The Ultimate 64-Hour Getaway: Hike the Oases of Joshua Tree National Park

Get to know the rare plants of the Mojave Desert in one packed weekend from Los Angeles.

Photo: Michael Thomas Gaunt via Getty Images

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Published in partnership with Arc’teryx.

Joshua Tree National Park is a high-desert haven for climbers and backpackers. A record 1.6 million people visited Joshua Tree in 2014—which is no surprise when you count 8,000 bolted climbing routes and ten 5,000-foot summits, which grace the terrain. But it’s also a sanctuary for an impressive variety of plant life, including desert fan palm trees.

Only 158 desert fan palm oases exist in North America, and five are in this Mojave Desert wilderness area. Towering up to 75 feet high, the fan palm can live up to 90-years-old. Thriving in an otherwise sparse environment, these oases nourish and shade bighorn sheep, Gambel’s quail and coyotes, while western yellow bats roost in the palms. And you can visit three of the iconic fan palm hotspots—49 Palms, Lost Palms and Oasis of Mara—bag Mastodon Peak, and play on some boulders all in a single weekend.

Friday: Drive to Joshua Tree National Park at 5 p.m. sharp and pitch your tent. Reserve an individual or family site at Black Rock or Indian Cove Campgrounds ($25/night). Book a site online or call (877) 444-6777.

Saturday: Knock out three oases in a single day: Start the morning with the 3-mile round-trip hike to the 49 Palms Oasis. From your campground drive east on CA-62, then turn south on Canyon Road and follow to the trailhead parking lot. After the out-and-back, return to the trailhead and drive east on CA-62 to the Oasis Visitor Center. Stroll 1/4-mile on the paved trail to check out the glorious Oasis of Mara. Then, weave through the park’s Pinyon and cacti on a 38-mile road trip south via Pinto Basin Road. Pass Cottonwood Visitor Center, turn left on Cottonwood Spring Road and follow for about 1/2-mile to Cottonwood Campground. Set up camp, then drive (or walk) another 1/2-mile east to reach the trailhead. End the day on a literal high note: Enjoy a short, 2.6-mile circuit that passes an abandoned gold mine on the way to the 3,400-foot summit of Mastodon Peak.

Sunday: Trek the 7.4-mile out-and-back through scrub-speckled desert over rolling hills to reach Lost Palms Oasis. Drive back to the north side of the park and opt for a layover—everyone could use another night under the stars. Dispersed camping is allowed throughout Joshua Tree. Register at a backcountry registration board—there are 13 within the park—and pitch your tent at least 500 feet from any trail and water source.

Monday: Head back to L.A. for a mid-morning arrival.

What To Pack: Stove, at least two gallons of water per person per day

Be Aware: No campfires allowed

From 2023