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Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs, CA: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Sample nature trails that weave through Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, a bird-watching haven tucked between the Mojave and Colorado deserts.

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Mockingbirds, falcons, and wood-warblers are among the 270 species of birds that flock to Big Morongo Preserve, a 31,000-acre wonderland just west of Joshua Tree National Park. Pack a pair of binoculars and a birders’ field guide to explore the 2.6-mile, multi-trail loop that circles the preserve.

Hike in Big Morongo

From the trailhead, head northeast for a brief stretch along the Marsh Trail. After 200 feet, bear left onto Desert Willow Trail for a gentle stroll north past alkali goldenbush and a wide variety of desert flora. Less than half a mile into the loop, merge onto Yucca Ridge Trail for a hilltop ramble offering spectacular views of the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the west.

The trail drops into a small canyon midway through the hike, following West Canyon Trail along a creek created by mountain run-off. The charred yuccas and cottonwoods that dot the landscape are eerie reminders of the wildfire that raced through the preserve in June 2005. At mile 1.5, climb out of the canyon, then head north to reconnect with the Mesquite Trail. The hike finishes on the Marsh Trail with a lush and leafy stroll past cattails, red willows, and cottonwoods before returning to the parking area.

Info: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
-Mapped by Amy Balfour

big morongo canyon

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 4.2



Location: 34.0502838, -116.569984

From the parking area, walk southeast to the trailhead, which is well-stocked with trails maps and nature guides. Ahead: Keep an eye out for the 270 species of birds that have been identified in the preserve. The striking vermilion flycatcher is one of the more notable finds (ID tip: Adult males have bright red caps, throats, and underparts).


Location: 34.0502349, -116.5698686

Turn left onto Marsh Trail. Follow a wooden boardwalk past alkali goldenbush. Small signs dot the path here, identifying the plants and making it easier to forget the hum of traffic on nearby CA 62.


Location: 34.050546, -116.5693644

Bear left @ Y-junction onto Desert Willow Trail. Marsh Trail continues to the right.


Location: 34.052879, -116.566007

Turn left @ 3-way junction onto Yucca Ridge Trail. Take a hilltop ramble that eventually drops into a small canyon. Optional: For a short loop back to the parking lot, bear right on Desert Willow Trail.


Location: 34.0506082, -116.5662235

Charred Mojave yuccas dot the ridgeline. The yucca’s were most likely scorched during the 2005 wildfire.


Location: 34.0473791, -116.5668297

Continue straight @ 3-way on Mesquite Trail. The trail passes a wooden fence and bench perched on the southern edge of the ridge. Look down the ridge to see the vegetation that borders the freshwater marsh. Next, enter a small canyon; the sounds of CA 62 drop away as you descend.


Location: 34.0473347, -116.5671811

Turn left, heading south.


Location: 34.0469013, -116.5671113

Continue straight @ 3-way on West Canyon Trail. This section of trail parallels a creek notable for its birds and the charred cottonwoods lining its shores.


Location: 34.042223, -116.5675217

Turn right (west) @ 3-way junction and climb out of the canyon for the return loop back to the parking lot.


Location: 34.04704, -116.569372

Turn left onto Mesquite Trail. The trail wanders past burnt cottonwoods, crosses a small bridge, then climbs stone steps past the foundation of a building destroyed by the fire.


Location: 34.04822, -116.569027

Turn right onto Marsh Trail and stroll through the heart of the marsh. Ahead, the trail winds through a tunnel of overhanging trees. The lush landscape resembles the Florida Everglades rather than the California desert. Signs along the boardwalk identify the various marsh plants.


Location: 34.049995, -116.56828

Turn left on Marsh Trail @ T-junction for the quickest loop back to the parking lot.

Desert Willow Trail

Location: 34.0502304, -116.5698472

View of Little San Bernadino Mountains

Location: 34.0531039, -116.5662825

Trail Junction

Location: 34.0528772, -116.5659446

Charred Yuccas

Location: 34.0506038, -116.5661913

Marsh Views

Location: 34.0467191, -116.5670791

Charred Cottonwoods

Location: 34.0444366, -116.5673715

Burnt Cottonwood in Marsh

Location: 34.0464568, -116.5671167

Longer Ramble Denied

Location: 34.0423252, -116.5674359

Little San Bernadino Mountains

Location: 34.0450411, -116.5699571

Marsh Attacks

Location: 34.0489881, -116.5680313

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