Joshua Tree National Park
Park Overview
Joshua Tree National Park is immense, nearly 800,000 acres, and infinitely variable. It can seem unwelcoming, even brutal during the heat of summer when, in fact, it is delicate and extremely fragile. This is a land shaped by strong winds, sudden torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. Rainfall is sparse and unpredictable. Streambeds are usually dry and waterholes are few. Viewed in summer, this land may appear defeated and dead, but within this parched environment are intricate living systems waiting for the opportune moment to reproduce.

Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation, come together in the park. Few areas more vividly illustrate the contrast between ¿high¿ and ¿low¿ desert. Below 3000 feet (910 m), the Colorado Desert, occupying the eastern half of the park, is dominated by the abundant creosote bush.

The higher, slightly cooler, and wetter Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the undisciplined Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the promised land. Others were not as visionary. Early explorer John Fremont described them as "¿the most repulsive tree in the vegetable Kingdom."

The park encompasses some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California¿s deserts. Rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths testify to the tremendous earth forces that shaped and formed this land. Arroyos, playas, alluvial fans, bajadas, pediments, desert varnish, granites, aplite, and gneiss interact to form a giant mosaic of immense beauty and complexity.

In the late 1800s cattlemen came to the desert. They built dams to create water tanks. They were followed by miners who tunneled the earth in search of gold. They are gone now, but they left behind the Lost Horse and Desert Queen mines and the Keys Ranch. In the 1930s homesteaders came seeking free land and the chance to start new lives. Today many people come to the park¿s 794,000 acres of open space seeking clear skies and clean air, and the peace and tranquility, the quietude and beauty, only deserts offer.

Desert vegetation, often appearing to have succumbed to this hot sometimes unrelentedly dry environment, lies dormant, awaiting the rainfall and moderate weather that will trigger its growth, painting the park a profusion of colors. At the edges of daylight and under clear night skies lives a number of generally unfamiliar desert animals. Waiting out daytime heat, these creatures run, hop, crawl, and burrow in the slow rhythm of desert life. Under bright sun and blue sky, bighorn sheep and golden eagles add an air of unconcerned majesty to this land.

For all its harshness, the desert is a land of extreme fragility. Today¿s moment of carelessness may leave lasting scars or disrupt an intricate system of life that has existed for eons. When viewed from the roadside, the desert only hints at its hidden life. To the close observer, a tiny flower bud or a lizard¿s frantic dash reveals a place of beauty and vitality. Take your time as you travel through Joshua Tree National Park. The desert provides space for self-discovery, and can be a refuge for the human spirit.


Joshua Tree National Park is a backpacker¿s dream with its mild winter climate and interesting rock formations, plants, and wildlife. It embraces 794,000 acres of which 585,000 acres have been designated wilderness. By observing the guidelines below, your venture into the backcountry should be safe and enjoyable. If you have questions, ask a ranger. It is your responsibility to know and abide by park regulations.

If you will be out overnight, park and register at a backcountry registration board. An unregistered vehicle or a vehicle left overnight somewhere other than at a backcountry board is a cause for concern about the safety of the vehicle¿s occupants. It is also subject to citation and towing.

It is easy to get disoriented in deserts: washes and animal trails crisscross the terrain obscuring trails, boulder piles are confusingly similar, and there are not many prominent features by which to guide yourself. Do get yourself a topographic map and compass and learn how to use them before you head out.Know your limitations. You should not attempt to climb cliffs or steep terrain without adequate equipment, conditioning, and training. Accidents can be fatal.Carry a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day just for drinking, two gallons in hot weather or if you are planning a strenuous trip. You will need additional water for cooking and hygiene.

And don¿t forget the other essentials: rain protection, a flashlight, a mirror and whistle, a first-aid kit, pencil and paper, a pocket knife, and extra food.


Boy Scout, 16 miles: Scenic trail through the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks Moderately Strenouous.

49 Palms Oasis, 3 miles: Several stands of fan palms and pools of water are found at the oasis. Moderately strenuous.

Lost Horse Mine/Mtn, 4 miles: Site of ten-stamp mill Summit = 5,278 feet (1,609m) Moderately strenuous.

Lost Palms Oasis, 8 miles: Canyon with numerous palm stands ModerateA side trip to Victory Palms and Munsen Canyon involves scrambling.

