Hiking Information for
Joshua Tree National Park

 [Park Map-Link to more detailed map (41k)]

The Environment

"Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features natural gardens of ocotillo and cholla cactus. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the Joshua tree. Joshua tree forests occur in the western half of the park, which also incudes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California's deserts. In addition, five fan palm oases dot the park indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally and where wildlife abounds".(Information from Joshua Tree National Park's "Joshua Tree Guide" Spring 2001)

Drinking Water

It is easy to become dehydrated in arid desert environments. A minimum of one gallon per person and day is recommended. If you are hiking, biking or rock climbing you want to bring two gallons. Water is only available at the visitor center in Twentynine Palms, at Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds, at the entrance station south of Joshua Tree and at the Indian Cove ranger station.


The Backcountry boards, marked on the map above, are the only places besides campgrounds where a vehicle is permitted over night. Here there are maps, guidelines and registration for backcountry overnight hikers.
Any backcountry campers need to be at least a mile away from any road and 500 feet from any trail.
Some areas in the park are restricted to day use only, to protect sensitive populations of wildlife. They are closed from dusk to dawn. See maps at backcountry boards. Some areas in the park are privately owned; others protect wild life or historical sites. Entering those areas is prohibited.

It is easy to get disoriented in the desert; washes and animal trails crisscross the terrain obscuring trails, boulder piles ar confusingly similar, and there are not many prominent features by which to guide yourself. Do get yourself a topographic map and compass and learn how to use them before you head out.

Books, Hiking Equipment and Topographical Maps can be bought at Nomad Ventures.

Day Hiking

There are lots of opportunities for day hiking in the park. Some guide books are:

  • On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park; Patty Furbush
  • 101 best hikes in Southern California; Jerry Schad
  • Hiking CA Desert Parks; Bill Cunningham, Polly Burk
  • 75 Great Hikes in and near Palm Springs; Philip Ferranti, Bruce Hagerman, Denis Hagerman

Books, Hiking Equipment and Topographical Maps can be bought at Nomad Ventures.

The following trail descriptions are from Joshua Tree National Park's "Joshua Tree Guide" Spring 2001

Trail Roundtrip Milage Time Starting Point Trail Describtion
Boy Scout 16 miles 25.8 km 1-2 days Indian Cove backcountry board or Keys West backcountry board 0.5 miles (0.8 km) east of Quail Springs picnic area. Scenic trail through the western most edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. See backcountry board for information on overnight use. Moderate.
49 Palms Oasis 3 miles (4.8 km) 2-3 hours Parking area at end of Canyon Road, 4 miles (6,4 km) west of Twentynine Palms off Hwy 62. Several stands of fan palms, evidence of past fires, and pools of water are found at the oasis. The plants in this area are especially fragile, so walk lightly. Moderately strenuous.
Lost Horse Mine/Mountain 4 miles (6.4 km) 3-4 hours Parking area 1.2 miles (1.9 km) east of Keys View Road. Site of ten-stamp mill and foundations, Summit elevation: 5,278 feet (1,609 meters). Moderately strenuous.
Lost Palms Oasis 7.5 miles (11.2 km) 4-6 hours Cottomwood Spring or Cottonwood Campground A canyon with numerous palm stands. A side trip to Victory Palms and Munsen Canyon involves boulder scrambling. Moderate to oasis overlook, then strenuous.
Mastodon Peak 3 miles (4.8 km) 2-3 hours Cottomwood Spring or Cottonwood Campground Excellent views of the Eagle Mountains and Salton Dea. Summit elevation: 3,371 feet (1,027 meters). Moderately strenuous.
Ryan Mountain 3 miles (4.8 km) 2-3 hours Ryan Mountain parking area or Sheep Pass Campground Excellent views of Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant Valleys. Summit elevation: 5,461 feet (1,664 meters). Moderately strenuous.
Thirty-five miles of the California Riding and Hiking Trail pass through the park. Access to the trail is at its junction with Covington Flats, Key's View, and Squaw Tank,(Geology Tour) Roads; at Ryan Camground; south of Bell Campgrouond; and near the north entrance to the park.This allows for shorter hikes of 4, 6.7 or 11 miles (6.4, 10.7, or 17.6 km). Two to three days are required to hike the entire length of the trail.

Other Guide lines

Keep Wildlife Wild - Feeding coyotes, squirrels, and other animals weans them from their natural food supplies, causes overpopulation, and turns them into dangerous creatures as they lose their fear of humans.
Leave No Trace - The desert climate cannot quickly decompose such things as orange peels, apple cores, egg shells, and other picnic remains. Loose papers blows into bushes and creates an unsightly mess and plastic six-pac rings strangle birds. Bring plastic bags to hold your garbage and pack it out. Do bury human vaste in "cat" holes six inches deep. Don't bury your toilet paper; put in plastic (zip-locks work nicely) and pack it out.
Take Only Pictures - Over 1.25 million people visit Joshua Tree National Park each year. If each visitor took only one rock or one branch from a bush, the park, our national heritage, would soon be gone. Removal, disturbance, destruction, or disfigurement of anything in the park is unlawful.
Bring a stove and fuel if you want hot food - Camp fires are allowed only in fire rings at the designated campgrounds. Gathering firewood is not permitted. No camp fires are allowed in the back country.
Other Safety Essentials - Rain protection, flashlight, mirror, whistle, first-aid kit, pencil and paper, pocket knife, extra food and water, sun protection, warm clothes.
Pets' activities are restricted - they need to be on leash at all times, they are prohibited from trails and the backcountry, and must never be left unattended - not even in a vehicle.

Most information on this page is the courtesy of Joshua Tree National Park

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