Hike Swiss Canyon: Mar 2020

Updated: Jan 17

Hike Distance: 4.2 miles



We were uncertain as to how far we should venture out with the CA shelter-in place order but the online FAQs stated that hiking in areas outside of State Parks was acceptable if people respected social distancing. For our first hike we decided to hike and off-the-beaten path not popular trail in Desert Hot Springs called Swiss Canyon. On the trail we saw several signs for Brice Canyon so that might be a more local name.


The 2.1-mile out-and-back trail in northeast Desert Hot Springs makes a steady ascent of 475 feet over half of its distance. It starts at 1,326 feet elevation, already higher than much of the Coachella Valley.

Snowy San Jacinto summit from Desert Hot Springs Swiss Canyon trail

The trail started in the foot hills of the Little San Bernardino mountains. The trail first passed through an open desert environment.

Hiking in foot hills of the Little San Bernardino mountains, Swiss Canyon trail
Hiking in foot hills of the Little San Bernardino mountains, Swiss Canyon trail

The second section of the trail passed through a canyon.

Entering canyon on Swiss Canyon trail Desert Hot Springs

There were several small rock ledge climbs. Nothing technical or difficult but it made the hike more interesting.

Climbing rocky ledge in Swiss Canyon trail in Little San Bernardino mountains
Climbing rocky ledge in Swiss Canyon trail in Little San Bernardino mountains

After the short climb we entered a wash with tall canyon walls rising on either side of the trail.

Hiking in the wash of Swiss Canyon in Little San Bernardino mountains
Towering canyon walls on Swiss Canyon trail

Gneiss and schist rocks were formed under intense heat and pressure when the North American and Pacific tectonic plates crashed and ground into each other (convergent boundary).

Gneiss and schist rock ledge in Swiss Canyon in Little San Bernardino mountains. San Andreas Fault Network

This area was a great environment for wild flowers including these tiny desert bluebells growing against the canyon wall.

There were also a few prickly pear cactus in bloom.

Flowering prickly pear cactus in Swiss Canyon in Little San Bernardino mountains

There were two more climbs to the scenic lookout. The first was a 10-15 feet climb up a perpendicular fracture in a rock wall. With great hand holds it was an easy climb.

Scrambling up rock face in Swiss Canyon in Little San Bernardino mountains
Scrambling up rock face in Swiss Canyon in Little San Bernardino mountains

The last climb was on a rock wall with great foot holds and then a narrow pinch point.

Scrambling up rock face in Swiss Canyon in Little San Bernardino mountains

All that was left was to hike a scree covered hill to the scenic overlook.

Hiking in Swiss Canyon in Little San Bernardino mountains

Our reward was an unobstructed view of San Jacinto rising above the valley floor. Mt. San Jacinto is an impressive sight from the hill. Rising 10,834 feet, it’s the sixth highest peak in the lower 48 states. Making the San Jacinto even more dramatic is that 10,000 feet of that elevation rises in just 7 miles, one of the steepest gains in the lower 48.

Snowy San Jacinto summit and mountains from Swiss Canyon vista in the Little San Bernardino Mountains

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