Hike to A Waterfall in the Middle of the Desert Along Murray Canyon Trail
If you know me then you know I absolutely love hikes through the desert. Southern California has a large variety of desert trails making it one of my favorite places to hike outside of Arizona.
Although there is one desert trail we found that definitely takes the cake compared to other dry hiking trails in California. Along one trail, you’re taken through the vast desert landscape, through dense palm trees groves, and back and forth across a steady stream that ends at a 12-foot waterfall.
Doesn’t sound like I’m still talking about the California desert right? Murray Canyon Trail offers all of this and more making it a desert hike you will never forget. After visiting, you’ll easily understand why this is one of our 8 best desert spots in all of southern California.
How Do I Get to Murray Canyon Trail?
Now where is this magical desert hike you speak of? Well it’s conveniently located just outside of Palm Springs at the Indian Canyons Nature Preserve. Only 15 minutes from the heart of downtown Palm Springs!
Indian Canyons does require an admission fee to enter the grounds but trust me, it’s well worth it. Plus the funds go towards maintaining the land you’re about to enjoy.
Indian Canyons Admission/Hours (prices subject to change):
- Adults – $9
- Seniors 62+ – $7
- Students (with student ID) – $7
- Children (6-12) – $5
- Oct. 1 – July 4: daily 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Last vehicle in at 4 p.m.)
- July 5 – Sept. 30: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (open only Friday, Saturday, Sunday – Last vehicle in at 4 p.m.)
Indian Canyons Nature Preserve has numerous hiking trails to choose from. But for this post, we will be focusing on Murray Canyon Trail.
After paying at the front gate, drive down the road a bit till you reach your first junction. Take a right and follow this road all the way till it dead ends at a dirt parking lot. This is where you’ll park to access Murray Canyon Trail.
- Length: 4 miles roundtrip / 4.7 miles roundtrip (including Coffman Trail)
- Elevation Gain: 500 ft (Murray Canyon Trail) / 400 ft (Coffman Trail)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time to Complete: 2-3 hours
I consider this as a “destination hike” which is when the trail ends at a specific feature or landmark. In this case, Murray Canyon Trail takes hikers through a wonderful desert oasis and ends at Seven Sisters Waterfall.
Again, a waterfall in the desert?! Heck yes.
Now there are two ways to hike Murray Canyon Trail:
1. You could hike to Seven Sisters Waterfall and then hike all the way back the way you came.
2. (the more exciting option), hike to Seven Sisters Waterfall and take Coffman Trail on the way back making it a full loop.
We highly recommend hiking the loop by including Coffman Trail on your return trip! The extra mileage is marginal (only .7 miles), and you’re gifted with stunning desert views from atop a mountain. We will touch more on Coffman trail later.
From the parking lot, cross the bridge over the stream and head left. Continue down the road until it ends and you see the trailhead for Murray Canyon Trail.
From Dry Desert to Lush Green Oasis
The first portion of the hike is relatively flat with little shade. What you would basically expect of a typical desert hike. However, the views of the boundless desert are still incredibly breathtaking.
For someone who lives in the city most their life, being in nature this expansive is just a breathe of fresh air. Continue along for a little while until you reach the top of the small hill. This is where you will see your first palm tree cluster down below! (outside of the parking lot that is)
This is the very first stream crossing you’ll pass. Just one of many along the entire trail! You’ll continue to notice super dense clusters of palm trees flourishing alongside the stream. If it wasn’t for the stream there wouldn’t be enough water for palms to sustain!
Although, water only runs through this desert in the winter and springs months. If you visit outside of these times, you may see little to no water present.
So if you’re wanting to see this trail with a lively stream and an active waterfall, make sure you visit during winter and spring.
If you do hike during the summer season, be smart and know these top tips for hiking in hot weather. Hiking in the desert during summer can be very dangerous if you aren’t prepared for extreme temperatures.
As you continue making your way up, you’ll walk alongside tall rock walls, through a winding canyon, all while constantly hopping across numerous water crossings. We counted around 15 crossings but soon gave up since we were starting to lose count.
