WHERE TO MEET. We will need to meet at the North Entrance Station at 6:15AM. This time is crucial in order to get an early start on the trail. Before driving to the trail head we will be staging vehicles at the North Entrance parking area for our return transportation once completing the trail. From there it will be a 40 minute drive to the West side of the Park at Black Rock Campground to the start of the trail head. Your park entrance fee is included in the price of this event.
The Itinerary mileage listed below is subject to change daily based on Trip Leader discretion for overall safety or ability of the group dynamics.
We are backpacking the entire length, 38 miles, of the California Riding and Hiking Trail, from West to East. The trail is very well marked with mileage markers throughout. This is a well maintained sand trail extending the entire width of the park, allowing for an incredible variation to the best of what Joshua Tree National Park has to offer!
Day 1 -
We will begin our route at approximately 8am from Black Rock Campground, located near the main Visitor's Center and West Park Entrance. We will have already met up near the North Entrance and will drive to the trail head as a group. The trail immediately begins in deep sand, gradually climbing over 1,100ft within the first 5miles. This will be the most significant and hardest climb throughout the entire hike. While the climb itself isn't too challenging, the sandy trail steadily climbing uphill can make it tougher than the elevation profile suggests. The GREAT news is we get it out of the way from the get go! Whew! After climbing up to 5,130ft before heading back down, the trail no longer has any real significant elevation gain or loss as this.
The hike offers a breathtaking introduction to the area's scenery through everchanging scrublands, granite hillsides, the surrounding (possibly snow capped) mountain peaks of San Gorgonio being the highest point in Southern California, and a brief look into the nearby landscape of Mexico. Quail Mountain also comes into view, standing at over 5,800ft - remaining the highest point within the Park. After picking up our first water cache at around 8miles in route, we enter into the most remote backcountry section of the trail, with no signs of civilization for 10miles!
Ending our first day within this remote section, we will be camping at around 5000ft with 360-degree views of the breathtaking surrounding mountainous region. Total mileage this day will be around 10miles.
For those with too much pep left in their step after the days hike can opt to negotiate a non-designated route up Quail Mountain, to summit the highest peak, for a total of an additional 4miles RT. This is entirely optional and not part of the trip itinerary.
We have purposely planned this event to coincide with the New Moon, for the best potential to fully partake in the area's notable Dark Skies and sensational stargazing opportunities! Weather permitting.
Day 2 -
This will be an incredibly visually impactful day on the trail, as we continue backpacking through the longest and most remote stretch along the trail! We navigate a narrower trail this day with more hard packed sand and loose rock sections as we negotiate along a few ridgelines offering even more incredible views of the surrounding landscape. The trail begins relatively flat with a few minor elevation changes (with just one notable steep but short uphill) before our final descent into Juniper Flats, an area blanketed in the infamous Joshua Trees that the park is named for. The trail continues slightly downhill from here, as unfathomable unique rock formations begin to appear closer to a more populated rock climbing area, our halfway point in completing the trail. Here we will pick up our second water cache and have the opportunity to dump any trash. Pit toilets will be located at a designated campground we pass through, just a short distance off the trail. After stopping briefly, we continue on from here to make camp among the Joshua Trees in a bit more remote area further east.
We will be camping at approximately 4000+ft amongst the Joshua Trees. Total mileage this day will be around 9miles.
Day 3 -
The terrain dramatically changes this day as we transition from a mountainous region to a more wide-open and vast expanse of an iconic desert landscape. After beginning our day up a rocky ascent, we will be hiking on mostly hard packed sand and extremely flat terrain for a large portion for the first half of the day, making traversing this section of the trail blissfully swift.
As the trail opens to impactful views of the geologically famous region of Pinto Basin, we are just over half-way to total about 10.5miles this day. This area is known for it's breathtaking views of where the Sonovan and Mojavo Deserts connect. Around here the trail turns once again into deeper sand...though we are still easily cruzin' to pick up our last water cache and make camp with plenty of time to just kick back and enjoy the areas unique geological boulder field beauty.
