Joshua Tree National Park: Hiking to 49 Palms Oasis

The access road to the 49 Palms Canyon Trail is directly off of the Twentynine Palms Highway. It is one of a cluster of park features that are accessed from the north via special roads and entrance stations.

The trail leads into a steep canyon to the 49 Palms Oasis, a natural oasis caused by water seeping up through the earth creating habitat for native California fan palms and other plant life. The hike is a three-mile roundtrip with a vertical change of about 350 feet.

Throughout much of the first portion of the hike, we climbed up the north side of the ridge that creates a natural barrier between the park and the towns in the valley below.

Twentynine Palms, California, below us in the desert.
Image: Sean M. Santos

After three quarters of a mile, the trail turned abruptly south and revealed the canyon, with the cluster of fan palms marking the oasis in the distance. From that point, the trail was mostly downhill.

As we approached the oasis, we met a man in his late sixties heading the other way. He remarked on how jealous the “folks back east” would be of the weather (it was now sunny and in the mid-sixties). We replied that we were from Chicago and were suitably impressed.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Many of the trunks are charred from wildfires. Rather than harm the palms, the fires clear away smaller plants that compete for water, leaving the palms ultimately healthier and more robust. Sadly, people had carved their names and initials into many of the most accessible trunks.

The sprawl of Twentynine Palms is visible far below the canyon.

Although we spotted many lizards and ground squirrels on the trail, our only companions at the oasis were a murder of crows.

Image: Sean M. Santos
The seeping water responsible for the oasis.

Delightfully, we had the oasis to ourselves for most of the time we were there, although we passed several clusters and couples as we hiked back out of the canyon. The arid vista to the west across the northern edge of Josua Tree National Park rendered the oasis all the more remarkable.

Several hundred feet from the parking lot we discovered Sean’s “house” hat, which must have fallen out of his pack as he stowed his jacket at the top of the hike. Someone had placed it neatly on a rock next to the trail.

We climbed back into the car, and headed west to the Joshua Tree visitor center for some final souvenirs. We stopped quickly for gas, and then began the drive back to Orange County and the weekend’s wedding festivities, stopping only for Sean’s first visit to an In and Out Burger.

That was Friday. On Monday morning we were on a plane headed back to Chicago. Somewhat incredibly, we flew over Joshua Tree on our way home. The features were so distinct that we were able to spot White Tank Campground, Malapai Hill, the Wonderland of Rocks, Wilson Canyon, and Pinto Basin.

In the end it was a quick, yet satisfying trip. We agreed that if we were to return to this park, we’d definitely camp, preferably at White Tank or in the backcountry.

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