73 mi / 118 km
Palm Springs (PSP)
Welcome to another world…The Joshua Tree National Park spreads over the sun-scorched plateaus of inland California, sprouting strange, furry yuccas and prickly pear cacti on the edges of the mighty Mojave. It's unlike anywhere else in the country, and a veritable playground for adventurers with a penchant for wild hikes and bouldering, stargazing and adrenaline-pumping MTB routes.
Start in the town of Joshua Tree itself and take to the asphalt going south. You'll pass through the West Entrance Station and hit dusty Park Blvd, a road that slithers through groves of alien-like Joshua yuccas and craggy mountains of Pinto Gneiss rocks – some of which are thought to be a whopping 1.7 billion years old!
As you come to the Hidden Valley Campground in the western heart of the reserve, there's a web of trails to get stuck into; some short, some long. The easy 1-mile Hidden Valley circular is a doozy for seeing curious boulder formations. More hardcore trekkers might prefer the romp up Ryan Mountain, a two-hour challenge that rewards with 360-degree views of the southern Mojave Desert and its speckling of lunar rocks.
It was near here in 2018 that renowned rock climber Alex Honnold embarked on a daring adventure. His mission? To conquer the challenging rock formation called "Equinox" without any ropes or protective gear—a death-defying feat known as free solo climbing.
As he ascended the treacherous route, every move demanded unwavering precision and mental focus. With the eyes of the world on him, Honnold fearlessly pushed himself to the limits, defying gravity and conquering the seemingly impossible. Finally, after hours of intense concentration, Honnold reached the summit of Equinox solidifying his reputation as one of the world's greatest climbers and a whole lot of admiration from climbers and park visitors who witnessed his incredible feat.
You'll want to make a quick detour to the Keys View lookout before continuing on. It whisks you up to ridges on the San Bernardino Mountains, where you can peer over the edge of Joshua Tree into civilization, as the chic spa resorts of the Palm Springs valley roll away to the west.
Pushing on with the main route, the geological and ecological oddities keep a-coming. You'll get lost in the vast Cholla Cactus Garden, for example. That's an amazing habitat for blooming cacti that's always buzzing with bees. It's a unique type of cactus bed that only occurs here, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts collide with one another.
The road makes a final bend to the south, but there's one more challenge before it reconnects with Interstate 10: Mastodon Peak. It's a must-do up-and-back hike that begins in the palm-sprouting oasis of Cottonwood Spring, weaves through narrow canyons, drops by mines left over from the California Gold Rush, and finishes amid some of the most eye-catching boulder formations in the whole region.
With the park in your rear-view mirror, you'll carry with you the memories of this extraordinary drive, captivated by the stark beauty and untamed spirit of this very special gem of mother nature.
The town of Joshua Tree has a range of accommodations, including hotels, motels, and vacation rentals. Some popular choices include Joshua Tree Inn, Pioneertown Motel, and various vacation rental homes and cabins.An entrance fee is payable upon entry into the park. A permit is required to backpack and camp overnight in the backcountry. Day hikers do not need a permit. Parking fees may apply to some areas - see signage on site. Got a tip for this route? Send us yours! The roads are all sealed along this route. View current alerts and warnings from the National Park Service.
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