Mastodon Peak, 3 miles: Excellent views of the Eagle Mountains and Salton Sea. Summit = 3,371 feet (1,027m) Strenuous.

Ryan Mountain, 3 miles: Excellent views of Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant valleys Summit = 5,461 feet (1,664m) Strenuous.


Bike riding in the park is restricted to roads open to vehicles. The park¿s new Backcountry and Wilderness Management Plan designates approximately 29 miles of trails for non-motorized bike use, however, the new trails cannot be used until Congress gives its approval.

There is a 30-day camping limit each year. However, only 14 nights total may occur from October through May.

Campsites are limited to six people, three tents, and two cars. Group sites acommodate 10 to 60 people.

At Hidden Valley and all group sites, motorhomes and trailers cannot exceed 25 feet. At White Tank Campground the 25-foot limitation includes the towing vehicle.

Obtain reservations for sites at Black Rock, Indian Cove, and all group sites by calling 1-800-365-2267 or online. Other campgrounds are first-come, first-served and fill quickly on weekends and during spring break. Camp only in designated campsites.

There are no hookups for recreational vehicles

Water is available at Oasis Visitor Center, Indian Cove Ranger Station, West Entrance, and Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds. Showers are not available.All vegetation in the park is protected. If you want to make a campfire, bring your own firewood.

Quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Generator use is limited to six hours a day: 7 to 9 a.m., noon to 2 p.m., and 5 to 7 p.m.

Food-storage containers capable of preventing access by wildlife are required in the campgrounds. Any scented or odorous items must be similarly stored.

Per night camping fees range between $5-10 depending on the campground.

History of the Area
While the Joshua Tree area has been inhabited by humans for at least 5,000 years, by the late 1920s the development of new roads into the desert had brought an influx of land developers and cactus poachers. Minerva Hoyt, a Pasadena resident who was extremely fond of desert plants, became concerned about the removal of cacti and other plants to the gardens of Los Angeles. Her tireless efforts to protect this area culminated in 825,000 acres being set aside as Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936.

The monument was administered by the superintendent of Yosemite National Park until James Cole was appointed as the first superintendent in 1940. The eastern portion of the historic Oasis of Mara was deeded to the National Park Service by the Twentynine Palms Corporation in 1950. That same year the monument's size was reduced by 265,000 acres to exclude some mining property.

As part of the Desert Protection Bill, Joshua Tree National Monument was elevated to park status on October 31, 1994. The bill also added 234,000 acres. The new park boundary follows natural features and includes complete ecological units such as entire mountain ranges. Previous boundaries divided these ranges along survey lines. The additions provide better resource protection with easier boundary identification and monitoring and important habitat for desert bighorn sheep. Elevations in the park range from a low of 536 feet to a high of 5,814 feet at Quail Mountain.

In 1976 Congress designated 420,000 acres within the monument as wilderness. Of the park's current 794,000 acres, 585,000 is designated wilderness.Joshua Tree provides habitat for 712 higher plant species, 40 reptile species, 41 mammal species, and 240 bird species. The federal register lists one park reptile, the desert tortoise, as threatened and one park plant species, the Coachella Valley milk vetch, as endangered. In addition there are 26 species of special concern being protected within the park.

Joshua Tree has one paleontological area and potentially eight more. The park protects 501 archeological sites, 88 historic structures, 19 cultural landscapes, and houses 123,253 items in its museum collection.Park staff maintain 88 miles of paved roads and 81 miles of unpaved roads, nine campgrounds with 523 campsites and two horsecamps, and 10 picnic areas with 38 picnic sites. There are 32 trailheads and 191 miles of hiking trails throughout the park. Park staff greet visitors at three entrance stations, two visitor centers, and one nature center.

Behind the scenes the park maintains 10 water treatment facilities, nine solar power stations, four maintenance facilities, eight employee housing units, and 95 vehicles.

Nature of the Area
Junior Ranger Program:

Visiting students can earn a Junior Ranger badge by completing a number of activities as they explore the park. The Jr Ranger workbook is available at park entrance stations and visitor centers. Workbook activities include drawing, writing, attending a ranger program, and picking up trash in the park.

