Spring Break Hikes in Joshua Tree, CA

on Mar 25, 2012

As a family this spring March break, we headed down south for nine days, joining two other families with young kids. Wander through the dry Mojave desert of Joshua Tree National and learn about the array of walks and incredible desert ecology.

Spring Break Adventures in Joshua Tree

Family Trip, March, 2012


Joshua Tree has many activities for families and friends.  Each day we chose a different route or trail as the park has a diversity of adventures to engage you for a few weeks.  Here are a few photos of the trails we explored and brief description of what we enjoyed, for more detailed information about the hiking, climbing and camping in the park, visit the National Park Service.  To learn about ecological links between flora, fauna and terrain, take an interpretive walk or request a custom guided friend or family program at a classic N.American wilderness area you are interested in.

We enjoyed camping at Ryan Camping, a small site a few minutes away from the Hidden Valley area.  The nights were quite and peaceful, the main sounds we heard were coyotes and owls.  The campsite were perched around different aesthetic boulders, between these giant rocks and a few Joshua trees, we could find shade in the hottest part of the day.  The kids played soccer, set up race tracks and cars and enjoyed touring by bike around the campsite.  One night due to high winds, we abandoned our campsite as it was super exposed and the tents were easily flattened!  We returned the next day to a beautiful snow swept environment.  We also enjoyed camping and Jumbo Rock and set our sites for finding a sweet spot at Belle campground on our next visit. Campsites are first come first serve and maximum stay is 14 nights in the park.

Great Walks & Hikes

There are a number of hikes and places to explore the unique rocks, plants and animals of the Mojave desert.  The interpretive trails are short and fun for young kids, the half day walks are a bit more physical but doable for most ages.  Some easy interpretive walks include the trail near Barker Dam, the loop around Hidden Valley, the caves near Turtle Rock and the small loop in Indian Cove.

I enjoyed walking a number of trails solo.  Often, I’d leave in the morning while the temperature were cool and there was more chance of hearing or seeing the birds and fauna. Trails I really enjoyed included the one way walk on the Boy Scott Trail, the short hike up Ryan Mountain, an extended loop on the Lost Horse Mine Trail and the surprising walk to 49 Palms Oasis. Below is a brief description of each trail and highlights, enjoy the photos!

Boy Scout Trail

My absolutely favorite trail was a hike called the Boy Scout Trail, an easy 13 km walk one way.  David and Elias dropped me off a cool crisp morning, just west of Hidden Valley. The walk took me through different types of terrain and ecozones.  Best to walk it early before high noon as the north end of the hike ends in hot and dry wash with little shade. Walking at a fast pace, I ended up doing this as I had a climbing date on the other side, the trail takes 3.5-4 hours. 

The first hour is a flat easy wander on a trail that tracks the edge of Wonderland rocks climbing area.  A side trip to Willow hole drew me off my objective, the aesthetic boulders and quite morning moved to a serene and quiet state. After some time, I realized I was slowly ascending and enjoyed the transition from primarily Joshua trees and yucca to the juniper tree and barrel cactus. 

At the pass, after a couple hours of hiking, the trail became more windy and dropped into narrow washes and small canyons and oak and pinyon pine trees.  The final hour and half was a deep descent on the northern side, affording views of the Morongo valley and Indian cove climbing area below. 

After the descent, the trail was in a wide wash that had ten foot walls providing shady relief as well as southern walls for barrel cactus to flourish.  When I reached the edge of Indian cover, I left the trail and wandered through the desert scrub to reach the campground and climbing area.  Even though walking seemed easy, it was just as easy to get disoriented so paying closing attention to the surrounding was important for off trail navigating.

49 Palms Walk

A shorter walk, 49 Palm Oasis, was also on the North side, access off the main drag between Joshua and 29 Palms towns.  This hike was my second favorite trail, taking only two hours by adult pace or a 3 hour family walk of about 6 km round trip.  It was my first experience on this trail, as I had mistakenly assumed the hike to be flat, I was surprised by both the ascent and incredible contrast of a water loving plants loving the canyon spring found at the end of the trail. We began our hike on hot asphalt of the parking lot and ascended through dry desert terrain to a gently rounded ridge.  Beside the trail were a diverse array of cacti species and little lizards scurrying away under rocks. 

From the ridge pass, facing north one could see the large valley below and above it the storm and high winds threatening us.  I continued the descent to the canyon while David and Elias headed back, we got a sneak view of the Oasis below. The crust cracked up to bring forward warm water and evidence of the seepage was in the forty nine palms that grew at the spring as well as the plethora of birds and water loving shrubs.

Lost Horse Mine Hike

Another surprisingly fun walk was the tour on Lost Horse mine. I walked this trail early morning and discovered different fauna along the trail. I toured in a counter clockwise direction and found this was definitely the better way to explore as the first seven kilometers or so were in desert in a natural state, while when I discovered the mine there was a burned destructive environment for the last three km.  For fast walkers, two hours will give a great workout with the rolling hills and wandering trail, for family or leisurely walk count on three to four hours.

Lost Horse mine trail makes a very large loop that crosses over a gently mountain separating the west and east parts of the park. From the pass I could see all of the eastern terrain and the geology rocks that stood like gorgeous morphic blobs below. The rock on this trail was different in that it was quite metamorphosed and not at all the clean climbing granite.

One the first hour of my walk, I heard many birds and saw a vulture as well as a family of Gamber’s Quail.  A large jackrabbit stood in my trail and further along I saw evidence of a coyote dining on his cousin.  The flora was of Joshua trees and incredible yucca, each thrusting their flowering stalk far into the sky.  The trail wandered along washes and gently up toward the pass affording views of the eastern part of the park. 

By ten in the morning, the air was hot and sticky and not much wind passed over me as I quickly walk the last half of the trail…another climbing date!  I walked by various mining sites, some with evidence of miners living there, others of places to haul the ore. When I reached the actual Lost Horse mine, the trees were burned showing evidence of miners hoping to quickly reach their mineral. The site looked like a picture from the Lorax…an odd and surreal scene.

Ryan Mtn

For a bit of cardio, a great view of the park and aesthetic winding trail, Ryan Mtn has a short but very worthwhile ascent. The round trip walk can be done in less than two hours as it is just five kilometers and some elevation.  Kids can easily do the hike, bring lots of water mid day, best hike times are early morning or around sunset. Ryan Moutain overlooks to the east the geology rock tour terrain while on the west is dominated by the granitic crags of the multiple climbing areas.  Our campground, Ryan, was just south, I could see the aesthetic boulders surrounding our base. Many tourists make their way up this trail, so it is definitely one of the busy walks I did but rewarding in ecology, vista and exercise!

Until Next Time…

Many incredible stories exist about the relationships between flora, fauna, insects and terrain and only a few I eluded to here. The desert is a place that takes time to appreciate the diversity behind the living creatures. Enjoy the trails and as you probably do, respect the plants that are the base of so many important ecological relationships.

For more photos about our journeys or for information about interpretive guiding and overnight wilderness backpacking, contact us.

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