Backpack Joshua Tree, California | Sierra Club Outings (2023)

Sierra Club Outings Trip | Backpack

Backpack Joshua Tree, California | Sierra Club Outings (1)

More Photos

Highlights

  • Backpack the wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park
  • View desert wildlife and spring wildflowers
  • Explore remote Smith Water Canyon

Includes

  • Group camping gear

  • Potable water caches and food

  • Planning, organization, route finding, permits

Overview

The Trip

Enjoy an early spring trek into the Mojave Desert wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park. The Mojave or “High Desert” is where you will find the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, as well as many other desert shrubs, cacti, and trees. But Joshua Tree National Park is much more than just plants; it is a stark land of beautiful rock formations and hidden canyons, springs and seeps, old mines, historic trails, and cowboy camps

The Trip

Enjoy an early spring trek into the Mojave Desert wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park. The Mojave or “High Desert” is where you will find the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, as well as many other desert shrubs, cacti, and trees. But Joshua Tree National Park is much more than just plants; it is a stark land of beautiful rock formations and hidden canyons, springs and seeps, old mines, historic trails, and cowboy camps.

To some, the desert is a land devoid of life, but upon close inspection, you will find a myriad of well-adapted flora and fauna. We may glimpse the elusive desert bighorn sheep, coyote, deer, spectacular birds, reptiles, and insects. We'll see Juniper, Pinyon Pine, Mojave Yucca, Nolina, Creosote Bush, and lots of cacti -- and depending on winter rains, abundant wildflowers.

Our planned route takes us from the interior of the park, at Juniper Flats, west, and then north to Indian Cove. We'll cover a total of 34 miles-- 30 miles are on trail and four miles are cross-country through a remote canyon, with one short granite slab that requires a little scrambling. The altitude ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 feet.

Very few individuals enjoy a multi-day backpacking experience in Joshua Tree due to the lack of water. The little water that does exist in the backcountry is reserved for wildlife so we must carry our own. Our route encounters roads twice and we will benefit from cached water along the way.

This trip is for those seeking the challenges and rewards of backpacking in this unique desert environment. Shorter hiking days provide opportunities for dayhiking and exploring some of the hidden gems of the park.

Collapse--

Itinerary

Day 1: We will meet mid-afternoon, which provides us with adequate time to shuttle some vehicles and set up one of the caches. We will return to our group campsite in the central area of the park for dinner, a campfire, and a discussion of conservation challenges at Joshua Tree with a National Park Service guest. Plan to arrive a little early to enjoy the spectacular setting of this campground, get in a short day hike to stretch your legs, and check over your gear

Expand++

Day 1: We will meet mid-afternoon, which provides us with adequate time to shuttle some vehicles and set up one of the caches. We will return to our group campsite in the central area of the park for dinner, a campfire, and a discussion of conservation challenges at Joshua Tree with a National Park Service guest. Plan to arrive a little early to enjoy the spectacular setting of this campground, get in a short day hike to stretch your legs, and check over your gear.

Day 2: After breakfast and a final backpack check, we will move cars to the Juniper Flats trailhead or "backcountry board." Beginning at an elevation of 4,400 feet, we hike four fairly-level miles in the shadow of Quail Mountain, while enjoying views of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. For those still wanting to put in a few more miles, a day hike to Stubbe Springs is a possibility.

Day 3: We continue on-trail nine miles to camp in the Covington Flats area after detouring a mile north to pick up a food and water cache.

Day 4: Today we head off-trail and work our way down four-mile-long Smith Water Canyon, a beautiful, narrow canyon. Inside this canyon we will find several springs, which promote lush growth and perfect habitat for desert wildlife.

The initial route is straightforward as we work our way through sand and boulders. Midway through the canyon, we’ll come upon a 20-foot sloping granite slab that requires some boulder scrambling and/or sliding down on our bottoms. We will lower packs with a rope to make the descent less challenging. Below the slab among the thick willows, we will find an old cowboy camp. Continuing outside the canyon, we pick up a trail to camp in a Joshua Tree forest.

Day 5: We continue on-trail four miles to another backcountry board where we pick up a water and food cache. After packing our food and water, we continue two miles to camp in a classic Mojave Desert setting. We will have an optional day hike from our camp to Willow Hole, a secluded enclave within the Wonderland of Rocks.

Day 6: On our last day, we plan to hike about 6.5 miles. We'll have some up and down in the middle portion, and go through a canyon in the Wonderland of Rocks, finally arriving at our ending trailhead at the Indian Cove backcountry board.

The itinerary described above will serve as a general guide for our trip. However, our camp locations and daily mileage may be altered due to weather, group needs, and other factors outside of our control. Flexibility is essential. Sierra Club trips are not solo trips; we will look out for each other and may at times have to compromise our individual goals.

Collapse--

Logistics

Getting There

Our trip will begin at a campground inside the park, which we will reserve. Joshua Tree is located 56 miles north of Palm Springs, 160 miles east of Los Angeles, and 500 miles south of San Francisco. Trip members arriving from other parts of the country should consider flying to Palm Springs, Ontario, or Los Angeles and sharing a rental car.

The leader will send out a trip roster well in advance of the trip to facilitate ride sharing. Specific driving directions will be sent to trip members in advance of our departure. Please don't make transportation arrangements until the leader confirms you as a trip participant

Expand++

Getting There

Our trip will begin at a campground inside the park, which we will reserve. Joshua Tree is located 56 miles north of Palm Springs, 160 miles east of Los Angeles, and 500 miles south of San Francisco. Trip members arriving from other parts of the country should consider flying to Palm Springs, Ontario, or Los Angeles and sharing a rental car.

