Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain.
Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.
Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day and may be visited at any time of the year. Visitation increases as temperatures moderate in the fall, peaks during the spring wildflower season, and diminishes during the heat of summer. Some areas of the park are designated for day use only.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597
Acres: 792,510 acres
Visitors: 1.4 millionDays are typically clear with less than 25% humidity. Temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average highs around 85°F (29°C) and average lows around 50°F (10°C) respectively.
Winter brings cooler days, around 60°F (15°C), and freezing nights. It occasionally snows at higher elevations. Summers are hot, over 100°F (38°C) during the day and not cooling much below 75°F (24°C) at night.
There are four park visitor centers.
- There is no reliable cell service when in the park.
- There is no water available in the park. Always keep an ample supply of water with you while traveling through the park, whether driving or hiking. We recommend a minimum of one gallon of water per person, per day; hikers and cyclists should carry two gallons per person, per day.
- Dogs are permitted in some areas, only.
- Drones are not permitted within the park and violaters will be ticketed.
- Avoid strenuous activity during times of extreme heat.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.
- Desert weather can change swiftly and dramatically. Knowing the forecast is an important part of preparing for your Joshua Tree visit. The National Weather Service forecast for Joshua Tree National Park is a good starting point. Note that this forecast zone covers a vast area with elevations ranging from 536 feet (163 m) in the park’s extreme southeast corner to 5,814 feet (1,773 m) atop Quail Mountain. Conditions may vary greatly depending on your exact location within the park. Remember, your safety is your responsibility.
Campgrounds usually fill on weekends October through May. From mid-February to mid-May (and during holidays) campgrounds usually fill throughout the week.
To improve your chances of getting a campsite and avoid disappointment, visit during the off-season (June-September), reserve a site, and/or have alternate overnight plans ready.
During the quieter summer months, all campsites are first-come, first-served. No reservations are needed for summertime camping. Some campgrounds may close in summer.
There are three areas that have group campsites that can accomodate 10-60 people: Cottonwood, Indian Cove, and Sheep Pass. Reservations for group sites may be made up to a year in advance.
Cottonwood and Sheep Pass Group Campgrounds are for tents only. Indian Cove Group Campground can accommodate small RVs or trailers, with a maximum combined length of 25 feet.
Black Rock and Ryan Campgrounds have designated horse camps (Ryan is closed in the summer months).
While the Joshua Tree area has been inhabited by humans for at least 5,000 years, by the late 1920s the development of new roads into the desert had brought an influx of land developers and cactus poachers.
Minerva Hoyt, a Pasadena resident who was extremely fond of desert plants, became concerned about the removal of cacti and other plants to the gardens of Los Angeles. Her tireless efforts to protect this area culminated in 825,000 acres being set aside as Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936.
The monument was administered by the superintendent of Yosemite National Park until James Cole was appointed as the first superintendent in 1940.
The eastern portion of the historic Oasis of Mara was deeded to the National Park Service by the Twentynine Palms Corporation in 1950. That same year the monument’s size was reduced by 265,000 acres to exclude some mining property.
As part of the Desert Protection Bill, Joshua Tree National Monument was elevated to park status on October 31, 1994. The bill also added 234,000 acres. The new park boundary follows natural features and includes complete ecological units such as entire mountain ranges.
Previous boundaries divided these ranges along survey lines. The additions provide better resource protection with easier boundary identification and monitoring and important habitat for desert bighorn sheep.
Elevations in the park range from a low of 536 feet to a high of 5,814 feet at Quail Mountain.
In 1976 Congress designated 420,000 acres within the monument as wilderness. Of the park’s current 792,623 acres, 591,624 is designated wilderness.
Things to Do
On any desert hike, remember the ten essentials:
- layers of clothing
- sun protection
- first aid kit
- sturdy shoes
- navigation (map & compass)
- pocket knife or multitool
- flashlight or headlamp
- emergency shelter
Short Walks and Nature Trails
These trails are recommended year-round and some are wheelchair accessible.
