Your complete guide to the best preserves, canyons, outdoor areas, state parks, and National Parks near Palm Springs, California.
Palm Springs, California is well known for its abundant sunshine, stylish hotels, high-end shopping, and excellent golf courses.
Though it may not be what comes to mind right away when you think of the area, Palm Springs is also surrounded by multiple national parks, state parks, preserves, mountains, and canyons full of incredible scenery and wildlife.
These outdoor areas offer beautiful views and an abundance of adventure opportunities.
National Parks Near Palm Springs
There are currently over 400 National Park Units in the United States. National Park Units include the “Big 63” National Parks, National Battlefields, National Historic Sites, National Monuments & Memorials, National Preserves & Reserves, National Recreation Areas, and many other National Park designations.
We will cover all of the National Parks near Palm Springs.
And of course, we can’t forget the other incredible (non-national park) outdoor areas near Palm Springs, including state parks, preserves, canyons, and designated outdoor areas.
Interactive Map – click the map to zoom in & select locations
- Orange Pins: National Parks & other outdoor areas within 100 miles of Palm Springs
- Light Blue: “Big 63” National Parks near Palm Springs (between 100-400 miles away)
- Dark Blue: Other National Park Units near Palm Springs (between 100-400 miles away)
All destinations described in this post are within 100 miles of downtown Palm Springs and are listed in order from closest in distance to furthest away.
National Parks New Palm Springs (Quick List)
- Tahquitz Canyon
- Prescott Preserve
- Indian Canyons
- Mt. San Jacinto State Park
- Coachella Valley Preserve
- Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
- Whitewater Preserve
- Mission Creek Preserve
- Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
- Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
- Sand to Snow National Monument
- Pioneertown Mountains Preserve
- Joshua Tree National Park
- San Bernardino National Forest
- Painted Canyon
- Salton Sea State Recreation Area
- Anza Borrego State Park
- Big Bear Lake
- Mojave Trails National Monument
1. Tahquitz Canyon
Distance from Palm Springs: In Palm Springs (1 mile from downtown)
Cost: $15/person, $6 for Children (age 6-12), Military free
One of the best hikes in the Palm Springs area is the Tahquitz Canyon Falls hike. The hike is located in Tahquitz Canyon, which is part of the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation.
This hike is not too challenging and has many different and fun features along the way, including Tahquitz Falls, a 60-foot waterfall in the middle of a desert.
$15 is a lot to pay for a 2-mile hike, but it’s worth it, in my opinion. I have done dozens of hikes in the Palm Springs/Joshua Tree area, and the Tahquitz Canyon hike is definitely among my top 3 best hikes in the area.
2. Prescott Preserve
Distance from Palm Springs: In Palm Springs (2 miles from downtown)
Prescott Preserve was formerly a golf course in the middle of Palm Springs. It was going to be developed and turned into condominiums, but thanks to a generous gift from Brad Prescott, the land is now preserved and in the process of being restored.
When completed, Prescott Preserve will be lush with plants and trees and will be an outdoor haven for both humans and wildlife. It will include various gardens, designated bird-watching areas, educational signage, walking paths, and more.
In the meantime, you can still use the existing walking trails and enjoy the beautiful views! We were able to use our stroller on the walking paths even though they aren’t completely finished.
3. Indian Canyons
Distance from Palm Springs: In Palm Springs (4 miles from downtown)
Cost: $12/person, $7 for Seniors (62+) & Students, $6 for Children (age 6-12), Military free
Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation. Indian Canyons are made up of Andreas Canyon, Murray Canyon, and Palm Canyon.
Andreas Canyon features an easy 1.2-mile loop trail through the world’s second-largest California Fan Palm Oasis. You will be surrounded by towering palms & will be treated to water and mountain views as well.
If you only have time to do one thing in Indian Canyons, hike Andreas Canyon Trail.
Murray Canyon is just south of Andreas Canyon, and you can easily hike both trails in a few hours. The canyon is 4 miles out-and-back and leads to a small seasonal waterfall.
This trail is much less visited than the Andreas Canyon Trail, so you are more likely to spot wildlife. It wasn’t as flashy as Andreas Canyon Trail, but I enjoyed the solitude.
Palm Canyon is one mile down the road from Andreas/Murray Canyons. The Canyon is 15 miles long, but you’ll be treated to excellent views right away after descending the paved path down into the canyon.
Walk among the palms, explore near the creek, or have a picnic in the shade while enjoying the views.
Don’t miss the short walk to West Fork Waterfall on the opposite end of the Trading Post parking lot!
