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.
Follow the road to the end of the chocolate colored hills and then around the back/north side of these hills to the end of the road. This is about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. Follow the road until it ends and you are looking at a big dry wash that sits between you and the Granite Mountains. If the wash is flowing with water, turn around and come back another day. As you look across the dry wash, notice a small brush filled V shaped inlet coming in on the far side. Make your way down into the wash and across to the V shaped inlet. Climb back up using the inlet to the far side. Do not follow the wash upstream.
Now, head directly at the Granite Mountains. Do not cross through the wash again. Stay on the high ground. You will pass through some minor drainage areas but keep heading straight at the mountain. If you refer to the attached Topo, the waypoint “Grnt2F” about .75 mile distant is you first goal. Stay on the high ground and stay out of the wash on your right. Keep an eye on the wash because you will follow it most of the way up to the summit. It looks almost flat from the trailhead to the mountain, but you gain about 700 ft before you start up the ridgeline. The ridgeline that you climb is impossible to see from the trailhead. All the colors seem to blend together and it looks like you will be going straight up a cliff.
Once you find the ridge you will notice that there is a big dry wash on either side of the ridge. Stay on the ridge and as you begin climbing you will notice a faint climbers trail. Climb up to point 996. You can climb directly over this point or pass around to the left and come up to the saddle on the far side. Continue following the ridge all the way up to where it meets the main east/west ridgeline of the Granite Mountains. This entire climb is rated Calss 2, but you can find some Class 3 places to climb if you want. Just before reaching the east/west ridgeline I traversed to my right towards the summit and a little saddle. Once in the saddle it abut .25 mile of easy hiking eastward to the summit. Enjoy the views!!!
Hopefully, you looked behind once in a while on your way up the ridge. It can be confusing finding the right ridge on the way down and landmarks are important. Make sure you are heading down the right ridge and stay near the top of the ridge. This hike isn’t that far at about 10.2 miles and 3,200 ft of elevation gain, but it is kind of tedious. It took me 8 hours for the hike. It was slow going because of all the route finding and rocks. Did I mention there are a lot of rocks? No trees, no bushes, just rocks.