|Trail||Trailhead Location||Distance||Estimated Time||Description|
|Bajada||South of Cottonwood Visitor Center; 0.5 mile (0.8 km) north of the South Entrance||0.25 mile (0.4 km)||15-20 minutes||Loop. Walk on a bajada and discover plants of the Colorado Desert on this easy, wheelchair-accessible path.|
|Barker Dam||Barker Dam parking area||1.1 miles (1.8 km)||1 hour||Loop. Explore cultural history and view a water tank built by early cattle ranchers. Watch for bighorn sheep.|
|Cap Rock||Cap Rock parking area, at the junction of Park Boulevard and Keys View Road||0.4 mils (0.6 km)||30-45 minutes||Loop. View boulder piles, Joshua trees, and other desert plants on this easy, wheelchair-accessible path.|
|Cholla Cactus Garden||20 miles (32 km) north of Cottonwood Visitor Center||0.25 mile (0.4 km)||15-30 minutes||Loop. View thousands of densely concentrated, naturally growing cholla cactus. Stay on the trail, where closed-toe shoes, and be aware of prickly cactus.|
|Cottonwood Spring||1 mile (1.5 km) east of Cottonwood Visitor Center||0.1 mile (0.2 km)||10 minutes||Short walk to fan palm oasis with cottonwood trees. Fantastic birding location with plentiful shade.|
|Discovery Trail||Skull Rock parking area just east of Jumbo Rocks Campground||0.7 mile (1.1 km)||30-45 minutes||Loop. Connects Skull Rock and Split Rock Loop trails at Face Rock. Easy hike through boulder piles and desert washes.|
|Hidden Valley||Hidden Valley picnic area||1 mile (1.6 km)||1 hour||Loop. Discover a rock-enclosed valley that was once rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers.|
|Hi-View||Northwest of Black Rock Campground||1.3 miles (2.1 km) from board at parking area. 3 miles (4.8 km) from visitor center.||1.5 hours||Loop. Discover the world of Joshua tree forests. Hike up a ridge on the western side of the park and take in panoramic views of the area. There are some steep sections, as well as a several benches to take a break and enjoy the view. Elevation change is about 400 feet.|
|Indian Cove||West end of Indian Cove Campground||0.6 miles (1 km)||30-45 minutes||Loop. Walk on a gently rolling path with a few steps. Take a closer look at desert plants and learn about their traditional uses by Native Americans.|
|Keys View||Keys View||0.25 miles (0.4 km)||30 minutes||Accessible overlook. Short, paved loop path is steeper and may be wheelchair accessible with assistance. Breathtaking views of the San Andreas Fault, Mount San Jacinto, Mount San Gorgonio, and the Salton Sea.|
|Oasis of Mara||Oasis Visitor Center, Twentynine Palms||0.5 mile (0.8 km)||30-45 minutes||Loop. Explore a desert oasis on this easy, accessible walk. See how the Oasis of Mara has been used by wildlife and people throughout time. Wheelchair accessible. Pets on leash allowed.|
|Ryan Ranch||Ryan Ranch trailhead, about 0.5 mile (0.8 km) east of Ryan Campground||1 mile (1.6 km)||1 hour||Out and back. Enjoy an easy hike along an old ranch road and see a historic adobe structure.|
|Skull Rock||Skull Rock parking area just east of Jumbo Rocks Campground; also accessible from within Jumbo Rocks Campground||1.7 miles (2.7 km)||1-2 hours||Loop. Take an easy hike and explore boulder piles, desert washes, and of course the namesake Skull Rock.|
These hikes may not be recommended for summer. Use caution when hiking in the desert in the heat.
|Trail||Trailhead Location||Distance||Estimated Time||Description|
|Fortynine Palms Oasis||Fortynine Palms parking area, accessed off Highway 62.||3 miles (4.8 km)||2-3 hours||Out and back. There is a 300 foot (91 m) elevation gain in both directions, as you hike up and over a ridge dotted with barrel cactus. Beyond the ridge, descend to a fan palm oasis in a rocky canyon. Avoid this trail when it’s hot out.|
|Lost Horse Mine||Lost Horse Mine trailhead off Keys View Road||4 miles (6.4 km)||2-3 hours||Out and back. Explore around one of the most successful gold mines in the park. Stay outside the fenced area to protect the millsite and mine. For a longer option, see Lost Horse Loop, under Challenging Hikes. Elevation change is 550 feet.|
|Mastodon Peak||Cottonwood Spring parking area||3 miles (4.8 km)||1.5-2.5 hours||Loop. An optional rock scramble takes you to the top of a craggy granite peak. The trail then loops around past an old gold mine. Elevation change is about 375 feet.|
|Pine City||Pine City trailhead at end of Desert Queen Mine Road||4 miles (6.4 km)||2-3 hours||Out and back. The highlight of this fairly flat trail is a dense stand of junipers and pinyon. The trail also goes to an old mining site.|
|Split Rock Loop||Split Rock picnic area||2.5 miles (4 km)||1.5-2.5 hours||Loop. Distance includes safe trip to Face Rock.|
|West Side Loop||Black Rock||4.7 miles (7.6 km)||2.5-4 hours||Loop. Explore the ridge and washes west of Black Rock Campground.|
Challenging Hikes – Do Not Attempt in the Heat
The following trails should not be attempted during the summer or whenever it is hot out, because they are extremely dangerous due to sun exposure, temperatures, and dehydration risks. Every year visitors have to be rescued and sometimes perish on these hikes.