We will be camping at around 3,800ft and more shielded from the open plains amongst a unique and misplaced boulder field.
Day 4 -
We begin this day's hike with the benefit of access to a pit toilet just beyond camp and ability to offload the remainder of our trash.
We continue directly north from this point, leaving behind the wide open desert plains and landscape, heading towards a more mountainous region once more. The trail follows a slight downgrade for approximately 8.5miles through several large washes and deep sand in a long descent towards the North Entrance. You begin to catch glimpses at this point of the distant civilization of Twentynine Palms, marking our nearby end of the trail.
And then just like that... you will have just accomplished a near 40mile backpacking adventure through the heart of Joshua Tree National Park...be very proud!
For this specific trip and itinerary, we are anticipating hiking (as a group whole) at about 1.5miles per hour. Morning start times daily will be adjusted accordingly once out there. Sunrise during this time of year is approximately 7am. Sunset at around 5pm.
Aside from the water considerations, this is pretty much a regular backpacking trip in winter conditions. You’re in the desert, you’ll need sun protection, and sunglasses will help prevent photokeratitis (snow-blindness). You might want long pants if you’re nervous about scrapping up against cholla or other cactus. There will be deep sand in spots. The temps can be extreme. With warm to mild days to cold (in the 20s) at night.
Here is the GEAR we suggest.
Lightweight backpack with a Water Hydration Sleeve. You will be carrying no less than 4 liters of water each day. Look at the Hperlite 3400 Southwest Pack.
3 liter water platy. (YOU WILL NOT NEED A WATER FILTRATION SYSTEM)
1 liter water platy or Nalgene bottle (collapsible would be recommended)
Lightweight Sleep System:
REI Flash Air 1 person is a good example. Or the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo 2 Ultralight Shelter System
MINIMUM 20 degree sleeping bag (a 10 degree liner might be useful also) Down bags are much more compressible and tend to be warmer.
Insulated Air Pad. (REMEMBER, TEMPS WILL GET CHILLY) We recommend NEMO Tensor Alpine Mummy Sleeping Pad Or something with at least a 3.5 R Value
The Ten Essentials
Generally this time of year temps will average in the low 60's during the day, and mid to low 30's at night. However, due to the region's backcountry location the trail passes through, anticipate temps to be approximately 8-10 degrees colder on average. Therefore plan accordingly for very cold, potentially freezing nights. THIS IS A WINTER BACKPACKING TRIP. If you are unfamiliar with desert hiking, please know that direct sun can make it feel much warmer than it actually is. Equally, when the sun goes down, the temps quickly and significantly drops and can feel much colder than what the temperature indicates. The air is typically much drier, therefore food and electrolyte preparations will be key. All of this discussed in depth in our one-on-one calls.
The trail passes through exposed desert climate, with few trees and boulders large enough to create significant shade or windbreak. Plan for exposed conditions including extreme sun, heat and potentially harsh wind.
Joshua Tree does get snow in the winter and it's not too uncommon for a minor snowstorm to hit in the area briefly. If it does snow, it typically doesn't stick around for too long once the sun comes out so enjoy it while you can!
This is a true desert trail and entirely exposed to all variable weather and conditions. The trail floor itself alters from deep sand to hard packed dirt with some portions covered with loose rocky terrain. The trail elevation is considered to be a "rollercoaster", with minor ascends and descends throughout the 38miles. All significant changes in elevation are over the course of several miles, making it a great trail for beginner backpackers. There are a few lengthier portions along the trail which are entirely flat in elevation, some which are in deep sand and others hard packed dirt.
