The Sawmill Trail is a 14-mile out-and-back trail in the Santa Rosa Mountains above Palm Desert. The first 5.5 miles of the trail follow the rough but wide Sawmill Truck Trail oad, also called Pigeon Springs Road, making this trail popular with mountain bikers and equestrians. There's even an equestrian camp near the trailhead, the Ribbonwood Equestrian Campground, which has drinking water, though it doesn't have bathrooms. The Pinyon Flats Campground, which is located a half-mile from the trailhead for the Sawmill Trail, does have bathrooms.
Fans of this trail note that it is one of the rare trails in the Coachella Valley that isn't unbearably hot to bike or walk in the summer. Starting at 3,000 feet in elevation and ascending to 7,000 feet, this trail is significantly cooler than nearby trails that begin and end at lower altitudes. The ascent makes this a more challenging trail, but it pays off with increasingly spectacular views. The scenery at the start of the trail is dominated by spiny desert plants and scrub. As you climb, though, you'll start seeing more trees and pools fed by mountain springs.
The first section of the trail ends at an old logging camp and sawmill where abandoned equipment and crumbling ruins make for memorable, Instagram-worthy scenes. The most notable is probably the 15-foot-tall kiln that stands like a sentinel where the trail turns from a fire road to a meandering dirt track. Continue along the now single track trail through some more open territory and you'll eventually enter a dense pine forest.
This part of the trail offers more obstacles, including rocky sections where it's possible to lose the trail if you're not paying close attention. You may have to navigate over or around some downed trees. Also keep in mind that you'll need to set up camp somewhere if you intend to complete the entire 28-mile out-and-back journey. You'll find more campsites as you approach and cross Forest Route 7S02, also known as Santa Rosa Mountain Road. As you approach the summit of Santa Rosa Peak, you'll see the ruins of a cabin that local eccentric "Desert Steve" Ragsdale built in the 1930s.
Take a moment here and let the wind ruffle your hair and your pup's fur. Even though time has eroded everything except the cabin's fireplace, there's something about this unique spot that feels free from time.