|Trail||Trailhead Location||Distance||Estimated Time||Description|
|Boy Scout Trail||North end: Indian Cove backcountry board. South end: Boy Scout Trailhead.||8 miles (12.9 km)||6 hours||One way. Go deep into the Wonderland of Rocks. Stay on trail to avoid getting lost among the boulders. Most hikers prefer to start at the south trailhead, inside the West Entrance, and finish at Indian Cove. Vehicle shuttle strongly recommended for hikers interested in doing the full length the trail.|
|California Riding and HIking Trail||Several||35 miles (56.3 km)||2-3 days to hike entire length||One way. Shorter hikes possible on sections of this long trail. Travel from Black Rock Canyon to the North Entrance of the park, passing through a variety of Mojave Desert landscapes.|
|Lost Horse Loop||Lost Horse Mine trailhead off Keys View Road||6.5 miles (10.5 km)||3-4 hours||Loop. For a shorter option, see Lost Horse Mine, under Moderate Hikes. Elevation changes is about 550 feet.|
|Lost Palms Oasis||Cottonwood Spring parking area||7.5 miles (12 km)||5-6 hours||Out and back. Enjoy sandy washes and rolling terrain, then hike down into a canyon to explore a remote fan palm oasis. Climbing back out the canyon is strenuous. Elevation change is about 500 feet.|
|Panorama Loop||Black Rock||6.6 miles (10.6 km)||3.5-4.5 hours||Loop. Gain about 1,100 feet (336 m) in elevation as you hike up a sandy wash, then follow the ridgeline of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Enjoy scenic views, dense Joshua tree forest, and pinyon-juniper woodland.|
|Ryan Mountain||Parking area between Sheep Pass and Ryan Campground||3 miles (4.8 km)||1.5-2.5 hours||Out and back. Gain 1,000 feet (304 m) in elevation as you hike to the summit of Ryan Mountain. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park.|
|Warren Peak||Black Rock||6.3 miles (10.1 km)||Out and back. Gain 1,000 feet (304 m) in elevation as you hike to the summit of Warren Peak. Enjoy panormaic views of the quiet western part of Joshua Tree|
|Willow Hole||Boy Scout Trailhead||7.2 miles (11.5 km)||4 hours||Out and back. Mostly flat trail along the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. Travel through Joshua tree forests, boulder landscape, and sandy washes. Trail ends at willow trees.|
Joshua Tree National Park is a backpacker’s dream with its mild winter climate and interesting rock formations, plants, and wildlife. By observing the guidelines below, your venture into the backcountry should be safe and enjoyable.
You should carry a map and compass when venturing into the backcountry. You may purchase hiking maps at park visitor centers or order them from the Joshua Tree National Park Association, on the Internet at www.joshuatree.org.
Backpacking in the areas below can be a great way to get out into the park, for those who are prepared.
Plan to carry all the water you will need; at least one gallon per person per day is recommended, two in summer or if you will be hiking strenuously. Natural water sources are scarce, easily polluted, and should not be used.
Campfires are prohibited outside of government provided fire rings. They leave long-term scars on the land and can ignite destructive wildfires. Plan to use a stove or carry pre-cooked meals. “Down and dead” wood is protected in the park and cannot be collected for any purpose.
There is no fee for camping in the backcountry at Joshua Tree National Park. However, you are required to park and register at a backcountry registration board.
If you will be out overnight, park and register at a backcountry registration board—there are 13 within the park.
