Monarch Hot Springs – Desert Hot Springs, California

On a recent road trip through the desert Southwest, I was lucky enough to stumble across one of my favorite natural wonders: Monarch Hot Springs. The springs are located in Desert Hot Springs, California, and can be found along a short trail just east of Palm Drive and south of the I-10 freeway. A local group named Friends of Monarch has been working to preserve the springs and is in the process of getting them officially designated as a city park.

Monarch Hot Springs are fed by an underground thermal aquifer that maintains a constant temperature of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius). The aquifer is also highly mineralized, which gives the water a distinct orange color. As it flows out of the ground, it cools into a series of small pools that create an oasis in the desert landscape. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Monarch Hot Springs for yourself—including tips on how to get there and what to expect when you arrive.

How to Get to Monarch Hot Springs

Monarch Hot Springs
Monarch Hot Springs

The easiest way to get to Monarch Hot Springs is to hop in the car and drive. They are located about an hour east of Palm Springs and 40 minutes west of the Coachella Valley. The springs are located in the small desert town of Desert Hot Springs, which has a population of about 25,000 people.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can also take a dip in the hot springs while hiking along the Tahquitz Canyon Trail or while trekking through the Wonderland of Rocks. The springs are located on public land within a larger area known as the Desert View Natural Area Preserve that includes a large rock canyon and several hiking trails. You can view a map of public lands in the area here.

The hike to Monarch Hot Springs is pretty short—only about one-quarter mile (0.4 kilometers) one way—and is relatively flat, with only one short hill at the end. It’s also very easy and well-maintained, with a gravel trail and plenty of trees providing shade from the hot desert sun. The trailhead is located along an inconspicuous street just east of Palm Drive and south of the I-10 freeway.

The springs are located alongside Highway 10 about a half mile east of Palm Drive and two miles south of the freeway exit for I-10. You’ll know you’ve found the right spot when you see a small turnout on the east side of the road with a handmade sign announcing the springs.

What to Bring

As I mentioned, the springs are located in a fairly natural setting, so you don’t need to worry about bringing a lot of extras. However, there are a few things that will make your visit more enjoyable.

First and foremost, you’ll want to bring a swimsuit and towel. The pools are clothing-optional, but most people opt to wear suits. The area is very popular with the LGBT community, so you will likely see plenty of people wearing suits regardless of your own preference. Just be aware that if you do choose to go nude, you will be sharing the space with other naked people (including children).

Additionally, if you plan to spend any time hiking through the desert before or after your visit at the springs, I highly recommend bringing plenty of water and sun protection. The trail is short but can be quite hot in the middle of summer—and there are no facilities along the way. Additionally, if you plan to hike in Joshua Tree National Park or other desert areas during your trip, bring along decent hiking shoes or boots—the terrain can be quite rough.

When to Go

The good news is that you don’t need to wait for summer to visit the Monarch Hot Springs. In fact, the cooler months are probably more pleasant, as temperatures in the low 80s Fahrenheit (low 30s Celsius) and dry weather mean that you can enjoy the pools without getting too hot. The pools also often have fewer visitors in winter and early spring.

If you do visit in summer, be aware that temperatures can be extreme in this desert environment. It can get over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius) on a regular basis, and there is little shade surrounding the springs. Be sure to bring plenty of water and apply sunscreen liberally—you don’t want to end up with a case of “desert rash.”

If you do visit in summer, be aware that temperatures can be extreme in this desert environment. It can get over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius) on a regular basis, and there is little shade surrounding the springs. Be sure to bring plenty of water and apply sunscreen liberally—you don’t want to end up with a case of “desert rash.”

Where to Park

Because the area around Monarch Hot Springs is fairly undeveloped, there aren’t many designated parking spots (at least not yet). The best place to park is on Palm Drive, which is the main road that runs through Desert Hot Springs. If you’re coming from the east and have just passed the I-10, you’ll see a sign for Palm Drive about a mile after the freeway exits. Turn right and park along the side of this wide road (with room for oncoming traffic).

If you’re coming from the west, you’ll pass Desert Hot Springs High School on the left before reaching the I-10. Turn left at the high school and drive about .5 miles to an intersection with a gas station on your right and a church on your left. There is an open stretch of road here with plenty of parking along both sides. You can also turn left at this intersection and park at a small park with picnic tables and a playground (where the trailhead for Monarch Hot Springs is located).

The Trail to the Pools

While there is no official parking lot, there is plenty of roadside space along Palm Drive where you can pull over and set up camp. I had no trouble finding a place to park (there are also some spaces in the neighboring shopping center).

The hike to the springs is short and easy, but you will want to bring at least a little water with you. The trail begins by following an old dirt road before splitting off down a hillside. The first pool you’ll come across is the Big Tub, which is the largest of the springs.

The trail continues past this first pool, descending into a sandy wash where you’ll pass a series of smaller pools before arriving at the smallest pool, known as the Little Tub. If you’re feeling up for it, there’s also an optional side trail that leads up to a small grove of palm trees.

What to Expect

Monarch Hot Springs
Monarch Hot Springs

Although the dirt access road to Monarch Hot Springs is fairly rough, the hike to the pools themselves is fairly easy, with a few shallow steps and some rocks to navigate along the way. The trail is also very short—only about 50 yards from the parking area to the springs—so it’s great for kids or anyone else who isn’t up for a long hike.

The springs are located in a small depression about 10 feet below the level of the access road. The depression is lined with concrete and stone to create small pools, with more stone and concrete seating constructed around them. There are several different pools, ranging from shallow to deep enough for swimming.

There are no lifeguards on duty (or any other official attendants) at Monarch Hot Springs, so please use caution and common sense when visiting. And even though the pools are fed by a natural aquifer, they should not be considered potable water.

Is It Dangerous?

As with any outdoor activity, hiking to Monarch Hot Springs has some inherent risks. The hike itself is fairly short and very doable for almost anyone in decent shape, but there are still a few considerations to keep in mind.

The most obvious danger is the heat. The springs are located in the desert, so the summer days can be extremely hot in this area. Make sure to dress appropriately and bring plenty of water with you. The hike itself is exposed, so make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat, too.

Because the trail to the springs winds through a canyon, it also has its fair share of potential dangers associated with any slot-like canyon. Watch your step along the rocky trail—it’s easy to slip and fall here. And rattlesnakes are common in this area, so be alert for any slithering along the trail (make sure your hiking companions are also on the lookout).

Bottom line

Exploring the Monarch Hot Springs is an incredible experience that no one should miss. From the stunning views of the desert to the healing elements of the hot springs, there is something here for everyone. Whether you want to take a dip in the pool, relax in the sauna, or take a hike around the desert trails, you will find plenty of activities to keep you occupied while soaking in the gorgeous views.

If you’re looking for a unique and relaxing getaway, then look no further than Monarch Hot Springs in Desert Hot Springs, California. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and get ready to explore this amazing oasis in the desert.

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Local information

Address: 18735 Corkill Rd, Desert Hot Springs, California 92241