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A Guide to Hiking the Santa Rosa Mountains

Santa Rosa Mountain Hiking: Trails in the South Santa Rosas

Southeast of Highway 74, you're in the Southern Santa Rosas. It's a bit more mysterious in some places, full of desert features and peaks such as the Santa Rosa and Toro peaks above Palm Desert. The Cahuilla Indians harvested acorns, yucca fibers and pinon nuts on these slopes, and they used the same trails we can walk today. Villager Peak is nearly 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) high, and on a clear day you can see as far as 100 miles (161 kilometers) from the top [source: National Geographic].

The most popular and rugged trail in the heart of the wilderness is Cactus Spring, an 11.7 mile (18.8 kilometer) trek that leads you up 2,639 feet (804 meters) through lots of different zones and terrain types. A route to Martinez Canyon can take almost 18 miles (29 kilometers), for example, while other trails can lead all the way to San Bernardino National Forest to the west [source: USDI: BLM]. The spring itself is on Sheep Mountain.

For a shorter journey, try the 5-mile (8-kilometer) round-trip to Horsethief Creek, which includes -- with its stunning wildflowers, beautiful cottonwoods and an abandoned dolomite mine -- a fascinating history: It's named for a band of horse-traders who would steal horses from one farm, re-brand and sell them, and then go back and do the same thing with the same horses.

Garstin Trail is a moderately difficult trail, 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) with an elevation change of 893 feet (272 meters), which includes connections to the Shannon, Henderson and Wild Horse Trails [source: USDI: BLM]. An easier journey for beginners is the Randall Henderson Trail, which rises only 423 feet (129 meters) over 2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers), and begins at the National Monument Visitor Center [source: USDI: BLM].

A more strenuous trek is the 8.8 miles (14.1 kilometers) of the Boo Hoff Trail, which as a 1,916-foot (584-meter) elevation change, and a rich history all its own [source: USDI: BLM]. Named for another leader in the Desert Riders group, it's an historic Indian path that also brings you close to the bighorn habitat, while offering views of the Salton Sea and the peak of San Jacinto Mountain.