Located only about two and a half hours from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is the closest park to both the City of Angels and San Diego making it one of the more visited parks in Southern California with nearly 2.5 million visitors.
Joshua Tree is made up of two deserts, the Mojave and Colorado, featuring contrasting terrain making this one of the most unique parks in the United States. The Mojave is known for its rocky mountains, high elevation, bouldering, and is where you will find the trees this park is named after. The Colorado is much lower in elevation, flat, and is made up of Cholla Cacti.
Although this park is known more for its rock climbing and bouldering, Joshua Tree also includes a variety of hiking trails. If planning on taking a trip here, I highly recommend the fall through spring months as summer frequently sees temperatures in the triple digits making hiking not only miserable, but dangerous if not experienced or prepared.
1. Barker Dam
I always describe this hike as more of a stroll with the end destination to a dam built in 1900 by cattlemen who frequented the Mojave desert before it became the national park that we know. In the early morning, before visitors take over the area, wildlife stop by for a drink, so if you want to spot a bighorn sheep, then the early hours of the day is your best shot. This mile and a half hike also features petroglyphs on the way back to the parking lot. Right now is the best time to visit this location as the mass amount of rain we received this winter has filled the dam, which I have never seen in my many years of coming to this park.
2. Wall Street Mill
This 2.4 mile out-and-back trail to a late 19th century gold ore crushing mill is another stroll found within Joshua Tree. Although a tad bit more strenuous than Barker Dam due to the soft sand, but only a tad, this is another one of the park’s more popular trails. As you traverse through the desert to the mill, along the way, you will pass a well, bunkhouse, outhouse, various 19th century cars, and even the location where Worth Bagley, a man who owned the land next to the owner of Wall Street Mill, was killed. Bagley was killed after an ongoing dispute over the land and a stone was resurrected in this spot stating, “Here is where Worth Bagley bit the dust at the hand of W.F. Keys May 11, 1943.”
3. 49 Palms Oasis
I would not say this is the easiest hike in the park, but for more experienced hikers, this is a moderate one. If not as experienced, your calves are going to get a good workout. 49 Palms Oasis is a three-mile, round-trip hike with a well maintained trail to a fan palm oasis. It requires about two to three hours and ascends 300 feet each way, but if you are lucky, you may also come across bighorn sheep taking a break from the desert heat, which I have yet to have happen. This hike features barrel cacti, one of my favorites, and during the spring, wildflowers pop out from the rocky mountains creating a blanket of yellow. If you have health problems and start feeling it at the beginning, I highly recommend turning around because the strenuous nature of the hike is continuous.