Hiking Along the San Andreas Fault in Southern California

Southern California is full of amazing hiking opportunities, but perhaps few are as interesting as those that run along the San Andreas fault in the Colorado Desert of the Coachella Valley.

One of my favorite hikes along the fault is Pushawalla Palms Loop.

This hike offers different and amazing landscapes that were formed by earthquakes and tectonic plate movement along the fault.

Quick Primer on the San Andreas Fault Network

Scientists have learned that the Earth’s crust is fractured into a series of “plates” that have been moving very slowly over the Earth’s surface for millions of years. Two of these moving plates, the Pacific Plate and North American Plate meet in western California; the boundary between them is the San Andreas fault. This fault forms a continuous narrow break in the Earth’s crust that extends over 1,000 km from northern California southward to the Mexico border. Usually, these plates slowly collide, separate and grind past each other at a rate of about 50 mm per year. However sometime the plates lock in position until the stress created by the plates overcomes the strength of the rock. At that point, the rocks fracture along the fault and seismic waves radiate in all directions, causing the Earth to vibrate and shake. An earthquake occurs as the plates move feet or tens of feet in just seconds.

Since this scenario has been repeated time and again over 40 million years, it’s easy to understand that land on either side of the fault have slid in opposite directions over 450 km since the plates first came in contact with each other. Over the millennia, these quakes have pulverized rocks, changed the flow of rivers, ground down mountains, and created new mountains, hills, canyons, and valleys. Here’s a close-up view of the San Andreas fault area. The red line marks the San Andreas fault, and the small black circle shows the location of the hike.

General Desert Hiking Safety

Even though this is a relatively short hike, remember you are in a desert environment. Being prepared will increase the chance that you have an enjoyable excursion.

Here are a few basic safety tips if you are new to desert hiking:

  • Start early. Don’t hike during the hottest part of the day.
  • Know the weather forecast. You don’t want to be hiking in the desert during a thunderstorm due to flash flood concerns.
  • Stay hydrated; drink a lot of water. General rule of thumb is 4-6 liters/person/day
  • Know the signs of heat stress.
  • Cover your skin. Dress appropriately in light weight loose fitting clothes, hat, and proper shoes/boots.
  • Watch for plants and wildlife and keep your distance. Remember this is rattlesnake territory. Also, removing cactus needles isn’t pleasant and something you want to avoid.
  • Carry a trail map. Consider downloading an app such as AllTrails or MapMyRun or even better a GPS app to track your path.
  • Bonus Recommendation: Keep extra water and snacks in your car. Even hot water is better than driving home thirsty after a long desert hike.

Pushawalla Palms Loop Trail: 5 miles

Pushawalla Palms Loop is a well-marked trail located within the 17,000-acre Coachella Valley Preserve Area near Thousand Palms, California. The trailhead is located less than 15 miles from Palm Springs on Thousand Palms Canyon Rd. There’s plenty of parking on the main road but be prepared for crowds on weekends. The trailhead is open year-round and there are no fees or permits required.

The trailhead is the starting point for several area hikes, so make sure to follow the Pushawalla Palms trail signs. For the first 0.5 km, the path winds its way through a dry stream bed know as a wash. During the brief fall and winter rainy season, washes like this provide drainage channels for surrounding hills and mountains. These rains help to disperse wildflowers seeds which root in the sandy soil as the water slowly evaporates. Come spring when the grounds warms, the seeds sprout and the trail is lined with purple, yellow, and white wildflowers. This is not the image most people have of the desert. The wildflowers draw large crowds in the Spring, but fortunately, most people only hike a short portion of the trail to view the wildflowers.

After walking through the wash, the trail begins climbing Bee Rock Mesa. This mesa and the surrounding hills are wedged between two faults that have squeezed and uplifted the rocks and gravel to create this straight line of sharply defined hills along the fault.

The trail winds its way along the ridge of the mesa. Although this is not a knife edge, be careful since there is a 90-100 meter drop off on either side of the trail. Enjoy your walk on the mesa; take in the sweeping views knowing that 3+ miles directly beneath your feet is the San Andreas fault.

After hiking 1.6 km, the Horseshoe Palm grove appears on the right-hand side of the trail at the base of the hill. This long string of palm trees extends over 1.5 km. These palms flourish in the middle of the desert because the fault beneath us has pulverized the bedrock allowing groundwater to seep close to the surface and nourish these trees. It’s not uncommon to see a straight line of palm trees or other vegetation growing along sections of the San Andreas fault.

