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Indian Wells Canyon

BLM Public Land
Charlotte's phacelia and coreopsis on slope in Indian Wells Canyon. – Shelley Ellis

Indian Wells Canyon is a great place for either active recreation or quiet relaxation. It is a perfect place to connect with the natural beauty of both the desert and the pine forest ecosystems. It is also a majestically scenic area to take an invigorating hike or to go on a quiet bird watching walk. Bird watching and wildflower viewing are exceptional because the road and trails provide access to so many habitats, such as desert shrub, riparian, Joshua tree woodland, and pine forest.

With spectacular cliffs rising dramatically over the canyon bottom, Indian Wells Canyon is located a short distance west of Inyokern and about 15 miles west of Ridgecrest. The turn-off is just north of the Indian Wells Brewery off of Hwy 14 onto BLM route SE 52. This route is basically a cherry stem into the Owens Peak Wilderness. One of the fascinating aspects of driving into Indian Wells Canyon is that the route traverses through a variety of vegetation types as it ascends up the canyon into progressively higher elevation zones. The route begins in creosote desert community, then gradually enters Joshua tree woodland, and finally arrives in pinyon, juniper, and gray pine forest. Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, and white fir grow near the ridge-line.

The Indian Wells stream flows down the canyon. The riparian area adjacent to the stream provides habitat for a variety of birds and butterflies, as well as providing shelter and water for all wildlife. The area is a great place to watch birds, including golden eagles which nest on the cliffs and forage in the valley. In winter and early spring, flocks of mountain bluebirds and western bluebirds inhabit in the Joshua tree woodlands. Sage thrashers congregate by the dozens in March.

Hikers can access the Pacific Crest Trail and the trail to Owens Peak at the upper end of Indian Wells Canyon. The lower portions of Indian Wells Canyon are very hot in summer, but are perfect for hiking in October through April. The upper elevations often receive winter snow. A branch of route SE 52 to the southwest leads to Siebert Cabin and a former mining area with an interesting history. Visitors can enjoy the camping sites (5 of them) and picnic tables here. A short loop trail leads along the small stream behind the cabin. Owens Peak trail-head is reached by taking the northwest branch of route SE 52 when it forks. An information kiosk at the trail-head provides information about the Owens Peak Wilderness.

The trail to Owens Peak , with an elevation of about 8,400 feet, is relatively easy in the beginning, but it becomes steep and rugged with large boulders to climb over. Mule deer and black bear live in the forest. Always watch for rattlers along the trail since the area is home to the shy Western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis).

In years with adequate rainfall, wild flower displays can be stunning in Indian Wells Canyon. Orange poppies often blanket the upper slopes in the spring time. In July of 2010 an extensive wild fire burned some of the area, which has resulted in spectacular wild flower displays. With enough winter precipitation, next spring should also bring vibrantly colorful wild flowers. Charlotte's phacelia, with its vivd blue blossom, is an uncommon species that blooms on steep, granitic, south-facing slopes. This flower is a vivid blue

Pet Friendly Notes

Pets are allowed off leash as long as they are under voice control and do not present a threat to other visitors or to big game. Mule deer inhabit the higher elevations of the canyon, although they are present in low numbers.

Recreational Opportunities

Activities depend on the season mainly because the summer time is very hot. Recreational activities in fall, winter, spring include: hiking; camping; quail & chukar hunting (with CA Fish & Game hunting license); horseback riding; photography; bird-watching; and wildflower viewing (March- May). In heat of the summer, drive to the cooler, upper elevations at the end of the road for hiking, camping, picnicking, etc.


Seasons Accessible

Indian Wells Canyon is accessible in all seasons. Some winters may have short periods when snow makes certain portions of the road impassable. A high clearance vehicle is recommended for the upper part of the canyon.

Nearby Places