Distance: 7 miles (11.3 km) there and back
Elevation gain: 491 feet (150 metres)
Difficulty: terrain-wise, moderate; navigation-wise, easy; fitness-wise, easy
Drive: 4 hours 20 minutes (190 miles) from central Pasadena, east on the 210, the 10, and the 62 to 29 Palms, and then south through the park on Gold Crown Road to Cottonwood campground
Modern Hiker has a description and map here
This was our first visit to Joshua Tree, and apparently we managed to choose Southern California’s most impressive group of California fan palms (the only species native to SoCal) as our destination. It’s an easy and beautiful introduction to desert walking.
The trail starts 1.2 miles (1.9 km) past Cottonwood campground: the road comes to an end just before Cottonwood Oasis, which makes a nice start to the walk. There’s a wash just southeast of the oasis where the Lost Palms Oasis trail starts, and it’s clearly marked throughout with a mixture of signs and carefully placed rocks. After 0.7 mile (1.1 km) you get to the junction with the Mastodon Peak loop trail on your left, which you could add on to the way back to the trailhead on your return journey if you wanted (adding 0.6 mile / 1.1 km and about 500 feet / 152 metres of elevation up to the peak). Keep heading southeast, with some gentle ups and downs, until after 3.5 miles (5.6 km) you drop down to a rocky plateau just above the oasis. There’s a use-trail if you want to scramble right down to the bottom, but we arrived much too close to nightfall for that: not only were we very much out of time, but the idea of going down into the canyon was rather creepy.
Luckily we had lots of moonlight to light our way back, but we rather missed out on the return-leg views. Set off very early from LA if you want not to!
Checking out the queue at the entrance to Joshua Tree.
Impressively unkempt California fan palms at Cottonwood.
Desert flora emulation.
Creative reuse for this year’s Christmas card.
Proper desert views kicking in.
One of the more artistic way markers.
Slightly unconvincing burnt tree emulation.
Sunset comes swiftly in the desert.
The very nearly full moon rising ahead.
The oasis in situ (at 4:45 pm, an hour and a quarter from the start).
The extent of the homeward-bound views.
Back with relief to our ride home.