- Location: Joshua Tree National Park. From Interstate 10 east of Indio, take exit 168 for Cottonwood Springs Road. Head north for 7 miles to the Cottonwood Visitor Center where you will pay your admission fee ($25 per vehicle for a week or $40 for an annual pass; inter-agency passes also accepted). Turn right onto Cottonwood Oasis Road and follow it 1.2 miles to the end.
- Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
- Distance: 7.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Best season: October – April
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: None
- Water: None
- Restrooms: None
- Camping/backpacking: The Lost Palms Oasis trail is open for day use only; the nearest campground is Cottonwood, 0.6 mile west of the trail head.
- Recommended gear: sunblock sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here (including Mastodon Peak)
- Rating: 7
The largest grove of native California fan palms in Joshua Tree National Park can be found at the Lost Palms Oasis. The moderately graded and clearly marked trail is one of the easiest ways for hikers to explore the park’s remote terrain. Other than the steep drop to the oasis itself, the trail doesn’t present any big challenges – although, as with all desert hiking, safety and preparation should not be underestimated.
The trail shares the first 0.6 mile with the popular Mastodon Peak Loop (if you still have time and energy on the way back, you can bag the summit with a 2.4 mile detour). At the junction, the Lost Palms Oasis trail continues southeast. As with the other lower-elevation areas of the park, you won’t actually see any Joshua trees, but the vegetation is still diverse, including ocotillo, creosote, yucca, pencil cholla and desert willows.
At about 2 miles from the start, you climb a ridge with views in all directions. You then drop into a tight-walled canyon, cross another wash and make a short but steep climb to a ridge. The trail follows the ridge for a short distance before dropping into another narrow canyon. At about 3.5 miles from the start, you reach an overlook where you will see the palm grove below. A short but steep and loose trail descends to the oasis. Using caution, work your way down the palms. A small rock beneath a towering granite cornice makes a nice spot to relax before the long trip back.
After enjoying the solitude, climb out of the canyon and retrace your steps back to Cottonwood. The views on the return, including Toro Peak and San Jacinto, are impressive.
Text and photography copyright 2017 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.
Hi David – we did this hike about 2 weeks ago, in ideal weather. We found the first 1.5-2 miles a bit boring (in and out). Maybe we are not pure desert fans. We love the woods. But the narrow paths between rocks and the rock formations are amazing. The oasis itself is lovely. It looked like one could continue walking down the once-stream-bed through the palms, but we were concerned about the daylight we had left and didn’t try that. And, yes, no Joshua Trees! The trail was exceedingly well-marked, and there were quite a few (maybe 30?) hikers we encountered, even mid-week.
Yeah, JT is popular this time of year – I always see a few hikers even on the weekdays. Lost Palms is a popular destination. But you’re right that it doesn’t have quite the drama of some of the peaks in the park such as Ryan and Eureka.