The path follows the ridgeline for 2.5 km. By now the crowd will have significantly thinned out with most people returning to their cars. Unfortunately, these people assume the wildflowers in the wash are the best part of this trail – they are so wrong.

Over the next 1.25 km, the trail begins a gradual descent to the floor of the Pushawalla Canyon. A section of the trail has been heavily eroded by recent rainstorms. This isn’t a difficult area to navigate but it does require more careful footing.

After 3.2 km of hiking, you emerge on the floor of Pushawalla Canyon and are almost immediately surrounded by a lush green environment. In both directions, for as far as the eye can see, there are the Pushawalla Palms. Why is it called Pushawalla? Legend has it that Pushawalla was the name of a local Native American who lived to be over 100 years old. Allegedly he died when a summer cloudburst flooded the canyon he was in and swept him away. The canyon where he was found is called Pushawalla Canyon.

The California Fan Palms are the only palm tree native to the United States. The telltale sign of the California Fan Palm is the “skirt” of old dead palm fronds that cascade downwards around its trunk (rather than dropping off like other palms). Be careful walking around the fallen palm fronds. They’re often used by rattlesnakes for cover and shade; snakebites have been reported in the Pushawalla Palms area. It’s worth repeating, respect desert wildlife.

You can explore Pushawalla Canyon in both directions. Underground fissures caused by the San Andreas faults provide groundwater in the canyon an easy route to the surface. You’ll notice a small stream flowing on the ground. The stream often mysteriously disappears into the sand and then reappears further down on the trail. Be on the look-out for rabbits, coyotes, and all kinds of birds who are drawn to the water.

Often it feels more like you are walking through wetlands with tall grasses and vegetation encroaching on the trail. It’s strange that this beautiful desert oasis was created by faults and earthquakes that we normally only associate with damage and destruction.

After exploring the palm oasis, it was time to head back. There are several options you might want to explore. For our return we chose to climb out of the canyon via the rock gully that we had used to descent from the ridge and then follow a trail to the base of the hills. Walking on the desert floor provides a new perspective of the terrain. As we passed the Horseshoe Palm grove, we had a clear view of several people hiking on the ridge trail above us.

As we hiked further away from the hills, the vegetation became sparser. But remember, the interesting thing about the desert is that it hides its beauty so well.

If you are hiking in the late winter or spring be sure to move slowly and look carefully. You will find a variety of small and large flowering plants and maybe even a lizard or two along the trail.

After hiking on the desert floor for slightly more than 1 km, we climbed back up to the ridge and made our way to the car.

For this hike we logged 10 km, but various maps indicate typical lengths ranging from 6-8 km. Our excess mileage was due to our extensive exploration of Pushawalla Canyon. Even with a stop for lunch and photos, we completed the hike in 3.3 hours. In the satellite image below, the red dot marks the trailhead, and the green dot marks the intersection where we rejoined the ridge from the desert floor on our return route.

Hiking along the San Andreas Fault in the Coachella Valley is not about finding the “giant crack in the ground”. Millions of years of erosion have piled upwards of 3 miles of gravel and rock debris on top of the fault. Although the fault is buried, you know now that it’s easily visible by following the strip of green vegetation that runs in a straight line against an otherwise bare series of hills and brown desert washes. Hopefully, this information will encourage you to explore the San Andres Fault and Pushawalla Palms on your next visit.

Additional Resources

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

Places to Stay

There are countless resorts, boutique hotels and Airbnbs to stay at in the Greater Palm Springs area. Except during the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals in April, obtaining a booking should not be a problem.

Places to Eat

Because the Greater Palm Springs area is such a tourist draw. There are eateries to meet any need.

Here are a few of our favorite spots to enjoy an after-hike dinners:


A Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru is the most famous of South America’s trekking routes.

The 26 mile trek includes a mix of Inca ruins, mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest and subtropical jungle, leading to the sacred Inca city of Machu Picchu.

Though the terrain is not extremely difficult to hike, the high altitude will make it hard for an unprepared hiker. Hikers will need to spend several days in Cusco before the hike to adjust to the altitude. Drinking lots of water will help to acclimatize to the altitude.

