62 mi / 99 km
Palm Springs (PSP)
The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway is one of the most legendary drives in southern California. It transports you from the sun-baked plateaus of the Coachella Valley down to the sylvan ridges of the Mount San Jacinto State Park. The name says it all – you'll swap palms for pines; cacti for creeks; 100-degree thermometer readings for something a little cooler.
In the 1920s, the dream of creating a direct and scenic route between Palm Springs and Idyllwild took shape. However, transforming this vision into reality meant conquering daunting challenges. The rugged terrain presented a formidable obstacle, with steep slopes, jagged cliffs, and deep canyons standing in the way.
Undeterred, a team of dedicated engineers and construction crews embarked on a daring endeavor. They blasted through solid rock, carved winding curves into the mountainside, and erected majestic bridges that spanned vast chasms. The relentless determination of these trailblazers paid off, and in 1932, the Palms to Pines Byway was born.
The starting point here is pretty awesome stuff. At the Coachella Valley Vista Point, you'll stand right on the edge of one of the great geographical divides of California. Notice the arid hills to the east. They mark the beginning of the Sonoran Desert, hiding the strange fauna and bluffs of the Joshua Tree National Park beyond. To the west are the San Jacinto Mountains – jagged, sometimes-snow-capped, bathed in pine woods.
This drive is about experiencing both those wildernesses in all their glory. So, hit the trail at the Cahuilla Tewanet, where you'll wander through beds of unusual flowering cacti and learn all about the heritage of the Native Indian peoples who first inhabited this arid corner of North America. There are also striking views on offer, of ridged mountains descending down to the rolling desert plains.
The scenery gets progressively greener from here on in. Beige flats are replaced by scrubby meadows. The peaks are touched with groups of dwarf pines. Soon, you enter the quirky little town of Idyllwild. Why quirky, you ask? Well…this is still the only town on the planet to have had a dog as its mayor. Mhmm…Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller II, an 11-week-old golden retriever, was duly elected to office here back in 2013.
Aside from following in the pawsteps of that famous statesman, visitors to these parts also get to enjoy a charming small-town center with vegan cafes and wineries. Plus, there's the Idyllwild Nature Center, where you can walk loops through the native pine forests and wonder at the broadside views of Tahquitz Peak in the distance.
The start and end points of the route are also perfect places to stay overnight - Palm Springs, Palm Desert or Banning.A free permit is required for day hiking and overnight trips within the federal wilderness area. To get a permit, check the Forest Service. Got a tip for this route? Send us yours! The roads are sealed and usually in good condition. View current alerts and warnings from the City of Manhattan Beach.
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