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Joshua Tree National Park: A Winter Visit in this Desert Park

Summary: Joshua National Park, located in Southeast California, is a relatively new addition to the National Park system, having been added in 1994. Roughly a 2 hour drive (without traffic) from Los Angeles, this desert park is actually comprised of two separate desert ecosystems, the Mojave desert and the Colorado desert. Like most deserts, be prepared for extreme conditions, no matter what time of year you visit. Our visit in December ended up with a hike cut short because of high-winds and freezing temperatures. That being said, this Park is so unique and interesting that it is worth the effort. Our drive through the Park included a short hike (1.2 miles) to Arch Rock and an attempted hike up Ryan Mountain Trail (3 miles, more on that below).

What Gear You Should Bring. Desert conditions in the winter can turn quickly as we discovered. A day that started as perfectly chilly, turned unsafe with high-winds and a quick drop in temperatures. Be flexible and aware. The same would be true for a summer visit. This is an amazing place but can have harsh conditions on both ends of the temperature scale. For a winter trip, bring lots of warm layers, more water than you think you will need, sturdy hiking shoes, and plenty of snacks.

Driving Route. We started at the Oasis Visitor Center and then made our way to the Arch Rock trail head via Park Boulevard to Pinto Basin Road. From there we doubled back and took a left on Park Boulevard and continued until we reached the Ryan Mountain trailhead. After here, we followed Park Boulevard until we exited the Park at the West Entrance.

About Joshua Trees. The Park's namesake "Joshua Tree," is actually a member of the Yucca family and are found throughout the Park. On average they live 150 years and with the right conditions, bloom clusters of white-green flowers in the Spring.

Arch Rock Trail. This popular and busy trail is flat and easy accessible. At only 1.2 miles, even most young kids can tackle this hike. We think this one would be especially fun for adventurous kids because of all of the boulders available to climb.

Arch Rock. Access to the actual Arch Rock for the photo opportunity does require climbing up a boulder. It's fairly easy but only if you're sure-footed. After climbing down, there are a ton of fun boulders to hike through.

Ryan Mountain Trail. After Arch Rock, we hopped back in our car and headed over to the trail head for Ryan Mountain Trail. On this stretch of the Park, and perhaps because of the time of day, we experienced some chilly, high-winds. With water, snacks, and layers on, we attempted to hike to the peak even with the winds.

Failed Attempt to Reach the Top. The hike begins flat but quickly turns into a climb with steps leading up the mountain. In total there is a 1,000+ elevation gain in just ~1.5 miles. At ALMOST the top, we called it quits. We hated not reaching the peak but nearing the top, the winds were so strong that we felt at times we could be blown off the edge. It really became unsafe and not wanting to risk injury, or worse, we headed back down the mountain-side. We did enjoy some beautiful views, but not without a little disappointment for having to call it a day. In the end, it was a good reminder though that hiking safely should always be the priority.

This beautiful Park was so very different than our usual destinations. We can imagine that finding the perfect conditions or time of year to visit would be tricky since, after all, desert conditions are tough by definition. It's still worth the effort though. If you're in Southern California, we think a day trip to this unique Park is worth the effort.

1 Comment

Mike Miller
Mike Miller
Feb 16, 2022

Great article. Definitely will need to get out to Joshua Tree at some point!

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