Summer is the perfect time for a local road trip and the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway is a great choice that requires almost no planning, just a spare day (and some snacks).
This popular route, designated a California State Scenic Highway, traditionally begins just outside of Palm Springs. Its name refers to the unique landscape, as the 67 mile trip takes you from palm trees in the desert all the way up to pine trees in the mountains. In just a few hours you will have traveled through a variety of ecosystems and two watersheds (Whitewater River Watershed and Santa Ana River Watershed), leaving you in awe of the natural diversity of Riverside County.
To officially start your trip, begin at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Visitor Center in Palm Desert to pick up a map and other road information. Please note that during the summer (May – September) the Center is only open Friday through Monday. As you begin your drive uphill, there are two lookouts where you can stop to take in the panoramic views and vistas of the mountains and the valley.
As the drive continues, you’ll notice that the cacti transition into pine seedlings. Halfway through your drive you will pass Lake Hemet, a popular spot for camping and fishing. If you are a fan of classic comedy films, then this section may look familiar since it was the location where Jimmy Durante crashes off the side of the highway in the 1963 movie “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”
Once you hit the mountainside, you can make a pit stop in Mountain Center or Idyllwild to fill your tank and your belly before heading home.
If you’re looking to feel the wind in your hair on a beautiful summer day, then load up the car with your favorite snacks and favorite people, roll down the windows and head out on the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway.