4 Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Check out my blog post on What to Bring When Visiting A National Park !!
Joshua Tree National Park is an otherworldly and mystical place located in Southern California. You may feel like you have been transported into a Star Wars movie, however, this supernatural place does exist in reality, not just in fantasy. The park is named after the unique trees that reside here. It is said that Mormon immigrants named the tree after Joshua, the biblical figure. To these early settlers, the limbs of the tree resembled arms outstretched in prayer. But a Joshua tree is not a tree, it is actually a yucca plant.
The Joshua tree starts out as a small sprout and grows rather quickly the first few years of its life. Afterwards, the tree develops at a rate of 1.5 -3 inches a year. Some Joshua trees can reach over forty feet tall. However tall the Joshua tree is, it provides a multitude of animals, lizards, and insects, the shelter and nourishment that they need to survive.
How to Get Here!
Located 1 hour northeast of Palm Springs, 3 hours east of Los Angeles and 3 hours southwest of Las Vegas, Joshua Tree is a great place to visit for a day. The closest airport is in Palm Springs and there are three entrances to Joshua Tree National Park.
West Entrance - located 5 miles south of the junction of Highway 62 & Park Boulevard
North Entrance - located 3 miles south of the junction of Highway 62 & Utah Trail in Twentynine Palms.
South Entrance - Along I-10, 25 miles east of Indio.
There is a $30 entrance fee for a 7-day vehicle permit, admitting the passengers of a single, non-commercial vehicle on the day of purchase and for the next six days. If you would like to purchase your entrance fee online, go to this recreation.gov.
When to Visit
In the summer, temperatures can reach a scorching 100° F, which is not ideal hiking weather. After all, this is the desert! For me, the best time to visit is in the winter, with perfect temperatures around 65°. However, from late October through early March the weather will be more than suitable to visit this park. Another reason I choose to visit during this time is that rattlesnake season begins the end of March and continues through mid-November. I am not a fan of rattlesnakes! Regardless, just make sure to always look where you are walking or reaching your hands while hiking or climbing.
There are three visitor centers and one nature center near Joshua Tree National park. I highly recommend before entering the park, that you visit one of these informative centers to get a map of the park, talk to a ranger about where you should visit, and fill up your water containers. Water is a must to bring with you into the desert. For other items you may need while visiting, explore my What To Bring To A National Park blog here.
Safety Tips (from the NPS website)
Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back
Bring plenty of food and water—even on short hikes
Don’t force fluids—drink when you are thirsty
Eat often—salty snacks are key for salt loss from sweating
Rest in the shade
Plan ahead and avoid hiking between 10am and 4pm during the summer
Where to Visit
Our first place to visit in Joshua Tree was Keys View, which is a 20 mile drive from Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center. To get here, follow the map provided at the visitor center. (National Parks are known for being "off the grid", therefore, don't count on getting cellular service for directions.) This popular viewpoint sits atop the Little San Bernardino Mountains and has an amazing vista of the Coachella Valley. Walk the .2 mile loop trail, which is wheelchair accessible, up to the overlook for an amazing panoramic vista. From here you can see the Salton Sea, the Santa Rosa Mountains, Mount San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountain. Not to mention, looking to the southwest, you can see 700 miles of the San Andreas Fault, and, on a cloudless day you can see Signal Mountain, which is located in Mexico nearly 150 miles away.
Skull Rock is a 20 minute car drive from Keys View and a great place to stop and visit. It is literally a rock that resembles a skull! This piece of granite transformed into a fossil cranium looking boulder after years of rain eroded areas and formed indentations that resembles a Pablo Picasso sculpture.
Conveniently, there is a parking across the road from this iconic rock. In addition, a 1.8 mile roundtrip trail begins near the parking area. This trail is part dirt and part paved. The trail also has interpretative signs describing the many interesting plants that are native to the Mojave Desert. One fascinating looking plant is the beautiful and golden Cat's Claw Acacia, which is pictured above.
Hidden Valley Trail
Hidden Valley Trail / Picnic Area is a must for anyone. This beautiful trail is a 1 mile loop in a basin surrounded by mountainous looking boulders, which tower around you. Although it's best to stay on the dirt trail, you can't help but climb these massive rocks and feel like a carefree kid on a playground. This enjoyable trail takes about an hour at a leisurely pace. At the trailhead you can also find picnic benches and restrooms. We were able to enjoy a delicious picnic lunch after our walk to refuel our bodies for the next beaten path. I have walked this trail three different times and it is still my favorite in Joshua Tree. Every time I have visited we have seen rock climbers scaling these gargantuan rocks, which is a sight that will leave you astounded. Also, it is said that ranchers used to dwell in this area and keep their livestock in this valley.
Just 2 miles down the road is another great walk, the Barker Dam Trail. This trail is 1.1 miles and has 50 feet in elevation change, which does include some climbing onto or over rocks. This 1 hour loop course will give you all of the quintessential components of Joshua Tree NP, such as Monzogranite boulders, Joshua Trees and Barker Dam. When there is enough rainfall, Barker Dam will fill with the deserts' most desired substance, water. Many plants and animals rely on this precious reservoir for a productive ecosystem in this rough terrain.
This trail includes interpretative signs giving information about the plants, animals and rock art found in this area. The rock art/petroglyphs are rock carvings created by indigenous people that once dwelled in this area thousands of years ago.
There are so many fun nature trails in Joshua Tree National Park. Click here to view all of the trails in Joshua Tree, including moderate and challenging hikes, to add to my list of easy hikes.
Where to Stay
If you would like to stay overnight near Joshua Tree NP, I recommend Twentynine Palms, which is just 15 minutes from the entrance. There are many hotels and Airbnb's to choose from in this area. However, my favorite place to stay is in Palm Springs, which is a 55 minute drive from the entrance. There are many hotels and Airbnb's to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable. If you get a chance, visit my favorite Mexican restaurant, Los Casuelas Terraza. This restaurant boasts scenic outdoor seating with live music. I highly recommend the chiles rellenos. They whip the egg whites, which makes the fluffiest and lightest batter that surrounds the cheese-filled poblano chile. It will melt in your mouth!
If you love to camp, then Joshua Tree can accommodate! There are 500 campsites available in Joshua Tree NP. Find the link here for information on reserving a spot.
An Amazing Experience
Named a National Monument in 1936, Joshua Tree became a National Park in 1994, and protects nearly 800,000 acres of wilderness, which includes two deserts, the Mojave and Colorado. This park is a national treasure to the millions of people that visit each year from all over the globe. Whether you are just visiting for a couple of hours or for a week, you will be amazed to see the variety of habitats this desert wilderness has to offer. Start planning your trip to Joshua Tree National Park, one of our nation's most intriguing and mystical parks, you won't be disappointed!
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