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Our Backyard: Joshua Tree National Park, California

Climb, hike, and camp in Joshua Tree National Park.

1. Top Dayhike
The 6.5-mile Window Rock Loop wanders through a maze of boulder formations, slot canyons, and Joshua Tree forests. Look for natural walls stacked straight like manmade bricks at mile .7 and a massive granite fin with a house-size window cut into its face at mile 3.9. Bring a detailed map and solid navigation skills: Crisscrossing washes make this route confusing.

2. No Swimming Holes!
In the printed version of this article, we mistakenly identified Willow Hole as a swimming area. In fact, there are no swimming holes in Joshua Tree: All water must be reserved for wildlife, as it is scarce and often seasonal. Instead, approach the hike quietly in hopes of spotting animals who use it, like desert bighorn sheep. BACKPACKER sincerely regrets the error.

3.  Most Wildlife
Greg Russell (below) loves photographing desert bighorns in Joshua Tree, where the dark sheep “look regal” against the light granite backdrop. For guaranteed shots, he heads for the 1.8-mile Barker Dam Loop Trail, where he never fails to see at least one of his favorite subjects.

4. Best Joshua Trees
The eerie trees reminded Mormon settlers of biblical Joshua’s hands praying skyward. In cooler spring, start the five-mile round-trip Lost Horse Trail from Ryan campground at 4 a.m. to catch these mystical trees (found only in the Mojave Desert) in the best light—sunrise.

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