Tahquitz Falls

Agua Caliente Indian Reservation / Palm Springs / Riverside County, California, USA

Rating: 2     Difficulty: 2
Tahquitz Falls
Tahquitz Falls was one of the more spectacular desert waterfalls we've ever experienced.

Typically, we avoid driving way out to the deserts for waterfalls, especially when we perceive them to be not worth the trouble, especially if we felt they wouldn't flow. But after our most recent experience with this roughly 50 or 60ft waterfall, we're seriously reconsidering those thoughts and perceptions! Indeed, this experience kind of opened our minds up to the possibility of experiencing more waterfalls this far east of the Los Angeles basin.

Julie and I were amazed how we could've missed this waterfall during our years of waterfalling. Perhaps the reason was that it was closed to the public before 2001 when the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians finally finished work to restore the area (including the removal of graffiti, evicting transients, and making the otherwise rugged trail more manageable for visitors from the neighboring resorts in Palm Springs.

The Tahquitz Falls Visitor Center The hike consisted of a two-mile loop with interpretive markings throughout. Most of the points of interest were Native American sites from rock mortars, rock art, natural shelters, and even an old ditch. Even though the loop could be done in less than an hour, we very easily could've consumed the better part of a half-day checking out these various spots. We ended up spending about 90 minutes on the trail, including all the stops and picture taking.

We did this hike in a clockwise direction because this side of the trail (at least towards the beginning) seemed to get most of the morning shade. But by the time we were on the trail in the late morning, most of the shade was gone. A little more than half the walk followed Tahquitz Creek on its "upper" side starting with a brief climb, then descending towards the creek before climbing moderately some more until reaching the waterfall. The last stretch of the trail involved going up a series of steps to make up the majority of the 350ft elevation gain.

Tahquitz Falls seen from the common viewing area Once we were at Tahquitz Falls, there was what I called the common viewing area, which was basically an open patch of land at the edge of the waterfall's plunge pool. This was where most of the visitors could crowd in, have a picnic, and get an angled view of the falls wedged between a crevice before crashing onto a boulder at its base.

For more frontal views of the falls (see photo at the top of this page), we had to rock hop our way onto the middle of the stream where foliage above us didn't obstruct the view. From here, it looked as if the falls split the cliff as deep blue skies contrasted the bright white cliff face. Perhaps the only thing keeping this spot from being the de facto spot to take photos was the mist from the falls itself (that was how well it flowed during our visit!).

I actually thought the rock hopping part was a rock bridge before it became partially submerged due to the high water. Indeed, the loop trail continued beyond the stream crossing and continued following Tahquitz Creek's flow downstream on its "lower" side. It was during this stretch that it seemed the more sparsely spaced steps were higher (maybe that was what the visitor center warned us about regarding the 12" to 18" steps).

This stretch also passed by a USGS gauging station followed by a pair of attractive small cascades as well as an old irrigation ditch. After a brief interlude where the loop trail merged, it split once again as it made its final descent back towards the visitor center. Since we were following this trail clockwise, we were able to get nice views of downtown Palm Springs from this part of the trail.

There is one more thing we do want to mention about this waterfall. Ever since we became aware of Tahquitz Falls, we've seen in the literature other photos where the falls either was trickling or wasn't flowing well. As far as we could tell, this waterfall is fed by snowmelt from the San Jacinto Mountains so its flow will most likely peak during the March through May timeframe. It really depends on the snowpack and how hot the weather becomes to melt the snow. We believe our Tahquitz Falls experience just so happened to be at a time when its flow was probably much higher than normal.

Directions: From the Los Angeles basin, we followed the 91 Freeway east until it merged with the 60 Freeway, and then merged with the 10 Freeway. That was when the 10 passed by the Cabazon outlet and Morongo Casino, and about 10 minutes east of there, we took the Highway 111 towards Palm Springs.

Once in town, Hwy 111 continues through the downtown area as North Palm Canyon Drive. Beyond the southern end of the downtown area, look for Mesquite Ave, then turn right and follow this road uphill past the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center and into the car park.

When we were there in 2011, this hike costed $12.50 per adult and $6 per child. They're open daily from October through July 4th weekend from 7:30am to 5pm. In the scorching hot months of July through September, they're only open on weekends (Friday through Sunday) 7:30am to 5pm. These hours and prices I'm sure are subject to change.

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Looking back towards the south end of Palm Springs from the Tahquitz Falls car park
Trail starts from the backside of the visitor centerTrail starts from the backside of the visitor center

The canyon gets boxed inThe canyon gets boxed in. That was where we expected to find Tahquitz Falls.

Julie traversing one of the bridges over Tahquitz CreekJulie traversing one of the bridges over Tahquitz Creek

An interesting lookout spotAn interesting lookout spot on the "upper" side of the trail

A rock shelter that looked like it might have had some historical or archaeological significanceA rock shelter that looked like it might have had some historical or archaeological significance

Steps leading towards the end of the loopSteps leading towards the end of the loop

Attractive cascade just downstream of the main fallsAttractive cascade just downstream of Tahquitz Falls

Just to give you a sense of scale, we saw this couple braving the icy water in a warm embraceJust to give you a sense of scale, we saw this couple braving the icy water in a warm embrace

The busy common viewing areaThe busy common viewing area

Looking back at the rock hop traverse before the fallsLooking back at the rock hop traverse before Tahquitz Falls

Heading back on the lower side of the loop trailHeading back on the "lower" side of the loop trail

We spotted this interesting-looking butterfly along the trailWe spotted this interesting-looking butterfly along the trail

Pair of tiny cascades below a USGS Stream GaugePair of tiny cascades below a USGS Stream Gauge

View of downtown Palm Springs on the last descent to the visitor centerView of downtown Palm Springs on the last descent to the visitor center

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Reverse L-shaped sweep of the falls from its top to the viewing area

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For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.

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