There are only 500 Inca trail permits available per day, including support staff such as cooks, porters, and guides. So, we recommend booking your Inca trail tour at least 3 months in advance. During the peak summer months, however, you may want to book even further in advance.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru

The best time for hiking the Inca Trail

The dry season, which is the best time of year to go, lasts from May to October or November and the rainy season is from December to April. The Inca trail is closed in February due to heavy rains. Day time temperatures can range anywhere from 50-82ºF, with night time temperatures from around 32-50ºF.

What to Pack for the Inca Trail

The tour operator you choose will help determine exactly what you need to bring on the trek. Usually they supply the appropriate duffel for you to pack and for the porters to carry, which can weight up to 17.6 lbs. You will carry only a light day pack. Usually they also provide all camping equipment, except for sleeping bags, which are available to rent. We highly recommend layering with water soluble clothing, or fabric the doesn’t retain moisture, and advise against wearing cotton, which absorbs water quickly and is slow to dry which can make for an uncomfortable trek.

We recommend you bring the following:

  • A small day pack that holds your sunglasses, hat, sun screen, insect repellent, a camera, a reusable water bottle, a wind jacket and rain gear.
  • One complete change of clothing per day.
  • Sweater and jacket for cool days or nights, gloves and winter hat recommended.
  • A down jacket is recommended for evenings, as it can get very cold at night.
  • Warm sweat pants for evening around camp and in tent.
  • Comfortable high top and water proof hiking boots.
  • Comfortable wool socks.
  • A pair of sneakers to wear around camp and a pair of flip flops for showering.
  • Passport.
  • A flashlight and batteries.
  • Personal toiletries and medications.
  • Medium sized towel.
  • Peruvian currency (soles) for tips and small purchases along the way.
  • Sleeping bag (if you choose not to rent one).

Check out our hiking gear guide.

What documents do you need to hike the Inca Trail?

You will need a passport that is valid at least six months after your date of arrival. Citizens from the US, UK, Canada and Australia visiting as tourist do not need a visa. Tourist may stay a maximum of 90 days, should you be staying longer you will need to request an extension from the Peruvian immigration authorities. All visitors must fill out a copy of a tourist card which will be provided on your flight to Peru; keep this in your passport and present it to authorities when departing the country.

Tipping on the Inca Trail

We recommend tipping your porters $10 per day and tipping your guide $15-20 a day.

Machu Picchu

Your journey will begin in Lima, where you will spend the night and depart the next day for Cusco. On most treks you will hike an average of 4-7.5 miles per day. Once you reach Machu Picchu you will spend the night and return to Cusco by train the next day. If you do not want to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you can also get there by train.

Hiking the Inca Trail with GAdventures

GAdventures was named the Best Inca Trail Tour Operator by the Regional Direction of Foreign Trade and Tourism of Cusco (RDFTTC) in Peru. By joining this tour, you will be helping to support over 569 local guides, porters, cooks, drivers and staff.

Their four-day Inca Trail trek combines the cultural highlights of the Sacred Valley with hiking through the region’s ruins, mountainscapes, and cloud forests.

Check out the tour here.

Visiting Peru? Check out these posts:


Hiking Mohonk in New York’s Hudson Valley

We’re all craving the great outdoors a little bit more than usual lately. Hiking has become the latest big craze, which means that we’re all looking for new routes to explore and mountains to conquer!

If you’re thinking about hiking Mohonk in New York’s Hudson Valley, you’ve come to the right place.

There are 85 miles of winding hiking trails to experience, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced.

Hiking Mohonk, USA
Mohonk Preserve hiking trail in USA

How to get to the Mohonk Preserve

Start by driving up the NY thruway to Exit 18 – New Paltz, stop for breakfast in this quaint college town, pack a picnic lunch and  head up to the Mohonk Preserve

You can’t miss it… aim for the tower set atop the alabaster cliffs of limestone.

The preserve is a world-renowned Mecca for rock climbers

As you make your way up the winding Route 55, keep your eyes on the road. It is hard to resist the temptation to watch the colorful climbers on their precarious routes. Park at the West Trapps Trailhead Lot, our stepping off point for the Undercliff Carriage Road where our hike begins.

Hiking Mohonk

While hiking Mohonk, you’ll be up-close and personal with the rock rats – Men, women, and children weighted down heavily with a variety of packs, clinking climbing gear strapped to every part of their body, looking more like walking hardware stores than outdoorsmen. Coils of rope swung bandolier style across both shoulders complete the uniform.

