Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hiking Rancho Mirage - Survivors Loop Foothills Hike

Every town should be so fortunate as Rancho Mirage. In this age when communities are on the front lines of the obesity epidemic, Rancho Mirage is truly blessed to be home to fitness hiking trails with such variety as these.

The Survivors Loop hike begins at Rancho Mirage Cancer Survivors Park
The Rancho Mirage trailhead practically starts at a bus stop next to city hall, at State Highway 111 and Frank Sinatra Drive, where there's a park honoring cancer survivors. From here, trails go up and down along the foothills, snaking through canyons and passing unrivaled views of the northern Coachella Valley and surrounding mountain ranges before heading back to the beginning at a soon-to-open 5-star resort - the much anticipated Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage.

Rancho Mirage Cancer Survivors Park, seen from the Jack Rabbit Trail
The hike I describe here is actually a composite of several trails: the Jack Rabbit, Road Runner and Chuckwalla trails to be exact. From the parking area, go through Cancer Survivors Park and take the Jack Rabbit trail up the back side of the hill you see on your right. You will go up several switchbacks and pass the Bighorn Overlook before finally reaching Frank Sinatra Road at about 1.2 miles. Cross the road and take the Road Runner trail up the hill. Soon it will turn into the Chuckwalla Trail as it bends around and passes over two developer-flattened hill.

At the top, you will see a trail spur to your right. Take this first of two short spurs on this hike for an incredible view, then return to the original trail and go straight on and into a canyon. There will be a trailer park deep in the canyon below and to your right, and then you will notice another trail spur. Take this one to the end, to what I call Survivors Point, which looms above the intersection of Highway 111 and Date Palm Drive and overlooks Cathedral Canyon and downtown Cathedral City. Go back to the original trail and continue on.

View of Santa Rosa Mountains from first spur on the Survivors Loop hike
This part of the Chuckwalla Trail winds in and out of small canyons and passes below the Mirada Villas housing development before eventually ending up at an area cleared for the Ritz Carlton Development at Frank Sinatra Drive again. From here, walk carefully down Frank Sinatra until you arrive to the point where you crossed the road down earlier, and take the Jack Rabbit trail once again to the bottom of the hill at Cancer Survivors Park. You could also choose to re-trace your steps back along the Chuckwalla Trail, excluding the spurs, to add another 1.25 miles.

At the first spur junction, this arrow directs your way to the canyons
I am inspired to call this hike the Survivors Loop, and here's why: 1) When I hike here I do it in honor of all of the people in my life who have survived or are currently fighting to survive cancer, 2) Because I myself am a survivor of super obesity, and hiking these trails has allowed my fitness and weight-loss goals to survive while visiting the area, and 3) The trails here are old and exist in a constant state of jeopardy, surviving only because developers consider them a value-added selling point.

The Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage is itself a survivor, adding perhaps a fourth reason for the name Survivors Loop. The property was almost fully completed when the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 left its developers bankrupt. The resort has stood silent in these hills since then, but recently the City of Rancho Mirage struck a deal with a new developer that promises to put the project back on track. Apparently, The Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage will survive and open sometime in 2013.

Going back the way you came provides many views you may have missed
If you're interested in hiking the Rancho Mirage trails, here are some quick stats for the Survivors Loop hike:

Trailhead: You can find parking in a small lot between Rancho Mirage City Hall and the Cancer Survivors Park just off State Highway 111. Additional parking can be found in the city hall lot at the corner of Highway 11 and Frank Sinatra Drive. You can also shorten this loop by driving up Frank Sinatra Drive a bit and parking where you see the Chuckwalla Loop sign on the right side. Starting here cuts off about 2 miles.
Distance: 5 miles, lollipop loop (6.25 miles for the full out-and-back route; 3 miles for the short out-and-back loop)
Elevation Gain/Loss: 300/300 feet (approximate)
Map: The City of Rancho Mirage has a trail map online, but it isn't very detailed. Still, it is difficult if not impossible to get lost in this area since views are so open and it lies within the foothills urbanized zone.
Hiking Time: About 2 to 3 hours for the full loop, depending on your personal speed.
Best Times to Hike: This hike is great year-round. In hotter months it is best to do the hike super early, so plan to arrive at the trailhead just before dawn.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (due to length)

Teddy bear cholla and Coachella Valley view, Rancho Mirage Survivor Loop
If you have any questions about this or any other hike listed on this blog, please leave your comment below. Also, you can tweet me @MyFitLife2Day.