Four Days in Palm Springs: Desert Exploration (and a Bit of Pampering)

By Sascha Zuger May 8, 2018

Palm Springs is much more than great dining, retro hotels, and people watching over palm-date shakes. Adventure awaits in this desert oasis.

Just a few hours drive from chaotic, bustling LA — this four-day itinerary takes you off the beaten path with truly unique ways to appreciate these desert mountains.

Day One: Nature at its finest

In Palm Springs, deserts are anything but a wasteland; a closer look reveals a land teeming with creatures that have specialized in surviving. But first, it's important to fuel up.

Take a trip to California favourite, In-n-Out, and order off of the "secret" menu. An animal-style burger and hand-cut fries are the perfect pre-adventure food before you head to Living Desert, a wildlife park that highlights regional creatures. (It is also home to an impressive medical center where guests can watch surgeries and procedures designed to rehabilitate and release native animals.)

Kids love the extensive model train display and endangered animal carousel. Adults have perpetual sell outs “Park in the Dark" and Wine Maker, a farm-to-table gourmet dinner series.

Trendy Miramonte Resort and Spa is a top pick for nightlife and poolside cabana scene. For a more casual experience, venture into town for authentic fare and a margarita spiked with homemade pepper sauce at El Mirasol Cocina Mexicana. Stay watchful on the drive back to the resort to spot some of the same creatures you met earlier, in their natural habitat.

Don't forget to keep an eye on the Starry Safari page to score a coveted teepee for an overnight camping adventure. A flashlight hike through the desert may reveal wolves or wildcats to willing adventurers.

Day Two: The great California outdoors

Visitors come from around the world to hike through Palm Spring's desert mountains.

Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, is named for its distinctive trees. Explore via ranger-led hikes or amp up the experience by open-air off-roading with Adventure Hummer Tours. Combine a rollicking ride through the San Andreas Fault with an eco-walk stop at the 1000 Palms Oasis (the third largest oasis in the world), before bouncing through the big horn sheep-filled canyons in the back entrance of the park. Cool off after the dusty ride with a made-to-order nitrogen ice cream at Creamistry.

For a true wilderness experience opt for Jumbo Rocks Campground, one of the national park's nine options. This is true roughing it (pit toilets and no water), but a day of hiking and bouldering is rewarded by breathtaking sunsets and sea of stars.

Day Three: Treat yourself

To get a true sense of Palm Spring's magic, take a break from roughing it to enjoy the luxury that is an equal part of the region's culture.

Golf aficionados love the famed links which draw professionals and PGA events, but surfers missing their coastline breaks can enjoy the best of both worlds through GolfBoarding. These solo-rider motorized boards skim over the fairways, even on top-rated classic courses like Indian Wells Golf Resort.

Spend the afternoon at the boutiques and upscale shops at The Gardens on El Paseo before checking into the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa, which offers gorgeous sunset views of the mountains and dining for every taste. After a few days of hiking, your feet and bellies will thank you.

Day Four: Finale with a view

Now that you've been properly pampered, you are ready for a final day of adventure. After a relaxing poolside morning, enjoying tropical tunes and umbrella drinks (hand-delivered to your lounger), take a gondola ride through the hotel's lakes and waterways.

For a perfect finale, hike through giant redwoods along snowy trails after a thrilling ride on The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world's largest rotating tram. After it rises through seven climate zones, you'll arrive at a stunning view atop Mount San Jacinto.

Time your excursion for sunset drinks or dinner at the summit and then return to the base as the desert stars begin to twinkle on your way back to civilization.

Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CIBC or their partners.

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