Wellness at meetings isn’t a trend anymore, it’s expected. Whether it’s a spa break, a mental wellness break or a yoga break, meeting planners are being challenged to infuse wellness activities into meeting agendas.

For planners organizing meetings in California, there are a wealth of wellness options to choose from, but one increasingly popular activity is hiking. It checks off multiple boxes on attendees’ wish lists: It facilitates exercise, provides a mental break, gives attendees an opportunity to see the local area, and is a chance to spend some together time outside.

We investigated the many hiking destinations in California and found that the North Lake Tahoe and Greater Palm Springs areas have some of the best—and most accessible—hiking around for meetings groups.

North Lake Tahoe

Famous for the largest alpine lake in North America and a high concentration of ski resorts, North Lake Tahoe has long been regarded as a year-round wellness and mindfulness destination.

“We think of wellness as a mindset, not a buzzword or trend,” said Liz Bowling, spokesperson for North Lake Tahoe CVB. “What sets us apart from other locations is an opportunity to shift that mindset. This could mean connecting deeper with colleagues, adding an experiential teambuilding component in nature, or simply providing space for an individual or team to define what a wellness mindset looks like.” 

North Lake Tahoe
North Lake Tahoe

Indeed, the wellness landscape is diverse here. Mountain spas and peaceful yoga sessions are commonplace—the area even launched Wanderlust Yoga Festival at Squaw Valley in 2008, now transformed into an international health and wellness festival.

Yoga may be the immediate wellness draw to North Lake Tahoe, but its striking blue lake and unspoiled beauty lends itself perfectly to scenic hikes.

Hundreds of trail networks are within reach for groups meeting in the region, including the Tahoe Rim Trail, which circumnavigates the lake. During their hiking break, attendees will see waterfalls, hidden lakes and a densely populated forest.

North Lake Tahoe enjoys all four seasons, each offering new colors and perspectives of its outdoor settings. One of the best times to visit is the autumn months, which North Lake Tahoe calls its “secret season” because of the smaller crowds and beautiful fall foliage. 

Greater Palm Springs

“We have 100 miles of trails here [in Greater Palm Springs] and Joshua Tree National Park,” said Ashley Mastako, media relations manager for Greater Palm Springs CVB. “All of our resorts have really jumped on hiking.”

In fact, Mastako said The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage leads guided group hikes every morning with its recreational ambassador Frank Sheckler on routes that give participants sweeping views of Coachella Valley.

Other resorts in the area have hopped on the hiking train, too, offering activities on all parts of the spectrum, from dog walking breaks around the resort at The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa to boot camps at properties like JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa.

Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tour
Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tour

Tour companies catering to group hikes are plentiful in Greater Palm Springs as well, giving attendees a chance to explore some of the area’s most treasured natural wonders, like Joshua Tree National Park, Coachella Valley Preserve and Indian Canyons. Some of the best include:

  • Tallgrass Hiking Tours offers customized hiking tours for all ranges of group sizes of Bump & Grind Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Coachella Valley Preserve.
  • Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours offers naturalist guided geology hikes at Metate Ranch along the fault zones of San Andreas Fault, among other tours. 
  • Indian Canyons offers guided hikes through palm oases and waterfalls in the Agua Caliente Cahuilla tribal land on the west side of Palm Springs.  

Visit Joshua Tree National Park

Instantly recognizable for its Dr. Seuss-like Joshua trees, this national park is a photographer favorite. Attendees will ogle at the unique scenery, filled with twisted, spiked trees, while enjoying easy hikes as short as 20 minutes.

Joshua Tree National Park should be on your radar because it’s so easily accessible for groups meeting in Greater Palm Springs, which is less than an hour’s drive away. Groups in Los Angeles who have a few hours to spare can reach the park in about three hours. While California is home to many stunning national parks, including Yosemite National Park and Redwood National Park, they require a bit more effort to access.

Greater Palm Springs CVB’s Mastako noted that it’s easier than ever for planners to arrange a trip to Joshua Tree—tour providers in the area abound. She recommends Tallgrass Hiking and Tours, which can cater to any group’s skill level and wants, whether they are looking for a pleasant nature walk to more strenuous exercise.

Venue Spotlight: JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa

Planners organizing a meeting in Greater Palm Springs in 2020 and beyond should take a second look at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, which is completing a massive $90 million renovation of its property this December.

The 450-acre property—a staple in the Greater Palm Springs area for its championship golf courses, stunning lake and mountain views, impressive spa and ample meeting space—will unveil the reimagination of its lobby area, ballroom, guest rooms and suites at the end of 2019, all incorporating modern design elements inspired by the desert.

Jan Hulahan, director of sales and marketing for the resort, said that the large events the property already attracts will get that much better with the reinvented spaces. She also said that the spa—one of the largest on the West Coast—will get a refresh in 2020.

JW Marriott Desert Springs
JW Marriott Desert Springs, Credit: Scott Baxter

The expansive outdoor space remains pristine and is constantly being manicured and kept up to date. “We have a lot of large corporate and incentive events outside because we have so much space,” Hulahan said. “Chobani yogurt was recently here and had a really cool circus theme.”

For groups that are looking to incorporate wellness into their meetings, Hulahan explained that the resort can accommodate a variety of requests, thanks to its spa and nutrition resources.

“We actually have a nutritionist on property,” she said. “We were one of the resorts that partnered with The Biggest Loser programs. We kept that nutritionist; she does a whole program here now.”

Hulahan said planners can work with the nutritionist and resort to plan healthier meal options for their attendees.

The resort is not only pushing for wellness initiatives for its guests, but also for the environment. Progressive sustainability projects at the resort include using 95% of the resort’s waste for landscaping efforts, irrigating its golf courses with reclaimed lake water, and experimenting with a food waste digestor.