4. Mount San Jacinto State Park
Distance from Palm Springs: Tramway is in Palm Springs (6 miles from downtown), 48 miles by car
Cost: You need a Wilderness Permit, but it is free. Wilderness Camping Permits are $5/person
Mount San Jacinto State Park is 48 miles from Palm Springs by car. Or if you’re super ambitious, you can hike 9.4 miles up the Skyline Trail from Palm Springs!
But the most popular transportation option is to take a 10-minute ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up the mountain to the State Park.
There are restaurants, observation decks, a museum, and a gift shop at the top of the tramway. In my opinion, the best thing to do is get out and enjoy the 50 miles of hiking trails in Mount San Jacinto State Park.
We rode the Tramway in late January and hiked the Desert View Trail. The views were spectacular! We definitely should have been wearing spikes through because it was very snowy and icy, making the 1.5-mile round trip look much more difficult than it needed to be.
Next time I am in Palm Springs, I want to try the 10-mile hike to San Jacinto Peak from the Tramway!
5. Coachella Valley Preserve
Distance from Palm Springs: 15 miles
Cost: Free, there is a donation box
Coachella Valley Preserve is tucked in the Indio Hills. It is home to the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, which is found nowhere else in the world. You will also find multiple Palm Oases throughout the preserve, the most popular being Thousand Palms Oasis, which is fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault.
When we visited, we walked through Thousand Palms Oasis and hiked the 2-mile out-and-back McCallum Trail to McCallum Pond.
We visited in early 2023, and it sounds like there is a struggle with staff shortages, so the parking lot, visitor center, and some of the trails are often closed. Because the parking lot is typically blocked off, you have to park along the busy highway to access the Preserve.
6. Living Desert Zoo + Hiking Trails
Distance from Palm Springs: 16 miles
Cost: $29.95 for adults, $27.95 for 65+, $19.95 for children 3-12 years
The Living Desert Zoo is my favorite zoo that I have been to, even though they don’t have elephants or lions (which is kind of a bummer).
The zoo specializes in desert exhibits and some of the exhibits make you feel like you are seeing animals in the wild rather than in a zoo because there are mountains, native plants, and cool scenery throughout.
Living Desert also has a botanical garden and hiking trails, ranging from 1/4 mile to 5 miles.
If I lived in the area, I would definitely get a zoo membership (even if I didn’t have kids), just to walk around the exhibits and access the hiking trails.
7. Whitewater Preserve
Distance from Palm Springs: 16 miles
Whitewater Preserve is kind of a hidden gem! It is full of wildlife and stunning views. Even though it is only 15ish miles from Palm Springs, the scenery is completely different from PS.
If you are short on time, explore the trails around the visitor center. If you have more time, I highly recommend hiking the Whitewater Canyon View Loop Trail. It is just under 4 miles, is moderately challenging, AND you will be hiking on a small portion of the PCT along the route!
I would consider the trail to be kid-friendly, but I would recommend keeping your kids in a carrier or having them hike close to you, as there are some steep cliff drops along the trail, as well as mountain lions in the area.
Check the website before you go, as sometimes the Whitewater River is raging and makes the trail impassible.
8. Mission Creek Preserve
Distance from Palm Springs: 16 miles
Mission Creek Preserve is between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. I stopped and hiked in the Preserve once on our way from Joshua Tree to the Palm Springs Airport. It was a perfect place to stop and stretch the legs.
The Mission Creek Preserve trail is along a dirt road and is mostly flat, making it an easy hike. As you start your hike, you will see some stone buildings, remnants of a 1930s “glamping” ranch.
You can turn around at any point, but it is about a 3-mile round trip to the stone house picnic area.
Checking out a detailed hike description and Youtube video here.
9. Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
Distance from Palm Springs: 17 miles to the Visitor Center
Cost: Varies depending on which part you go to
The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument makes up Coachella Valley’s scenic mountain backdrop. It consists of the southern part of the San Jacinto Mountains and the northern edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains.
Previously mentioned Indian Canyons, Tahquitz Canyon, Mount San Jacinto State Park, and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway are all actually within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument boundaries.
There are over 200 miles of hiking trails in the National Monument, some of which have already been mentioned.
I also recommend the 4-mile Bump & Grind loop trail. This popular hike just outside Palm Desert will give you a good workout without being too hard, and it offers excellent views of the valley.
10. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Distance from Palm Springs: 18 miles
Cost: Free will donation
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in Morongo Valley (on the way from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree) offers opportunities to hike, explore, and learn about the environment. It is also an internationally-recognized birding site.
The volunteers working at the preserve the day we visited were very kind and knowledgeable. We enjoyed the photos posted of recent wildlife sightings in the preserve, including mountain lions and black bears.
