Joshua Tree National Park can be a tough cookie to crack. Given its proximity to Greater Los Angeles, this desert park is never not busy. Campgrounds are nearly always full on weekends. The park’s vault toilets are infamously, uh, overused. Add in the endless increase of nearby glamping opportunities and you get overwhelming crowds at day hiking trailheads, turnouts, and vistas.
Solution: Grab your pack and head into the wilderness.
Backpacking in Joshua Tree is an experience unlike any other. If you’re looking to escape from the hustle, eye-roll-worthy Instagrammers, and parking headaches, load up your backpack and hit the trail.
1) It’s A Surprisingly Simple Process
It’s somewhat shocking then that Joshua Tree’s backpacking policy remains as lax as it is. No permits are required anywhere in the park. Simply show up, fill out a registration card, and pick your destination. There are 13 different trailheads dedicated to backpacking and basically only three rules: 1) Hike in a mile or more. 2) Be more than 100 Yards off the trail. 3) Avoid “day use only” area that are sensitive wildlife habitats and water supplies.
2) You Can Almost Treat It Like Car Camping
Since Joshua Tree’s minimum for backpacking is so short, it’s possible to be out and about doing the park’s greatest hits during the day and then venture out in the last couple hours of daylight. If seeing Skull Rock is important to you, do it, then hit the road less traveled.
3) If It’s Not On The Free Park Map, Nobody Does It
While it should be a given that the park map rangers give you when you enter the park wouldn’t list all of Joshua Tree’s trails, it’s amazing at how few people actually venture from it. Most of the backpacking trailheads fit this description. Invest in a National Geographic map of Joshua Tree and the secrets it reveals will feel like minor miracles. You shouldn’t be backpacking without a map anyway, but use this one to take full advantage of the park.
4) Hidden Park Secrets Lie Waiting to be Discovered
Until the 1930s, Joshua Tree was almost entirely privately owned. Ranchers, miners, and homesteaders tried to scratch a living out of this rough desert environment. They also left artifacts behind. The back country is full of rusting relics from a bygone era, but you’ll only see if them if you venture out.
5) Experience the Desert As It Is
With cities like Vegas and Phoenix, it’s hard not to think that humanity has conquered the earth’s most foreboding environments. Nearby towns like Palm Springs and (the city of) Joshua Tree bring civilization right up to the park’s border. Brunching, hiking, and hot tubbing is a very realistic itinerary for some day visitors. Backpacking is the opposite adventure. It’s your opportunity live as pioneers did and experience the West exactly as it was for thousands of years.
6) It’s Great For Beginners
If you’ve never backpacked before, Joshua Tree is an excellent place to start. The trails are relatively flat and you don’t need to worry about bears. The only real challenge here is that you have to carry all your water with you, but if you’re just doing a short out-and-back, then you won’t end up needing to carry much more than you would on any other hike. Just be smart about it.
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