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Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

11.28.16

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Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

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  • Desert spiny lizard (Sceloporus magister) at Cottonwood Springs.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera) along the Cottonwood Springs Nature Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Chuckwalla cholla (Cylindropuntia chuckwallensis) along the Cottonwood Springs Nature Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) within the Cottonwood Springs Oasis.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) along the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Fortynine Palms Oasis in the Fortynine Palms Canyon.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) along the Indian Cove Nature Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • View back toward Indian Cove Campground from the Indian Cove Nature Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Ruins of the old Wonderland Ranch along the Wall Street Mill Hike.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Old car near the Wonderland Ranch along the Wall Street Mill Hike.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • View south along the Wall Street Mill Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Chuckwalla cholla (Cylindropuntia chuckwallensis).- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • A bright mariposa lily seems to emerge out of dead stalks, seen on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • The Hidden Valley Nature Trail winds through incredible rock piles.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • View from the begining of Cap Rock Nature Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris), seen along the Ryan Ranch Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Mojave mound cactus (Echinocereus mojavensis) along the Lost Horse Loop Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Lost Horse Mine.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Skull rock is also accessible by a roadside path.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Rockpiles along the Skull Rock Nature Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Exploring an arch at night along the Arches Rock Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Arches Rock Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Boulders balanced under an arch along Arches Rock Nature Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Bloom of a Joshua Tree.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Desert cottontail hiding in the brush.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Petroglyphs carved into a boulder along the Barker Dam Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Looking out west from the Ryan Mountain Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • View west to San Jacinto Peak (10,804 ft) from Ryan Mountain.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Hikers along the Ryan Mountain Trail.- Guide to Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
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In a state full of national parks, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the more unique. Since its creation in 1994 the national park has attracted L.A.’s outdoor enthusiasts and curious adventurers to its lumpy desert terrain, a bizarre, Seussian landscape of rock outcroppings and desert flora. The park is comprised of two desert ecosystems, the Colorado and Mojave deserts, which make for contrasting hiking experiences.

The Mojave Desert

Encompassing the western portion of the park, the Mojave Desert is higher and cooler. Joshua Tree National Park gets its name from the Joshua tree that grows here, a pitchfork-like pine whose prongs point skyward like the trees found in a children’s story. Equally iconic within the park are the Mojave’s monzogranite outcroppings, also found on this side of the park. Thanks to these features, Joshua Tree’s most notable hiking destinations rest in the west.

  • The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is an excellent introduction to the park’s terrain and biology, featuring some of the its more scenic boulder outcroppings and many of the park’s plant species.
  • Skull Rock is one of Joshua Tree’s more recognizable rock formations at the end of a 1.7-mile loop.
  • Ryan Mountain rises over 1,000 feet above its western Sonoran Desert surroundings, easily providing the best and most accessible 360-degree views of the 790,636-acre park.
  • The ruins of the Wall Street Mill show off Joshua Tree’s mining history, contrasting the built and the desert environments. This and the Barker Dam Trail also provide access to the Wonderland of Rocks, whose rock features are as interesting to see as they are to climb.
  • In addition to its boulders, Joshua Tree boasts a 30-foot natural arch at Arch Rock Nature Trail.
  • The Lost Horse Mine Hike and Lost Horse Loop Trail to nearby Lost Horse Mountain will give hikers a full day’s excursion and challenging backcountry navigation.
  • Ryan Ranch offers another glimpse at Joshua Tree’s human impact—this time, coated in gold dust. Hike there at dusk.
  • Indian Cove is a short, family-friendly hike with interpretive signs that won’t eat up your whole day.
  • The Barker Dam Hike is a 1.1-mile nature trail in the style of Hidden Valley and Skull Rock, but it includes a stop at the reservoir and dam built in 1900 by C.O. Barker. Keep an eye out for pictographs as well.

The Colorado Desert

East of the Hexie Mountains, the elevation drops below 3,000 feet, the Mojave Desert transitions into the Colorado Desert, and the pinyon pine and Joshua tree give way to a scrubland filled with yucca and Cholla cactus. Lower and drier, the sparse terrain of the Colorado Desert makes for otherworldly hiking—perhaps more of a personal journey than an outdoor, wilderness experience. Likewise, there are fewer trails on the eastern side of Joshua Tree National Park

  • The Cottonwood Springs Nature Trail and Fortynine Palms Oasis both rest in a transition zone between the Mojave and Colorado deserts, so no Joshua Trees here—but the oases are certainly lesser visited, and they still feature oasis flora and fauna.
  • Near the Cottonwood Visitor Center, Lost Palms Oasis hikes to the highest concentration of California fan palms, California’s only native palm species.
  • Mastodon Peak is a short loop from Cottonwood Springs to a low summit with panoramic views of the surrounding Colorado Desert.
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