Joshua Tree National Park is renown for its signature tree, and for its rock climbing routes. Interspersed through the park, however, are some excellent hiking trails. Although a lot of “hiking” occurs within the confines of the campgrounds, and to and from climbing routes, the most popular trail is the park’s second highest mountain, Ryan Mountain. At a glance, the 5,456 foot tall mountain does not appear to be a challenging hike; especially as it is only one and a half miles to the summit, but with over one thousand feet of elevation gain, along with a number of other desert factors, this trail, and hike is not to be underestimated. But, for those hikers willing to brave the conditions, and at times, the crowds, the payoff for this hike is a desert summit with great three hundred and sixty degree views.
As I mentioned last week, Joshua Tree is mostly known for climbing, not hiking. But, as I also talked about when discussing Mastodon Peak, there are some great hikes in the park should climbing not be your cup of tea. Most of the hikes recommended by the National Park Service, like Mastodon Peak, are short and sweet – good for getting out into the desert, and seeing what is going on in the park, but also somewhat “bad” as they leave you, the hiker wanting more. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of longer hikes into the interior of the park – but most of these are multi-day backpacking trips. However, there is no reason to despair about finding a longer hike in the park: Joshua Tree is a big place, and there are plenty of options. The best, and most scenic of these options is the Lost Palms Oasis Hike.
Joshua Tree National Park is known for one thing, and one thing only: rock climbing. This is a good thing: there are many great routes in the park for climbing. As I have climbed there many times, and have recommended it to many people, there is no way I could complain about that association. However, there’s a lot more than just climbing going on at Joshua Tree. There’s excellent stargazing; excellent spring blooms; and excellent hikes, both day, and multi-day. One of the shortest and the most popular hikes in the park is the hike from Cottonwood Springs to Mastodon Peak. There are two ways to do this hike: first, as a loop trail from the Campground (“the Mastodon Peak Loop”) or as part of the longer hike to Lost Palms Oasis. The loop trail is 2.6 miles long roundtrip; and if you add the Mastodon Peak section of trail to the Lost Palms Oasis hike, you are left with a hike that is 8.2 miles roundtrip.