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Cactus Spring Trail

Intermediate/Difficult
 4.0 (2)

A very demanding but extremely rewarding trail.


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Map Key

21.0

Miles

33.7

KM

87%

Runnable

5,139' 1,566 m

High

524' 160 m

Low

2,068' 630 m

Up

5,587' 1,703 m

Down

7%

Avg Grade (4°)

47%

Max Grade (25°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Birding · Commonly Backpacked · Fall Colors · Spring · Views · Wildlife

Wilderness area. One Way Only: This is designated as a directional trail.

Need to Know

Do NOT try this trail after April and probably before October as you'll be descending from 5,000' to 600' into the desert!

The trail is VERY indistinct in most places once you crest the ridge at about mile 7 until you descend into Martinez Canyon. You should have a good trail map (hard to find!) and/or a GPX file but I would NOT rely on electronic devices for such a remote trail. Previous cross-country navigation and travel experience is pretty much a must by at least one person in your party! Also, long pants are a must.

Runner Notes

The first seven miles are mainly runnable. After that, you'll be spending a lot of time with navigation and cross-country travel.

Description

This trail is not for the faint of heart! It goes from the Cactus Spring/Sawmill Trailhead, just off Hwy 74 in Pinyon Pines, down to the desert wash near Indio 21-22 miles later.

The first 7-8 miles are fairly easy to follow with signage etc. but after that, until you actually drop down into Martinez Canyon, you are pretty much traveling cross country trying to follow the rock cairns that 'mark' the trail. The trail is VERY indistinct in most places once you crest the ridge at about mile 7 until you descend into Martinez Canyon. You should have a good trail map (hard to find!) and/or a GPX file but I would NOT rely on electronic devices for such a remote trail. Previous cross-country navigation and travel experience is pretty much a must by at least one person in your party!

You'll need a lot of water along with electrolyte-type replacement fluids and food to complete this trail and to stay in decent shape to complete it. You do not want to start cramping ten miles in.

I completed this trail on December 22, 2017 with two others. We are very experienced wilderness hikers and ultra runners and it still took 10.5 hours to cover the whole 21.5 miles to our car parked in the wash, just north of the mouth of Martinez Cyn. That's an average of 2 miles per hour! Also bear in mind there is approximately 2,700' of elevation GAIN on this trail as well as the obvious loss in elevation.

There is one area in Martinez Canyon, about 16 miles in, that is almost completely blocked by cottonwoods, tamarisk, and bamboo vegetation. We had to navigate this section in the dark, and it took us about 1.5 hours to go not even half a mile.
April 2018 update: After running Martinez Canyon to Jack Miller's cabin out and back, in the daylight, I figured the best way to avoid the dense brush. At the first section of brush stay to the canyon RIGHT. At the second, most dense section, stay to the canyon LEFT! You'll literally be up against the rock cliff faces!

Apparently, there are multiple Native American archaeological sites along the way and herds of bighorn sheep once you get into the remote canyons.

Allow about three hours to do the car shuttle from Pinyon down to the wash and back to the top. If possible, do it the night before, as it will save you a lot of time so you can start the run early. You'll also need a high-clearance/4x4 vehicle for the rocky, sandy wash part of the drive.

Overall, if you want a magical wilderness experience, you can't beat this trail!

Flora & Fauna

Lots of typical desert plants from mesquite to all kinds of cacti.

Contacts

Shared By:

Pete Kirkham

Trail Ratings

  4.0 from 2 votes

#11242

Overall
  4.0 from 2 votes
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Trail Rankings

#1,155

in California

#11,242

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1,526 Since Mar 8, 2018
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Photos

Starting the steep descent into Martinez Canyon.
Mar 16, 2018 near La Quinta, CA
No more vehicles, you're now entering Wilderness!
May 2, 2018 near Vista S…, CA
Approaching the thick brush, stay right!
May 3, 2018 near Vista S…, CA
Somehow we stumbled upon the Agua Alta Spring... the spring is up the draw to the north but do not rely on this as a water source!
Mar 16, 2018 near La Quinta, CA
Canyon starts to narrow.
May 2, 2018 near Vista S…, CA
If you can make it this far in an appropriate vehicle, you can park at this trailhead.
May 2, 2018 near Vista S…, CA

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