Overviewprominence peaks in California with a prominence of 3,314 ft. The summit of the Granite Mountains is one of the peaks listed by the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section in Riverside County.
The Granite Mountains are located in the southeast corner of the California desert in the Palen- McCoy Wilderness. The Palen-McCoy Wilderness is one of the largest roadless areas in the California desert and is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The wilderness was created by Congress in 1994 and currently includes a total of 212,983 acres. Included in the wilderness are 5 separate mountain ranges including the Palen Mountains. These mountain ranges are separated by wide bajadas. The only wildlife I saw on my hike was a jack rabbit, but a wide range of wildlife inhabits the area including burro deer, coyote, bobcat, gray fox, kit foxes, mountain lion, and a wide variety of birds.
There are two trailheads listed by the Sierra Club to access the Granite Mountains, but there are other approaches available for the adventurous hiker. The route I hiked is the longer of the two listed by the Sierra Club and is rated as Class 2. This is a beautiful area and a great place to visit in the winter. The peaks are not high enough to accumulate snow, so you can escape the snows in the north, and enjoy lots of winter time hiking.
The Granite Mountains are located in the Palen – McCoy Wilderness located between I-10 and I-40 in the southeast California desert. The easiest directions are from Desert Center located on I-10 about midway between Indio and Blythe. Desert Center is not much of a town and most of the businesses are closed. If you need supplies or gas, plan on stocking up before you get to Desert Center.
From Desert Center drive north on SR 177. This is a good road. Follow it 17.0 miles and turn right or east off the highway onto a dirt road. This dirt road also goes west, so make sure you turn east. There aren’t many roads in this area so this turnoff is not hard to find. As soon as you turn off the highway, you will be able to see the road continue straight across the desert for several miles. The Granite Mountains are ahead to the left side of the road.
I suggest you shift your vehicle into 4WD as soon as you leave the paved highway. Zero you odometer here. The first 5 miles are straight across the desert and it is quite sandy. 2WD vehicles have been known to get trapped in the sand pits. Continue straight and at 7.0 miles the road finally has a small turn to the right and at 8.0 miles you start going through some washes. The further you go the worse and deeper they become. Some of these are steep enough to drag my rear bumper. At 9.0 miles the road takes a sharp turn to the left and heads north (the Granite Mountains are straight ahead now). At 10.3 miles the road makes a sharp turn to the east. There is a sign here marking the Palen-McCoy Wilderness. This turn is where the trailhead is located. Pull off the road and park. Elevation is 1,224 ft.
The Desert Peaks Section of the Sierra Club lists another trailhead that is accessed from Palen Pass. I tried to drive to this other trailhead but I couldn’t get over one section of the road before I got to Palen Pass, so I turned around and came back to this trailhead. The other trailhead may be accessible if you enter the wilderness from the east.
This is the desert and there shouldn’t be a problem finding a parking spot. Be careful not to drive into the Wilderness Area though.
There are many places along the route where you could backpack camp including the summit. There is no water available along the route. In fact, if there is water, you are probably in big trouble from a flash flood.
When to ClimbWeather for Palen-McCoy Wilderness. The dangers here are the extreme heat in the summer, flash floods, and getting stuck in your vehicle.
Mountain ConditionsWeather is the most important thing to check before considering doing this hike.
Weather for Palen-McCoy Wilderness
Be conscious of thunderstorms and extreme heat. In the winter, it can be surprising cold at times especially when the wind is blowing.