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snowbird destinations

Hikers don’t need to look far to find trails close to Palm Springs, Calif.Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism

The Snowbird Destinations series features six U.S. cities that Canadian retirees might enjoy as a winter retreat, whether travelling for a week or an entire season. Following our series preview, the stops so far have been Taos, N.M. Key West, Fla. and San Diego. Stories on the other destinations will follow in the coming weeks.

There are few more satisfying moments in a traveler's life than smugly sidestepping the crush of golfers crowded around the oversized-baggage carousel desperately waiting for their clubs to be unloaded. By the time they get a cart and have schlepped their unwieldy bags to their oversized rental car, you're already sitting on a patio, sipping a gin and tonic and contemplating the start of your trip.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the occasional game of golf, but there's something liberating about leaving the clubs behind and exploring a destination sans spikes.

One such spot is the Coachella Valley in southern California, whose requisite parts – Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta – are practically synonymous with the game of golf but whose mountains and valleys hold a bounty for those looking for outdoor activity.

Lace up the boots

It's no secret that the area around Palm Springs is rich in hiking – the famed Joshua Tree National Park is just 45 minutes away. But what most visitors don't realize is that there are dozens of hikes that require little or no driving at all to reach.

The hard-core trekkers can hit the Lykken Trail, which starts just a few blocks east of downtown and heads up the San Jacinto Mountains – and rewards with views – in a hurry.

A more leisurely pace is achieved in the sprawling Indian Canyons, just south of downtown (you pass through Indian Canyons Golf Course). The area is owned by the Agua Caliente Indian band, which has greatly limited development, so despite its proximity to town the area feels like it's a million miles away from civilization.

A good first hike is Murray Canyon Trail, which has moderate elevation gain but allows you to walk through the world's largest fan palm oasis and stroll beside an actual running stream (that snow you see on the top of the San Jacinto Mountains has to go somewhere and this is it). Unlike many desert hikes there's plenty of shade and, as you finish, you're greeted with a scene straight out of Hollywood – behold the actual rock (or at least its inspiration) on which Simba stands in The Lion King. Many locals use this area in lieu of a gym membership, but the expanse of land means it never feels crowded.

Ebb and flow in luxury

Walter Annenberg made his fortune by creating TV Guide and Seventeen magazines, and then spent much of it buying one of the world's great Impressionist art collections and building Sunnylands, his 200-acre retreat, complete with its own golf course, in Rancho Mirage.

The estate and its world famous gardens – now run by the Annenberg Family Trust – are worth visiting in their own right (house tours need to be booked well in advance, but the public is always welcome to stroll the gardens free of charge).

But if you're looking for a little stiffer workout than a brisk walk though the smokebrush, Sunnylands turns its Great Lawn over to the capable, flowing hands of a tai chi master who conducts classes open to all ages and experience levels. The classes run weekly, are free and require no reservations. This is surely the only place in the world where you can get in sync with the world under the watchful eye of an Alberto Giacometti masterpiece (the famed sculptor's Bust of Diego on Stele III overlooks the Great Lawn).

Afterward, a French press coffee from the small, chic café sipped while overlooking one of the ground's mediation pools seems a fitting end to a spiritual day.

Fine art yoga

One of the desert's hidden gems is the phenomenal collection of contemporary art at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Patrons who enter expecting to see desert landscapes and cowboy paintings are usually shocked to witness a cutting-edge collection so avant-garde that it wouldn't seem out of place in a Berlin warehouse.

The contemporary focus is largely a result of the patronage of the MacMillan family of Cargill fame (the agriculture giant is the largest privately owned company in the world), which bequeathed pieces by Anselm Kiefer, Yoshitomo Nara and Louise Bourgeois to name a few luminaries.

A stroll through the galleries is culturally enriching (controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals is on display until the end of May) but if you want some physical enrichment as well, Canada's own Lululemon is sponsoring free yoga classes in the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden in the Palm Desert branch of the museum. Breathe in, look at sculpture, breathe out.

The classes are Wednesdays from 9 to 10 a.m. (local time) and are open to all skill levels, and run until the end of May.