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Hiking the Wilderness Loop in Palm Desert

The Wilderness Loop Trail is a highly entertaining and scenic hike in Palm Desert. This kid-friendly Palm Desert hike is located within the Living Desert Zoo, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is some gimmicky zoo hike.

The Living Desert Wilderness Loop Trail is a beautiful nature trail leading hikers up onto the western shoulder of Eisenhower Mountain.

The Wilderness Trail offers family friendly hiking in Palm Desert, CA

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The Wilderness Loop Trail Hike Highlights

The Living Desert Wilderness Loop hike is one of the most popular Palm Desert hikes. Here are the top reasons our family enjoyed the Wilderness Loop hike:

  • The hiking trail leads you through a 2,700 foot (820m) long ‘boulder field’. The warning signs on the trail make it sounds scary, but in fact it’s not that bad and really a lot of fun for the kids. The black and white speckled rocks in the boulder field add to the beauty of this mountain canyon.
A small boy carries a lion stuffy while on the Living Desert hiking trails
  • The rugged, rocky Eisenhower Mountain terrain along the Wilderness Loop trail is so interesting, that even our kids noticed. The unique terrain is fun for kids to play and climb on and is a big part of what makes this a really fun and kid-friendly hike in Palm Springs.
The rocky terrain on Eisenhower Mountain made the Wilderness Loop one of our favorite Palm Desert hikes
  • As you reach the far end of the loop and start to come back down along a ridgetop trail, the aerial views of Palm Desert, Palm Springs and the surrounding mountains are incredible .
Amazing views of Palm Desert from the Wilderness Loop hiking trail at the Living Desert in Palm Springs
  • Being on the same property as the Living Desert Zoo makes this an especially kid-friendly hike. The Living Desert Zoo has been named one of the Top 10 Zoos in the United States, making it worth a visit even without the Wilderness Loop Trail.

Living Desert Wilderness Loop Hike Overview

As you may guess by the name, this family-friendly Palm Desert hike is a loop trail, giving you two directions to choose from. Based on our research, we hiked the Wilderness Loop counter-clockwise. The slope of the incline is less steep going counter-clockwise and the scenery is better suited to hiking in this direction.

A mother teaches her daughter about rock formation while hiking at the Living Desert in Palm Desert

We recommend you hike the Wilderness Loop trail counter-clockwise as well.

The Flatlands

The Wilderness Loop hike begins in the flatlands leading up to Eisenhower Mountain. The flat and wide trail has a rocky hill on the right with arid desert scrub on the left.

A small boy hiking in Palm Desert

There’s an opportunity to take a small detour up the side of the hill to see and learn about the impact the nearby San Andreas fault has had on the local geography.

Teach kids about the San Andreas Fault at the Palm Springs Zoo
Teach your kids about the San Andreas Fault with the interpretive sign and viewing tubes on the Adventure Loop at the Palm Springs Zoo

After the second picnic area, you’ll see a bunch of warning signs about how difficult the trail is about to become. Only you will know if the Wilderness Loop hike will be too hard for your family. We recommend you read the stats and descriptions of the hike below and make your decision based on your knowledge of your family’s hiking capabilities.

The trail sign for the Wilderness Trail zoo hike

The Boulder Field

The Wilderness Loop becomes a real hiking trail at this stage as it enters a beautiful Eisenhower Mountain valley. You’ll see another scary looking sign which talks about a ‘boulder field’, but it’s not nearly as bad as they make it sound. It’s more like a ‘small rock field’…

The boulder field on the Wilderness Loop make it a fun, kid-friendly Palm Desert hike

Sure, there are boulders on either side of the hiking trail, but the biggest rocks you’ll encounter on the path can be stepped on (or over) without any climbing or scrambling required. In fact, we discovered that these rocks are perfect for playing an epic game of Hot Lava with your kids!

Kids enjoying playing Hot Lava while hiking in Palm Desert

We had talked to some hikers on the trail prior to entering the Boulder Field. They had turned back due to the scary boulder field sign and they were encouraging us to turn back as well. We’re so glad we went to see for ourselves as it was so much fun! Not scary at all!

Check out our pictures of the Boulder Field – it doesn’t get much worse than that.

The "boulder field" on the Wilderness Loop at the Living Desert Zoo is more like a "small rock field"

Middle Slopes of Eisenhower Mountain

The first 1.7 miles (2.8km) of the Living Desert Wilderness Trail is easy and quite flat. As you exit the boulder field, the trail starts to climb up the side of the canyon wall.

A family hikes up the western slopes of Eisenhower Mountain at the Living Desert Zoo

Here the Wilderness Trail becomes narrow with rocks steps and the occasional steep drop-off. The rocky canyon scenery just keeps getting better and as you hike further into the Eisenhower Mountain canyon, and the mountains in the distance just keep getting bigger. It’s a very beautiful scene.