An unregistered vehicle or a vehicle left overnight somewhere other than at a backcountry board is a cause for concern about the safety of the vehicle’s occupants. It is also subject to citation and towing.
|Black Rock||4,000 feet||California Riding & Hiking Trail||Black Rock Canyon|
|Cottonwood||3,100 feet||Lost Palms Oasis Trail||Cottonwood Spring|
|Covington||4,000 feet||California Riding & Hiking Trail||Upper Covington Flat|
|Geology||4,485 feet||California Riding & Hiking Trail||1.5 miles south on Geology Tour Road|
|Indian Cove||2,920 feet||Boy Scout Trail||1.5 miles south on Indian Cove Road|
|Juniper Flats||4,340 feet||California Riding & Hiking Trail||1.1 mile south on Keys View Road|
|Keys West||4,000 feet||Boy Scout Trail, Willow Hole Trail||6.7 miles from West Entrance|
|2,880 feet||California Riding & Hiking Trail||.5 mile from North Entrance|
|Pine City||4,436 feet||Pine City Trail||1.3 miles north on Big Horn Road|
|3,280 feet||Fried Liver Wash Corridor &
Hexehedron Mine Trail
|? miles south on Geology Tour Road|
|Porcupine Wash||2,450 feet||sand dunes & Pinto Mountain||8 miles from Cottonwood|
|Turkey Flats||1,791 feet||sand dunes & Pinto Mountain||13 miles from Cottonwood|
|Twin Tanks||3,900 feet||California Riding & Hiking Trail||7 miles from North Entrance|
If you have questions, ask a ranger. It is your responsibility to know and abide by park regulations.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Even the soil beneath your feet is fragile when you are traveling in the backcountry. By learning to recognize biological crusts, you can help preserve pockets of life that contribute nutrients and organic matter to desert soils and help absorb rainfall. Typical mature crusts are bumpy and dark-colored due to the presence of lichens, mosses, and bacteria. By walking around them, you will avoid breaking delicate filaments that may take years to heal. To reduce the damage of your passage through the desert, hike on trails, expanses of rock, or in washes.
There are no designated campsites in the backcountry but you are encouraged to select the most durable possible location. Sleeping and cooking areas should be on flat rocks, in sandy washes (except in the case of flash flood threat), or under trees.
Campsites must be at least one mile from any trailhead or road and 100 feet from water sources (seeps, springs, oases).
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Water sources in the park are not potable and are reserved for wildlife, so you will have to It is your responsibility to clean up after yourself. Pack out all trash, left-over food, and litter. Waste disposal involves pre-planning and some initiative in wildlands. Bury human waste in “cat holes” six to eight inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water sources, campsites, and trails. Don’t leave human waste under rocks or in alcoves where it decomposes slowly, and is unsightly and unsanitary. Plan ahead to pack out used toilet paper in a plastic bag.
It is tempting to feed wild animals; don’t do it! People food is not healthy for them and an animal habituated to begging can become aggressive and dangerous.
Pets are prohibited on trails and in the backcountry.
The presence of carnivores, such as domestic dogs, impairs the feeding, travel, and reproductive cycles of animals struggling to survive in the wild. Even leashed dogs cause extra stress on wild animals and are only allowed in campgrounds and within 100 feet of designated roads.
Avoid making your camp near animal burrows or nesting sites.
Be Considerate of Others
Please maintain a low profile when hiking and camping in groups. Limit the size of your group to 12 people in wilderness areas of the park and 25 people in the backcountry. Taking rest breaks a short distance from the trail and breaking up into smaller camping groups will minimize the impact of your group.
Moving off-trail when you encounter horse riders (they have the right-of-way) and talking quietly will reduce the liklihood that the horses will be frightened by your presence.
Because we share park lands with people who have different recreational pursuits, a cooperative spirit is required. Radios, electronic games, and bright lights disturb those recreationists who wish to enjoy the dark night sky and listen to nature’s sounds. Please minimize their use in the backcountry.
That old desert sun can damage eyes as well as skin. Wear a hat and sunglasses and use sunblocking lotion liberally.
Temperature changes of 40 degrees within 24 hours are common. Bring a variety of clothes that you can layer on and off as conditions change.
Although rain is relatively rare in the desert, when it does come it can really pour down. Even when it isn’t raining where you are, rain in the mountains can run off so fast as to cause flash floods. Stay alert.
Caching food and water
Multi-day hikers are allowed to cache food and water for up to 14 days. It is important to tag your cache with your name and email or telephone number so that park rangers can contact you if they need to remove your cache.