However, we are here to hike. As you march further along Undercliff, you will soon lose sight and be out of earshot of the shouting … “On belay!”“Climbing!”“I can’t go any higher” (fearfully), “Bring your left foot up”.

Two miles from your start, you will come to a junction – Left takes you to the heavily travelled Overcliff Road.

The right leads you off to…somewhere.

Stay straight which leads you through the cool valley of Laurel Ledge a canyon that immerses you in a blanket of greenery…mountain laurel and rhododendron. 

The cool damp air embraces and refreshes you. After some smaller cliffs on your left you will come to the road less travelled – the Old Minnewaska Trail.  A gradual climb brings you to a middle level of the ridge. Invisibly above, The Overcliff Road parallels your trek.

The air is decidedly warmer as heat radiates off the rock slabs and the scent of pines float on the wind, like dragon’s breath.  Two miles later, you reach Split Rock, a cleaved limestone that channels the —-creek—-.  It was once used a sluice for a sawmill.

Turn left onto the Red Trail for a short, but steeper uphill hike back to your starting point at the parking lot.
This 5-mile hike is just one of the 70 miles of carriage roads and trails available at the preserve.

Don’t forget to bring your camera when hiking Mohonk!

About the Mohonk Preserve

Hours of Operation:

Open 365 days a year, sunrise to sunset. Hiking is permitted during daylight hours, from 7am to dusk.

Mohonk Hiking trail fees:

April – November
$29 – per adult (ages 13+)
$24 – per child (ages 4 – 12)

COVID Regulations:

At this stage, all hikers MUST purchase their hiking passes online. Your hiking pass includes access to the hiking trails on Mohonk Mountain House property.

Upon arrival, you will have your temperature screened. All day hikers are required to wear masks while hiking Mohonk and hikers are required to physically distance themselves of at least 6 feet from other hikers.

Getting to the trail:

Take the New Paltz exit 18 off of the NYS Thruway. Go 7 miles west (through New Paltz) on Route 299 to the end: make right on Route 44-55.

You can view the Mohonk hiking trail map here.

To prepare for your day of hiking, we recommend that you bring a packed meal, bottled water, rain gear, and headlamp. You can also read our post on the best hiking gear.

Here’s a few more hikes to check out in the US:


Tsitsikamma National Park Hiking Trails

The Tsitsikamma National Park is situated in the heart of the famous Garden Route in South Africa. The park offers some fine coastal scenery and sometimes the option of whale-watching.

There are some pretty amazing Tsitsikamma hikes that allow you to explore this beautiful national park on foot.

Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan (early inhabitants of the area) word meaning, “place of much water.” They probably referred to the average annual rainfall of 1200mm.

Check out our gear guide to hiking.

Tsitsikamma hikes, South Africa
Tsitsikamma National Park hikes

Tsitsikamma hikes: The most popular hiking trails

Nature – Storms River suspension bridge

The forest walkway to the bridge has recently been upgraded and the development of a circular route with some more suspension bridges is underway.

Short Tsitsikamma hikes

Here’s two short trails (no fees or permits needed):

  • Mouth Trail. 1km, a linear route. Walk from the Park’s Restaurant to the Suspension Bridge, the key feature of the Tsitsikamma National Park, a long free-hanging bridge. It can often be seen on photographs, advertising the Tsitsikamma.
  • Viewpoint Trail. Walk past the Suspension Bridge, 2km, linear route. The first part is a pretty steep climb, towards the viewpoint it becomes a more gentle slope. You get a nice view of the Indian Ocean, the mouth, the bridge and the restcamp.
  • Waterfall Trail. First half day hike of the famous Otter trail, starting at the Oceannettes on the eastern side of the restcamp. 6,4km to the waterfall and back, just over 3 hours (a linear route). The latest starting time in summer 2:30PM and in winter 1:30PM. The hike is marked as difficult, due to uneven and slippery terrain. Take along your swimming gear for a refreshing dive under the waterfall, which marks the half way point. 
  • Loerie Trail. Starts a little bit east of the restaurant, a small walk past a viewpoint, offering only ocean views. 1,5km and circular. 
  • Blue Duiker Trail. 5,5km and circular. It starts along the Loerie Trail, later turns towards the coastline, following the Waterfall Trail back to the Oceannettes.

