Great Hikes: Lost Palm Oasis, Joshua Tree NP

If you've ever thought the desert is boring, we have a hike that will change your mind.

Your desination is the Lost Palm Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park. It's a sheltered, steep-sided ravine that hides more than 100 California fan palm trees fed by an underground spring. A network of outlying springs provide water for bighorn sheep and many other plants and animals. The summer, when water is especially difficult to find in the desert, is the best time to see wildlife.

The hike begins at 3,000 feet at the Cottonwood Spring Trailhead. This elevation marks an ecological transition zone between the Sonoran Desert and the higher and wetter Mojave Desert. For this reason, you'll see plants from both ecosystems as you go, including creosote bushes and desert willows (although you won't see many Joshua trees in this part of the park, you'll see plenty on your drive in). 

The surroundings are impressive from the start. Outcrops of granite boulders sit amidst a landscape of high ridges, arroyos, plateaus, small canyons and rocky washes. Cacti and myriad other plants grow in white sand.

Although the hike is accessible year round, an abundance of vibrant wildflowers–more than 30 species–and cactus with pink, red, green and yellow blooms make March and April some of the best months to go. For a list of the flora you will likely see, check out this list compiled by the National Park Service.

Here's one additional tip: Before you descend into the valley, take a good look at the adjacent ravine wall when you reach the Lost Palms Oasis overlook. You'll see satellite groves that many other hikers miss.

Distance:  7.2 miles RT
Elevation Change:  Approximately 1500 feet
Difficulty Rating:  Moderate
Duration:  6 hours
Best Time to Go: Year-round, but be prepared for hot weather in the summer. 

How to get there: Joshua Tree National Park is about a three-hour drive from Los Angeles via Interstate 10. For precise directions to the park, visit the National Park Service website. You can also click here for a trail map. The hike begins at Cottonwood Spring, about six miles inside the southern park boundary. 

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