I’ve approached deserts before; the best part of deserts is their unpredictable beauty.
Morongo Basin, Joshua Tree National Park has lonely long roads, desert plains, iconic Joshua trees around, giant boulders, and long history.
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While entering you might find no human life along the way and your mind might start playing, What if I die? What if I cannot find someone? How long will my water last? Would I get any place to stay? Few more…
However, Joshua Tree National park, between the Colorado Desert and cooler Mojave Deserts is super cool and offers a flourishing natural scene and is home to many desert flora and fauna. These secret spots in the Joshua Tree are beautiful and amazing!
I visited Joshua Tree thrice with my friends and family as it is one of the most budget-friendly places to visit in California. So, here is my list of 13 secret spots in the Joshua Tree which you can explore anytime. Let’s have a drive-in.
Secret Spots in Joshua Tree: Explore the Unexplored
1. The Eagle Cliff Mine
A seven-mile round trip strenuous hiking spot near Skull Rock with a rugged 500-foot elevation gain near the end sits the Eagle Cliff Mine, a secret place in Joshua Tree. Eagle Cliff Mine is a lesser-known or even unknown and abandoned place in Joshua Tree that is no less mesmerizing. There are two ways to enter, either from Desert Queen Mine or from Split Rock.
Believe me, this Joshua Tree hidden gem is confusing and in the middle of nowhere near large boulders. I once saw a photo on Instagram and since then I wanted to explore the Eagle Cliff Mine trail, a secret spot in Joshua Tree that isn’t on the map. I and my friend Manoj went to Desert Queen Mine trail; I had my GPS on and followed the mine location.
There are a lot of crumbling rocks, gorgeous rock formations, cactus plants, and tremendous dry weather. We followed a cave that heads 15 feet into the hillside that opens into the area of rocks. Do not try to explore rock holes, this might be dangerous. If you follow the right route you will see an old building on your right side. You cannot miss exploring this building which was once the home of an old miner. There is a journal inside the building where you can sign as a symbol of making it to the mine. You will be amazed to find how beautifully this place is maintained, with jugs, the windows, the cave, and everything.
2. Cholla Cactus Garden
Do you want a hug from a teddy bear? Sounds crazy, right? Yes, Cholla has been given the nickname “teddy bear cactus”. But surely, this teddy is not a soft toy! Cholla Cactus Garden is a must-see place in Joshua Tree that sits between two deserts, the upper Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. Besides the pinto basin road, you can enjoy the sight of a variety of Cholla cacti. The garden takes almost 10 acres and this is a small 0.25 mile of the nature trail.
I would recommend you include Cholla Cactus Garden in your Joshua Tree National Park itinerary. You can walk the whole garden within 20-25 minutes. It is just a 20-mile drive from the park’s South Entrance and a 12-mile drive from the park’s North Entrance. It is a stunning landscape with an irresistible view. The stems of the cactus are covered with spines that easily detach if you closely watch them. Again it is wonderful and one of the secret spots in the Joshua Tree.
3. Lost Horse Mine – Hidden Gem in Joshua Tree
Is there any secret thing to do in the Joshua Tree? Hike! Lost Horse Mine is a popular hiking spot and you can enjoy a 4-mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of around 550 feet. The place is blended with rich history, in the years between 1894 and 1931, it produced 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver which made it one of the richest mines at that time.
I found the spot has a very well-preserved stamp mill in the park. Three reasons I love hiking to Lost Horse Mine is because of the natural views from the top of the park, the mining mill, and Joshua trees. It was built by Johnny Lang, a cattle driver. In later times, it was developed by Montana rancher, J.D. Ryan. The horse mine is one of the must-see places in Joshua Tree National Park.
4. Squaw Tank Trail
Squaw Tank Trail is one of the abandoned places in Joshua Tree from where you can check out the view of Pleasant Valley, Malapai hills, Bat cave, rocky alcove, famous tank and mysterious story inscribed on the walls of the dam. Squaw Tank Trail sits between a California riding and hiking trail and a geology tour road. It will be easier for you to reach the tank from the Northwest entrance.
