If you’re looking for a great trail that’s a bit challenging and off the beaten path, but not that hard to get to, the Windy Ridge Trail might be the trail for you.
On days when there is not too much wind, of course.
It is located in the foothills of Desert Hot Springs, just above Mission Lakes Country Club, near Indian Canyon and Highway 62, about 5.5 miles north of Interstate 10. You should find parking along Augusta Avenue, across from Clubhouse Boulevard. From there, walk past the Mountain View houses sign – before the gate, behind the fence – and follow the gravel hill about three-quarters of the way to the top; veer left and the trail begins a few yards away on the left.
You may find the trail to be a bit challenging as it starts with a short steep climb then add three more climbs before reaching the top of the ridge at over 2000 feet with a gain of elevation about 810 feet. in less than a mile. The trail is very technical on all three hills and can be dangerous both uphill and downhill. It’s rocky with washouts and ruts that can be a bit tricky and hard to maneuver.
If you think it’s difficult, the biggest challenge of all may actually be finding the trailhead, since it’s unmarked (as of this writing). Someone recently placed a wooden stake as a marker, but it didn’t stay long. When I moved to the area over 10 years ago, I immediately noticed a small portion of the trail visible from the road. Being the trail geek that I am, I set out to find the trailhead…and failed three times! But eventually I found it – and the trail has been my little piece of heaven ever since.
I’ll be honest: I hesitated to write about the Windy Ridge Trail. It had long been one of those “best kept secret” trails, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, making people want to get out of the house and hike where they could go. exercise safely and have socially distanced visits. Then the secret was revealed.
The Windy Ridge Trail appeared on AllTrails.com in 2020 listed as a 3.6 mile moderately difficult out and back trail. Shortly thereafter, the trail was one of six trails listed on the City of Desert Hot Springs Trails and Parks Map, released in July 2021. Most recently, in February, California.com ranked the trail Windy Ridge among “Best Desert Hikes in Southern California.”
I guarantee it, it really is among the best! For over a decade now, I have experienced not only breathtaking views of Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio from this trail; I have watched the city of Desert Hot Springs and beyond grow steadily. There are 360 degree views, with rolling hills from east to west. The San Andreas Fault runs along the north end of the hill, and looking south you can see past Palm Springs. Turning to the southwest, you can see the magnificent peak of San Jacinto. There is so much beauty, with spring flowers, wildlife and tranquility; it’s really hard to explain and it’s best experienced in person.
However, a word of warning: the trail is aptly named, as it is often very windy up there. The wind will push you in all directions, not just in one direction: the wind can hit you from one side one minute, then turn and hit you from behind or the other side the next minute. It’s crazy! During windy periods you may have to fight to stay on top of the ridge. Excuse the TMI, but sometimes, the wind will literally suck the snot straight from your nose. It’s quite an unpleasant experience. The wind helps to make extreme temperatures a bit cooler, at least.
Luckily it’s not always windy and the trail is also great for mountain biking and running. Despite recent attention, the trail still doesn’t have much foot traffic; you are unlikely to encounter many others on weekdays. Most of the time I see more wildlife than people including horned lizards, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, desert sheep, desert tortoises, coyotes and even burrowing owls that trail along the subdivision. (I tend to see more burrowing owls when I do a 4 mile loop from the ridge trail, rather than just an out and back.)
Please be careful: rattlesnakes are almost a given during the months of extreme heat; in fact some of the biggest rattlesnakes I have ever seen have been on this trail. Be mindful of all wildlife and remember: they share their paths with us, so be considerate of them and always give them their space.
While there are no trail restrictions at this time, the best times to visit are September through May; during the rest of the year, you’ll want to stick to the early morning hours. Dogs are welcome and must be kept on a leash. There is absolutely no water, of course, so remember to bring plenty, especially in the summer months. Don’t forget the essentials for hiking in the desert; wear appropriate hiking shoes; and always pack and pack.
Enjoy the trails!