Leave What You Find
Leaving everything just as we find it helps scientists understand the natural balance of the landscape and allows us to share the experience of discovery with those who follow. Visit cultural sites with care and respect. Let photos, drawings, and memories be your souvenirs. Collecting natural and cultural objects is strictly prohibited. All plants, rocks, wildlife, and historic and prehistoric materials are protected in the park including wildflowers.
Mountain bikes and 4-wheel-drive vehicles are welcome in the park. For your own safety and for the protection of natural features, you must stay on established roads. Tire tracks on the open desert can last for years and will spoil the wilderness experience of future visitors. Off-road vehicles and all-terrain vehicles may not be used in the park.
The park’s unpaved roads are safer for bikes and offer many opportunities to explore the area.
Berdoo Canyon Road
Connecting the south end of Geology Tour Road with Dillon Road, this 4-wheel-drive road requires a high clearance vehicle. Berdoo Canyon Road exits the park after 11.5 miles (18.4 km). The last 3.9 miles (6.24 km) to Dillon Road winds past the ruins of the Berdoo Camp, which was established in the 1930s by the builders of the California Aquaduct.
Black Eagle Mine Road
Beginning 6.5 miles (10.5 km) north of Cottonwood Visitor Center, this dead-end dirt road runs along the edge of Pinto Basin, crosses several dry washes, and winds through canyons in the Eagle Mountains. The first nine miles (14.5 km) are within the park boundary. Beyond that point is Bureau of Land Management land and a number of side roads. Several old mines are located near these roads but may be too dangerous to approach.
The dirt roads in Covington Flat offer access to some of the park’s largest Joshua trees, junipers, and pinyon pines. From Covington Flat picnic area to Eureka Peak is 3.8 miles (6.2 km) one way. The dirt road is steep near the end, but the top offers views of Palm Springs, the surrounding mountains, and the Morongo Basin. Your trip will be 6.5 miles (10.5 km) longer if you ride or drive over to the backcountry board, a starting point for excellent hiking.
Geology Tour Road
The road turns south from the paved road two miles (3.2 km) west of Jumbo Rocks Campground. The distance from the junction to Squaw Tank is 5.4 miles (8.8 km) This section is mostly downhill but bumpy and sandy. Starting at Squaw Tank, a 6-mile (9.7-km) circular route explores Pleasant Valley. A printed guide is available at the beginning of the road.
Old Dale Road
This 23-mile (37.3-km) road starts at the same point as Black Eagle Mine Road. The first 11 miles (17.8 km), cross Pinto Basin, a flat, sandy, dry-lake bed. Leaving the basin, the road climbs a steep hill, then crosses the park boundary. A number of side roads veer off toward old mines and residences. The main road leads to HWY 62, 15 miles (24.3 km) east of Twentynine Palms.
Pinkham Canyon-Thermal Canyon Roads
This challenging 20-mile (32.4-km) road begins just south of Cottonwood Visitor Center, travels along Smoke Tree Wash, then cuts down Pinkham Canyon, exiting onto a service road that connects to I10. Or you can pass Pinkham Canyon and continue on to Thermal Canyon Road. Sections of these roads run through soft sand and rocky flood plains. Drivers should be prepared and should not attempt travel on these roads without a high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicle and emergency supplies.
Queen Valley Roads
A network of roads, totaling 13.4 miles (21.7 km), cross this valley of boulder piles and Joshua trees. A bike trip can begin at Hidden Valley or Big Horn Pass, opposite Geology Tour Road. Bike racks have been placed in this area so visitors can lock their bikes and go hiking.
Geology Motor Tour
An 18-mile motor tour leads through one of Joshua Tree National Park’s most fascinating landscapes. There are 16 stops along a dirt road and it takes approximately two hours to make the round trip.
In good weather, most passenger vehicles may access the first few miles of the Geology Tour Road. Watch for the sign marking the point beyond which a 4-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended, and turn around there if your vehicle is not capable of handling deep ruts and soft sand. This road is not suitable for campers, trailers, and motor homes.
Climbing, Bouldering, Highlining, and Slacklining
Joshua Tree welcomes climbers, boulderers and highliners from around the world. This high desert monzogranite climbing mecca is famous for its traditional-style crack, slab, and steep face climbing.
