Murray Canyon is one of a number of spring-fed, oases-filled canyons in the Indian Canyon area south of Palm Springs. This region of shallow, narrow gorges is fed by springs from high up on the Desert Divide, which supports lush, cool micro-ecosystems.
Distance: 6 Miles
Elevation Gained: 500′
Critters: Rabbits, lizards
Note: Since this hike lies on Agua Caliente Native American tribal land, you will need to pay a $9 fee, per person, to access this hike.
The City of Palm Springs is a great example of how a name that is so blatantly self-explanatory has become associated with a mosaic of golf courses, condos, retiree communities, snowbirds, and, of course, a now-thriving gay community. However, the city got its name for an abundance of two things: palm trees and springs. Most of these palms trees and springs – at least the naturally occurring ones – still exist in canyons along the base of the escarpment of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountain Ranges, where springs traveling down canyons support dense and lush riparian vegetation that appear more tropical than xeric.
The tropical feel of these canyon bottoms is largely created by an abundance of native California fan palms, which I wrote about here. These oases are not common in Southern California, occurring mostly in the Coachella Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and in a few places in Joshua Tree National Park. As these particular oases are on Native American reservation land, they remain well-protected from the intrusions of modern civilization.
Murray Canyon showcases a 6 mile trek back to the Seven Sisters Waterfall, which is a series of cascading pools over which a spring-fed stream trickles noisily. The waterfall is enjoyable in itself, but it would probably be more impressive during a rainier season. The chief attraction on the hike this day was the cool shade, which was welcome on a day that pushed the mid-80’s out in the desert. Mid February, ladies and gentleman.
My wife Kelly joined me on this trip, making this the first hike of the year that she’s taken with me. As you can see above, she always finds a way to have fun. It doesn’t hurt that I take care to select just the right kind of hikes for her: low-effort, high-reward treks through beautiful locations, hopefully with water, trees, and shade. It so happens that this is true for most people who don’t hike regularly, which makes Murray Canyon a great option for the casual hiker. Aside from the steep entrance fee, there is nothing painful about this hike.
Aside from a sun-blasted stretch at the open and close of the hike, this trip is almost entirely along a watercourse. Hiking along a stream this winter has been a sad proposition, as all but the most resilient streams have dried up completely. Ironically, this area supports two healthily flowing streams within about half a mile. I wasn’t expecting to find this much water in the desert of all places.
Kelly and I made our way back to the waterfall with relative ease. There are a few challenging spots where the footing isn’t the best, and the trail crosses the stream at least half a dozen times each way (probably not a good idea to hike this during a rain storm). However, once we made it to the falls, there were a number of flat spots that are perfect for picnicking. This is a popular hike though, so don’t expect to be alone.