Local student groups earn Junior Ranger recognition through a comprehensive study of seven units that involve an exploration of the National Park Service, Joshua Tree NP, and their local desert. Students also complete a service project in their local area and attend a ranger-led program.

Rock Climbing and Rappelling
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the world. More than 4,500 established routes offering a wide range of difficulty are concentrated within about 100,000 acres of park land. Over one million people visit Joshua Tree each year, many of them rock climbers. The National Park Service mission requires park managers to provide for the enjoyment of the park by today¿s visitor while conserving and protecting park resources for future generations. Dramatic increases in the number of visitors engaging in rock climbing contribute to an already difficult, sometimes contradictory, task. Park managers are concerned about trash, soil erosion, vegetation damage, human waste disposal, natural and cultural resource protection, and the quality of each visitor¿s experience.


Guided by the provisions of its Backcountry and Wilderness Management Plan, the park is working with the climbing community to implement a comprehensive approach to climbing management. The park¿s goals are to restore to a natural condition those areas already impacted by climbing, to mitigate future impacts, and to prevent the cumulative impacts of climbing from increasing to unacceptable levels. A committee comprised of members of the climbing community, conservation organizations, and interested individuals is providing recommendations to the park on a variety of climbing-related issues.Under the provisions of the Backcountry and Wilderness Management Plan, climbers may replace existing unsafe bolts, and new bolts may be placed in non-wilderness areas through a monitored process. You may obtain a checklist of bolting guidelines for non-wilderness areas at entrance stations and visitor centers or download a copy in PDF format (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, available free from the Adobe website). You must obtain a special-use permit to use a power drill in non-wilderness.

Bolting in wilderness is currently prohibited. A permit system is being developed for installing new bolts in wilderness with the goal of ensuring that the cumulative impacts of climbing in wilderness not exceed 1998 levels. Placing bolts in wilderness with power drills will not be allowed.


Whether a particular climb is in or out of wilderness is not always easy to determine. Click here for our current list of what is in and what is not, but remember that it could change as we are able to locate climbs with ever more accurate GPS coordinates.


-It is prohibited to initiate or terminate a climb in an occupied campsite without prior permission of the occupant of that site.

-The use of any substance, such as glue, epoxy, or cement, to reinforce hand or footholds is prohibited.

-¿Chipping¿ or enhancing hand or footholds is prohibited as is removing vegetation or ¿gardening.¿

-Climbing within 50 feet of any rock-art site is prohibited.

Nature of the Area
The nearly 800,000 acres of Joshua Tree National Park were set aside to protect the unique assembly of natural resources brought together by the junction of three of California¿s ecosystems. The Colorado Desert, a western extension of the vast Sonoran Desert, occupies the southern and eastern parts of the park. It is characterized by stands of spike-like ocotillo plants and ¿jumping¿ cholla cactus.

The southern boundary of the Mojave Desert reaches across the northern part of the park. It is the habitat of the park¿s namesake: the Joshua tree. Extensive stands of this peculiar looking plant are found in the western half of the park.A third ecosystem is located in the western most part of the park above 4000 feet. The Little San Bernardino Mountains provide habitat for a community of California juniper and pinyon pine.

The plant diversity of these three ecosystems is matched by the animal diversity, including healthy herds of desert bighorn and six species of rattlesnakes. Joshua Tree National Park lies astride the Pacific flyway of migratory birds, and is a rest stop for many. It was for this unusual diversity of plants and animals that Joshua Tree National Monument was set aside on August 10, 1936.

The park also encompasses some of the most interesting geologic features found in California¿s desert areas. Exposed granite monoliths and rugged canyons testify to the tectonic and erosional forces that shaped this land. Washes, playas, alluvial fans, bajadas, desert varnish, igneous and metamorphic rocks interact to form a pattern of stark beauty and ever changing complexity.

Area Attractions
Death Valley National Park, 335 miles.

Mojave National Preserve, 90 miles.

Grand Canyon National Park, 380 miles.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, 466 miles.

Zion National Park, 376 miles.

Reviews (1)Write A Review
Very Good
Just OK
January 2
So much to do
This is a great place for a group or family trip. There is hiking, great walks, biking and great rock climbing. Bring water and be prepared for cool nights.
Nearby Parks
96 km away.
107 km away.