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Our National Parks Series: Joshua Tree

Did you know that the Joshua tree is actually a member of the lily family? Or that some trees are nearly a thousand years old? For the latest in our National Parks series, we ventured to Joshua Tree National Park and learned a bit more about the park’s unique desert terrain and what makes it an ideal location for all outdoor enthusiasts.

Flickr: Nicola.

Joshua Tree National Park is comprised of two deserts separated by 3,000 feet of elevation. Because of the drastic change in altitude, the Colorado “low desert” has a much warmer, drier climate compared to the wetter, more vegetated Mojave “high desert.”

Left: A wren builds a nest in a cholla cactus. Right: California poppies are among the many wildflowers scattered throughout the park. Flickr: Joshua Tree National Park, CollectMoments.

Visitors may be surprised to find such diverse ecology in Joshua Tree, with immense rock gardens, cholla cacti and ocotillo complementing the iconic forestry of giant branching yuccas. Grab a blanket and some binoculars because at night, the arid landscape is especially beautiful for stargazing the Milky Way.

Flickr: SF Brit.

Hiking & Camping

Whether you plan to visit for a few hours or a few days, Joshua Tree has plenty of trails and backcountry campgrounds to explore. There are nine campgrounds within the park’s 794,000 acres, and five park-recommended trails for day hikes. Our favorite is Mastodon Peak, a slightly strenuous 3-mile hike that winds through a palm tree oasis and the abandoned Mastodon gold mine. On a clear day, the mile-high Keys View includes panoramic vistas of the Salton Sea in Coachella Valley to Mexico’s Signal Mountain.

Sunset over Coachella Valley from Keys View. Flickr: Eric Bryan.

Mountain Biking & Rock Climbing

Want to get the most out of Joshua Tree’s impressive geology? Try mountain biking the park’s backcountry trails or head west of Jumbo Rocks Campground to Geology Tour Road. Cycling down Squaw Trail to Pleasant Valley will provide a tour of the park’s well-known rock formations – a result of millions of years of erosion and volcanic machinations.

Boulder fields. Flickr: Nick Mealey.

The high desert’s monzogranite is a magnet for rock-climbing and bouldering enthusiasts worldwide. With over 400 climbing formations and 8,000 routes, Joshua Tree has climbs available for every level. For first-timers wanting to experience the surreal vantage points from a rock face, check out Vertical Adventures for classes and guided climbs.

Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? Tell us your favorite things to do and see in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out our ParkFinder tool to locate your next outdoor adventure!

  1. Bethany | May 20, 2014 | 2:32 am

    Stunning photos. I will share this article with my Mom, she went to Joshua Tree Park many years ago, and was impressed. Thanks.

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