Along the way, be sure to stop and enjoy many of peaceful spots on the trail. I love how quiet it is out here. Nothing but the sound of running water to fill your ears and put you in a meditative state.
Watch Your Footing the Deeper You Go in Murray Canyon
The further you head in, the more dense and tight the trail gets. Be careful of stepping on fallen palm leaves! These things are way more slippery than I thought.
I managed to step on one too fast which made me do an immediate tumble backwards and land straight on my back. Whoops.
You know you’re getting near Seven Sisters Waterfall when you find yourself climbing up and down more rocky areas. Majority of Murray Canyon Trail towards the end consists of mainly jumping and walking along boulders and crossing streams.
Not nearly as smooth as it was in the beginning. More fun for me, but maybe frustrating for others. Either way, it’s not too intense. Most shouldn’t have any problems completing this hike.
At one section you are guided up a tall and steep-ish rocky hill. Nothing hard to climb over as there are distinct holes in the rock from all the foot traffic.
Just watch your footing and enjoy the small view once you’re at the top.
Reaching Seven Sisters Waterfall
After enjoying the view (and hopefully a snack from up here), continue around the bend a bit further until you reach Seven Sisters Waterfall.
We were here during the off season so we only saw a water trickle, not so much a waterfall. Also, there’s a blatant sign marking the end of the trail and advising to not go any further for your safety. So you really can only see the waterfall from a distance.
If the water flow was a bit stronger we probably would have seen more from where we were standing. Nonetheless, the hike itself had so much beauty along the way that I didn’t even mind. Once you’re ready, hike back to the parking lot from the way you came.
WORD OF ADVICE – make sure you time your hike correctly as we left this spot way too late and did not get back to the car till 5:30pm, which was 30 minutes after closing. We were met with some very unhappy park rangers waiting on us to close the gates. Ah, sorry!
Don’t be like us and make sure you start early enough to get back to your car before the reserve closing.
Include Coffman Trail for an Epic Hike Back
If you’re up for it (and have the time), we highly recommend taking Coffman Trail on the return trip back. You’ll find the Coffman trailhead junction about 1/3 of your way back on the right. (see below map for reference)
Yes it does go uphill and add on some extra exercise, but holy moly the views are so worth it! At the top of the small mountain, expect to find a stunning saddle as well as impressive views of the desert valley below. You can basically see all the way to Palm Springs.
When you’re done enjoying the views, follow the trail down which loops you around the mountain until you’re back on Murray Canyon Trail.
The junction connects back where you saw the first river crossing in the beginning of the trail.
All in all, adding .7 miles and a short climb to your hike is completely worth it for that grand view point.
Nearby Accommodation in Palm Springs
If you’re visiting from out of town, Palm Springs or Palm Desert would be your ideal place to stay for nightly accommodation. Downtown Palm Springs has a cute little strip of restaurants, shops, bars, and art galleries to explore if you’re looking to cruise the town.
After a hike, we love to stay overnight in a cozy Airbnb a bit further away from the town. We crave a bit more seclusion and nature when it comes to where we stay overnight. But still we enjoy walking downtown at night to grab a couple drinks and a bite to eat.
Whichever you prefer, it’s definitely worth visiting the city if you have the time!
Especially the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which takes you to the top of the mountain at Mt. San Jacinto State Park. You can find 54 miles of hiking trails from up here!
Hike Through A Unique Desert Oasis on Murray Canyon Trail
If you’re looking for a unique desert hiking experience in California, look no further than Murray Canyon Trail in Palm Springs. This hike is one of the few desert oasis’ you’ll find in the state of California.
For such dry wilderness, it was refreshing to hike along and across the wet lands of Indian Canyons. As if the scenery through the lush palm tree groves weren’t enough, ending at a small waterfall and hiking up to a marvelous view was more than I could have ever anticipated.
We can honestly say this is our favorite desert hike in all of California. A must do for any hiking enthusiast and desert lover.
Looking for more epic desert trails? Be sure to visit the 3 Best Mile & Under Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, only an hour away from Indian Canyons!
Do you enjoy hiking through California’s deserts? What’s your favorite trail that you’ve found? Share with us below!
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