Places not to be missed in Joshua Tree National Park
Spring marks the start of adventure season. It’s that time when families de-winterize their RVs and start making plans for epic road trips and vacations. Fortunately for us, we have access to areas people drive cross country to visit. What may take a weeklong trip for some can be a day trip for us. The toughest question is, often out of all the available options, where should we go next? Joshua Tree National Park, roughly 2.5 hours from LA and slightly over 2.5 hours from San Diego in good traffic, is a viable weekend or even day trip option. Once you’re there, there is no shortage of sights to see. Here are a few of the highlights visitors shouldn’t miss out on.
Photographer or not, everyone enjoys a great view and Keys View provides just that as onlookers are treated to spectacular panoramas of the Coachella Valley. The Santa Rosa and San Bernardino mountain ranges along with the San Andreas Fault can also be seen and if you are lucky enough to come during pristine air quality conditions, you may even see Mexico’s Signal Mountain. The 15-20 minute drive off the main road is well worth it and for some truly breathtaking sights, be sure to stop by around sunset.
Cholla Cactus Garden
When visiting Joshua Tree, it’s worth it to take some time to learn about the various cacti that call the surrounding desert home. Unlike some of the more intense hikes in the area, the Cholla Cactus Garden Path is easy enough to do in the afternoon despite the warm summer temperatures. The trail is short (about a quarter mile long) and level, so good news for all those who thought they’d have to spend their afternoons indoors. Fun fact, the Cholla Cactus is nicknamed the “jumping cactus” due to how easily the stems, or needles, detach. All it takes is a gently brush against them, so be careful.
Lost Horse Mine
Lost Horse Mine was one of the few high producing mines developed in the present day Joshua Tree National Park area. Named for its discovery by prospector Johnny Lang while searching for his escaped horses, today it is a favorite amongst hikers looking for moderate trails. The 4 mile loop offers a glimpse into California’s gold rush history with one of the best preserved mines in the National Park system. Expect the hike to take roughly 3 hours to complete.
Rancher and miner William F. Keys called the unforgiving desert landscape home for almost 60 years, creating one of the area’s prime examples of early settlement. The ranch contains a series of buildings including a school and guest house. To preserve the historic character of the area, admission is restricted to guided walking tours which cost $10 per person. Each tour lasts 90 minutes and informs visitors on the lives of William, his wife Frances and their five children, along with what it was like to be one of the earliest pioneers in this region. Reservations are required and dressing in layers is recommended due to the changing conditions often found in the desert.
Popular with climbers due to the surrounding rock formations, Hidden Valley is a 1 mile trail perfect for beginners or those who don’t want anything too strenuous. This trail is a great introduction to the various plants and animals found throughout Joshua Tree National Park. The majority of the climbers venture into this area in the cooler months. Come in the spring or fall and watch them make climbing look effortless.
Johnny Lang Grave
“Gone for grub. Be back soon.” Last words left on a note from the successful prospector Johnny Lang, who found the Lost Horse Mine while searching for his horse. No matter which version of the discovery story is true, Lost Horse Mine was the most successful mine in the area, producing nine thousand troy ounces of gold, mostly during the initial ten years of its operation. When the mine finally went dry, Johnny moved into an old shack and sold gold believed to have been skimmed from the mine while it was still in operation. The journey to retrieve his hidden gold would ultimately prove fatal when he was caught in a storm one winter’s day and succumbed to the elements. The secret of his hidden stash went with him to his grave and to this day, it has never been found.
This fairly moderate trail offers one of the best views Joshua Tree National Park has to offer. Panoramic views give visitors a true perspective on just how vast the area really is thanks to the 5457 foot elevation at the summit. Weather a first timer or repeat visitor, this is one of the best ways to get a feel for the surrounding desert landscape. Expect the hike to the summit to take roughly one hour, but don’t rush it. The best experience comes when you slow down and take the time to appreciate the surrounding scenery.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Dr
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277