The Rock formation in Squaw Tank Trail is very classy to behold. The total area of the tank train is 4 miles. You will spot arrow markers along the trail that will guide you to reach the right spot. You can park your car in the parking area and follow the interpretive signboard that indicates the paved road ends.
5. Live Oak Picnic Area
Live Oak picnic area is a hidden gem in Joshua Tree National Park. This idyllic picnic spot is famous for its iconic “Pope’s Hat” formation of the table. Every type of facility is available to arrange a picnic with your friends or families. The location of the live oak picnic area is at the entrance to Split Rocks and is marked by a sign.
Walking beyond the live oak tree you’ll discover double-humped hills, the White Tank area, Pinto Basin, and 360 degrees of gorgeous natural views. There are two types of oak trees you will see in the park and both of them are hybrid in nature, Muller’s Oak and Valley Oak. The total area and the way to the oak tree become the heart of Joshua Park. It is a beautiful as well as amazing spot to visit within the park. It became one of the best Joshua Tree photo spots.
6. Cottonwoods Spring
Let’s get off the beaten track in Joshua Tree and explore the Cottonwood Spring Oasis in the deserts. Near Mecca, you’ll find a hidden treasure that sometimes holds up to 500 gallons of water. Cottonwood Spring is the result of earthquake activities and for centuries it was used by Cahuilla Indians.
Cottonwoods Spring is a 1.5 miles loop sandy and challenging hiking trail featured with views of Morten’s Mill, and natural beauty. You can also hike till Moorten’s Peak or Lost Palms Oasis to witness the incredible rock formations and beautiful nature. You can see a lot of cotton trees, the name becomes Cottonwood Spring and it is another great secret spot in Joshua Tree.
Hidden Gems in Joshua Tree: Unique Travel Places
7. Barker Dam
Barker Dam (AKA Big Horn Dam) featured the most charming scenery with granite boulders, Indian petroglyphs, a reservoir, pictographs painted by Native Americans, and the iconic Joshua trees. It was built by local cattlemen and C.O Barker. It belongs to the Mojave Desert and was built in 1900. After C.O Barker, the dam’s name became Barker Dam. Barker Dam is one of the best hikes in Joshua tree and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I visited Barker Dam trail in late winter and experienced the best weather day and an amazing view of the surrounding boulder’s reflection on the still water. It is a 1.1-mile nature trail loop and mostly the trail is flat. I would suggest walking around the dam, and exploring the old cattle trough and you will get to know that Ranchman William F. Keys raised the dam higher after 50 years.
Today, the Barker Dam is a reservoir that supports wildlife in the area. And by driving alone or with friends you can reach it easily. Interestingly, Barker dam is a magnet to Western grebes, ducks, American coots, and herons. I was lucky enough to bring my binoculars and saw a coyote standing. Seeing it was an amazing experience, indeed Barker dam is a secret spot in the Joshua Tree.
8. Hidden Valley Trail
A one-mile trail with extraordinary views of monzogranite, monolithic formations and from the joints the groundwater seeps creating broader cracks and leading to a detached huge boulder. The rock piles on the sides will remind you of your geography classes where we all studied wind and water as the strongest element of erosion.
I was amazed to watch out for the unusual Joshua Tree attractions on Hidden Valley Trail. The route leads through the passageway of paper bag bushes, pinyon pines, creosote bushes, Joshua trees, ubiquitous yucca, beavertail cactus, California juniper and many more. The main attractions of the hidden valley are Woodland including pines and junipers.
Be careful with lizards and I would recommend you to wear barefoot hiking shoes. Hidden Valley Nature Trail is the best spot in Joshua Tree National Park where I went hiking more than seven times with my family of all ages and friends. You will find almost flat rocky steps at the beginning of the valley. Within an hour you can complete the whole area. You can enjoy the area clockwise or anticlockwise.
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9. Keys Ranch
Any plans for a rustic historical photoshoot in Joshua Tree National Park? Keys Ranch (AKA Desert Queen Ranch) on the edge of the Mojave Desert is the best hidden gem in Joshua Tree I can suggest. This site of the park offers a major peak at the Bill Keys family and their amazing journey of life. Rancher and miner William F. Keys built it and lived here for 60 years. This is an interesting spot within the park where time stands still.
