The Coachella Valley Desert is a sunny playground, and what follows is but a sampling of outdoor pastimes for visitors. Tip: The abundant sunshine and dry air that are so appealing can also sneak up on you, in the form of sunburn and heat exhaustion. Especially during the summer, but even in milder times, always carry and drink plenty of water, and slather on the sunscreen.
Ballooning -- Floating above the landscape in a hot-air balloon may be the most memorable way to see the desert. Choose from such specialty themes as sunrise, sunset, or romantic champagne flights, from $165 per person. Rides are offered by Dream Flights leaving from Goody's Café, 40-205 Washington St., in Palm Desert (from L.A., take Washington St. exit from I-10 past light to Goody's; tel. 800/933-5628 or 760/321-5454), $160 per person; and Fantasy Balloon Flights, 74181 Parosella St., Palm Desert (tel. 800/GO-ABOVE [462-2683] or 760/568-0997; www.dreamflights.com), where rates range from $170 to $185 per person for a 60- to 90-minute flight (two per day), including champagne and hors d'oeuvres. Reservations are required for both flights.
Bicycling -- The clean, dry desert air makes for ideal conditions for pedaling your way around town or into the desert. Tri a Bike Rental, 44841 San Pablo Ave., Palm Desert (tel. 760/340-2840), rents road and mountain bikes for the hour ($12), the day ($30), or the week ($99), and offers children's and tandem models and helmets as well. Off Road Rentals, 599-511 Hwy. 111, Palm Springs, CA 92262 (tel. 760/325-0376), has quads, ARVs, dune buggies, and so on. They also provide tours at $40.
Hiking -- The most popular spot for hiking is the nearby Indian Canyons, at the end of South Palm Canyon Drive (tel. 800/790-3398 or 760/699-6800). The Agua Caliente tribe dwelt here centuries ago, and remnants of its culture can be seen among the streams, waterfalls, and palm groves in Andreas, Murray, and Palm canyons. The striking rock formations and herds of bighorn sheep and wild ponies are more appealing than the Trading Post in Palm Canyon, but the shop sells detailed trail maps. The Tribal Council charges admission of $9 per adult; $7 for students, seniors, and military; and $5 for kids ages 6 to 12. The canyons are closed to visitors from late June to early September. The canyons are open 8am to 5pm, and guided hiking tours and ranger lectures are also available.
Horseback Riding -- Novice and advanced equestrians alike can experience the desert's solitude and quiet on horseback, at Smoke Tree Stables (tel. 760/327-1372). South of downtown, at 2500 Toledo Ave., and ideal for exploring the nearby Indian Canyon trails, Smoke Tree offers guided rides for $50 per hour, $90 for 2 hours; the 2-hour tour includes admission to an Agua Caliente Indian reservation. But don't expect your posse leader to spew facts about the natural features you'll encounter; this is strictly a do-it-yourself experience.
Jeep Excursions -- Desert Adventures (tel. 888/440-JEEP  or 760/340-2345; www.red-jeep.com), 74794 Lennon Place, Palm Desert, offers four-wheel-drive ecotours led by naturalist guides. Your off-road adventure may take you to a replica of an ancient Cahuilla village, the Santa Rosa Mountain roads overlooking the Coachella Valley, or picturesque ravines on the way to the San Andreas Fault. Tours run from 3 to 5 hours and cost from $75 to $150. Advance reservations are required. The company's red Jeeps depart from Coco's Restaurant at the Washington Street exit of I-10.
Elite Land Tours, 540 S. Vello Rd., Palm Springs (tel. 800/514-4866 or 760/318-1200; www.elitelandtours.com), offers a new way to visit the desert region: eco-exploration of the greater Palm Springs backcountry from the air-conditioned comfort of an all-terrain Hummer H2. Tours can include desert and mountain regions, with exploration of ancient cultures, wildlife, and geological wonders. A desert sampler travels along the San Andreas fault plus tours sand farms (2 hr.; $69 per person with a group of four). The Night Discovery Tour lets you view the desert wildlife after dark with special night-vision equipment. Tours run from $119 per person for a four-person group.
Don't miss the opportunity to explore Tahquitz Canyon, 500 W. Mesquite, west of Palm Canyon Drive, also in Agua Caliente territory. This scenic canyon, home of the waterfall in Lost Horizon, was closed to the public for nearly 30 years after careless squatters suffered injuries in the canyon and hippies made it an all-night party zone, vandalizing land considered sacred. The tribe cleaned up decades' worth of dumping, and now that vegetation has regrown, they have begun offering 2 1/2-hour ranger-led hikes into their most spiritual and beautiful place. The 2-mile round-trip hike is of moderate difficulty; hikes depart daily at 8am, 10am, noon, and 2pm. The fee is $13 for adults, $6 for children ages 6 to 12; call tel. 760/416-7044 for reservations (recommended).
Ten miles east of Palm Springs is the 13,000-acre Coachella Valley Preserve (tel. 760/343-2733), open daily from sunrise to sunset. It has springs, mesas, both hiking and riding trails, the Thousand Palms Oasis, a visitor center, and picnic areas.
If you're heading up to Joshua Tree National Park, consider stopping at the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve (tel. 760/363-7190), which was once an Indian village and later a cattle ranch. It's open daily from 7:30am to sundown. The park's high water table makes it a magnet for birds and other wildlife; the lush springs and streams are an unexpected desert treat. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
Seeing Stars -- The Palm Springs area has been the getaway watering hole for screen stars from the '20s to today. Celebrity Tours, 67-555 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Cathedral City (tel. 760/770-2700), has a tour 2 1/2 hours long that covers the valley and visits Desert Memorial Park Cemetery, the resting place of Sonny Bono and Frank Sinatra; it also points out the homes of Sinatra, Bob Hope, Elvis, and Liberace, among others. The stories related by the guide are worth the trip alone. Rates are $44 adults, $40 seniors, and $19 children 12 and under.
Tennis -- Virtually all the larger hotels and resorts have tennis courts. If you're staying at a B&B, you might want to play at the Plaza Racquet Club, 1300 Baristo Rd. (tel. 760/323-8997). It has nine courts and runs day and evening clinics for adults, juniors, and seniors, and ball machines for solo practice. USPTA pros are on hand. Rates are $20 per hour for court rental, $20 for a 1 1/2-hour group clinic. The night-lit courts at Palm Springs High School, 2248 E. Ramon Rd., are free, open to the public on weekends, holidays, and in summer. Beautiful Ruth Hardy Park, at Tamarisk and Caballero streets, also has eight free night-lit courts.
A Water Park for the Family -- Knott's Soak City, off I-10 south on Gene Autry Trail between Ramon Road and East Palm Canyon Drive (tel. 760/327-0499; www.knotts.com/soakcity/ps/index.shtml), is a 16-acre water playground with 12 water slides, bodysurfing and board surfing, a wave pool, and more. Dressing rooms, lockers, and private beach cabanas (with food service) are available. Admission is $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and kids 3 to 11, and free for kids 2 and under; rates are discounted after 3pm. The park is open Wednesday through Sunday mid-March through August, and weekends through October, from 10am to 6pm. Parking for a car is $8, for an RV $16. It's closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.