Joshua Tree offers hikers unique landscapes

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Walking through miles of rock-covered mountains while enjoying views of out-of-this-world landscapes is an invigorating experience for adrenaline junkies and first time hikers alike.

Joshua Tree National Park near here offers a unique combination of remarkable rock formations, mild climate much of the year and diversity of flora and fauna. It is a hiker’s paradise with hidden oasis and rocks as large as mini vans.

“It is one of the most unique places on the planet, there is nothing quite like this, with this backdrop and vegetation and life out here. It is an incredible spot,” said David Smith, a 33-year-old experienced hiker.

The park has three visitor centers, Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree Visitor Center in the Village of Joshua Tree and Cottonwood Visitor Center in Cottonwood Spring, where hikers can pick up a map and talk to the park rangers about their visit.

“Not many places get phone service. Beware that there are few spots where there is a signal. Hikers should let someone know when will they be back, make sure there is plenty of water and basic necessities,” said Pam Tripp, lead ranger for Cottonwood and Night Sky Program leader.

“(Hikers should) stay put if they get lost. They should bring flashlights, blankets, compass and a reflecting device,” she stated.

Click on the video at the right to view an audio slideshow about hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. The video was photographed by Zongchao Li and Rosa Orihuela and produced by Rosa Orihuela.

Furthermore, hikers should be mindful of the weather since the temperature is constantly changing. At the beginning of the hike, the day may be sunny but it might rain heavily during the day so it is advice to wear layers and carry plenty of water.

While the weather is mild much of the year, it can become extreme and dangerous in mid-summer. Temperatures within the park often reach 100 to 120 degrees in summer months.

“Be prepared for rain or getting lost. Just the elements and bring lost of water,” said Katelyn Aggement, a 25-year-old experienced hiker from California. “For this particular hike, [Ryan Mountain] you should bring an extra layer (clothes), lots of water and a camera.”

Hikers should prepare adequately to have a successful hike. Appropriate shoes are essential for rocky terrain like the mountains in Joshua Tree.

“One of the biggest things for first timers is your shoes fit good, so you are not going to get blisters,” said Eric Thomas 27-year-old hiker. “People buy brand new hiking boots, they go wear them and they get blisters. You should break them in before you set out of the trail.”

Barker Dam Loop is very popular with tourists who want to see the old dam built in the 1900s (Photos by Rosa Orihuela).

Visitors do not need to go on a three-day hike to experience hiking, since Joshua Tree offers hiking trails for every experience level. Hike trails vary from 1.1 miles to 37 miles long so hikers can choose between an easy afternoon stroll, without much elevation change and an adrenaline-pumping weekend.

“There is a different between the hiking you are talking about (long hikes) and short hikes. There a big different between a day hike of three miles and overnight backpacking,” said Thomas. “Overnight backpacking is awesome because you are self-sufficient. You have everything you need to survive for multiple days on your back. It is like a turtle carrying your own food and your water. “

First time hikers usually start with Barker Dam Loop. It is a scenic route with various attractions such as petroglyphs and a damp-made desert lake.

“It is one of the most popular trails out here, one of the reasons, is a short trail. It is only 1.1 miles. It takes you back man-made damp that was built in the early 1900s,” Tripp said. It fills up with water, we get a nice little lake and so we get to see bighorn sheep.”

Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail gives hikers a great landscape in which to snap a picture. The contrast between the palm trees and the sandy desert is extraordinary.

It is an easy hike that the whole family can enjoy. It is not a long trail, so visitors can venture into more challenging routes.

Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is a three-mile round trip that offers one of the best views in the whole park. The route starts with a set of long rocky stairs that takes the hiker to the peak of a small hill and back down again to a rocky valley.

As hikers approach the north-side ridge, palm groves become visible. Then the palm groves play hide-and-go-seek with the hikers as they appeared and disappeared at each turn. The sight of vegetation presses the hikers on until the last turn leads hikers into a beautiful oasis. The pond-covered by palm trees is a breath-taking sight amidst the dry and sandy surroundings.

