Hiking Joshua Tree has been on my mind since I started hiking, thanks to my father. My father was extremely unconventional when it came to school. Sometimes, out of the blue, he’d bail my sister and I out of school early for the simple reason to take us on a hike. Despite living in the urban jungle of Los Angeles, he made sure we knew more than concrete. We would head to Runyan Canyon to get a spectacular view of the city and he’d would point out, beyond the grey haze of smog, the backlot of Paramount Pictures or the Hollywood sign tucked away in the hills. On the weekends, we would ride out to the Angeles National Forest to hike (if there was snow however, we mostly just careened down hills on a trash can lid while trying to avoid the road) and have lunch afterwards at Newcombs Ranch for a cup of chili and a pulled pork sandwich. I wish I had thanked him more for instilling this love and respect for spending time outdoors, climbing to the top of something to feel empowered while simultaneously feeling so very small. This love stayed with me and grew as I got older. After a week of working indoors, staring at a computer screen, nothing beats just a few hours on a mountain…nothing. I never thought much of it then, but hiking has very deep roots with some of the best moments with my father and I didn’t take hiking very seriously until I turned 19. I don’t know what it was about Joshua Tree, but since then, it’s always been on my hiking “to-do” list.
After the summer of 2015, me and my husband, Ray, decided to make a new goal of exploring our nation’s greatest treasures, National Parks. We’ve lived in San Diego for almost five years and exhausted the good trails, we needed to set our sights higher.
We’ve generally avoided National Parks up until then because many of them do not allow dogs on trails. It’s incredibly tragic as you’ll probably never see a happier dog than one walking with their pack in new areas with new smells to sink their noses into. Even my 10-year-old senior lapdog, Yoko, gets super excited every time we load up our bigger, younger dog, Honu, with his backpack. Backpack on Honu = time for a hike! However, I understand that when a dog is not watched carefully, they can do major damage to sensitive wildlife therefore banning dogs from national parks. In Joshua Tree, the restrictions are extremely tight. Our four-legged besties are only allowed on campsites and a few other areas that definitely don’t sound like a good time for them. Luckily, most trails in Joshua Tree are short day hikes, so leaving them at a hotel in their kennels for the day isn’t that big of a deal. After some deliberation and a bit more research, we decided they would make the trip with us. First off, finding the perfect place for our dogs. Let the planning begin!
Hiking Joshua Tree – Finding the Best Room We’ve Ever Stayed In
Three things to check off for the perfect lodging: Place by the park, that allowed dogs, and had air conditioning. Our dogs prefer to be kenneled when alone, so having an air conditioned room was a must so they would be comfortable despite being in the middle of the desert. Since there wasn’t a Kimpton near the park, I combed through listings on Airbnb until I happened upon the Talawahee, a private ranch style tiny house in the Yucca Valley on its own private, 160 acre lot. We booked it, and couldn’t be happier with our stay. Our host was incredibly gracious, leading us to the house from the ranch gate and equipping the kitchen with fresh baked bread, butter and local-grown fruit. The house was so beautifully designed, with huge windows and a bonus patio equipped with a grill and a hot tub (or cold tub, if you don’t turn it on, which was amazing on a summer night after a long hike). We decided to go off the gird and turn off our phones for the whole weekend. We spent the evenings relaxing on the patio, drinking, and playing board games. The private land was next to a fenced off area with dogs in it, so, for their safety, having our dogs off leash wasn’t an option. Nevertheless, our furry friends had a wonderful time roaming the land in the evenings when we returned from our day hikes. It was our own personal slice of Joshua Tree, with beautiful unobstructed views of the sky for star-gazing. We even had the dumb luck of staying during the weekend of the Red Moon!
Hiking Joshua Tree – The Best Chicken Sandwich I’ve Ever Had. Pretty good Cucumber Mule, too.
Although we were properly provisioned with food to cook and to bring along for the trails, by friends recommendations, we hit up a few spots that were “not to be missed.” Since the first time I sunk my teeth into my first Burger King chicken sandwich on brake on my first shift at my first job, I have constantly been on the lookout for a better fried chicken sandwich. I fell in love with the juxtaposition of crunch from the fried batter, juiciness of the chicken, bite of the raw onion, and softness of the bread. Ever since that day, anytime a chicken sandwich comes up on a menu, I have to order it to see if it could be the next one to top my list. I don’t know if it’s because Burger King chicken sandwiches are really THAT good or the memento of reliving a day so full of firsts, but it’s been a quest of mine since.
After our first day of hiking, we stopped for a drink at 29 Palms Inn at the recommendation of my photography teacher. Low and behold, a spicy fried chicken sandwich caught my eye on their menu. Being more thirsty than hungry, we opted for one to split. Big mistake. We gobbled down our halves, reveling in this delicious find, and before we knew it we had nothing left but a ravenous lust for more. Every day we returned there, sipping cucumber mules and devouring a whole sandwich apiece. This is honestly a must if you’re going to plan on hiking Joshua Tree!
Hiking Joshua Tree – Day 1
Thanks to my trusty trail guide book, I planned out two solid days of hiking comprised of several short day hikes to total up close to 13 miles. We packed pretty light since we were relatively close to our car (at most, 4 miles away) at any time. In my husband’s pack: mostly water, snacks, emergency first aid kid, flashlights, and my camera. Thankfully, we didn’t have to use the emergency kit, but the only thing I can really recommend are chilly pad towels. We often bring them to beat the heat when trekking San Diego and they more than paid off in the Joshua Tree desert! For our first day, we decided on a couple of shorter hikes since we wanted to sleep in from our day of travel the day before. We hiked through the 49 Palm Oasis, Barker Dam, Arch Rock, and stopped by the Cholla Cactus Garden to observe the teddy-bear like cacti in their native ecosystem (pictures in top slider).
Hiking Joshua Tree – Day 2
For the second day, we tackled Ryan Mountain, that involved a steep, short 1000ft climb up a stone staircase to the top of the mountain. The views from the top were incredible and extremely rewarding after such an intense climb. Needing a break from the elevation gain, afterwards we explored the Hidden Valley and really enjoyed the signs along the trail explaining the history of this remarkable hidden ecosystem.
Hiking Joshua Tree – Day 3
The plan for this day was to climb Warren Peak, but this trail is very poorly signed, so we ended up getting VERY lost after missing a very tiny sign partly hidden behind a tree. We had to bushwhack most of the east path you can see we found, bounding through little canyons and scrambling up rocks like billy goats. We eventually found our way back to the parking lot, just by heading in the direction we knew it had to be in. I get pretty anxious when I am lost on a trail so remote, so this is one I would definitely not revisit.
Hiking Joshua Tree – Final Thoughts
Joshua Tree is true desert magic, nothing can really compare to the feeling of absolute smallness when taking in the amount of land from atop a peak. The park goes on and on until your vision turns to haze, there is just so much to explore, one could spend a few weeks out here to really grasp the beauty. We only got to see a glimpse of Joshua Tree, as our weekend exploration only encompassed the north-eastern tip of the park. The history of the park is rich in stories of the frontiersmen, swindlers, cattle farmers and native tribespeople. We went in September, so the weather was just right, but I think the best time to go would be further in the winter, and absolutely avoid it during the summer. I cannot wait to come here again, the next time maybe we won’t get lost!