Art Smith Trail with Bighorn Sheep: Feb 2020

Updated: Jan 20

Hike Distance: 6.4 miles


The Art Smith trail is approximately 8.2 miles running from Palm Desert to the intersection of Dunn Road and the Cathedral Canyon trail head. This is one of the signature trails in the National Monument, offering scenic views across the Coachella Valley and Santa Rosa mountains. It's easy to escape the sights and sounds of the cities along the Art Smith. The trail climbs through canyons and alongside lush palm oases but you need to stay on the trail to avoid disturbing desert animals that depend on these vital habitats.


Despite the fact we hiked this trail in 2019, its worth hiking numerous time and the trail head is only a 15 minute drive from the condo. In addition, the trail is a well-known location to spot Bighorn Sheep. Since Dave didn't see any up close last year we were hoping for to get lucky today. If you're interested, click on the link to navigate to the 2019 Art Smith Hike blog.


The trail starts along Highway 74 or from the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument Visitor's Center where The Friends of the Desert Mountains volunteers operate a gift shop and bookstore and also offer group hikes, lectures, and host classroom programs and projects.


It's a quick and steady 500-600 foot climb once you reach the trail head, but it's also the start of some great views.

Overlooking Dead Indian Canyon wash Art Smith trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

It doesn't take long before you get incredible view of the surrounding mountains.

Santa Rosa Mountains from the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

The first oasis on the trail is struggling to survive.

First palm oasis along the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

Healthy plants along the trail. Since I set up an account on the iNaturalist app (the FODM introduced me to this app), I'm taking more plant and wildlife pictures to identify and track my observations as we hike. For more information on the app click on the link iNaturalist App.


Desert Agave

Desert agave along the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

Gander Cholla Cactus

Gander cholla cactus along the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

Mojave Yucca

Mojave yucca along the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

California 'Dave' Barrel Cactus

California barrel cactus along the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

Desert Lavender

Desert lavender along the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

The second oasis was in much better shape than the first oasis.

Second palm oasis along the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

After more than 3.2 miles we turned around not having seen any Bighorn Sheep but were still hoping to spot a few on the way back.

Hiking the Art Smith trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

A few miles after turning around, we spotted several Bighorn Sheep grazing on a hill side.

Pennisular bighorn sheep feeding on the Art Smith trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains
Pennisular bighorn sheep feeding on the Art Smith trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

Within minutes a dozen more sheep joined them.

Pennisular bighorn sheep and lamb feeding on the Art Smith trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

It was then that we spotted several lambs that were traveling with the herd. We were respectful and kept our distance so as not to spook the lambs. It was great getting a chance to observe these beautiful desert creatures.

Pennisular bighorn sheep lamb along the Art Smith trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

After I posted these observations on iNaturalist, the curators from the 'California Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species Group' and the 'US Federally Threatened and Endangered Species Organization' both added my observations to their site. Not bad for a rookie.

Pennisular bighorn sheep and lambs feeding on the Art Smith trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains

We arrived back to the car very satisfied. We had started the day hoping to see some Bighorn Sheep on the trail and ended up hitting the jackpot. What a great way to start our winter hiking season in CA.



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