Think Dr. Seuss meets the Flintstones— a magical, special place that brings a smile to your face and calm to your mind. That’s how I felt in Joshua Tree National Park. The enormous desert park in southeastern California has a large concentration of Joshua Trees. These whimsical, palm-tufted trees with branches outstretched in the oddest contortions are strewn among rock piles of precariously heaped boulders. For nature enthusiasts, hikers, and rock climbers, the park is a dream. We spent a day and a half sampling just a smidgen of park’s trails and viewpoints.
Hidden Valley Trail
This 1-mile loop packs in remarkable scenery, and if you’re short on time it’s the ideal trail to experience the splendors of the park. We did it as a late day stroll when the sun casts a warm glow on the Joshua Trees and the fantastically shaped rock mounds that surround the valley. Rumour has it that 19th century cattle rustlers used Hidden Valley to hide their herds.
Pine City Trail
Our B&B hosts told us about this amazing hike (approx. 4.5 miles return). The Pine City trail is not mentioned in the park’s visitor guide, though the trailhead is marked on the map.
Very few folks venture off the paved roads, so you’ll likely have this hike to yourself (the short gravel stretch is easy in a regular car). The trail is named for the desert pine trees whose green foliage provides sharp contrast to the muted sand colours of the surrounding area. Our favourite part of the hike was at the end of the marked trail, where you can spend hours clambering over the boulders and exploring the “Flintsonesque” wonderland. Don’t rush this hike!
Jumbo Rocks Campground
We didn’t stay at Jumbo Rocks Campground, but it’s definitely on the list now. This centrally located campground has gorgeous sites nestled among the gigantic rocks. It’s a perfect natural playground, and a place of immense beauty. It’s popular with rock climbers, though there’s plenty of terrain suitable for a casual scramble. The campground is located next to the aptly named Skull Rock.
This viewpoint is worth the drive on a clear day. There are great views across the Coachella Valley where the famous San Andreas Fault is clearly visible running along the valley floor.
A Few Tips for Joshua Tree National Park
If you are a keen hiker, invest in one of several hiking book specific to Joshua Tree NP. The trails suggested in the park’s visitor guide represent only a small fraction of what the park has to offer.
- Spring is a great time to visit Joshua Tree National Park. It’s not outrageously hot yet and there’s a good chance you’ll see some beautiful blooming cacti.
- The southern part of the park was not open during our stay and we were not able to do the highly recommended Lost Palm Oasis hike. The 49 Palm Oasis Trail is an alternative if you’re interested in seeing a palm oasis.
Don’t forget to look up at the night sky. You’ll be treated to an amazing display—one of the best in the country. The park gates are open at night, so if you’re not camping, drive in and be dazzled.
- If you’re not camping at one of the lovely campgrounds in the park, the towns of Joshua Tree and 29 Palms have an assortment of accommodations. The park can be visited as a day trip from Palm Springs, about an hour away, but for desert lovers Joshua Tree is worth a longer visit. For a romantic splurge, check out Sacred Sands B&B. The place is a Zen-like nirvana with gorgeous rooms and outdoor space. Owners Scott and Steve are wonderful and serve fabulous gourmet breakfasts. It was way above our usual budget, but a perfect base to explore Joshua Tree and celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.
If you enjoy desert landscapes, check out my other posts on desert hiking in Southern California: Indian Canyon, near Palm Springs and Anza Borrego State Park. Much further afield, Egypt’s White Desert and Siwa Oasis are out of this world.