Classic Roads

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

Most visitors to Palm Springs are there for the climate and the golf. But the roads around the desert hideaway are some of America’s most remarkable. If you’re in the area without one, rent or borrow a motorcycle to enjoy the sweet curves, high desert landscape, and mountain views of the Palms to Pines Highway. Then continue on the Ortega Highway through the Santa Ana Mountains to San Juan Capistrano, via Lake Elsinore. Highway 74 turns south, rising from Highway 111 in Palm Desert, 15 miles southeast of Palm Springs, and snakes wildly across the face of the San Jacinto Mountains in a series of blissful sweepers and smooth turns. Semitrailers are not recommended—which is a blessing! Pull into the Palm Desert overlook to enjoy magnificent views across the Coachella Valley, which are even more spectacular at dusk. Spinning past the Santa Rosa Mountains, 74 winds around rocky, undulating terrain before exiting into broad, flat Paradise Valley. 

From 4,500-foot Mountain Center, 74 begins a riotous descent on fresh tarmac and fast, open curves into the suburban sprawl of Hemet in the Diamond Valley. Take a good map as well as your GPS unit.

Outside Perris, changing its name to Ortega Highway, 74 drifts along open country to edge past Lake Elsinore before beginning the switchback climb into the Santa Ana Mountains. There are glorious views across the lake from the highway, which spirals into the cooling shadows of the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park before emerging into farm and ranchland, drifting down through the coastal hills. The Ortega Highway and 74 terminate at the Interstate 5 intersection in San Juan Capistrano, 124 miles from Palm Desert.

Ride 74 in spring or fall; daytime temperatures in the valley can hit above 100 degrees in summer, and in winter higher elevations may well be snow-covered. 


(End of preview text.)

For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2016 back issue.