Road Trip: California’s Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

This article was written for the Visit Greater palm Springs Convention & Visitor Bureau.

Road Trip: California’s Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

Greater Palm Springs is known for its beautiful scenery and warm weather, but just a few miles to the south is a scenic drive that offers high mountain wilderness and serpentine roads—all under two hours, provided you don’t stop at some of the gorgeous sights along the way.

The drive? The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway, an officially designated scenic drive by the Bureau of Land Management.

Here’s a guide to traveling this picturesque route.

National Monument Visitor Center

Begin your trip at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Visitor Center, located on Highway 74 in Palm Desert. Pick up a map and some visitor information but take note: the Visitor Center is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Highway 74 Switchbacks

As you depart the Visitor Center heading south on Highway 74, you’ll almost immediately begin winding your way up the mountain in a series of switchbacks. There are beautiful views spanning the Greater Palm Springs area and ample opportunity to take them in.

Coachella Valley Vista Point

Part way up the mountain is this large viewpoint with plenty of parking. Definitely plan on a stop here to take in the sights and snap a few photos.

As you continue up the mountain, the road begins to unwind itself and you’ll start to notice a change in vegetation. Short gangly pinyon pine trees begin to emerge from out of the rocks, so as the highway unfurls through the small towns of Pinyon Pines and Pinyon Crest, you’ll see how these places got their names.

Pinyon Pines to Ribbonwood

The highway through this region begins to unfold like a roller coaster with a series of wide ripples. Again, the vegetation changes and you’ll notice more pine trees as the land becomes less rocky.

Paradise Valley – Highway 74 & Highway 371

Where these two highways meet is a good spot to stop for a break. The Paradise Valley Cafe is a popular place for travelers, and you’ll almost certainly see motorcyclists and families lunching here. Hikers with massive packs abound here too, since the Pacific Crest Trail passes nearby.

When you’re ready to move on, stay on Highway 74 south.