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A short spur trail at the pinnacle of the Fortynine Palms Oasis trail at Joshua Tree National Park leads you to an overlook. A sneak peek of the valley you are about to wander into. At the overlook, you have to blink to make sure what you are seeing is not a mirage. Through the sea of tans, browns, and grays you see bright green tucked into the landscape.
No, this is not a mirage. This is the Fortynine Palms Oasis and it’s where you’re going. The Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is one of the most popular trails at Joshua Tree National Park. The trail showcases the beauty of the Mojave Desert, but don’t look for any Joshua trees here. But what you will find are these seemingly out-of-place palm trees again the harsh desert background.
The trail is a 3-mile out-and-back hike and has about 600 feet of elevation gain. You have to hike up and back down to get to the oasis, so the Fortynine Palms Oasis trail is literally uphill both ways. But the elevation gain gives you a nice view of the rugged terrain of the park.
I used the park’s website, the guide book “Hiking Joshua Tree National Park: 38 Day and Overnight Hikes” published by Falcon Guides, and a National Geographic topographical map to plan my hike.
Finding the trailhead
To find the trailhead for the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail, you have to leave Joshua Tree National Park and drive back into the park. From the Oasis Visitor Center head left, or west, on Palm Vista Drive and continue for one mile. Turn left onto 29 Palms Highway and continue west for 4.1 miles. Then turn left onto Canyon Road and follow it until it ends in 1.7 miles.
Trailhead to overlook
The Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is the only trail that leaves from this trailhead. The trail begins with an easy climb. Around mile 0.2, it begins to become steeper as you make your way toward the saddle. As you climb, you are treated with views of the mountain that flanks the east side of the valley where Fortynine Palms Oasis is tucked into. You also get amazing views of the large and open valley to the north of the park. It is interesting to compare the flat openness of the valley to the rocky hills where you are hiking.
You can notice how harsh it is for life in the hills of the Mojave Desert. Even though at first glimpse you see a pile of rocks where nothing is growing, on closer inspection, you see vegetation that can hang on here. Squatty cacti and hearty grasses and shrubs have found a way to thrive in this environment.
Around mile 0.5, you get an amazing view of the valley and rugged terrain before the trail curves and begins to head into the hills and narrow valley of the oasis. From this point, the trail begins to head into the mountains of Joshua Tree National Park and toward the Fortynine Palms Oasis.
At mile 0.7, you get your sneak peak of the oasis mentioned above. There’s no marker for the spur trail, but you can kind of see where others have made the trek to the tip of the saddle. You will want to pay attention because this is an overlook you don’t want to miss. The spur trail leaves the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail where the main trail turns, making a sharp “U” shape.
Overlook to oasis
From the overlook, the trail begins to head deeper into the valley. It follows along the same contour line for a short way before turning again and descending into the valley. Around mile 1.1 the trail becomes a little steep and you need to watch your footing.
It drops down into the folds of the valley and soon you are surrounded by rocky hills. It skirts along a knoll and around mile 1.4, you begin to get more views of the palm trees marking the oasis. It follows the contour lines of one of the folds before leading you right up to the oasis in the crook of the valley, at mile 1.65.
From the oasis, you simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Sensitive biological area
Because there is such little water in the desert, what precious water there is, is protected for the wildlife and flora that rely on it. The park asks hikers to not enter the oasis and mind all posted signs.
While I visited I never actually saw water, the only evidence of it in the vibrant palms and other plants.
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
The Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is one of Joshua Tree National Park’s most popular ones for a reason. It’s a great way to tuck yourself into the geology and beauty of Joshua Tree and explore the beauty of the Mojave Desert.
- 3.28 out-and-back
- Elevation gain and loss 626 feet
- Dogs not allowed
- Backcountry camping not allowed