What to See in Joshua Tree National Park, California

This desert park outside Palm Springs features incredible landscapes, including the Wonderland of Rocks and Cottonwood Springs Oasis.
 

Joshua trees, photo by Steve Collins

Joshua trees, photo by Steve Collins

The Basics

Square kilometres: 3206

Visitors per year: 2.8 million

Fall temperatures: highs: 33˚C to 17˚C; lows: 15˚C to 5˚C

Elevation: 536 to 5,814 feet

You’ll know what it is the minute you see it: a Joshua Tree’s twisty trunk, topped with a spiky ball of leaves, looks more like a zany Dr. Seuss creation than anything Mother Nature would think up.

Located at the juncture of two deserts, the Mojave and Colorado, Joshua Tree National Park features a landscape as diverse as anything Theodor Geisel would have created for Oh, the Places You’ll Go! or The Lorax.

 

Joshua Tree National Park. photo by Steve Collins

See unique cacti at the Cholla Cactus Garden. Photo by Steve Collins.

 

The California park’s incredible topography features arid moonscapes and fantastical rock outcrops thrust upward by colliding tectonic plates. These rocks form gigantic jumbles and labyrinths of boulders, which have been sculpted and eroded by the elements into towering arches and twisting spires.

 

Arch Rock Trail Joshua Tree National Park photo by Steve Collins

Even amateur hikers can explore Arch Rock Trail. Photo by Steve Collins.

 

The sculpted series along a stretch known as Park Boulevard, with names like Skull Rock, Cap Rock, Arch Rock and the Wonderland of Rocks (a serious jumble and maze of shaped stones) are must-sees. As is Keys View, an overlook at the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, which offers sweeping views of the Coachella Valley below.

 

Joshua Tree National Park photo by Steve Collins

Keys View offers killer views of the Coachella Valley. Photo by Steve Collins.

 

Existing in stark contrast to the rocks are the prehistoric-looking cholla cactuses and fan palms, which form dense clusters near the park’s seeping springs. Cottonwood Springs Oasis and the Oasis of Mara are the most accessible, but, to truly experience the Jurassic Park vibe, make the 11-km (round-trip) trek to Lost Palms Oasis, which also offers great views of the Salton Sea along the trail.

And, of course, make sure to see plenty of those iconic trees, named by Mormon pioneers because they were reminded of Joshua raising his arms to heaven in the Biblical story.


Tips to keep you safe

Cell service may be spotty on your hike, so make sure to bring a map or download one you can use offline. Wear long, loose-fitting clothing and a hat, and apply sunscreen.
Carry about four litres of water per day and light snacks; trail mix, nut butters and energy bars. Check ahead of time if permits are needed, and always tell someone where you are going and how long you will be gone.


Read more: Things to Pack for a Hiking Trip in the Desert

 

[This story appears in the October 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine.] 

 

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