Joshua Tree offers challenges for all ability levels with more than 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 boulder problems, and hundreds of natural gaps to choose from. It is truly a world-class climbing destination.
If you are learning to climb or are looking to expand your climbing skills, a guided day or class could be of interest to you. When hiring a climbing guide, make sure that they are permitted to work in Joshua Tree National Park.
Before getting a permit each guide is required to have the highest levels of rock guiding certifications through the PCGI, AMGA, or similar organizations. They are also required to be certified in Wilderness First Aid and CPR; and they must carry insurance.
These requirements protect both the guide and the climber making your day safer.
You may wish to purchase a climbing guide or hiking map if you are unfamiliar with the park. They are available at park visitor centers and at outdoor shops in the surrounding communities.
Fifty years ago, the impact of rock climbers at Joshua Tree was minimal, but today the park hosts hundreds of climbers and boulderers on a busy weekend. Learning about and practicing Leave No Trace principles is an important way all visitors can help protect this fragile desert environment, lest it cease to be a viable habitat for plants and animals, a valuable research area for scientists, and a welcoming place for climbers to enjoy.
Desert ecosystems are fragile and require special care. Desert soils, when disturbed, take years to heal, so it is important for riders to travel on established trails.
The lack of available drinking water is both a challenge and a limitation for riders and horses. Care should be taken when planning your trip since stock animals may not use natural or man-made water sources within the park.
In areas where trail construction has not yet occurred, riders should follow the existing footprints of trails defined in the BWMP and avoid trails that have not been designated.
Desert soils and vegetation are easily eroded. Most park trails are designed for single file travel. Travel abreast only in trail corridors. Be aware of riders traveling in the opposite direction and locate areas where you can pass safely.
Riders are not permitted to tether or rest their animals within 200 feet of any natural or manmade water source.
- Horse trailers may be parked at the following locations:
- Boy Scout trailhead in Indian Cove
- Lower Covington Flats picnic area
- Twin Tanks
- Geology Tour Road
- North Entrance
- Black Rock and Ryan horse camps
- Other pullouts along park roads near horse-accessible trails, so long as the trailers do not obstruct traffic
Near the West Entrance, mounted riders may come into the park at:
- Quail Wash
- Cactus Cove View
- Burro Access
Near Black Rock, riders may come into the park at:
- High View/West Side Loop Cutoff
- Machris Wash
- Little Long Canyon
- Long Canyon
Bike riding in the park is restricted to roads open to vehicles. The park’s Backcountry and Wilderness Management Plan designates approximately 29 miles of trails for non-motorized bike use, however, the new trails cannot be used until Congress gives its approval. In the meanwhile, the park’s backcountry roads offer opportunities to explore many areas.
Key Ranch Tour
In the high desert country that was to become Joshua Tree National Park, rugged individuals tried their luck at cattle ranching, mining, and homesteading. The story of William F. Keys and his family is particularly representative of the hard work and ingenuity it took to settle and prosper in the Mojave Desert.
The ranger-guided tour of the ranch includes the colorful story of the 60 years Bill and Frances spent working together to make a life and raise their five children in this remote location. The ranch house, school house, store, and workshop still stand; the orchard has been replanted; and the grounds are full of the cars, trucks, mining equipment, and spare parts that are a part of the Desert Queen Ranch story.
Visiting the Ranch
Listed as a National Historic Register Site, the property is located in a remote, rocky canyon in Joshua Tree National Park. To preserve its historic character, admission to the ranch is restricted to guided walking tours. The tours are a half-mile in length and last 90 minutes. Group size is limited to 25 people.
Tickets are required and must be purchased in person on the day of the tour. Buy tickets at the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms starting at 8:30 am. Keys Ranch tours cost $10 per person aged 12 and over and $5 for children 6 to 11. Children under six are admitted free. Senior and Access Pass (Golden Age and Golden Access passport) holders pay $5.
These tour fees do not include the park entrance fee.
To find the ranch, pass the entrance to Hidden Valley Campground, turn left at the Y-intersection, follow the road approximately two miles to the locked gate. Your guide will meet you there. Please arrive at the ranch gate 15 minutes prior to your tour.
Safety & Comfort
Sturdy walking shoes, drinking water, sunscreen, and a hat will add to your comfort. Dress in layers to be prepared for changing weather conditions.
Smoking and eating are not allowed during the tour. Camcorders and cameras are permitted but camera tripods are not. You may inquire about special tours for photographers and other artists. Commercial photography in the park requires a permit.
