Tahquitz Creek Falls - Atlas Obscura

Tahquitz Creek Falls

At the western edge of Palm Springs, a rugged desert canyon trail leads to a waterfall at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. 


The San Jacinto Mountains, an upthrust fault block resulting from the San Andreas fault system, rise abruptly east of the Los Angeles basin. With a high point at San Jacinto Peak (10,804 feet/3,294 meters), the range is tall enough to intercept the moisture coming from the Pacific, such that the higher elevations support forests and even a winter snow cap. However, this also causes a rain-shadow desert on the eastern side of the range. The mountain precipitation feeds a number of perennial streams that drain to the east, of which one of the largest is Tahquitz (pronounced TAH-keets) Creek.

The creek drops steeply down the eastern front of the range through a spectacular canyon, from which it formerly flowed out into the desert where the city of Palm Springs now sits. As with any desert creek, its water was of paramount importance for wildlife and the local human population.

Near the base of the range, where its grade flattens out, the creek flows over a picturesque waterfall some 60 feet high that can be reached by a footpath. The path runs about 1.8 miles through a scenic desert canyon with an altitude gain of 350 feet. The level is moderate and should be within the capabilities of most hikers. Some rock art is also visible. The creek and falls both lie within the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Reservation and the tribe sells hiking permits.

Tahquitz, in the local Native American lore, was a malevolent spirit that dwelled in the mountains.

Know Before You Go

From Palm Springs take West Mesquite Avenue all the way west, where it will make a right-angle bend north and after about 0.1 mile end at a set of parking lots. The Tahquitz Visitor Center will be obvious to the west; head that way. The Center is both the beginning of the trail and the place where you get the trail tickets. As of 2022 tickets are $15 ($7 for children 6-12), but check the website for current prices. Dogs and bicycles are not permitted on the trail.

The trail is open daylight hours only and is only open Friday-Sunday in the summer months.

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September 8, 2023

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