Summit Springs in Munsen Canyon, Cottonwood Spring Trailhead, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Summit Springs in Munsen Canyon - 11.4 Miles
Cottonwood Spring Trailhead
Summit Springs in Munsen Canyon
|Round-Trip Length:||11.4 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||2,998' - 3,010' (3,444' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+12' net elevation gain (+2,510' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Beyond the popular and easily reached Lost Palms Oasis exist a series of smaller, less accessible oases and palm groves. Summit Springs - nestled deep in nearby Munsen Canyon - is an isolated and exceptionally beautiful destination for the more adventurous and physically fit. Travel beyond Lost Palms is exceedingly difficult, and should only be attempted by those comfortable with bouldering, scrambling and creative route finding.
The trail gently drops through the Cottonwood Spring Oasis beneath Fan Palms, mesquite, cats claw and desert willow. Interpretive signs discuss oasis ecology and the life of Cahuilla Indians who once inhabited the area. The trail quickly leaves the serene oasis and enters a maze of canyons, washes, high ridgelines and arroyos - undulating with regularity through such terrain to Lost Palms Oasis.
While generally well marked and directionally intuitive be vigilant, as the trail occasionally fades and wash entry-exit points can be obscured by an otherwise indistinguishable landscape. Despite dry and unforgiving conditions, the trailside is quite alive with Mojave yucca, creosote, jojoba, juniper, ocotillo, chuparosa and numerous species of cacti and cholla. Some washes support mesquite, willow, palo verde, smoketree and ironwood.
You'll bypass the Mastodon Peak and Nature Loop Trailjunction (.7 miles : 3,160') and continue across a wide, heavily vegetated wash at 1.4 miles - the only shade you'll enjoy 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.
The trail quickly drops into and across another small wash, then climbs steeply to a rolling, ocotillo-lined ridge top (2.85 miles) with sweeping views and a good perspective on the uninviting terrain through which you've been traveling. The Salton Sea can be seen to the southwest along this memorable segment.
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. Be sure to scan the far canyon wall to locate its seldom-visited satellite groves before descending into the main oasis and canyon floor (3.7 miles : 3,113').
Scores of Fan Palms, dense vegetation, large boulders and spring-fed pools line the deep and narrow canyon floor. Natural obstacles make extensive exploration difficult, but it's easy enough to find an accommodating rest spot before pressing on to Victory Palms.
The narrow canyon is momentarily easy to navigate once through the oasis entanglement. The trail however - now a route along the canyon floor - quickly becomes physically demanding, and should only be attempted by those conditioned for such an endeavor: there's a 430', 1 mile drop over steep boulder fields and dry falls to Victory Palms (2,680').
While some park resources recommend using an un-maintained trail along the canyon's south (right) wall, it's awfully difficult to follow the whole way. The trail quickly fades, and the canyon wall itself is very steep and perilously unstable. Nevertheless, there is a visible cairn for this faint path just before you see the park-posted 4 mile marker. This also begins the first of 3 steep boulder fields leading to Victory Palms.
Taking this path at the cairn for a short time is advisable, if for no other reason than to avoid a brief but difficult section of boulders, and to see the adjacent Teddy Bear Cholla garden. The path fades beyond the cholla garden, leaving little choice but to begin the arduous process of downhill bouldering. While more than manageable, it will require an all-body effort and some creative routing.
The boulder field momentarily eases around 4.5 miles (2,865'), a point at which the canyon splits off back to the right. Stay straight (this is important to remember on the return, as you will need to recognize this subtle fork in the canyon).
More boulders await, though steady progress down canyon soon yields a glimpse of Victory Palms. The canyon widens and flattens out just before reaching the foot of this two-palm grove (5.0 miles : 2,680'). Though not nearly as lush as Lost Palms, the vicinity's coloring, isolation and ruggedness are beautiful in itself. This is also an ideal location to look for signs of Bighorn Sheep.
A topographic map is now essential, as you will soon be leaving Lost Palms Canyon and climbing north into Munsen Canyon at an unmarked point. A good map will help you anticipate upcoming topographic and directional changes.
Beyond Victory Palms the canyon widens and flattens considerably beneath towering, colorful walls. Though travel is slowed by deep sand, the brush-filled canyon floor is otherwise obstacle free and relatively easy to move about. This area is well depicted on topographic maps, and important for understanding your location. While you'll only spend a short time in it before turning north, if time permits, it's very much worth a little exploration.
About .3 miles past Victory Palms, begin looking off to your left (north) for Munsen Canyon. Rather than a clean identifiable split, the turning point (N33 42.378 W115 44.877) is actually a steep dry fall that's easily mistaken for nothing more than another canyon wall. Good instincts are invaluable here! The nearly unrecognizable entrance requires a steep and uneven climb up a large boulder field.
From the Lost Palms Canyon floor, it's a .4 mile, 365' climb up Munsen Canyon to Summit Springs. The canyon climb levels out about 200 hundred yards before reaching the grove's edge (2,998'). To the right of the main grove is a second, smaller grove that's easily accessed and of equal beauty.
Munsen Canyon is uniquely scenic and awe-inspiring. Secluded and isolated, reaching the oasis is a very special accomplishment. Though not without its challenges, travel into the upper canyon toward Munsen Oasis is subjectively more accommodating.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N33 43.897 W115 48.085 — Mastodon Peak and Nature Loop 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
- N33 42.341 W115 45.139 — Victory Palms
- N33 42.378 W115 44.877 — Climb up boulder-strewn dry fall into Munsen Canyon
- Travel beyond Lost Palms Oasis can be very difficult. Only those in good physical condition and comfortable with scrambling, bouldering and route finding should attempt this hike.
- A good topo map is essential. Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and ample water are musts.
- Lost Palms Canyon and Munsen Canyon are home to Bighorn Sheep. Signs of these elusive animals are more prevalent as you travel deeper through the canyons.
- There are bees around the main grove at Summit Springs, and travel through it is initially heavily obstructed.
- 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.
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.
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
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597