Hiking: Fortynine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National park
In the north end of Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll find one of five fan palm oases in the park. Here, there are cracks in the hard earth’s surface that have forced water to the top and provide the opportunity for beautiful and lush fan palms to thrive in an otherwise inhospitable environment. The shade, water, and vegetation creates a welcome sight for desert critters and hikers alike.
Fortynine Palms Hike at a Glance
- Trailhead – Fortynine Palms Road from Twentynine Palms Highway
- Roundtrip Distance – 3.1 miles
- Time – 2 hours
- Difficulty – Moderate
- Elevation Gain – 636 feet
- Pet Friendly – No, pets are prohibited on the trail
The Fortynine Palms Oasis is accessible from a trailhead that is just to the west of the north entrance of the park in Twentynine Palms. (I know, Fortynine Palms Oasis, Twentynine Palms town… someone was on a roll or just ran out of creative ideas). If you are driving through Twentynine Palms, head south on Canyon Road, which will eventually turn into Fortynine Palms Road. You don’t actually have to go through a park entrance to access the trailhead, so you don’t have to pay a park fee for this hike.
Fortynine Palms Road eventually dead-ends at a parking lot where you’ll find the trailhead sign and a pit toilet. There isn’t a ton of parking here and there isn’t really anywhere to park on the side of the road, so make sure you get here early.
Not only do you want to get to the trailhead early for parking, but also for the heat. When we hiked this in December, we got to the trailhead around 9:00 am and there was still a fair amount of parking. The weather was also mild and forecasted for the mid-70s that day. There are numerous signs at the trailhead with warnings about hiking in the the heat. The entire trail is exposed, so you definitely don’t want to do this in the middle of a summer day.
Immediately after you start hiking, you will begin ascending up and over a small(ish) mountain. There really isn’t much flat on this trail. It’s up and down to the oasis, and then the same thing in reverse on the way back. The trail is in good condition and well-maintained, so you can easily do this with a good pair of shoes. Hiking boots and poles aren’t really necessary, unless of course, you think they’ll help you personally.
Along the trail, you’ll see some nice views of Twentynine Palms and the surrounding area. There are also various species of cactus and desert brush, although there aren’t any Joshua trees in this area. After about a mile of hiking, you’ll see the oasis come into view. It’s quite the sight to see at the base of a mountain in the middle of a very dry and barren desert landscape.
Upon arriving at the oasis, you’ll be greeted with cool temperatures (at least we were), all sorts of birds, and lush vegetation. Although it’s called an oasis, don’t expect to see a big pool of water like you would in the movies. The water here is scarce and just enough for the animals to drink and palms to grow.
We were hoping to see some bighorn sheep in the area, but a ranger we passed on the trail said that they avoid people and there were some “loud” hikers ahead of us that were probably keeping them away. If you keep your voices down as you are hiking to the oasis, you might just get lucky enough to spot some of these awesome creatures. In addition to keeping your voice down, be sure to pay attention to signs warning you not scramble down into the actual oasis. It is a very environmentally sensitive area and many animals depend on it to survive. Obeying these signs will help ensure that the oasis can thrive for years to come.
All-in-all, I would recommend this hike if you’ve never seen an oasis before, which I had not. It’s pretty amazing to see something like that growing where you wouldn’t imagine lush, green vegetation. It’s also fairly accessible at only three miles roundtrip, so you’ll still have time left in the day to explore other areas in the park. For some ideas, check out my other post on Joshua Tree National Park.