There are numerous hiking trails including, a wheelchair/stroller-accessible boardwalk through the marsh. We didn’t have a lot of time to visit, so we only did 2 short hikes, but next time we return, we would like to hike the Big Morongo Canyon Trail, which is the longest trail in the preserve,
And if you want a sweet treat after visiting the preserve, we enjoyed the coffee and ice cream at Coyote Cone in Morongo Valley!
11. Sand to Snow National Monument
Distance from Palm Springs: 15-60 miles
Sand to Snow was declared a National Monument in 2016. The extreme contrast in terrain and habitat of the national monument makes it unique – from low desert terrain to wetlands to high alpine peaks (over 10,000 ft. elevation change).
Sand to Snow National Monument has numerous hiking trails, including a 30-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail (nicknamed the nine-peaks challenge).
Previously mentioned Whitewater Preserve, Mission Creek Preserve, and Big Morongo Canyon Preserve are within the boundaries of the Sand to Snow National Monument. The remainder of the monument is comprised of the San Gorgino Wilderness and San Bernadino National Forest.
12. Pioneertown Mountains Preserve
Distance from Palm Springs: 35 miles
Cost: Free – there is a donation box
If you’re looking for a unique and varied landscape to explore, consider checking out the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve. This area sits between the high mountains and the desert, bordering the Sand to Snow National Monument.
The preserve surrounds the famous “old west” Pioneertown, which was built in 1946 to be a set for movies and TV shows. Today, it’s still used as a set and is a popular tourist attraction.
Years ago, the area surrounding Pioneertown was in disarray, with poachers, drug use, and illegal hunting. Two local brothers decided to take action, and they put up an ad for “conservation-minded buyers only”. From there, The Wildlife Conservancy (TWC) was born, and TWC now owns and operates California’s largest nonprofit nature preserve system.
TWC has done so much to protect and restore California wildlife areas, so consider donating if you visit any of the TWC preserves.
Today the preserve offers opportunities for hiking, sightseeing, and more. If you only have time for one hike, the Indian Loop Trail gives you a taste of most of what the preserve has to offer, as it passes through a wetland area, climbs up a ridge with views of rocky peaks, and passes by cabin ruins.
13. Joshua Tree National Park
Distance from Palm Springs: 38 miles to the West (Joshua Tree) Entrance
Cost: $30/vehicle, $25/motorcycle, $15/person on foot or bike, America the Beautiful passes are accepted
There are so many great things to do and see in Joshua Tree National Park. The park is famous for its unique Joshua Trees, rock formations, and beautiful landscapes.
There are many great hikes, campgrounds, scenic drives, and viewpoints throughout the park.
We love Joshua Tree National Park because it feels like a giant playground. It’s so fun climbing and exploring around the big boulders and checking out the varying landscape and wildlife.
14. San Bernadino National Forest
Distance from Palm Springs: 39 miles+
Cost: Many areas are free, others are $5/day, American the Beautiful passes are accepted
The San Bernadino National Forest has 8 designated wilderness areas, some of which are within the boundaries of the national monuments and preserves that have already been mentioned on this list.
San Bernadino National Forest is another very diverse area, ranging from arid deserts to tall alpine mountains.
Some of the best things to do throughout the National Forest include bicycling, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, OHV riding, and winter sports. There are also many places to picnic and enjoy scenic views.
There are 3 major lakes within the San Bernadino National Forest – Big Bear Lake, Silverwood Lake, and Lake Arrowhead.
Learn more about all that you can do in the National Forest here.
15. Painted Canyon in Mecca Hills Wilderness
Distance from Palm Springs: 46 miles
Painted Canyon is an incredible section of the Mecca Hills Wilderness, about 1 hour from Palm Springs. This unusual geologic formation was formed by the convergence of the two massive San Andras Fault plates.
The 4.5-mile Painted Canyon & Ladder Canyon loop hike features dozens of different colors of rock, sweeping vista views, multiple sections that require you to climb up a ladder to continue on, and others that will make you feel like you are in one of the nation’s famous slot canyons.
The trail can be a little bit tricky to follow, so I recommend looking at a map before setting out on your hike. You can turn around at any point, or continue on to complete the full loop.
You can also camp for free in the Mecca Hills Wilderness, as it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
16. Salton Sea State Recreation Area
Distance from Palm Springs: 49 miles
Cost: $7/car, $5 for seniors
The Salton Sea State Recreation Area covers 14 miles of the northeastern shore of the infamous Salton Sea.
Salton Sea State Recreation Area has a beach, but not the type of beach that is made for lounging on the sand and swimming. The saline content of the water leaves interesting formations in the sand – as well as dead fish, flies, and a not-so-pleasant smell.
Take a walk around the shoreline and take in the interesting sights. Visit at sunset if you can because it is a cool sight to see the sun disappear behind the mountains on the opposite side of the sea.