Two kids play on the Living Desert hiking trails in Palm Desert

At the end of the canyon, the Wilderness Trail turns sharply to the left and continues its moderate climb up the slopes of Eisenhower Mountain. The rock formations through this leg are super cool – our kids loved them so much it made the uphill walk seem almost effortless.

A family enjoys hiking near Palm Desert

After 2.8 miles / 4.5km, you reach the highest point on this Palm Desert hike. Here you can stop at the Eisenhower Mt. Picnic Area – plunk down and treat your family to a well-deserved rest at the covered picnic table.

This Palm Desert Zoo picnic area is halfway up Eisenhower Mountain on the Wilderness Loop hiking trail

The Ridge Walk Back to the Living Desert Zoo

The final leg of the Wilderness Trail hike descends back down to the Living Desert Zoo along the top of an Eisenhower Mountain ridgeline, affording you spectacular views in all directions. The green golf courses of Palm Springs really stand out against the giant arid mountains which surround the city.

Hike the Wilderness Loop to enjoy views of Palm Desert from Eisenhower Mountain

The descent is mostly a moderate decline, but there is a short stretch where it gets a little steeper. The trail is gravel, so it can get slippery in spots.

A family enjoys the Living Desert hiking trails in Palm Desert

Before long, you’re back in the flatlands making a beeline back towards the Living Desert Zoo. No really – there’s literally a bee exhibit right next to the trailhead!

Hiking the Wilderness Loop Trail with Kids

This Living Desert hiking trail may seem a bit long for some kids, but it’s fun and not that hard. Chances are good your kids will handle this hike without issue if they are reasonably active.

kid-friendly Palm Desert trails at the zoo

Here are a few other considerations for hiking the Wilderness Loop hike with kids:

  • Being on the Living Desert Zoo property, there are washrooms everywhere around the animal exhibits. Be sure to go beforehand and there are no facilities on the trail. Being a desert, there are very few places to hide along the trail.

  • There are also drinking water stations throughout the zoo, but none on the trail. The Living Desert Zoo recommends hikers bring a minimum of 2 quarts of water per person on the Wilderness Loop. We recommend both parents carry water bladders for maximum ergonomic water storage.

  • It was cloudy and even a bit chilly on the day we hiked the Wilderness Trail in mid-February. But typically, your biggest risk on this Living Desert nature preserve hike is sun exposure. Be sure your kids wear sun hats, have ample sunscreen on and stop for frequent water breaks. If they are not asking to stop and pee, they haven’t had enough water.

  • The Wilderness Loop hike is not stroller accessible, but it’s common in Palm Springs for parents to carry their little ones on their backs in a carrier. Ospry was the most popular brand of hiking child carrier we saw while hiking Palm Springs.

  • Dogs are not allowed in the Living Desert Zoo, and as such, are not permitted on the Wilderness Loop Trail either.

  • Most kids love climbing on rocks and there are plenty of opportunities for them to show off their monkey skills on this fun kid-friendly hike.
Family-friendly hiking in palm desert at the Palm Springs zoo

The Wilderness Loop Trail Hike Stats

Wilderness Loop Trail Distance:

The full round-trip distance of this Living Desert hiking trail is 5.4 miles / 8.7km.

Beautiful vistas of Palm Desert from the Wilderness Loop Living Desert hike

Elevation Gain on the Wilderness Loop Trail

This Palm Desert hike is a slow, steady climb up the lower western slopes of Eisenhower Mountain. The total elevation gain on this hike is 745 feet / 227m.

You may be interested to know that elevation of Eisenhower Mountain is 1,922 feet (586m) above sea level. Your family will make it more than halfway up as this Palm Desert hike tops out at 1,007 feet (307m).

A family hikes up Eisenhower Mountain on the Living Desert hiking trails

How Hard is the Living Desert Wilderness Loop?

We’d rate this Palm Desert hiking trail as ‘moderate’, mostly due to its length. The Wilderness Loop hike can be split into three distinct difficulty sections:

  • The first 1.6 miles (2.5km) are easy. The trail is so flat you’ll barely notice the 98 feet / 30m elevation gain.
A small boy walks the easy Discovery Loop on his way to the Wilderness Loop at the Palm Springs Zoo
  • The next 1.2 miles (2km) is the only section of noticeable uphill hiking on this Eisenhower Mountain hike. You’ll gain roughly 490 feet / 150m over this stretch for an average slope of 8%.
A boy enjoys the boulders on the Wilderness Loop Living Desert hike
hiking Palm Desert with kids

As you can see, only 1.2 miles of this Living Desert Zoo hiking trail will present any physical challenge. It’s not an easy walk by any stretch, but you’re not summiting San Jacinto Peak either. It’s a moderate hike and our 4 & 6-year-old kids did it without breaking a sweat.

Two kids having fun while hiking the Wilderness Loop trail on Eisenhower Mountain in Palm Desert, CA

If your family is reasonably active, you should have no trouble hiking the Living Desert Wilderness Loop with kids.