We give this trail a rating of Moderate to Difficult mainly due to its sandy conditions. While the trail's elevation profile alone is relatively easy, the sand portions of the trail, loaded with the weight of a full pack can make it feel more challenging than the profile suggests. The daily mileage over the course of this 4-day, 3-night backpacking trip is averaged into "equal" segments to support all the following - trail difficulty, flat dispersed campsite availability, logical water cache opportunities, exploration and sightseeing. Meaning we do not take the average mileage split by four days, but rather disperse the mileage to feel equal to the next based on terrain and conditions.
There is NO water along the route. Therefore we will be caching ALL our water in preset designated areas enroute. For this trip we will be caching the water for you, however you will be required to pack out the empty gallon bottles left at the cache site. A small and lightweight carabiner will come in handy for transporting these containers on the outside of your pack once emptied. There will be trash receptacle at two separate designated campgrounds in route, if you prefer to get rid of them during the hike.
Water caches allow for lighter and reasonable pack loads while still maintaining proper hydration for overall mileage and trail difficulty. Our caches will be placed in three separate areas along the route, with a sufficient amount of water for hydration for the anticipated conditions to get you to the next cache. This will include water food preparation as well. This is not a trip in which you will have access to be able to drink as much as you want whenever you want due to the desert climate nature. If you have any concerns, please address them so that we can discuss in detail.
We will be camping in at large dispersed camping areas along our route, specifically located to where our water caches have been placed. These sites have been pre-selected, though depending on weather conditions, unforeseen variables or at the discretion of the trip leader these may be slightly adjusted the day of.
Although we have pre-selected dispersed camping areas that are well established, do not anticipate entirely flat places to set camp. Hammocks are NOT an option for this trip. Anticipate a mixture of windy conditions, deep sand as well as hard packed dirt and rock for your tent set up.
LEAVE NO TRACE
We practice Leave No Trace ethics and expect all of you to equally adhere to them as well during our trips.
All human waste will need to be buried properly, practicing Leave No Trace requirements. All toilet paper must be packed out with you due to the nature of the desert soil at the park's request. There is good news however, unique to this trail system! The trail does pass through two designated campgrounds. Pit toilets will be available at these locations, just a short distance from the trail if you choose to partake as we pass through them. There is one at the halfway point (at 20miles) and another near the beginning of our last day. There will not be any water available.
All trash, including micro-trash and empty water caches must be packed out with you. There will be trash receptacles available for disposal at the two separate designated Campgrounds listed above, just a short distance off the trail.
This is a point to point hike, meaning we will not be hiking back to the same trailhead as we start from. Therefore your vehicle may be used in preparation for staging emergency exit routes and or end route planning purposes. There are designated parking lots for backpackers and you WILL need to complete a free Backcountry Permit registration at the designated Backcountry Information Board where your car will be parked. Your trip leader will help you complete this with all the proper information requested.
The Joshua Tree National Park Entrance Fee is included in the cost of the trip. We will be meeting just outside of the North Entrance at approximately 6:15am on Friday, January 15th. Please ensure a timely arrival for a no-cost entry to you. If you plan to arrive during a different time than this, please coordinate with your trip leader to ensure park access.
Due to a recent COVID-19 stay at home order for California (as of mid-December 2020), all designated campgrounds within the park and BLM Lands surrounding the park have unexpectedly closed, slightly altering our plans before and after our scheduled trip dates. Further details on alternative camping opportunities closer to the park's entrance will be discussed on our one-on-one calls.
Due to these COVID-19 restrictions, we equally have to readjust. We will be doing a Virtual Pack Shakedown with you about a week prior to the event date. These pack shakedowns are an entrical part of ensuring both your SAFETY and comfort while on a trip with us. While these are an INCREDIBALLY FUN part of the pre-planning stages that we take very seriously, we ask that you remain receptive to our feedback throughout the process. Please come prepared with your "loaded pack" to review all your final backpacking choices with you. This will include a run down on your meal plans as well as you water system plans. Water caching details will also be discussed. Please allow approximately 35-45mins for these shakedowns. They will be scheduled at your convenience about a week prior to our trip, during our initial one-on-one calls.