I think every hike I do in the desert will need to include an oasis! It’s hot and dry out there so a cool stream and some palm trees are a very welcome sight!
- 3.1 miles out & back
- Moderate difficulty (the heat adds to the difficulty)
- 300′ elevation gain in both directions
- Dirt trail with some stairs and rocky areas
Getting To Fortynine Palms
A friend of mine, who spends a lot of time in Palm Springs, recommended Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail. It’s about an hour outside of Palm Springs in Joshua Tree National Park. The trailhead is accessed 11 miles north of the Joshua Tree Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms. Turn right onto Canyon Road which veers onto Fortynine Palms Road which leads to the parking lot. A bonus is there is no park entrance fee for this hike since it’s accessed outside of the main park. You won’t see any Joshua Trees on this hike though you’ll see plenty on the drive in.
Hiking in the Heat
If you go in the summer, like we did, it will be hot. The desert heat is serious and can be dangerous so only do this hike in the heat if you are prepared. There were plenty of warnings at the trailhead about the heat. The sign below says, “DO NOT DIE TODAY” with a list of precautions to take.
We hiked this trail in late June and it was unseasonably warm! Everything I read suggested we start the hike as early as possible (e.g. at sunrise) which would have been around 6am. However, the kids quickly vetoed that since we were coming from an hour away. We ended up arriving at 8am and it was already almost 100 degrees out. As we were starting our hike another family was just finishing! Our plan was to finish the hike before 11am which we knew was doable.
We each carried a CamelBak with at least 2L of water plus plenty of snacks. Our plan was to turn around no matter where we were on the trail if any one of us finished half of our water.
We began the hike right about 8:15am. There is no shade on the trail so we were slathered in sunscreen, wore hats, and carried plenty of food & water. Still working on getting the kids to wear sunglasses all the time – it’s hard to find pairs they actually like and don’t lose!
The trail immediately begins to climb up a hill. There are a series of stairs that make climbing up a little easier. In each direction, the trail climbs ~300 feet which isn’t too bad, but the heat makes it more difficult. The views looking back towards the town of Twentynine Palms and beyond really made us feel like we were in the middle of nowhere!
In the spring wildflowers are in bloom – we just saw the dried out versions.
We came across this lizard sunbathing on a rock. He didn’t seem to mind us and posed for a picture. I was happy this was the only wildlife we saw – I always fear coming across a rattlesnake!
We took lots of water breaks along the way, but they were all in full sun (no shade on the trail). A good reason to start this hike at sunrise during the warmer months.
The trail reaches it’s peak after about .8 miles and then begins to descend towards the oasis. Here we got our very first glimpses of the oasis off in the distance!
We reached the fan palm oasis after 1.5 miles – it was such a welcome sight! This is the end of the trail. There are no other ways out as no other trails intersect with this one. We quickly scurried into the shade and felt a significant and welcome temperature drop.
There were signs around the oasis marking the boundaries of where we could explore. We were not allowed to go near the water which was disappointing to our kids, especially after having been able to swim at Tahquitz Falls the day before. We hadn’t seen any other hikers on our way to the oasis, but there were two other small groups there when we arrived.
We stayed at the oasis for about 20 minutes to enjoy the views & cool down, but we were all a little anxious to begin our return trip to the trailhead. Usually I find the way back much easier, but on this trail it was harder, especially for the kids. While we had plenty of water and were hydrated, the intensity of the sun really zapped our energy.
By this point on the trail we knew we were in the homestretch! It was a great feeling to go around that corner and see the parking lot. We ran into two other groups hiking towards the oasis when we were on our way back. It made me a little nervous for them – I was glad we were back at the trailhead by 10:15am.
As a matter of safely, always make sure you tell someone where you’re hiking and when you expect to be back. We were renting a house through Inspirato and made sure to tell our concierge what we were doing and checked in with him when we finished.
As recommended by the park, I would not hike this trail between the hours of 11am – 6pm during the summer and would avoid it completely (in summer) if you’re not a confident hiker. This trail is rated moderate, but what made it difficult was the heat. I love adding in a palm oasis on desert hike – it’s an unexpected element that makes the hike memorable. I’m looking forward to exploring more of Joshua Tree on a future trip – and hiking a trail with Joshua Trees!!
On our way back to Palm Springs we stopped at Windmill Market for tacos and date shakes which are rated the best in Palm Springs. As the name suggests, it’s located near the large windmill farm on Indian Canyon Road in Palm Springs. It’s a tiny little place that I hadn’t noticed when we had driven by earlier in the day. We ordered at the counter (in addition to tacos they also have sandwiches and other goodies) and then sat out back on the patio under umbrellas. We were exhausted and starving!! The food was delicious and the date shakes were amazing!