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Palm Canyon Epic in Palm Springs, CA

April 2013

The Palm Canyon Epic is one of the most famous and demanding epics of California. For the prepared the Palm Canyon Epic will be one of the best mountain bike rides of all time, for the unprepared it will be one--if not the worst--mountain bike rides of all time. The key to tackling the Palm Canyon Epic is preparation and respect for the desert.

Over the course of 29 miles of mostly singletrack, you will descend the Palm Canyon after which the trail is named from the cool heights of the Santa Rosa Mountains to the hot desert floor of Palm Springs below. Although this ride's total elevation gain is only 2440ft and drop is only 6,000 ft, the stats for this can be misleading, and even deadly. Route finding, cacti, sharp rocks, triple digit temperatures, lack of shade, dehydration, and the ever present sun are the challenges you will face along this ride.

This is a ride for the advanced mountain biker, and on my four "tours" of the Palm Canyon Epic I have seen mountain bikers meet their match (myself included). Not due to their skill or strength level but due to their lack of preparation. That is the key to this ride: preparation. Be prepared. No matter how fast or tough you are the sun and the heat are tougher.

I have layed out a list of what you need to take with you on this ride below, so you can stay safe but also enjoy the terrain and beauty that this ride has to offer. Please take this ride seriously, and make sure you pay close attention to the list outlined below. I cannot stress enough how important it is on this ride to plan ahead. I consider it the most dangerous trail in California not because of distance, climbing, or exposure, but because of heat and complete lack of local water sources.

Preparing for the Palm Canyon Epic

  1. Water: Absolute minimum of 150oz of water. Do not take less. 200oz is the recommended amount. When I take only 150oz I normally run out at Wild Horse pass and then you are just buying your time. You can subsitude in some big frozen gatorades too. Yes this quantity of fluids will be hard to carry, but you'll suck it down in no time and your pack will get lighter.
  2. Salt: You can have all the water in the world with you, but without salt your muscles will cramp and shut down. Salt tablets or sunflower seeds (my favorite) are gold on this trail.
  3. Food: Take as much food as you think you'll need for a normal 29 mile ride. However, understand that if you run out of water you won't be able to eat anything solid, so I advise taking things like bananas that have some water (and postassium to replenish that which you've sweated out) in them vs. only hard cliff bars.
  4. Tubeless tires: Cacti are everywhere on this trail. Make sure you have fresh sealant in your tires (I made this mistake last time), two spare tubes, a patch kit, and tire boots.
  5. Paper Trail Map: I use the one from Mountain Bike Bill. Paper maps with contour elevations will help you find your position relative to your desert surroundings and paper will never run out of batteries.
  6. Sunprotection: Sunscreen and sun-protective clothing like a long sleeve shirt or arm guards, long socks and knee pads, are very helpful. When you get tired or feel like you are overheating do not take off your helmet. Your helmet helps shade your head from the sun.
  7. Start Early: In fall and spring you are racing against the heat. Be on the trail by 8AM, 9AM at the latest.
  8. Know Your Route and your Bailout Options: It is imperative to research the route ahead as the navigation can be diffulicult for those that are new to the trail or suffering from heat exhaustion. Memorize your route ahead of time.

Trail Directions

The Route: Pinyon Flats->Palm Canyon->Indian pOTERO->Dry Wash->Dunn Road->Hahn Buena Vista->Catherdral Canyon->Dunn Road->West cut across->Wild Horse->Garstin

Checkout the Geoladders GPS Route for mileage and such as I don't bring a GPS, odometer, or watch when I'm in my backyard. Going by feel this is about a 20 mile, 4 1/2 hour loop.

Trailhead Parking

Park at the Sawmill Trailhead off Hwy 74 in Pinyon Flats. There will be a paved road on your left hand side as the highway plateus in Pinyon Flats.

Where to Start

From the Sawmill parking lot, ride back to Highway 74 and cross the highway. Look down the road a couple feet and you'll see the entrance to the Pinyon Flats campground. Immediately to the right of the gate is where the singletrack starts.

Pinyon Flats

Palm Canyon

Indian Potrero Trail

Dry Wash

Dunn Road (again)

Hahn Buena Vista

Catherdral Trail


Goat Trails

That's It!

Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me for any trail info!

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