Plants & Wildlife
When and Where Will the Wildflowers Bloom?
Wildflowers may begin blooming in the lower elevations of the Pinto Basin and along the park’s south boundary in February and at higher elevations in March and April. Desert regions above 5,000 feet may have plants blooming as late as June.
The extent and timing of spring wildflower blooms in Joshua Tree vary from one year to the next. Fall and winter precipitation and spring temperatures are key environmental factors affecting the spring blooming period.
Normally, desert annuals germinate between September and December. Many need a good soaking rain to get started. In addition to rains at the right time, plants also require temperatures to warm a bit before flower stalks will grow. Green-leaf rosettes may cover the ground in January, but flower stalks wait until temperatures rise.
Park staff and volunteers compile their wildflower observations weekly during the spring season to produce a list of the wildflowers that are currently in bloom and where you can see them. Check out our Wildflower Report Blog to learn more.
Joshua Tree is great for birdwatching. At any time of year, you may see year-round resident bird species such as the greater roadrunner, phainopepla, mockingbird, verdin, cactus wren, rock wren, mourning dove, Le Conte’s thrasher, and Gambel’s quail. Resident birds of prey include the red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, Cooper’s hawk, and prairie falcon.
In winter, you may see the white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, sage sparrow, cedar waxwing, American robin, and hermit thrush. These birds will remain in the park into March. At about the time the wintering species leave, other species will begin to arrive for the spring and summer nesting season. This group includes species such as Bendire’s thrasher, ash-throated flycatcher, western kingbird, Scott’s oriole, northern oriole, and western bluebird.
Brightly colored warblers pass through Joshua Tree on migration. Wilson’s, black-throated gray, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, yellow, yellow-rumped (a species also here in winter), and orange-crowned are among the species that migrate through the park. Other transients are black-headed grosbeaks, western tanagers, indigo buntings, and lazuli buntings.
In addition to songbirds, the park hosts a migration of birds of prey: sharp-shinned hawks, rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, osprey, and Swainson’s hawks have all been reported here.
Where to Look for Birds
Fan palm oases, and water impoundments are good places to search for birds. Even “lakes” that are dry, such as Barker Dam, offer forage vegetation for birds. The Oasis of Mara, including the 29 Palms Inn at the west end, is a good bird viewing area. Cottonwood Spring has both cottonwood trees and fan palms to provide vegetation and shelter for a number of birds. Lost Palms Oasis, 49 Palms Oasis, and the riparian habitat associated with Smith Water Canyon require more extensive hiking but provide good birding as well. When in the high desert areas of the park take a walk or two in the Queen and Lost Horse valleys and look for ladder-backed woodpecker, red-tailed hawk, oak titmouse, bushtit, black-tailed and blue-gray gnatcatchers, black-throated sparrow, and sage sparrow.
Occasionally groups of 200 or more turkey vultures will spend the night in the trees at the Oasis of Mara during their spring migration. They present quite a sight especially with their wings slightly spread, warming in the early morning sun.
An occasional shore bird also finds its way into Joshua Tree during spring. Do not be too surprised if you see a black-necked stilt or an eared grebe standing on a park road. Grebes have their feet placed so far to the back of their bodies they cannot make a running takeoff on land—once grounded, they are stranded. Please report any sightings to park personnel so the stranded bird can be transported safely to a water site.
If you see a rare bird or have an interesting sighting, please report it to park rangers.
Visitors often encounter ground squirrels, jackrabbits, and cottontails. More elusive species such as bobcat, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, desert tortoise, and mule deer have all been seen in the area. As the sun sets, listen for the “singing” of coyotes living on the outskirts of the campground.
Places To Go
Because Joshua Tree National Park lands span the transition between two ecologically distinct deserts, an astonishing array of landforms and plants await the curious visitor.
Black Rock Canyon just south of Yucca Valley, in the northwestern corner of the park is home to a beautiful Joshua tree forest.
Cottonwood Spring Oasis, one of the best kept secrets in Joshua Tree National Park, is just seven miles from the southern entrance to the park. The spring, the result of earthquake activity, was used for centuries by the Cahuilla Indians, who left bedrock mortars and clay pots, or ollas, in the area.