The recreation area also has a campground with a playground.
Read more about visiting the Salton Sea State Recreation Area here.
17. Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Distance from Palm Springs: 68 miles
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park protects 600,000 acres of desert terrain. The park is named after the Spanish explorer (Anza) & the Spanish word referring to bighorn sheep (Borrego).
You will find badlands, palm oases, slot canyons, rocky slopes, cacti, wildlife, and more. Anza-Borrengo is also known for having incredible wildflower blooms. You can call this wildflower hotline (760-767-4684) for up-to-date bloom information.
Much of the state park is wild and remote, requiring access via primitive roads or on foot, so it is best to drive/rent a 4WD vehicle to explore the park.
Anza-Borrego is designated an International Dark Sky Park (Joshua Tree National Park has this designation as well), making it one of the best places in the world for stargazing.
Click here for a list of the best things to do in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
18. Big Bear Lake
Distance from Palm Springs: 82 miles
Cost: Varies based on activity
Big Bear Lake is a popular skiing and outdoor adventure destination. The small, charming mountain town is full of beautiful views and fun activities for all seasons.
Wintertime is peak season, as people flock to Big Bear Lake to play in the snow and go skiing, sledding, and tubing. The nationally-known ski resort is open from November-April each year.
In the summer, go swimming or kayaking on the lake. Enjoy one of the many hiking trails in the area, hit the golf course, or go shopping in Big Bear Village. You can also find go-kart racing, ziplining, and a zoo.
Although Big Bear Lake is best known for its ski resort and winter activities, don’t overlook visiting the area during the warmer months as well!
19. Mojave Trails National Monument
Distance from Palm Springs: 98 miles
Mojave Trails National Monument is a stunning area between Barstow, CA, and Needles, CA.
The monument contains the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of Route 66 and is full of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows, and spectacular sand dunes.
Some of the best things to do in Mojave Trails National Monument include stargazing, hiking on the sand dunes, camping or hiking in Afton Canyon (nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Mojave), and taking a scenic drive along Route 66.
Additional “Big 63” National Parks Near Palm Springs (Within 400 Miles)
- Channel Islands National Park (California) – 174 miles (to the boat launch)
- Sequoia National Park (California) – 309 miles
- Kings Canyon National Park (California) – 346 miles
- Death Valley National Park (California) – 277 miles
- Saguaro National Park (Arizona) – 372 miles
- Zion National Park (Utah) – 390 miles
- Pinnacles National Park (California) – 391 miles
- Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) – 400 miles
Additional National Park Units Near Palm Springs (Within 400 Miles)
- Santa Monica National Recreation Area (California) – 143 miles
- Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego, California) – 146 miles
- Providence Mountains State Recreation Area (California) – 153 miles
- Mojave National Preserve (California) – 154 miles
- Cesar E. Chavez National Monument (Keene, California) – 186 miles
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Arizona & Nevada) – 251 miles
- Alabama Hills National Scenic Area (Lone Pine, California) – 244 miles
- Inyo National Forest/Mt. Whitney (Lone Pine, California) – 249 miles
- Manzanar National Historic Site (Lone Pine, California) – 253 miles
- Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona) – 352 miles
- Devils Postpile National Monument (California) – 356 miles
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some of the best playgrounds in Palm Springs?
Our favorite playgrounds in the Palm Springs area:
- Ruth Hardy Playground (Palm Springs)
- Victoria Park (Palm Springs)
- Civic Center Park (Palm Desert)
- Freedom Park (Palm Desert)
- Rancho Mirage Community Park (Rancho Mirage)
If you are flying in/out of Palm Springs Airport, the airport has a small outdoor playground (after the security checkpoint) that is perfect for burning off a little bit of energy before a flight.
Is there a Zoo in Palm Springs?
There is no zoo in Palm Springs, however, the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert is excellent and is just 20 miles away.
Where can I go swimming in Palm Springs?
Public Pools in the Palm Springs Area:
- Palm Springs Swim Center – yearly membership required
- Palm Desert Aquatic Center – day passes available
- John H Furbee Aquatics Center in Desert Hot Springs – extremely cheap day passes
- Palm Springs Surf Club (formerly Palm Springs Wet n’ Wild) – under renovation, hopefully opening soon
Another option is to get a day pass to one of the area hotel resort pools through Resort Pass.
Is there a botanical garden in Palm Springs?
Yes, Moorten Botanical Garden is about 1.5 miles from downtown Palm Springs. Parking is on-street. Open daily 10 am-4 pm. Closed Wednesdays. Admission is $5/person.
I hope you enjoyed this list of state parks, preserves, canyons, outdoor areas, and national parks near Palm Springs. Happy travels!