A Visitor’s Guide from a Visitor: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located in California, smashed between two different rain-starved ecosystems: one of the higher elevation Mojave Desert and one of the lower elevation Colorado Desert. The park as a whole occupies a space slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. In 1994, the park was officially declared a National Park through the California Desert Protection Act - previously being classified as a National Monument for over a half-century prior. Despite its rich history of Native American culture, cattle rustler hideouts, mining outposts and being a current hotbed for winter rock climbing, Joshua Tree might be most known in pop culture for its ties to the “country rock band” the Eagles.

Joshua Tree is one hell of an area, offering stark contrasts in climate from end to end. There are a few remote oasis areas within hiking distance littered about the park and tons of red gneiss rocks to camp, hang, climb, picnic, and do whatever on. Here are a couple easy notable spots to stop at if you happen to pass through the area.


Lost Palms Oasis

Enter through the southern entrance of the park and after a couple miles of driving, you will see the Cottonwood Springs visitors center pop up on your right. If you turn down that road and ride it all the way to the end, you will find a parking lot for the Cottonwood Springs Oasis. That spot is worth a look, but it's just the start of the 7-mile round trip trek to the Lost Palms Oasis. If you decide to take the trek to Lost Palms, you will find multiple levels and clusters of palm trees nestled into a canyon and some shade to cool off in because at this point you're probably sweating through your shirt.

Fortynine Palms Oasis

This Oasis is on the very northern fringe of the park. So much so that you don’t have to pay the entrance fee to the National Park to get in... or at least there are no booths asking for payment. If you look at a map of the park, you’ll find that down Canyon Road there is a parking lot which gives you access to one trailhead that brings you out and back in a 3-mile roundtrip hike to the Oasis. That canyon allegedly has Fortynine Palms, hence the name. I happened to hike to it in a brief hail/lighting storm last year, so if there are clouds check the weather and don’t be an idiot like me.

Arch Rock Trail

While this spot is heavily trafficked, it can be empty at night more often than not. Temperatures over the summer can easily exceed 100 degrees, but if you can wait until evening, the cool nights make it a great trail to cruise around with a headlamp and a few beers. My personal favorite is going camping within the park during a new moon. There is very little light pollution during this time and the stars really stand out with the lack of moonlight. If you want to access this spot at night you should try to camp at White Tank Campground - a short 0.3-mile loop that will lead you through tons of rocks including the famous natural arching rock.

Keys View

If you're looking for a zone that takes absolutely no effort to get to, then Key's View is the spot for you. On the western entrance, drive up the snaking road and catch a view that looks over the San Andreas fault where there is nearly a mile drop in elevation into the Coachella Valley. This spot is very well marked like most of the park, so nothing inside of it is very hard to find, especially with the map you will receive at the entrance booth.

-Erik Hoffman  Staff Photographer / Graphic Designer  @erikhoffmanphoto