Lost Palms Oasis In Joshua Tree National Park — The Longest Day Hike In The Park

Hike-At-A-Glance


Lost Palms Oasis

Date Hiked: February 16, 2013
Best Season: Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Joshua Tree National Park 760-367-5500
Notes: Dogs are not permitted on park trails.
  • Distance: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 477 feet, but 1,100 ft of total climbing
  • Route Type: Out and back
  • Trail Type: Dirt and sand
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Before our recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I did my usual amount of geeking out over all the various write-ups of the Park and looking for good/great hikes and sights we needed to catch on our first visit to the 15th largest national park (out of 55) in the country.  Given that it covers over 1,200 square miles I was very surprised at how few hikes there were that went for more than 2-4 miles.  The Park’s “Day Hike” page and “Joshua Tree National Park Hiking Guide” showed only one day hike longer than four miles, and even HikesPeak.com’s excellent Joshua Tree resource page only showed two–one of which was not accessible from the main roads inside the park.

That one consensus longer hike was the Lost Palms Oasis hike, listed at between 7 and 8 miles, depending on who you ask.   And since we generally look for hikes in the 6-10 mile range, it allegedly went to one of the best oases in the park, and could be combined with the shorter Mastodon Peak Loop as a reverse “lollipop hike” to get us up into the 8+ mile range, we chose that for our first hike of the trip. You can see the crappy park map of the two hikes here.  Since the total elevation was only listed as about 400 feet for Lost Palms, we figured it would be pretty easy, but in the end, it was a bit more work than anticipated–at least partially because of the soft, sandy portions of the trail that make it like walking on a beach at times.

I previously wrote up the Mastodon Loop (“Most Convenient Hike in Joshua Tree”) as a separate hike, so for the purposes of this write-up, I’m mostly going to reference the Lost Palms Oasis hike as a stand-alone out-and-back hike, though I’ll mention where the junctions for the combo hike are.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Full parking lot at Cottonwood Springs.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Lost Palms Oasis Trailhead at Cottonwood Spring Parking Lot.

The trailhead is located just a mile southeast of the Cottonwood Visitor Center (9 total miles from the I-10 Freeway) at the Cottonwood Springs Oasis Parking Lot, making it quite accessible to the Coachella Valley or anyone else heading down the nation’s southern-most trans-continental highway.  Make sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center to get your day pass and check out the shop, before turning down Cottonwood Springs Road to the trailhead.  As per usual, we arrived too late to park in the actual parking lot, but there was plenty of parking near the end of the road, and we didn’t have to walk very far to the trailhead.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Cottonwood Spring interpretive sign at the trailhead.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

View of the Cottonwood Spring (and trail) from the parking lot.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Beginning of the trail down to the spring–very well maintained.

At the trailhead was an informational kiosk describing the history of the Cottonwood Spring, as well as some general information about the park.  Immediately below the parking lot (and accessible on a very well maintained trail that even a stroller or wheelchair could make) is Cottonwood Spring, a palm and cottonwood oasis that apparently was a major source of water for Native Americans and miners that lived in the area in the past, but there was not any visible water on this February day.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

A look back at the spring as we head up the trail.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Another look back towards the trailhead and spring.

The trail quickly narrows and begins to look like a normal hiking trail, as it heads fairly steadily (though not at all steeply) uphill for then next two or so miles through the desert terrain.  One of the downsides of this trail is that even though it has a great variety of desert plants, including silver, teddy bear, and pencil chollas, yuccas, prickly pears (nopales), barrel cactus, ocotillos, mesquite, creosote, juniper and other classic desert flora, there are no Joshua Trees on this hike (or anywhere on this end of the park, actually).  So if you want to see a Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park, you need to head for the higher Mojave Desert portion of the park up near Split Rock, Skull Rock, Ryan Ranch, or any of a number of other hikes and drives in the northwest part of the park.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Notice the soft sand on the trail–there is a lot of this, making it a bit more tiring to walk on than a solid surface.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

One more look back towards the trailhead.

It does, however, feature lots of the park’s iconic natural rock sculptures and interesting geology, as well as the wide variety of plants and cactii mentioned above, so as an introduction to desert landscapes, this hike works very well.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

The sign for the Mastodon Peak cutoff on the left. Stay straight.

