Hiking Andreas Canyon: Agua Caliente Oasis

There once was a time at least 2,000 years ago, when the only voices heard in the desert below San Jacinto were those of the Cahuilla people.

At a time when the Roman Empire ruled over most of Europe and the Middle East, the Cahuillas lived here in relative peace. The Romans are gone, of course. But that’s a story for another day. The Cahuilla live on.

Mural in the city of Indio, (near Palm Springs) depicting a Cahuilla village. Photo courtesy: indio.org

The Cahuilla in the Palm Springs area are known as the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Literally meaning “hot water” in Spanish, these First Nations people were named for hot springs in the area. Long ago, they built complex communities in the Palm, Murray, Andreas, Tahquitz and Chino canyons. Let’s take a closer look.

Two traditional Cahuilla homes, called Wikiups, are on display near the parking lot of Andreas Canyon.

By 1866, the U.S. Federal Government, then the de facto owners of the land, deeded back in trust to the Agua Caliente people more than 31,000 acres for their homeland.

Ironically, around the same time the government gave the Southern California Railroad 10 miles of the Agua Caliente land they no longer owned to induce the company to build a railroad.

Of the tribe’s present 31,000 acres, about 6,700 acres are within the Palm Springs city limits. The remaining sections span across the desert and mountains in a checkerboard pattern.

Collectively, the quartet of geological features are called Indian Canyons. Tahquitz Canyon and three southern canyons are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Andreas Canyon is one of them, and our destination for today’s outing.

The Andreas Canyon trail starts at the edge of the well-maintained parking lot, and is an easy walk with many photo opportunities.

Hikers with sharp eyes are often surprised when they look up into the mouth of Andreas Canyon and become aware of 22 stone houses perched up on the canyon walls. Naturally, there’s a story behind the houses.

Back around 1920, an attorney working for the tribe purchased 509 acres during a water-rights dispute. In 1921, he formed the Andreas Club, a private group of 24 members, many of whom were from Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Members began building cottages and even a clubhouse on the property using rocks indigenous to the area. The houses remain under private ownership, and are strictly off-limits to the public.

The Agua Caliente people have thrived here for thousands of years. Rock art, house pits, foundations, irrigation ditches, dams, reservoirs, trails and food preparation areas still exist in the canyons. For a long time it was paradise on earth and the land supplied everything these industrious people needed.

We hiked the Andreas Canyon loop with its scenic footpath, which features magnificent skirted fan palms, 150 species of plants, unique rock formations and the perennial Andreas Creek with multiple waterfalls within a half mile radius. The entire loop is about one mile long.

Andreas Canyon loop is rated as easy, but you will find rustic stairs and steep, rocky ground in some areas with a narrow foot bridge that crosses over Andreas Creek to keep things interesting and the kids amused.

You can also access Andreas Canyon North Trail, which is rated as moderate, and Andreas Canyon South Trail, an easy-rated equestrian trail, from the parking lot.

Andreas Canyon loop is good for all skill levels and primarily used for hiking and bird watching. It is also very popular with photographers, for obvious reasons.

Like most places in the desert, many consider the best hiking periods run from September until May but the fan palms next to the creek do supply shade even in the hotter months, when temperatures easily soar above 115 degrees or more.

The soothing sounds of multiple waterfalls and wind in the trees along the stream give one pause to enjoy nature.

Andreas Canyon loop above the Andreas Creek offers hikers beautiful mountain vistas under the open sun, while the loop beside the creek winds its way next to towering rock walls under shady fan palms to the sounds of rushing water.

Just some of the interesting stories-tall geological formations one can find near Andreas Creek.

We hiked the loop a few days before Thanksgiving, and found it very popular with families from around the world and seasonal visitors from colder states.

Fan Palms grow naturally in oasis’ between 500 and 1,000 feet elevations in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.

It was a pleasure to watch visiting children making new discoveries in nature. We plan to return again in the future during a quieter time of the year.

Children enjoy climbing the varied rock formations.

We are happy to report that we saw no litter on Andreas Canyon loop. Many thanks to the tribal staff and volunteers for keeping the area pristine. And a special shout out to hikers who adhere to “Pack it in, pack it out.” It takes a village.

The autumn leaves above Andreas Creek fluttered in the warm breeze like nature’s wind chimes.

Look for our future articles about hiking Palm Canyon, Murray Canyon and Tahquitz Canyon soon!

Desert Ginger. This tot squealed with delight as he tossed a pebble into the creek.

Upon entering the Agua Caliente reservation, you will encounter a toll booth where you pay an entry fee and receive a map and information.

Follow the signs at the fork in the road to Andreas Canyon parking. Picnic tables and restrooms are available on-site. There are no facilities on the trail. No animals are allowed except horses on designated trails.


Prices are subject to change

Adults . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $9

Seniors 62+. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$7

Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$7 (with student ID)

Children (6-12) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$5

Military . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Free (with U.S. military ID)

Equestrian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $11

Six-Month Pass . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$60

Annual Pass . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$90

Equestrian Six-Month Pass . . . .$75

Equestrian Annual Pass . . . . . . .$105

Visit the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians counter at Palm Springs Visitor’s Center, 2901 North Palm Canyon, Palm Springs, Ca 92262, to purchase six-month and annual season passes. For information call 760-323-6018.



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