The leader will send out a trip roster well in advance of the trip to facilitate ride sharing. Specific driving directions will be sent to trip members in advance of our departure. Please don't make transportation arrangements until the leader confirms you as a trip participant.

Accommodations and Food

Meals, including beverages and snacks, will be provided beginning with dinner on day one and ending with lunch on the last day. Trip participants will share cooking and meal clean-up duties. The menu will lean toward vegetarian, though some meals will include meat options as well. Due to the lack of available water once we begin our hike, containerized water will be provided for drinking, cooking, and some hand washing (but not bathing). Several caches will provide additional water for the trip.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the easiest and 5 being the most strenuous trips we offer), but some days will be strenuous or have strenuous sections. Although the elevations in Joshua Tree are moderate, desert trails range from dirt tread, to deep sand, to rocks. The uneven surfaces often require more effort than the typical mountain trail. Recent backpacking experience and excellent aerobic conditioning are essential. Experience in cross-country backpacking is not required, but hiking on rough, rocky terrain does require steady footing, good balance, and a good attitude. This is a trip for experienced backpackers with a strong interest in desert backpacking that is sometimes off trail.

The weather in Joshua Tree in the spring can vary widely. Daytime highs might range from the upper 50s to low 80s Fahrenheit while overnight lows can dip into the 30s. It is often windy in the spring and rain is always a possibility, though rare.

We will follow Leave No Trace principles throughout the trip. Our goals are to sample some spectacular desert scenery, enjoy the camaraderie of the group, and safely travel to our destination.

Equipment and Clothing

A list of suggested personal gear will be sent to all trip members after sign-up. You should keep your pack weight to 20 or fewer pounds. Each trip member will carry a share of the group equipment and/or water, your own food, and a gallon of personal water that you will transfer into your own bottles and/or bladders. The caches will provide additional water as we continue on our hike. Plan on 20-22 pounds in addition to your personal gear.

The Sierra Club provides cooking and other group equipment but you must bring your own eating utensils. Your backpack must have adequate capacity to hold a commissary load of approximately two gallon jugs or one full grocery sack in addition to your personal gear.

Plan on clothing adequate for warm days and cold nights. A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are always needed in the desert. Long pants are desirable to protect against rough desert brush. Lightweight hiking boots that provide good ankle support are essential. A tent is recommended to protect from the elements and possible night visitors. The leader will help connect participants who want to share a tent. A rain jacket and rain pants tend to work better around rough brush than a poncho.

References

It is highly recommended you bring a map and compass for safety and to give you a better appreciation of our route and various park features. You may also bring a Global Positioning System (GPS) if you so desire.

Maps covering our route include:

  • Trails Illustrated Map of Joshua Tree National Park, published by National Geographic
  • Joshua Tree National Park trail map, published by Tom Harrison Maps
  • Four U.S.G.S. 7.5-minute quadrangles cover our planned route: Indian Cove, Keys View, Joshua Tree South, and East Deception Canyon

Books:

  • Furbush, Patty A., On Foot in Joshua Tree. M. I. Adventure Publications. The most comprehensive trail guide to Joshua Tree National Park.
  • Kaiser, James, Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide. Destination Press. A very good introduction to the geology, history, flora, and fauna of the park.

Conservation

The Sierra Club is an environmental organization. Part of the Sierra Club's mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth.” While a dedicated professional staff provides aid and support, much of the work of the Club is carried out by volunteers at the grassroots level. One of the goals of the outings program is to educate and motivate trip members to be active participants in advocating for the environment.

Joshua Tree National Park contains over 1,200 square miles of land with over 70% protected as wilderness. Yet, the park is located just east of the greater Los Angeles area, which has a population estimated to be slightly over 18 million persons. Park visitation is growing 20% annually. Large alternative energy developments, pumped-water energy storage projects, and groundwater exploitation have been proposed for lands that surround or were once part of the park. These and other issues impact the environment in and around Joshua Tree National Park.

We will have the opportunity to discuss the impact of population growth, increasing visitor use, climate change, groundwater pumping, energy development, off-road vehicle incursions, and other issues affecting Joshua Tree as we travel through this unique landscape.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Joshua Tree National Park.

Collapse--

Staff

Leader:

David Melton

Map

This trip is in: United States, California

Photos

More photos

Important Notes

  • Carbon Offsets
  • Carpooling
  • Electronic Billing and Forms
  • Electronic Devices
  • Equipment
  • Essential Eligibility Criteria
  • How to Apply for a Trip
  • Leader Gratuities
  • Medical Issues
  • Non-discrimination Statement
  • Participant Agreement
  • Seller of Travel Disclosure
  • Single Supplements
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Travel Insurance
  • Trip Feedback
  • Trip Price
  • Wilderness Manners
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Last Updated: 02/20/2023

Views: 6635

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-12-23

Address: 4653 O'Kon Hill, Lake Juanstad, AR 65469

Phone: +494124489301

Job: Marketing Representative

Hobby: Reading, Ice skating, Foraging, BASE jumping, Hiking, Skateboarding, Kayaking

Introduction: My name is Cheryll Lueilwitz, I am a sparkling, clean, super, lucky, joyous, outstanding, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.