Joshua Tree National Park is located less than three hours from both Los Angeles and San Diego and attracted nearly 3 million visitors in 2017. One trail that is commonly skipped is the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail (also called the 49 Palms Oasis Trail, depending on your documentation), even though it is very easy to access and one of the first trails encountered by visitors from the west. Though you may be tempted to skip this hike in favor of entering the main park entrances and seeing other, more well-known attractions, what you’ll be missing is a very special desert landscape that is sure to surprise you!
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail Location (from the National Park Service)
The Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is one of many hikes and sights highlighted in our 12+ page itinerary for Joshua Tree National Park.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE FORTYNINE PALMS OASIS TRAIL
The trailhead is located on Canyon Road, which is off Highway 62 (Twentynine Palms Highway) in between the North and West Entrance Stations to Joshua Tree. Since it looks more like a neighborhood entrance than an entrance to a National Park, the signs to Canyon Road are easy to miss and you’ll want to keep a close eye out after you pass Indian Cove Road from the west. The trailhead parking is located at the end of the 1.7-mile road. There are quite a few parking spaces dedicated to the trail and clean pit toilets. When we arrived, the parking lot was essentially empty, but it can get busy during the peak springtime months. Even during peak times, however, this trail is definitely one of the lesser traveled hikes in the park, mainly due to its location.
Hiking the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail does not require a park entry fee. However, if you just hike this trail and don’t see the rest of the park, you are missing out by not seeing the heart of Joshua Tree National Park!
THE HIKE TO THE FORTYNINE PALMS OASIS
After starting out, the trail heads uphill and to the east alongside a hillside of large rocks. The incline is gradual (and quite easy) as you gain about 300 feet in elevation before turning south and going back downhill for the rest of the journey. The trail is exposed the entire way, and while shadows may form on the trail in the early morning or late evening hours, you should expect to be in the sun the entire time. Make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen and bring a lot of water with you, even if it’s in the cooler months.
Along the path there are a variety of plants. Our favorite was the California Barrel Cactus, which flowers in late April / early May, but there are many others in what appears to be a barren landscape. You can learn more about what plants you can expect in Joshua Tree National Park here. Though fewer in numbers, you can also see hawks flying overhead, desert birds (who like to hide in cactus) and lizards skittering across the trail.
Throughout most of the trail, hikers have great views of the Morongo Valley and the towns of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree.
About halfway through the hike, the Fortynine Palms Oasis becomes visible. This Oasis seems completely out of place in the desert. As you get closer and closer, if there is any wind blowing you can start to hear what sounds like water flowing. That sound is actually palm leaves blowing in the wind, and this unexpected “song” gets to be very noticeable as you get closer to the oasis!
THE FORTYNINE PALMS OASIS
The oasis itself is a wonderful spot in an otherwise dry desert. The area is fed from an underground water source formed along fault lines. The trees (fan palms) were originally planted by local miners who used the trees to mark the water source in the early 20th century. Because of the water, local animals use it as a watering hole. While not common, it is possible to find bighorn sheep, birds and other wildlife at the oasis getting a quick drink.
At the Oasis, there are many opportunities to find shade or have a picnic on the boulders. For us, it was just a pleasant place to spend time, relax and refuel before beginning the trip back.
The return goes fast, first with another quick 300-foot climb before heading down to the parking lot.
- We said it before and we’ll say it again, make sure you have plenty of sunscreen and water on this trail. The desert is dry (even in the winter). While the effects of dehydration can come on fast, prevention requires constant hydration. A favorite product that we use is the Platypus pack, which is especially great because it can be used with any backpack and is easy to clean.
- Since this hike is exposed for most of the way, hiking this earlier in the day is the best way to beat the heat and direct exposure. Save the middle of the day for driving, short walks like the Cholla Cactus Garden, or partially shaded hikes such as Hidden Valley.
- The Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is close to the Indian Cove Campground, so if you are staying there it makes sense to hit this trail on the way into the park in the morning or for a short jaunt after dinner and before the sun goes down.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- The Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is one of many hikes and sights highlighted in our 12+ page itinerary for Joshua Tree National Park. Our itineraries cover great hikes, places to stay, what to pack and what to do while you are in the area. We also rank each hike based on hundreds of ratings to take away the guesswork of how to spend your time while you are in the park.
- For a broad overview of what to do while you are in Joshua Tree, see our 2017 blog post on Joshua Tree National Park. We discuss many more of the hikes and places to see while visiting the park.
- We create custom, vintage-style posters, postcards and note cards from your photos of Joshua Tree National Park. Check out our process!
OTHER USEFUL LINKS ON JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
- For a nice overview on activities in Joshua Tree National Park, Bram Reusen from “Travel. Experience. Live.” has a terrific post that covers additional sights and info on other experiences such as stargazing, rock climbing and biking in Joshua Tree National Park.
- To read about someone who camped and really got immersed into Joshua Tree National Park, check out Laura and Camrin (from Free Wheel Drive) and the post on their experiences in Joshua Tree.
- Joshua Tree National Park (NPS site)
- Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park (NPS site)