The Hidden Trail To Flag Mountain – Desert Hot Springs, CA

Not all those who wander are lost. –J.R.R. Tolkien

The glorious view from Flag Mountain

I’ve always been a huge J.R.R Tolkien fan all the way from the original 1936 novel “The Hobbit” to the 21st century “Lord of the Rings” movies based on his works. Many years ago we took the fantasy a bit further and went on a road-tripping, back-packing trip to southern New Zealand to hike the very hills where the films were made. What a trip!

Now, Desert Hot Springs is not exactly Fjordland but it’s got those same wild, open expanses that set your heart beating and run your imagination wild. What’s even better is there are a TON of hidden trails. These are the kinds of hikes used by  generations of tribes and explorers, known only to locals and with cryptic directions such as “walk about a half mile to the dirt road, turn right at the elephant rock, follow the leaning lady to the barrel cactus by the old cairn….etc.”, inevitably always followed by the comment “oh it’s easy, you can’t miss it”. For a woman with the directional sense of a single-celled organism these kinds of things are, putting it mildly, always a challenge…and of course I LOVE challenges.

There’s the barrel cactus, or one of about 100 in the area…

I managed to glean the info for such an adventure from my neighbours who’d heard it from some other guy that heard it from some other guy who did the trail several years ago and placed the flags.

The obscure path is known locally as “Flag Mountain” and ingeniously involves both entities -> a flag and a mountain. This was an encouraging sign for me since I figured that even if I completely missed the trail (which would undoubtedly happen), I would surely be able to see the mountain and possibly even espy the flag. In other words, there was hope of success!

The pooch and I loaded up on water and headed off exploring. In fact we spent the entire week wandering the hills while Paul flew away to Flint, MI for his buddy Matt’s wedding. We got lost (multiple times), bush-whacked (almost constantly), got side-tracked by many flag mirages and false trails, but eventually, through sheer stubbornness and dumb luck, we found the hike!

Waaay up in the mountains by Desert Hot Springs

When Paul got back we completed the entire circuit and proudly posed at the flag that honors the hike. It may not have matched Frodo’s dark hike to Mordor, nor the tumultuous path of early pioneers, but it sure did feel like my own personal glorious adventure.

P.S. For those of you looking to re-enact this little adventure, here are approximate directions. From Sam’s Family Spa turn left at the main exit and walk ~1/2 mile along the road to a raised dirt road on your right. Follow that road approximately straight back to the mountain (last 1/3 will be bush-whacking). Then locate the ridge trail that goes slightly right and all the way to the top. Good luck!

Posing at the top

Contemplating all and everyone who’s gone before…
Day-time in the desert
The end of another beautiful day!
Old Glory in her prime
On the hidden path
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    • libertatemamo says

      You know if the trail was lined with food I would certainly do alot better…haha. Still persistence pays in the end even for single-celled organisms.

  1. says

    Love the Desert Hot Springs area. You made the reenactment directions easy enough. I think we can make it the next time we are in that area. Enjoy the beautiful scenery.

    • libertatemamo says

      I’m sure you guys can find it. Feel free to ping me if you’re in the area and next more detailed directions.

  2. says

    We lived just up the hill (as Sheryl calls it) in Yucca Vally for a while. Sure do miss that area, so much to do. You can really get lost in J-Tree NP, what a great place to check out while your there.

    • libertatemamo says

      I LOVE Joshua Tree. I’m always amazed at how BIG the park is when I get in the area. We won’t make it this time around, but went last year and will plan to come back.

  3. says

    Makes me miss the two spring break trips my family took down to Arizona to visit my grandparents. We would spend a good chunk of the week out hiking. some day soon I’ll get out to the desert again, and spend more than a week there.


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