If a high altitude climb is preferred, Ryan Mountain is the trail to hike. Ryan Mountain has a 5,461-foot summit that offers a 360-degrees view of the park. Hikers do not need to reach the top to see the flora surrounding the mountains and the long park trails. However, reaching the summit allows the hiker to see the Wonderland of Rocks, Mount San Jacinto and many other views.

“We have come as a family because we left our other son in a Boy Scouts meeting,” said Craig Furtada ,42, who was with his two sons and wife enjoying the trail. “I think everyone can do it and it has an incredible view.”

The most challenging and thrill seeking hike is the California Riding & Hiking Trail. It is 37 miles long of desert forest and rock covered mountains. The trail starts at the northwest corner and ends at the North Entrance section.

At right, Ryan Mountain Trail offers hikers a great place to exercise and a wonderful view of the park. Hikers usually stop half way to get a drink of water and take in the view. Below, Ryan Mountain Trail’s unique rock formations captivate hikers who enjoy the breath-taking views of this three-mile trail.

California Riding & Hiking Trail brings many thrill seekers who want to become one with nature and test their survival skills.

“It is just being out in the middle of nowhere totally by yourself. You are relying on yourself for cooking and you have to do certain things to stay warm and keep your body alive,” said Tony Sassu, a 24-year-old hiker who does winter solo hikes. “You do not really see those things in the city, you know you do not have to work to keep yourself alive in the city, but when you are hiking, you do. It is that extra little thrill.”

Visitors come from all over the world to hike Joshua Tree’s unique landscapes and uncover its trails. Whether an experienced hiker trying to get the next adrenaline boost, a beginner hiker trying to gain experience or a family seeking a way to spend a Saturday morning, Joshua Tree provides hike trails for all skill levels and needs. The beauty of this desert paradise leaves all hikers wanting for more.


If You Go

  • Hours of operation: Open 365 days a year, but there are some areas with restricted access at night.
  • Cost of attendance: There are national park entry fees, but there are exceptions during the annual National Parks Week, held in April entry fees are waived in more than 100 parks nationwide. Some of the different fees are: the Seven-Day Vehicle Permit: $15 which admits the passengers of a single, non-commercial vehicle and the Seven-Day Single Entry Permit: $5 which admits one person entering on foot, bicycle, motorcycle, or horse.
  • Location: It is located in Twentynine Palms, Calif. Joshua Tree is east of I-10 near Palm Springs. It’s 150 miles east of Los Angeles, 175 miles northeast of San Diego, and 215 miles southwest of Las Vegas.
  • How Long: A few hours to two days for camping.
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and fall have the best weather.
  • What to Bring: Water, snacks, compass and good pair of hiking boots.


Hiking Trail List by Joshua Tree National Park Hiking Guide:

  • Boy Scout Trail— A moderate 16-mile round-trip hike that takes from one to two days to complete. It is a scenic trail through the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks.
  • Ryan Mountain— It offers breath-taking views of Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant valleys. Its summit of 5,461 feet allows the hiker to see the whole park. It is a strenuous three-mile hike that takes two to three hours to complete.
  • 49 Palm Oasis— A moderately strenuous three-mile round-trip hike that takes from two to three hours to complete. It offers views of an oasis. Several stands of fan palms and pools of water are found at the oasis.
  • Lost Palm Oasis— Canyon with numerous palm stands. A side trip to Victory Palms and Munsen Canyon involves scrambling. It is moderate eight-mile hike that lasts four to six hours.
  • Lost Horse Mine and Mountain— A moderately strenuous four-mile round-trip hike that takes three to four hours to complete. It is the site of 10-stamp mill and its summit is at 5,278 feet.
  • Mastodon Peak— It has excellent views of the Eagle Mountains and Salton Sea. Its summit is 3,371 feet making it a strenuous hike and a great place to take pictures. The hike is a three-mile round-trip that lasts two to three hours.

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