Cottonwood Spring was an important water stop for prospectors, miners, and teamsters traveling from Mecca to mines in the north. Water was necessary for gold processing, so a number of gold mills were located here. The remains of an arrastra, a primitive type of gold mill, can be found near the spring, and concrete ruins mark the sites of two later gold mills in the area.
Cottonwood Spring was first mentioned in a gold mine claim filed in 1875, indicating that the trees are native. Fan palms first appear around 1920, perhaps growing from seeds deposited by a bird or coyote.
A number of hikes begin at Cottonwood Spring. A short, easy walk down Cottonwood Wash leads past a second oasis to a dry falls. In wet years, the falls can become a scene of rushing water and red-spotted toads. Bighorn sheep often come up the wash for water in the early hours. An old teamster road drops down past the falls to the lower wash. A short hike leads through palo verde and desert willow trees to the remains of Moorten’s Mill.
The three-mile loop trail to Mastodon Peak offers spectacular views, interesting geology, the Mastodon Mine, and the Winona Mill Site. And, for those looking for a longer hike—eight miles round trip—and the largest stand of fan palms in the park, the Lost Palms Oasis trail is a sure winner.
This is one of the best birding spots in the park, so bring your binoculars and sit a spell.
The campground, which has water and rest rooms, is located one-half mile from Cottonwood Spring via a signed trail; there are also shaded picnic tables in the campground.
To learn more about the plants, animals, and history of this fascinating place, join a ranger-led hike, walk, or evening program, offered most weekends.
Covington Flats, located in the northwestern part of the park, is accessible via a dirt road; high clearance vehicles are recommended. It offers access to some of the park’s largest Joshua trees, junipers, and pinyon pines.
From Covington Flats picnic area to Eureka Peak is 3.8 miles (6.2 km) one way. The dirt road is steep near the end, but the top offers views of Palm Springs, the surrounding mountains, and the Morongo Basin.
There are a number of trails in the area and the Covington backcountry registration board is available for those wishing to backcountry camp.
Covington is located in the north-western section of the park, between Black Rock Canyon and Joshua Tree. Take La Contenta south off of Highway 62.
A sprawling campground is enclosed by towering rock formations making the area popular with rock climbers. Many campsites are tucked around the rocks, providing naturalistic tent camping. Other sites offer space for RVs. There is a separate camping area for groups.
Campers register at the ranger station located at the entrance to the Indian Cove area. Water is also available there.
On the west side of the campground, the half-mile Indian Cove nature trail features the plants, animals, and seasonal Indian occupation of the area. A picnic area is located on the far eastern side of the campground.
Indian Cove is noted for the large number of mature Mojave yuccas and shrubs that grow there. Colorful spring blooms are especially striking against the sand-colored granite rocks.
Desert tortoise sightings are not unusual during spring and early fall, when they venture from their burrows. The area is also popular with birders, especially those wanting to see the elusive LeConte’s thrasher.
For backcountry campers, the Indian Cove backcountry registration board provides parking and the Boy Scout trailhead.
Keys View is a favorite destination for those seeking panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, and the high peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.
Perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Keys View provides panoramic views of the Coachella Valley and is well worth the 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard down Keys View Road.
The lookout is wheelchair accessible, or take the .2-mile-loop trail up the ridge for especially nice views. Look for the shining surface of the Salton Sea, which is 230 feet below sea level, on the far left. Looking to the right, the Santa Rosa Mountains are behind Indio and, along with 10,800-foot San Jacinto Peak behind Palm Springs, form the high points of the Peninsular Ranges. Further right, the usually snow-covered peak of 11,500-foot San Gorgonio Mountain is clearly visable.
The southwest side of the ridge drops nearly a mile in elevation into the Coachella Valley. The infamous San Andreas Fault, stretching 700 miles from the Gulf of California to the Mendocino Coast north of San Francisco, runs through the valley and can be seen below.
On a really clear day, you might be able to see Signal Mountain in Mexico.
Skull Rock is a popular stop along the main park road, near Jumbo Rocks Campground.
It began long ago when rain drops accumulated in tiny depressions and started to erode the granite. As more rock eroded, more water accumulated, leading to more erosion until, as time passed, two hollowed-out eye sockets formed and the rock began to resemble a skull.
A parking spot is located just across the road from the rock.
For those wishing to stretch their legs, a 1.7-mile nature trail begins either just across from the entrance to Jumbo Rocks Campground or inside the campground, across from the amphitheater.