Multi day Tsitsikamma hikes

  • Otter Trail. 42km, 5 days and 4 nights with good overnight huts. You have to book ahead. Bookings can be taken a year in advance, which means that there are often last minute cancellations, so it’s always worth seeing if you can get in at the last minute. Bring your own food and sleeping bags. You do not need tents. You need to be fairly fit as the trail follows the cliffs and hills along the coastline, dipping down to the rivers. What goes down must come up… It’s beautiful and only 12 people are allowed on any one part of the hike, so it really is unspoilt and worth doing. Be prepared for a difficult river crossing on day three. Please check with the parks officials when low tide is and ask for advice on getting over the river.
  • Tsitsikamma Trail. Hike from Nature’s Valley through the Tsitsikamma Mountains to Storms River. You can choose to walk 2 to 6 days, with or without porterage. If you want to walk just a section, just a day it appears to be possible as well. Visit their website.

Visiting The Garden Route? Check out these posts:


Hiking in Hong Kong: Easy & Beautiful Trails

Despite being a large, bustling city, Hong Kong is an excellent place to get outdoors in nature!

Since ~70% of Hong Kong’s land is covered in greenery and country parks, hiking is a popular activity for locals and expats. Often the trails have gorgeous views and lead to some spectacular destinations.

On your next Hong Kong trip, I highly recommend trying a hike to experience Hong Kong’s outdoors and see some beautiful nature.

 

Here are three easy, yet beautiful trails to get you started!

1. Quarry Bay Tree Walk

Distance: 3.2 km / 2 miles

The Quarry Bay Tree Walk is an easy trail through the forests behind the Quarry Bay neighborhood on eastern Hong Kong Island. Start at the Taikoo MTR station (exit B) then walk west on King’s Road. Turn onto Greig Road and walk up until you reach the Tree Walk.

The trail is mostly paved and has a slight elevation gain (124 m/406 ft). Along the way, you’ll encounter remnants of the Wartime Communal Kitchens (listed as Wartime Stoves on Google). These kitchens were used during the second world war in Hong Kong as an influx of refugees after the fall of Canton led to increase of food demands.

Continue along the Quarry Bay Tree Walk until you reach Mount Parker Road. At this point, you can turn and head back down towards Quarry Bay or choose another trail for a longer hike.

 

2. Dragon’s Back Hike

Distance: 5.4 km / 3.4 miles

The Dragon’s Back hike is a meandering ridge trail located in Shek O Country Park in southeastern Hong Kong Island. Because the trail is on a ridge, you’ll have spectacular views of the sea and Hong Kong’s south side as you hike.

To get there, ride the MTR to Shau Kei Wan station (exit A3) then take the number 9 bus to the trailhead. The first part of the hike is a gradual climb up to the ridge. Once you reach the ridge, you’ll be able to see Shek O Beach off to the right and Tai Tam Bay on the left. The trail undulates across the “dragon’s back” for ~2 km (1.25 mi) and offers amazing views. Some days you’ll find paragliders setting up for flight on the hillside.

Once you’re finished the ridge, you’ll descend into a forest and have a flat and shady walk for the remainder of the trail. At the end of the trail, turn left to head back to the road to catch the bus.

If you’d like a longer hike, turn right and continue on to Big Wave Bay (~2 km extra). The descent to Big Wave Bay is rather steep and consists mostly of stairs.

 

3. Sai Wan Pavilion to Ham Tin Beach in Sai Kung

Distance: 5.1 km / 3.2 miles

Although it’s a bit difficult to get to this hike, the views and secluded beaches along this hike make it worth the effort!

The hike from Sai Wan Pavilion to Ham Tin Beach is located in Sai Kung East Country Park in New Territories. To get there, you’ll need to take a combination of MTR and bus to Sai Kung town. Once you arrive in town, you can take a taxi to the Sai Wan Pavilion.

The trail begins along the stunningly turquoise High Island Reservoir. Even on a cloudy day, the color of this water never ceases to amaze me. Most of the first part of the trail is flat or downhill until you reach Sai Wan Beach – the first of four gorgeous beaches in Sai Kung East Country Park.

At this point, you could stop your hike. I prefer to continue to Ham Tin Beach – the second beach – which is larger and even more beautiful. Both beaches have restaurants, toilet facilities, beach equipment for rent, and places to purchase boat tickets to return to Sai Kung town.

 

Any Questions?

Do you have any questions about hiking in Hong Kong or these three beautiful hikes? Please let me know in the comments below!

If you’re looking for other Hong Kong hikes or tips on traveling to Hong Kong, be sure to check out the Becky Exploring blog.