Hiking the High Desert: Joshua Tree National Park

Fulfill a dream and come to the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park, where you’ll hike amongst spectacular canyons, palm oases, towering boulders and a Joshua Tree forest.
Rating (4.85)
Program No. 20819RJ
6 days
Starts at

At a Glance

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park and the desert surrounding Palm Springs is an opportunity not to be missed. Famous for the other-worldly Joshua Tree and geologic formations that attract elite rock climbers, the park is a desert lover’s paradise where the Sonoran and Mojave deserts meet. In the Palm Springs area hike to palm oases where water brings abundance and has created the largest density of California palm trees in the world. Ride the thrilling Palm Springs Aerial Tram for sweeping views of the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas fault zone and distant desert peaks.
Activity Level
Outdoor: Spirited
Hiking up to 6.5 miles daily on varied terrain including sandy washes and rocky, established trails with loose footing; Some spots with passage of one person at a time; Some rock scrambling and use of hands required to navigate terrain and ladders; Elevation changes of 500-1,000 ft. on hikes; Seasonal shallow stream crossings and snow. Elevations of 4,500-8,500 feet. Participants will be required to carry a minimum of 2 quarts of water on hikes.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Learn about the unique natural history and human cultures of this desert region from expert naturalists.
  • Explore Joshua Tree National Park including the granitic maze known as the “Wonderland of Rocks.”
  • In the Palm Springs area, hike the Agua Caliente Tribe’s “Indian Canyons” and explore San Jacinto State Park, accessed by the aerial tramway.

General Notes

Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Featured Expert
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Stewart Lasseter
After completing studies in geo-science, natural history and Spanish at the University of Arizona, Stewart Lasseter studied as the protege of a Native American healer, learning from her practices of wholeness, kinesiology, mind-body medicine and dyslexia correction. He has years of experience bringing groups in touch with the natural world, and has completed post-graduate studies in health sciences at Prescott College.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Shane Farnor
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Stewart Lasseter
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Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
The Desert Smells Like Rain
by Nabhan, Gary Paul
Longtime residents of the Sonoran Desert, the Tohono O’odham people have spent centuries living off the land – a land that most modern citizens of southern Arizona consider totally inhospitable. Ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan has lived with the Tohono O’odham, long known as the Papagos, observing the delicate balance between these people and their environment. Bringing O’odham voices to the page at every turn, he writes elegantly of how they husband scant water supplies, grow crops, and utilize edible foods. Woven through his account are coyote tales, O’odham children’s impressions of the desert, and observations on the political problems that come with living on both sides of an international border. 148 pp.
Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis
by Glennon, Robert
In the middle of the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas casinos use billions of gallons of water for fountains, pirate lagoons, wave machines, and indoor canals. Meanwhile, the town of Orme, Tennessee, must truck in water from Alabama because it has literally run out. Robert Glennon captures the irony—and tragedy—of America’s water crisis in a book that is both frightening and wickedly comical. Unquenchable reveals the heady extravagances and everyday inefficiencies that are sucking the nation dry.
A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert
by Patricia Wentworth Comus (Editor)
"Once in a generation, a guide to understanding a major North American landscape comes along. This book is such a touchstone, sure to become a classic. The emphasis here is on biodiversity, mutualism, co-evolution, and, especially, ethno-relationships—the long history of connection between desert peoples and their homeland, on both sides of the border.
Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide: Joshua Tree National Park
by Kaiser, James
Stunning photographs showcase the wondrous landscape of Joshua Tree National Park in this unique guidebook. Joshua Tree National Park is a desert getaway that boasts some of the most dramatic and unexpected scenery in the Southwest. This edition features updated information, as well as a newly expanded section on the geology of the park. Fascinating chapters discuss the park's history, geology, and wildlife along with a guide to desert wildflowers and maps of more than 20 of the best hikes in the park. An indispensable guide for outdoor enthusiasts, rock climbers, and vacationing families on a budget, this beautiful guidebook will enhance any traveler's collection.
Palm Springs: The Landscape, the History, the Lore
by Churchwell, Mary Jo
Mary Jo Churchwell depicts the desert community of Palm Springs over the last 150 years, reveling in eccentric anecdotes and inspiring landscapes. With equal doses of history, nature and personal reflection.
Joshua Tree: Desolation Tango
by Deanne Stillman
This book captures, remarkably, the mystery and beauty of this special park. Deanne Stillman's text is beautiful, understated and precise. Galen Hunt's photographs are truly artful. This is great introduction to one the most special places on Earth. It's a poetic document along with excellent photographs. This tribute reveals the landscape of a startling country whose visa requirements are resolute inquisitiveness, an active imagination, and simple curiosity.
Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey
Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, the noted author's most enduring nonfiction work, is an account of Abbey's seasons as a ranger at Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. Abbey reflects on the nature of the Colorado Plateau desert, on the condition of our remaining wilderness, and on the future of a civilization that cannot reconcile itself to living in the natural world.
Desert Lore of Southern California
by Pepper, Choral
Renowned western writer and former Publisher of Desert Magazine, author Choral Pepper evokes the mystery and magic of southern California's desert, spinning tales of lost mines, Indian myths, legendary characters and strange natural features. She enable the explorer to experience the stories beyond the vistas along byways and trails from the Palm Springs area to the Salton Sea, down the Colorado River, and through the desert parks from Joshua Tree to Anza-Borrego.

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