In the 19th century, Joshua Tree wasn’t dry and ranches can support life, alfalfa and cattle can live there. This is one of the best spots in Joshua Tree National Park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Key with his wife lived an isolated life here but as depression hit California, few families homesteaded near the Key Ranch.
Key Ranch is a 90 minutes tour guide by jeep where you will learn about the property, vintage wagons, ranch buildings, numerous artifacts, and old mining equipment of that time. The shed is full of old tools and artifacts, the well reminds us how the only source of water once supported life, the house’s windows and walls are unique examples of historical construction. The sheer amount of stuff and Key Ranch is a great Instagram spot in Joshua Tree.
Unique Things to Do in Joshua Tree: Explore More of the Joshua Tree
7. Desert Wildlife
With the broad vistas of high desert wilderness, Desert Wildlife is home to Joshua trees, desert wildlife, colorful spring blooms, and desert tortoises. Despite this place looking lifeless, the place is surrounded by granite monoliths, alluvial fans, arroyos, twisted rocks, and gigantic boulders that fascinate the mind of every hiker and explorer. However, with more than 1000 climbing routes and 200 rock formations to climb, this place is a treasure trove of wildlife.
More than 50 species of mammals including birds, butterflies, and reptiles like yucca night lizard, kangaroo rat, western screech-owl, sidewinder and many more are watched here. It was so surprising for me to discover that animals can thrive in such a desert environment with limited water and bring sunshine. I was amazed to find hundreds of burrow openings with small mammals and reptiles residing. Interestingly, in winters these insects and reptiles go into an inactive state of hibernation.
The best time to see all the animals in the desert is early morning and evening. The desert wildlife is one of the most attractive and secret spots in Joshua Tree where life abounds. However, in winter you can enjoy the various chirping noises as this time is marked as the greatest bird concentration in the park. Desert Wildlife is indeed a secret spot in Joshua Tree where you can watch the resident birds like the red-tailed hawk, roadrunner, and mockingbird.
11. Arch Rock
Arch Rock is a 30 feet wide rock formation and a short hiking spot for families. You can go to the spot from the parking area and it is nearly a 1-3 mile round trip hike. The distance is much less from the White Tank campground and it is one of the favorite spots for tourists visiting Joshua Tree National Park. If you do not want to be part of the crowd you should visit in the early morning to enjoy the whole arch rock.
Read Also: 10 Best Campgrounds in Southern California
12. Skull Rock
The skull rock is another hidden attraction of the park which I found just beside the Park Boulevard. Located near Jumbo Rocks Campground it is just a 1.7-mile long trail and an off the beaten track in Joshua tree. You can enjoy fascinating desert flowers, nature trail winds through boulders, and human skulls. During my stay in California, I found Skull Rock an interesting place with lots of unique attractions.
14. Keys View
Keys View is the best Joshua Tree sunset spot, a popular point in the park that is tucked in the Little San Bernardino Mountains at 5,185 feet. It is less than a 0.1-mile trail and you can reach there by taking the help of a motorable road. Most attractions of this key view are jaw-dropping vistas of the Salton Sea, the snow-draped peak of San Gorgonio Mountain, the San Jacinto Peak, and the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault.
And finally, if unique geographical rock formations excite you then Joshua Trees Park has a lot to offer. I hope I can give you an overview of the best secret spots in Joshua Tree that need to be explored next time you are here.
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FAQs-Best Secret Spots In Joshua Tree National Park
1. What should you not miss at Joshua Tree?
A: You should not miss Key View, Cottonwood Spring, Barker Dam, and skull rock.
2. What is the best month to visit Joshua Tree?
A: The best time to visit Joshua Tree Park is when the heat is not intense, March to May or October to November.
3. Can you be in Joshua Tree after dark?
A: Yes, you can but you’ve to take permission from the National Park Service beforehand.
4. What kind of rocks are in Joshua Tree?
A: Unique rock formations of granofels, quartzite, dolostone, and schist are in the Joshua tree.