How Long will the Wilderness Loop Hike Take?

It took us 3.5 hours to hike the Wilderness Loop trail (4 hours including breaks) with our kids. This is a little faster than usual for a hike of this length as our kids were having so much fun, they ran a decent amount of the hike.

Using our typical adult hiking speed, hikers without kids can expect to complete the Wilderness Trail hike in 2 – 2.5 hours. By way of comparison, the Living Desert Zoo webpage estimates the Wilderness Loop hike will take between 3-5 hours. Budget your time based on your capabilities.

Our kids loved this beautiful, round, purple cactus on the Wilderness Trail

The Wilderness Loop Trail Location

The Wilderness Loop Trail is within Living Desert nature preserve and can only be accessed with purchase of admission to the Living Desert Zoo. The Palm Springs zoo has been ranked one of the top zoos in the USA. Visiting the zoo and adding on this hike is one of the best things to do in Palm Springs with kids.

There are so many things to do with kids at the Palm Spring zoo

The Living Desert Zoo is in the southern part of Palm Desert. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Central Palm Springs, but it only took us 15 minutes from our family-friendly Palm Desert hotel.

The Wilderness Loop Trail is on the eastern edge of the Living Desert Zoo. Its location is easy to find on the map of the zoo and by using the helpful sign posts within the zoo.

Living Desert Zoo Hiking Trail Information Sign for the Discovery Loop, Adventure Loop and Wilderness Loop

The Living Desert Zoo Location

The Wilderness Loop Trailhead Location

Living Desert Zoo Map (pdf)

Living Desert Hiking Trails Seasonal Closure

Please note the Living Desert Zoo hiking trails are closed for the summer. The hiking trails are open from October 1 – May 31 every year.

Palm Desert flowers

Wilderness Loop Trail Map

The good folks at the Living Desert Zoo have put up a lot of useful signage all along the hiking trail, so you likely won’t need a Wilderness Loop Trail map. Simply enter the hiking trail near the Native Bee Garden and you’ll be on your way – just follow the trail signs.

Trail signs for Eisenhower Mountain hikes in Palm Desert

When we need a hiking trail map, we always use the AllTrails hiking app when we go hiking with our kids. We downloaded the Wilderness Loop trail map into our AllTrails app our phones and followed along using the phone’s GPS.

Having the Wilderness Loop trail map on our phones gave us peace of mind that we were always on the right hiking trail. Search for “The Living Desert Wilderness Loop Trail” within the AllTrails app.

You can also view the Living Desert Wilderness Loop Trail map online.

A young girl reads the Living Desert zoo map on the Wilderness Loop hiking trail

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

There are several covered picnic tables along the Wilderness Loop hike, all of which are noted on the trail map. We stopped at one of the lower picnic tables to eat our packed lunch and then at the Eisenhower Mountain Picnic Area at the very top to eat raspberries and the yummy freshly baked cookies from our hotel lobby.

Kids enjoying raspberries on a family picnic while hiking in Palm Desert

If the picnic tables are full, there are plenty of benches found along the lower parts of the trail in the flatlands below Eisenhower Mountain.

Wilderness Loop Safety Cautions

The Wilderness Loop hike is a popular, kid-friendly Palm Desert hike. The vast majority of families hiking here will not have any safety incidents, but here are a few safety tips for hiking in Palm Desert with kids:

  • There are a few sections of trail where there are steep drop-offs. Hold little hands for safety during these sections.

  • There are some dangerous animals who live in the Living Desert nature preserve including bobcats, coyotes and rattlesnakes. We didn’t see any of these animals and chances are very good you won’t either but be aware especially if your kids like to run ahead or dawdle behind.
hiking trails in palm desert may have dangers - be careful hiking with children

What to Bring when Hiking Palm Springs with Kids

We do a ton of hiking with our kids and know that bringing the right gear along is important. Equally important is not bringing too much unnecessary gear.

Specific to hiking in Palm Desert with kids, we’d like to reiterate the importance of having hydration packs filled to the brim with water, hiking hats, and sunscreen.

The Wilderness Trail was one of our favorite kid-friendly hikes in Palm Desert

You could probably get by with normal shoes on this Palm Desert hike, but with the boulder field, rocky terrain and a steep gravel downhill section, you’ll be better off with hiking shoes with good grips.

We have an entire post full of all our best tips for hiking with kids and this one with all the best hiking gear for kids.


As you can see, the Living Desert Zoo Wilderness Loop trail is a beautiful, kid-friendly Palm Desert hike. The Living Desert Zoo is an excellent thing to do with kids in Palm Desert, so combining this hike with a visit to the zoo will make for a memorable family outing.

a family enjoys one of the Palm Desert hikes from the Living Desert Zoo

We hope you enjoy this kid-friendly hike as much as we did. We think it’s one of the best hikes in Palm Desert for kids!

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