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Jill Sanford | 09.26.2019

Craving some warm sunshine in winter? When your part of the country is cold, gloomy, snowy, or rainy, it might be the perfect time to visit Joshua Tree National Park.

Known for scorching summer heat, winter is a great time to visit Joshua Tree. Average highs are around 60 degrees (although it can dip below freezing at night), and it's less crowded than the warmer shoulder seasons. If you want to witness desert wildflowers bloom, go in early spring. You'll have more company on the trails then, but the colorful spectacle is too great to pass up.

The open, desert landscape of this national park is a welcome respite for city or forest dwellers. Hikes here feature large, lumpy boulders, quirky and distinctive Joshua trees, bluebird skies, and dramatic mountain ranges that punctuate an otherwise flat horizon line.

Are you looking for a great hiking backpack? Check out some of our favorite women's day packs.

The park features a range of lengths and difficulties on its trails. Whether it’s a short nature loop or a long trek, bring plenty of layers and water. The weather can be fickle in the desert, especially in the winter. You have to be ready for changing conditions when setting out on your hike.

This article was last updated on September 26, 2019.

 

A mariposa lily in Joshua Tree National Park
A bright mariposa lily lights up Hidden Valley Nature Trail. Halvor Tweto.

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazing place to explore, and here are a few fantastic hikes that prove the point:

  • Arch Rock Nature Trail, 0.3 mile: Walk from White Tank Campground to a natural arch, through a maze of other rock formations with abundant spots to scramble around and crannies to explore.
  • Ryan Ranch Trail Hike, 0.8 mile: Family-friendly stroll to the ruins of a 100-year-old homestead. In the right light, you'll notice a bright sheen on the adobe bricks, which were constructed using gold dust from a nearby mine.
  • Hidden Valley Nature Trail, 1 mile: A concise tour of picture-perfect rock formations and Joshua trees, located next to a picnic area and one of the park's best campgrounds.
  • Barker Dam Trail, 1.1 miles: A nature loop with signs that make a self-guided tour of the desert environment, in a place with good chances at spotting wildlife. Bighorn sheep, jack rabbits, and various birds are attracted to the water of the reservoir.
  • Skull Rock Nature Trail, 1.7 miles: The rock shaped like a skull is only one highlight of this interpretive loop. There are also unique plants, wildflowers, expansive views, and secret spots to explore among the rocks.
  • Split Rock Loop, 2 miles: This one is close to Skull Rock, but doesn't attract the same attention, perhaps because of the less dramatic name. The jumbled rock scenery is just as good though, and you're likely to find solitude among it.
  • Cottonwood Springs Nature Trail/ Mastodon Peak Loop, 2.5 miles: The desert looks different along this hike than on many others in the park. There are no Joshua trees here. Instead, you'll find shady cottonwood and palm tree groves clustered at a natural oasis. There's the option to hike up Mastodon Peak for a view over Coachella Valley as well.
  • Wall Street Mill Hike, 2.8 miles: Near Barker Dam Trail is this slightly longer hike to another historic site, a mill used to refine gold ore after mining. You can see what's left of the mill and a nearby ranch, and imagine what life was like in this rugged desert in pursuit of riches more than 100 years ago.
  • Fortynine Palms Oasis, 3 miles: This oasis seems miraculous in the searing desert, but it's no mirage. After a sunny hike to reach it, you'll find shade among towering palms, natural pools of water, and a variety of flora and wildlife.
  • Ryan Mountain Hike, 3 miles, steep! One of the widest panoramas in the park is atop 5,457-foot Ryan Mountain. The trail to it's summit is well-maintained and easy to follow, but steep with stairs and exposed to sun and wind. You really have to work to earn the view!
  • The Maze Loop, 6.5 miles: Trail markers make this foray into the desert less confusing than it sounds, but you'll still have to watch your surroundings to stay on track. The "Maze" weaves throughout miles of granite jumbles, Joshua trees, cactus gardens, and fields of desert wildflowers.

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