The Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park is a 10-acre stand of the unique teddybear cholla cactus. You really have to see this place to believe it. This easy boardwalk trail is an amazing place to visit anytime of year, but it is especially impressive to see during the cholla cactus bloom (see below for details).
Visiting Joshua Tree National Park without seeing cholla cactus is impossible-they are everywhere. However, the Cholla Cactus Garden has such a high concentration of cacti that it is simply a must-see spot in the park. It’s conveniently located near where most tourists visit and only requires a small amount of time-we highly recommend the stop.
CHOLLA CACTUS GARDEN TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 0.3 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Loop
- Elevation gain: 6 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 2,191 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Fall through spring
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 10:30 am or after 3:00 pm
- Footwear: Sneakers
- Watch out for: Sun exposure, hitchhiking cactus (yes, it’s a thing!)
- Restrooms: None available
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 30 minutes
Ahead of your visit to Joshua Tree, make sure you check out our itinerary for Joshua Tree National Park. Our downloadable guide includes information on all the best hiking trails, what to see in the area, what to pack and what not to forget to do ahead of your trip. This guide is a great companion to have when visiting the park.
ABOUT THE TEDDYBEAR CHOLLA CACTUS
The teddybear cholla cactus is one of about 20 different types of cholla cactus and is native to deserts mostly in the southwestern United States. They stand up to about 5 feet in height and are covered with spines containing small barbs.
The teddybear cholla cactus blooms typically occur in early May through June, though it can vary year to year. These cacti are great to look at anytime of year, but definitely visit while they are blooming if you can. Be advised that if they are blooming, you’ll likely also have plenty of bees visiting as well. When we visited in late February we still saw plenty of bees (even without massive amounts of flowering cacti), though they didn’t bother us at all.
The cholla cactus are nicknamed the “jumping cactus.” If you happen to bump into one, you’ll find out why-these cactus spread their seeds when their stems are separated from the plant by their barbs sticking to passers by (usually animals, but also backpacks, sweatshirts, socks and shoes!). This is also why they are referred to as the “cactus that shoots needles.” Don’t worry, just like porcupines they don’t actually shoot, but they will seem like they do if you go anywhere near one!
Amazingly enough, some animals have evolved into using these as defenses near their homes. Also, the cactus wren can also be seen using these cacti to protect them against predators.
While you may feel like you want to steer away from the Cholla Cactus Garden for fear of picking up any hitchhikers while traveling on the boardwalk, you really will be okay as long as you don’t back into anything while taking a picture. We also advise you to keep a close eye on your children as well!
For details on the teddybear cholla cactus as well as the other plant life in the park, check out the national park webpage on the Cholla Cactus Garden.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE CHOLLA CACTUS GARDEN NATURE TRAIL
Cholla Cactus Garden Parking Area, Courtesy of the National Park Service
The Cholla Cactus Garden is accessed from the Cholla Cactus Garden parking area, located on Pinto Basin Road approximately 9.8 miles east of the intersection of Pinto Basin Road and Park Boulevard. The drive out to the trail includes a few pull offs, including one for Arch Rock, which is a short 0.3-mile trail that leads to an interesting rock formation and is worth a quick stop if you have the time (and the weather isn’t too hot!).
- Directions from the Oasis Visitor Center to the Cholla Cactus Garden (this will take about 30 minutes)
- Directions from the Cottonwood Visitor Center to the Cholla Cactus Garden (this will take about 30 minutes)
The parking area for the Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail Bumpass Trail parking lot has about 22 parking spots (plus two additional for RVs). The trail is short, which means that you should have spots opening up very frequently. If you are unable to find a spot, just be patient and one should be available very quickly.
There are no restrooms at the trailhead nor on the trail.
THE CHOLLA CACTUS GARDEN NATURE TRAIL
Normally, preparation for taking a trail takes a bit of time. However, the Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail is only about 0.3-miles in total, so it only takes about 20 to 30 minutes (if you take your time) and you won’t need to bring much, if anything. If you hike in the heat of the day, you’ll likely want to bring water with you. And since the entire trail is without shade, we highly recommend bringing a hat and wearing sunblock, no matter what time of year you are visiting.
This trail is made of packed sand and rock and contains no elevation gain.
If you happen to get spines inside of your skin during your visit, be careful when you remove them. It will be painful, but you should also know that there are small barbs on the side of the spines too, meaning that they can puncture your skin from the sides as well. Pliers (or a hair comb) work well for removal.
While this hike will not get your heart pumping and provide awe inspiring views (like the Ryan Mountain Trail), it is a quick diversion that is well worth the time and effort to get here. Make sure you stop off and take a look (even on a hot day). But be careful not to bring any unwanted passengers into your car with you by watching your step!
FURTHER INFORMATION ON JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- In addition to our downloadable itinerary for Joshua Tree National Park, we also have quite a bit of other content, including How to Spend a Day in Joshua Tree. We also cover some of our favorite hikes, including Hiking the Ryan Mountain Trail and Hiking the 49 Palms Oasis Trail, the Barker Dam Nature Trail and the Hidden Valley Trail. To summarize them all, we have a blog on the Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.
- If you plan on camping in the park, the White Tank campground is the closest to the Cholla Cactus Garden. We include information in our blog, Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds.
- The Cholla Cactus Garden is great to visit even when it’s blazing hot, since it is a quick stop. Keys View is on the western side of the park and also makes for a great place to stop when you only want to spend a few minutes outside.
- Send us a photo when you get back and we’ll work with you to make a vintage travel poster. We’d love to create a great memory from your vacation with you!
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
- If your kids can stay on the trail, the Cholla Cactus Garden is a great place to go. For additional recommendations on how to spend your time in Joshua Tree National Park with kids, check out Leslie’s article (from “Trips with Tykes”), Guide to Joshua Tree National Park with Kids.