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Cactus to Clouds: Palm Springs - Mt. San Jacinto

Difficult

Trail

14.4 mile 23.3 kilometer point to point
67% Runnable
Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 10,444' 3,183 m
Descent: -172' -52 m
High: 10,751' 3,277 m
Low: 479' 146 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 14% (8°)
Max Grade: 109% (47°)

Dogs

No Dogs
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Trail shared by Jeremy Francis

From desert floor to mountain peak in the greatest elevation gain of any trail in the USA.

Jeremy Francis

Features Views

Overview

This section of the Cactus to Clouds trail covers the distance between the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Aerial Tramway station along the ridge. This trail is often broken into sections that range from 10 miles at the shortest to 20 miles at the longest. It gains more than 10,000 feet of elevation in under 14 miles making it one of the steepest trails in the world.

Need to Know

There can be extreme weather changes between the desert floor and the subalpine mountain ridge line. The lower trail has recorded temperatures as high as 110 F while the summit can drop to -10 F in winter. It is recommended you start early in the morning, well before sunrise. 3-5am is a typical start time.

There is no reliable water along the trail.

This route requires commitment. Once past the halfway point, it is more difficult to turn around than to push forward.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tram will return you to the desert for a nominal fee.

This trail is maintained by local trail enthusiasts.

Runner Notes

This trail is extremely exposed and dangerously hot in the summer. A runner in good condition can reach the top in only a few hours. A runner should choose to make a speed attempt only if they are familiar with the route, this trail is difficult to follow in places.

Description

The most popular starting point is the Palm Springs Art Museum, park in the parking garage or on the street. You are likely starting in the dark so have your headlamp, extra batteries, and warm clothing ready to go. Even in the summer, you may need that warm clothing again when you reach the top.

The trail starts around 500 feet of elevation and climbs the eastern side of San Jacinto along a spiderweb of trails going in all directions. You'll likely see others on foot off to your left and right scrambling up the loose rock. Don't worry about picking the right trail here, as long as you are going uphill then you'll meet the main trail again shortly.

Once you are on a trail that actually looks like a trail, your speed will increase. The conditions are dusty with occasional loose rocks. Barrel cactus and Yucca loom out of the darkness towards you, take extra care when stepping over large rocks or pushing through brush. Yucca can pierce through even the stretchiest of yoga pants.

You'll pass lots of overlooks and vista points, one area even has several picnic tables. You may still see the occasional trail heading off to the side but keep to the ridge trail. You'll follow this ridge nearly to the top so if you find yourself in a creek or canyon, you know you are off trail.

Friendly visitors have left stone markers indicating your elevation as you climb. As of November 2015 these markers were pretty inaccurate. You'll pass two metal boxes as you climb, Rescue 1 and Rescue 2. This contain emergency supplies for those caught in a weather or medical emergency. Please don't use these reserves unless you're experiencing an emergency situation.

When your trail turns from west to north, you are nearing the most difficult part. At around 7,000 feet the trail becomes extremely steep and loose in an area called The Traverse. In dry conditions it is challenging but in snow conditions parts of the trail are extremely difficult to follow. By this point you should hear the hum of the Palm Springs aerial tramway in the canyon to the north. If you become disoriented, head towards this sound but beware the drop.

Atop the ridge at 8,200 feet is a broad expanse of fields or blinding snowstorms, depending on what month you choose to undertake the excursion. Head north and follow the signs for the tram building. Inside the large structure is the tram depot, a restaurant, bar, and California State Park visitor center.

Many travelers, me included, end their trip here but others may choose to continue along the trail to the top of Mount San Jacinto in another 2,400 feet of climbing along a well maintained trail. Just follow the signs for the summit and stop by the Ranger station along the way for the most up to date info on the summit conditions. Compared to the rest of the trail, this part is a cakewalk. If you rode the tram up to the station and are only just starting, you may find the elevation affects you.

Flora & Fauna

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera), Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus), Spanish Bayonet (Yucca Whipplei).

Coyote (Canis latrans), Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

History & Background

Naturalist John Muir wrote of San Jacinto Peak, "The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!"

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Check-Ins

Oct 23, 2018
Daniel Levine
Hiked with Shuey
Oct 21, 2018
Shuey Mirkin
Great hike. We started at 1 am, and were glad we did. Moon provided tons of light. Definitely have the gps track on a watch—first two hours are tri… 20mi
Nov 23, 2017
Celeste Lau
Aug 26, 2017
Jay Salazar
Took the Tram and hiked to the peak! Beautiful views! 12mi
Nov 25, 2016
Perry Cortell
Great time of the year to do this. A bit icy from the traverse on up to Long Valley. No summit today. 10mi
Nov 13, 2016
Bruce Ames
Jul 22, 2016
Weilong You
Ran additional miles 26mi

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 36 votes

#1

in Palm Springs

#160

Overall
  4.7 from 36 votes
5 Star
75%
4 Star
22%
3 Star
3%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%
Run Rankings

#1

in Palm Springs

#21

in California

#160

Overall
312 Views Last Month
16,355 Since Dec 4, 2015
Difficult

0%
0%
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8%
39%
53%

Photos

amazing view from trail
Feb 12, 2018 near Palm Sp…, CA
Sunrise and the Salton Sea down the valley
Dec 4, 2015 near Palm Sp…, CA
Palm Springs under a firey sunrise.
Dec 4, 2015 near Palm Sp…, CA
The sun sets over the mountain!
Jan 18, 2017 near Idyllwild, CA
Ranger station - Round Valley - January 2016
Mar 9, 2018 near Idyllwild, CA
Dried out Yucca along the trail.
Dec 4, 2015 near Palm Sp…, CA

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