Just over a half mile from the trailhead, you’ll come to a junction with the Mastodon Loop Trail.  If you chose to do the combo hike, this is where you would meet up with the Lost Palms Oasis trail, and head east-southeast (left) to continue to the oasis.  We will stay straight.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

A more zoomed in version of Mastodon Peak.

The trail is virtually impossible to lose, as any of the places you might possibly get confused (especially where it crosses washes) are marked with rocks or sticks to keep you on track.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

The trail makes its way across the Colorado/Sonoran Desert.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Helpful rocks to guide the way across the wash. Notice the soft sand again.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

More helpful signage. More soft sand.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

I think I thought this rock looked like a dog’s face. Or I might have been hallucinating.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

A tall 0cotillo next to a yucca.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Pencil cholla.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

A juniper–the closest thing to a shade tree we found in between the two springs.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

A red barrel cactus.

After climbing the aforementioned two miles, you’ll descend down into a pretty cool, narrow, slot canyon, that would probably be a bit harrowing in a sudden desert storm, before climbing again up a pretty steep hillside.  From there, it is another descent until just before you hit the area over the oasis.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Heading into a canyon.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

In the canyon–more soft sand.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Narrow slot canyon–potentially dangerous in a storm.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Having come out of the one canyon, we go down into another valley, then on up that next ridge. BTW–I thought that rock in the upper left looked a bit like Iron Man’s helmet. Again–could just have been the sun taking its toll on my sanity…

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Heading up the next ridge.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

And looking down into the next canyon. Palms are just past that last ridge.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Coming through the final canyon.

From here, you can see the palms down below in the canyon, as well as a cluster of them straight across the canyon on the hillside, in an area that looked worthy of exploring if we’d had a bit more energy or daylight, but we had neither.  According to the Google Map satellite view below, there was a trail down to the palms, but we didn’t see it.  We looked for a way down from the top of the canyon, but did not find a way that didn’t involve scrambling and a whole lot more work than either of us was willing to put in at this point–especially since we could see no evidence of water at the bottom among the trees.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

First view of the palms on the hillside. More are in the canyon below.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

I guess we made it!

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

The densest cluster of palms in the canyon.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

More palms in the canyon as we tried to scramble down for a closer look. See any water in there? Me neither.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Palms continue to run down the canyon. Still no visible water.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Two most popular activities in Joshua Tree: 1) Climbing rocks, and 2) Sitting on rocks. These folks are the sitting type, probably wondering why they walked this far for a water-less oasis.

At this point, we turned around, feeling a little cheated, as we’d expected an oasis more like the amazing one we found at Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego State Park, but based on the pictures we’ve since seen from others that hiked down to the bottom, it doesn’t appear that it is ever nearly as nice as that one.

We headed back in the late afternoon sun, adding some nice colors to the rocks around us.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Headed back–they’ve done a nice job on these trails.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Desert in the late afternoon light.

Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

Almost back!

In the end, we did feel like this hike was significantly over-rated.  It wasn’t a bad hike, we just didn’t feel like the oasis was worth the effort, unless you just craved a long desert hike in Joshua Tree.  Frankly, the oasis at the parking lot was as impressive–or more so.  We enjoyed the Mastodon Peak portion of the hike much more than we did the Lost Palms Oasis, and if you only have time for one short hike, I’d choose it.  But if you are looking for a single hike of more than 4 miles in Joshua Tree, combining these two hikes makes a good introduction to the southern Colorado/Sonora Desert end of the park.

Lost_Palms_Oasis_Elevation_Profile

Lost Palms Oasis elevation profile. Click through for more detail.


View Lost Palms Oasis Hike in a larger map

Comments

  1. says

    i love how to you this is just another walk. To us (North Wales, UK), this would be a super exotic walk on what appears to be another planet ^_^
    Great pics!
    Babs B

    • says

      I know–I felt guilty about whining about this one a bit, because as an introduction to the desert, it is a really good hike, and it is one of the most convenient hikes in the park. We just had expected a lush oasis with running water at the end like the one in Anza Borrego!

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