A longer and more challenging hike leading to a peaceful hidden gem all while remaining away from the crowds is exactly what excites my husband and I! That is precisely what we found while hiking the Lost Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. Trekking through the vast Colorado Desert, following rolling hills and sandy washes, and reaching the marvelous Lost Palms Oasis is the perfect hiking adventure if you want to find one of the best hidden gems in Joshua Tree National Park.
Keep reading as I am sharing the full hiking guide to Lost Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree. Hiking directions, trail stats, top tips for visiting, and everything in between is covered here in Episode 11 of our goal to complete 52 hikes in 52 weeks!
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Getting to Lost Palms Oasis
Situated in the Southern part of Joshua Tree National Park, the Lost Palms Oasis Trailhead is not too far from the Cottonwood Visitor Center. If this will be your first hike in the park, you might be coming from highway I-10. Follow Cottonwood Springs Road North for slightly over 6 miles until you reach the Visitor Center. Take a right along Cottonwood Oasis Road, which first passes by its namesake campground before reaching a large parking lot. For those of you who will be ending your trip at Lost Palms Oasis, and are coming from within the park, you will have to drive south along Pinto Basin Road. After you see the Cottonwood Visitor Center, take a left and continue until the road ends at the trailhead.
If you have been following our 52 in 52 series for a while now, it will be no surprise that I suggest heading to Lost Palms Oasis as early in the morning as possible. With a minimum amount of shade, hiking along the Lost Palms Oasis trail can be challenging when fully exposed to the Californian sun. Even in February, the temperatures were high and we had to resist the intense desert heat. Make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen to stay hydrated and avoid sunburn – more on this further down the article. On the bright side, Lost Palms Oasis is a spectacular find further away from the most popular sights in Joshua Tree and is less known among the park’s visitors. You will definitely meet other fellow hikers along the trail but it is a lot less crowded than the central parts of Joshua Tree National Park.
At the end of the parking lot, you will find the Lost Palms Oasis Trailhead by a large informational board and trail sign. Only a short walk down the trail will take you to the Cottonwood Spring Oasis. A collection of massive California Fan palm trees soar high into the blue sky. It is scenery worth admiring for a second before you continue your hiking adventures through the desert.
For the next 0.7 miles, you will be sharing the trail with fellow hikers on a separate, shorter trail to Mastodon Peak. Do not let the few rocky inclines discourage you – the trail flattens out. Keep straight at the junction with the Mastodon Peak Loop Trail and you will be on your way to the oasis! The vast majority of people will take the path to the left and you will soon find yourself almost completely on your own with the majestic Colorado Desert.
The next portion of the trail is easy to follow as it meanders through the rolling hills. Soon after you pass the first-mile sign you will dip into a dry river wash. Trail markers help with navigating and crossing the sandy terrain. Prepare yourselves for what might seem like boring and repetitive scenery at first for the next mile.
It is such a unique experience to be surrounded by the rugged landscapes and hiking through the desolate Colorado Desert. While the path is lined with various distinctive cacti species, the horizon ahead is dominated by massive rock formations. You need to have in mind that, in this section of the park, you will not get the chance to spot any Joshua trees. Located at this lower elevation, the desert is home to Ocotillo and Chollas trees instead.
The trail to Lost Palms Oasis becomes a bit more diverse and challenging once you reach the second-mile sign. I really enjoyed descending into the wash and being surrounded by the canyon walls. It was such an exciting and thrilling moment every time we would emerge behind the winding canyon turns and stumble upon a new, yet truly remarkable scenery. The slender canyons and sandy washes intermingle with rocky inclines to create a continuously changing and thrilling hiking adventure.
You will know that you are starting to get close at around 3.2 miles into the trail once you enter the final canyon. You are now fully surrounded by impressive rock formations. You will encounter the last steady ascent and, once conquered, you will be following a narrow dirt path along the rim. A tingle of anticipation will lead you faster as you reach the plateau above the incredible Lost Palms Oasis.
A completely different world lies down there. A massive collection of more than 110 native fan palms is nestled deep into the canyon between the boulders. A small peaceful oasis with underground springs and natural pools have made their home in this remote, secluded spot far away from the popular, more well-known Joshua Tree sights.
Standing on top of the cliffs and admiring the Lost Palms Oasis with its marvelous soaring palm trees, you cannot fail to be dazzled by the beauty of Mother Nature. We kept exploring the area until we found a shaded rock overlooking the oasis in front of us. We enjoyed a well-deserved lunch and kept soaking in the incredible scenery in front of us. We probably spent a bit longer than we should have, but we were absolutely astonished by the peaceful hidden treasure that we got to find in Joshua Tree National Park.
This being a there-and-back hike, you have to hike back the way you came in order to go back to the parking lot. We used this time to admire the incredible landscape of Joshua Tree once again and reflect on our experience of hiking to the Lost Palms Oasis. This hidden gem away from the crowds was definitely the highlight of our adventures through the park. While we loved every minute of exploring what Joshua Tree National Park has to offer, we found the park to be a bit too crowded for our liking. We are absolutely planning on going back when we can to continue our adventures across the park!
Tips for Visiting Lost Palms Oasis
Bring plenty of water! Hiking through the Colorado desert is no joke – You want to have at least 2 liters of water per person!
Bring snacks and food! This is a long hike and you will be thanking yourself for bringing sandwiches and snacks to munch on at the top while admiring the incredible views!
This is a long hike requiring a good amount of endurance. We ranked the Lost Palms Oasis hike as moderate in difficulty, but you need to dedicate at least 4 – 5 hours for hiking there and back with its approximately 7.5 – 8 miles roundtrip.
Bring sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses! Hiking through the desert means only one thing – you will be exposed to the Californian sun the entire time. There are very few shaded spots along the trail or at the overlook except in the washes bordered by canyon walls and at the end beneath rocks protecting you from the sun.
Good hiking shoes are strongly recommended for this hike. The trail is fairly flat, but there are a few sections where you will have to scramble down the canyon and follow the sandy wash. Combined with the duration of this hike, your feet will get tired. It is always better to take care of your feet and prepare a good pair of hiking shoes for this hike!
The trail is fairly well marked with mileage signs indicating almost every mile you have tracked (we did not see the 3-mile sign). All the same, being in the wide-open wilderness, you want to keep your eyes open and make sure that you are not missing any corners and side turns you have to take. Be careful, you do not want to be stranded in the Colorado desert!
Always check the weather forecast before heading into the park and consider changing plans if the weather conditions are too extreme. Before hiking, tell a safety buddy where you are going and when you plan on leaving the park.
One final tip to leave you with: Keep the environment clean for future visitors to enjoy. If you take it in, take it out. Do not leave trash on the trails!
Note: It seems like there is a narrow path that you could take and scramble all the way down into the oasis for a closer look at the palm trees. The path we followed is the official trail according to the Park Services and we were extremely content with the spot we found and the scenery from the top of the plateau.
Have you been to Lost Palms Oasis? What did you think of this hike? Let me know in the comment section below. Also do not forget to come back next week for another episode of the 52 in 52 series, where I will be sharing something different than our weekly hiking adventures and achieve a personal record for episode 12!