. Travel off the pavement to Madagascar and take a moment among the black, volcanic boulders in the cool shade of scented thorn trees, fever trees and lush felt plants. Children will love Opuntia Canyon. Fan palms densely shade this canyon with their long skirts intact and a plethora of enormous boulders for children to run around and play on. Some of the other mini-hikes include the Yucca Garden, featuring a variety of yucca plants that range from the dwarf yucca to the Joshua tree. The Sage Garden boasts more species of sage than you ever knew existed. The delightful and unique barrel cactus garden is an easy and beautiful walk.
Native Knowledge: The Living Desert opened in 1970 as a preserve for the natural environment under the umbrella of the Palm Springs Desert Museum. When the Palm Springs Desert Museum became the Palm Springs Art Museum, The Living Desert became its own non-profit entity.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
47900 Portola Ave
Palm Desert, CA 92260