Pinyon Flats to Palm Springs via Palm Canyon is one of those rides that every experienced mountain biker needs to try at least once in their lifetime. If completed without issues, the experience will offer up years of stories and views you’ll never forget. A high level of fitness and endurance are required as well as in depth knowledge of navigation, first aid and emergency bike maintenance.
This ride is best done in small groups. On your first ride out there, it’s highly recommended that you go with someone who has been there before. Don’t count on anyone to provide navigation: you need to memorize the route yourself to safely do this ride.
The ride is best done in the winter, but before any major cold storm. Any amount of snow at the top can make the trail even more lethal than it already is, the biggest danger of which is black ice. Start the ride as early as possible, bring a water filter, plenty of food and liquids. Tubeless tires and/or slime filled tubes are an absolute minimum. Shin guards are highly recommended to avoid getting stabbed by the abundance of cactus and cat’s claw bushes you’ll be riding by.
Hydrate the day before by making sure to drink at least a gallon of water, eat a carbohydrate rich meal for dinner, and a have a light breakfast. Too much food or food that is difficult to digest will cause your blood to flow to your stomach when it is needed for your heart and muscles. Refill your hydration pack every time you find water. Of course, you’ll want to filter it first. Stop once an hour to rest and eat. This is very important. If you wait too long to eat, you will lose your appetite and you will bonk. Your hydration pack should contain pure water. Bottles on your bike should contain hydration drinks such as Cytomax which you can purchase in single serving packets. Drink at least one half (8 oz) bottle of the hydration drink per hour and sip water frequently.
WARNING: This is one of the most dangerous trails in Southern California. Know your limitations, never ride alone, and make sure somebody knows when you expect to complete the ride. Most cell phones DO NOT WORK in the canyon. Carry a map of the area, a GPS with built in TOPOs (in case you get lost, need to bail out early or need to help emergency medical services locate you) and if possible, a personal locator device such as a SPOT. You should also bring a bike light and be prepared for an overnight stay in case anything goes terribly wrong.
Referring to the map below, you’ll notice a 90 degree right turn and then a left a few miles later. This is called “the death march”. It’s a sand wash which can be very difficult to ride in. If the sand is not packed enough to easily ride, you’re better off walking this section.
At the top of the death march, you’ll see a bulldozer and a sign for the Art Smith Trail. That trail leads to the 74, but it is NOT a good bail out point since it involves a significant amount of climbing over technical terrain. Rather, if you’re out of energy, water or food at this point, or if you’re getting close to dusk you may want to bail out on Dunn Road. Dunn Road is the easiest way out. There are no other bailout points if you continue the ride, and it doesn’t get any easier. Again, know your limits. It’s better to abort the ride and attempt it another day than to push your luck.
In case you need to make an emergency abort, at any point between Potrero Canyon and the death march, you can head due east to reach Dunn Rd. Then take Dunn Rd due north back to town. But do keep in mind, you’ll be hiking across very rugged terrain filled with cactus. If you can make it to the death march, you’re better off. Or simply head back up to Pinyon Flats if you haven’t reached Potrero Canyon yet.
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