To love the desert and live in California is like being a free bird in the sky. Having access to the largest desert national park in the lower 48, Death Valley, and one of the greatest rock climbing spots in the country, Joshua Tree, is just pure blessing. On top of that, Anza Borrego and the Mojave Preserve offer some of the most unique desert features and characteristics. As a desert lover and a hiker, i’ve visited the four main desert parks in California; Death Valley, Anza Borrego, Joshua Tree, and the Mojave Preserve. The desert is a harsh terrain. You won’t find the abundant of water and shade that you will in the sierras or the consistently enjoyable weather of the coast line. Exploring and visiting the desert can be a lot of work. If you want to start exploring the desert, here are top 8 hikes that will introduce you to the beautiful region.
Oasis isn’t real? Well, this hike begs differ. Oasis is actually pretty common throughout the Southern California desert particularly in Anza Borrego and Joshua Tree National Park. One of Anza Borrego’s most popular day hikes is a hike to the Borrego Palm. This short and flat hike deep into the desert valley will reveal a stunning oasis with a small stream that runs through it.
You may not have to go to Utah to see some nice slot canyons. Although this is not a comparison to some really incredible canyons in Utah such as the Subway or the Narrows at Zion National Park, it is still a beautiful and easily accessible canyon. If the movie 127 hours makes you want to go explore some canyons, this is a great one to start! This is non-technical; you don’t need any gear, rope, or special knowledge to attempt this canyon. You will need to climb down and up at the beginning and the end; otherwise, this is an easy breezy walk.
One of Death Valley’s prime attraction, the crater is an incredible sight and a must-do. It was formed by an exploded volcano a long time ago. This short hike around the rim and deep into the crater is unlike anything else!
This will prove to you that desert is not just all one color. This multi-color canyon truly stands out among the dark color tone of Death Valley. This is a short scenic drive that leads you to a nice parking area where you can do a short walk into a colorful canyon.
Of course, a desert wouldn’t really be a desert without sand. How about a mountain of sand? This is one of the tallest sand dunes in the country and the tallest in California. Kelso Dunes can be seen from miles away. This short but demanding hike up the sand dune will take your breath away. Make sure to bring a wooden board, a trash bag, a snowboard, or anything really that slides because you should definitely go sand boarding here!
Joshua Tree may gets its name from the amount of Joshua Trees that exist in the park, but you may not know that the densest joshua trees population is actually in the Mojave Preserve. If you want to literally hike among a forest of joshua trees up an incredible view, this is the hike for you!
How about a walk through time? This hike will take you to some of Joshua tree’s most historical spots and big old abandoned mill at the end. This is an easy and flat walk.
Joshua Tree is best known for its rock climbing and Hidden Valley is like the Times Square of rock climbing. For casual hikers, you can take an easy loop hike and enjoy the beautiful and interesting rock formations and you will most likely get the thrill of watching rock climbers on cliff walls.
bonus: off the beaten path things to do in the California desert
- Noah Purifoy’s Art Museum
- Desert Christ Park
- World’s Largest Banana Museum
- East Jesus arts
- Salvation Mountain
- Cabazon Dinosaur
- Bodie Ghost Town
- Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp Museum
- Salton Sea