Family Desert Hiking: Devil's Punchbowl Natural Area

On a little trip to the greater Los Angeles area, we decided to get out of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and headed out for a desert hike at Devil's Punchbowl Natural Area in Pearblossom, California near Palmdale.  The park is very remote, far away from the "main civilization" of Palmdale, on the skirts of the San Gabriel Mountains.  We arrived on a perfect fall day but I could imagine how hot the park gets in the middle of summer.

Devil's Punchbowl Visitor Center
The parking lot was pretty empty and I was not expecting the visitor center to be open at all, so I was surprised to find it open and was glad we decided to check it out!  There was no mention on the website that the visitor center had animals so it was quite surprising to see all the live spiders, snakes and insects as well as some taxidermy animals.  The ranger was very happy to show us the around the tiny Visitor Center, gave us a little lesson on the Honey Ants that you can eat alive.  We didn't want to eat them but apparently they taste sweet, like candy!  They also had a neat Animal Track Chalkboard Art.

RATTLESNAKES ~ The ranger told us the baby rattle snake (collage featured above) was born a few days prior to our visit.  He blew air into the vent which made the rattle snakes shake their rattles, something we've never experienced!  My son cried to leave but he still wanted to see the snakes, intriguing fear!

Punchbowl Loop Trail (1 Mile)
I don't know why I still have the belief that we could quickly hike five miles with our toddlers, but we opted out to hike Punchbowl Loop Trail which started in the Visitor Center/Picnic Area, the ranger suggestion.  The canyon looked deep, deserted and dry which would be great to find a dry creek bed for the kids to play in, so down we went into the canyon.  How can long can one mile take?

With having to touch every rock, spiky bush, sand piles and climb every rock my children encountered this one-mile loop took us a whopping two hours for this family of four!  It was a beautiful day to hike, the weather would get nice an warm when the sun was shinning and would cool off when the sun hid behind the clouds.  We sat took pictures, let the kids roll around in the trail, though after visiting the visitor center I was a little paranoid of snakes!

The Dry Creek Bed
We took a little off shoot trail down to the dry creek bed before head out of the canyon.  Earlier the ranger explained to us that normally there is "some" water all year round but the minimal rain has cause the creek to go dry.  A little sad but a dry creek bed is also fun to explore with little ones.  There were amazing sand rock formations as well as seeing how the creek has shaped the boulders over hundreds of years.  My kids also love sand and the creek bed provided lots of soft sand for them to play with, better than a playground sand box!

Lunch, climbing boulders, throwing rocks, playing in the sand and maybe some napping in the dessert sun took place in that dry river bed.  There may or may not have been some "Flash Flood" survivor reenactment ala Bear Grylls down in the creek bed, just in cased it rained on us.  Having so much fun in the creek, we reluctantly packed up and started hiking up hill out of the canyon.

Up and Out of Canyon
Hiking up hill is always a little challenging with toddlers and we had about 0.5 miles left.  My kids can barrel down the mountain on a slight down hill, but throw in a little uphill with a tiny bit of warm temperature and they wilt!  It's rather irritating how long it takes to hike up hill, knowing that my son has the ability and energy to hike five's a mental block he has but then again he's only four.

We got to see the creek from a different perspective going up the trail and saw lots of birds hanging out in the canyon rocks across the creek.  We coaxed the kids with candy all the way back to the parking lot.  My son sprinted on the flat sections of the trail but then wilted then instant we hit an uphill section.

Taking an Uphill Break!
My only complaint about Punchbowl Loop Trail is the trash I saw thrown into the canyon near the parking lot.  If you start hiking near the Visitor Center (counter clockwise on the trail map) it's very clean until you start hiking up hill towards the parking lot.  So many cans, bottles, food wrappers...I always pick up trash on the trail but there was so much thrown into the canyon.  Seems like a place people come to hangout after hours to drink.

Trail Report Details
Devil's Punchbowl Natural Area - Trail: Punchbowl Loop
Mileage: 1-1.5 miles (extra to the creek bed)
Elevation Change: 343 ft (per Strava)
Time with Toddlers: 2 hours
Family Friendly: Yes - Check weather!

Devil's Punchbowl has lots of geological features, Native American history, as well as being very near by the San Andreas fault and other smaller faults.  It's a great small park to visit if you are in the Palmdale area!  For more information please visit their website at or visit their Facebook Page.

This was our first time hiking in the desert! Where have you been desert hiking with your family?

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