Lost Palms Oasis, Cottonwood Spring Trailhead, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Lost Palms Oasis - 7.4 miles
Cottonwood Spring Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||7.4 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||2,998' - 3,113' (3,444' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+115' net elevation gain (+1,540' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Lost Palms Oasis - 7.4 Miles Round-Trip
Over 100 California Fan Palms fed by an underground spring inhabit Lost Palms Canyon. The main underground spring's output has slowed significantly in recent years, but can still support the oasis and incumbent plant communities.
A network of outlying springs supports Bighorn Sheep and a surprisingly rich plant community not otherwise possible in such harsh conditions. Summer months are especially good times to see wildlife, as all depend on these springs and vegetation for survival.
Of equal interest is the Cottonwood Spring area itself: at 3000' this is an ecological transition zone between the lower Colorado sub-district of the Sonoran Desert (east) and higher, wetter Mojave Desert (west). This particular area supports plants from both ecosystems, and astute hikers will see many examples of each en route to the oasis:
The trail drops through Cottonwood Spring Oasis accompanied by interpretive signs that discuss oasis ecology and the life of Cahuilla Indians who once inhabited the area. It quickly rises out into a warrren of canyons and arroyos. Though well marked, remain vigilant in this otherwise indistinguishable landscape.
Despite a desiccant environment, the desert is alive with yucca, creosote, jojoba, ocotillo, chuparosa and numerous species of cacti and cholla. Some washes support mesquite, willow, palo verde and smoketree.
You'll pass the Mastodon Peak and Nature Loop split (.7 miles : 3,160') and cross a wide, heavily vegetated wash at 1.4 miles - the only viable shade before reaching Lost Palms Oasis. At 2.45 miles the trail drops into a wash, enters a slot-like arroyo and exits left at 2.65 miles with a steep climb and hairpin turn to the left.
It quickly drops into and across another small wash, then climbs steeply to a rolling, ocotillo-lined ridge with panoramic views (2.85 miles). The Salton Sea can be seen to the SW on this stretch.
The trail drops sharply once more into a shallow canyon (3.2 miles), then climbs steeply out past the Lost Palms Canyon Day Use Boundary (3.5 miles : 3,277').
It levels off a few steps higher at the Lost Palms Oasis overlook; a sign marking it sits at the foot of a faint but intuitively followed path leading down to the oasis. Scan the far canyon wall to locate seldom-visited satellite groves before descending; capable scramblers can reach them, and pre-indentifying your route from this vantage is ideal.
Fan Palms, dense vegetation, large boulders and spring-fed pools line the deep and narrow canyon floor (3.7 miles : 3,113'). Natural obstacles make extensive exploration difficult, but it's easy enough to find space to enjoy this rare ecological occurrence.
The return route is not without its challenges, as you'll climb nearly 700' back to the trailhead.
- N33 43.897 W115 48.085 — Mastodon Peak Trail junction
- N33 43.774 W115 47.819 — Mile One Marker
- N33 43.343 W115 47.011 — Mile Two Marker
- N33 43.170 W115 46.669 — Enter Arroyo Slot
- N33 43.080 W115 46.548 — Exit Arroyo Slot (bear left)
- N33 42.757 W115 45.896 — Lost Palms Canyon Day Use Boundary
- N33 42.760 W115 45.756 — Lost Palms Oasis
- Desert Fan Palm Oases typically form along fault lines, where seismic activity has uplifted layers of impermeable rock that forces underground water to the surface.
- There are 158 Desert Fan Palm Oases in North America - 5 are found in Joshua Tree National Park. Fan Palms can live for 80-90 years, grow over 75 feet tall and weigh as much as three tons.
- Fan Palms are naturally fire resistant, and often can benefit from it. The tree's vascular bundles are spread throughout the trunk (versus just beneath the outer bark), thus increasing insulation from heat. Seed production increases significantly after fires, and generally benefit from the removal of competitors and the creation of new space for growth.
- Though only moderate in length and difficulty, there is little shade and the trail can be exceedingly hot. Sunglasses, hats, sunscreen and ample water are musts.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- This is a Day Use Area only.
- No camping is allowed at Lost Palms Oasis, or within the designated Day Use Area encompassing much of Lost Palms Canyon and Munsen Canyon. Speak with a Ranger for backcountry camping options adjacent to the Day Use Boundary.
Rules and Regulations
- This is a day use area only. Camping is strictly prohibited.
- Avoid interaction with natural water sources and leave these delicate resources to local wildlife.
Directions to Trailhead
From the Oasis of Mara Visitor Center:
Follow Park Blvd (which becomes Pinto Basin Road, which becomes Cottonwood Springs Road) south 38 miles to the Cottonwood Springs Vistor Center. Turn left on Cottonwood Oasis Road for 1 mile to the trailhead.
From Highway 10:
Travel north on Cottonwood Springs Road 7 miles to the Cottonwood Springs Vistor Center. Turn right on Cottonwood Oasis Road for 1 mile to the trailhead.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twenty Nine Palms, CA 92277-3597