Mastodon Peak (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Looking north from Mastodon Peak
Mastodon Mine (don’t go inside!)

Mastodon Peak (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location:  Joshua Tree National Park.  From I-10 about 30 miles east of Indio, take the Cottonwood Springs exit.  Head north for 7.2 miles to the visitor center (the road becomes Pinto Basin on the way).  Pay the $15 admission fee at the ranger station and head right (east) and drive 1.1 miles to the trailhead.  The America the Beautiful pass ($80 per year) is honored at Joshua Tree.  To purchase one, click here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo maps: “Cottonwood Spring”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Best Easy Day Hikes Joshua Tree National Park
  • More information:  here
  • Rating: 8

The short trip to Mastodon Peak is one of the more popular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. Although it’s not necessarily the best place to see the trees themselves, there’s a nice variety of scenery on the trail, including ocotillo cacti, cottonwood trees, creosote and more.

From the parking area, follow the trail down toward Cottonwood Springs, a desert oasis. You follow the trail through a canyon lined on both sides with walls of the red rocks typical of the region. A few false trails branch off, but the main route is pretty clear.

In 0.7 miles, you’ll arrive at a junction. Hikers who want a long trip can continue straight ahead to Lost Palms Oasis, three miles away, but Mastodon Peak is to the left. The trail climbs steeply, occasionally taking advantage of natural “steps” in the rocks, and about a mile from the trailhead, you reach the short spur to Mastodon Peak. Follow the trail to a ridgeline, where you will turn left and scramble up some rocks to the summit. The climb isn’t difficult, but some hikers who aren’t used to this kind of terrain may find it a little intimidating (take extra care if you’re hiking with young kids.)

Soon, you arrive at the rocky summit, where you get a nice panoramic view of the park to the north, and the Salton Sea, El Toro Peak and San Jacinto Peak to the south. After enjoying the view, head back down the spur to the trail. You can retrace your steps back to the parking lot, but a more interesting option is to continue along the loop trail. You’ll soon pass the abandoned Mastodon Mine, and then descend into a canyon. The trail heads northwest, climbs up a small ridge and descends into another wash.

Here, you come to a split: the trail in front of you heads up to the campground, while your route goes left. Follow the trail back to the road (there are a few interpretive plaques here to see along the way) and soon you arrive back at the parking lot.

In case you were wondering, the peak was named by prospectors, who thought from certain angles, it resembled a mastodon.  The Mastodon Mine, passed on the loop trail, operated from 1934 to 1971.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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