Hiking in Desert Edge to the Joshua Tree National Park Boundary

Did you know that you could take a short moderate day hike from Desert Edge, a community east of Desert Hot Springs, California to the western boundary of Joshua Tree National Park?

If you’re interested in a summit hike in the Desert Edge Area, you should check out a previous post about the Flag Mountain Hike. Similar to the Flag Mountain Hike, a hike to the Joshua Tree National Park boundary in this post starts at Sam’s Family Spa where we’re currently staying. At the bottom of this post I included more information about the route.

This hike is in Desert Edge, east of Desert Hot Springs. The end of the hike (marked by a purple star) is just inside of the western boundary of Joshua Tree National Park.
A map of the GPS tracks of hiking trails in the Desert Edge Area beginning at Sam’s Family Spa. The blue track is from the previously-published Flag Mountain Hike. The red track is for the hike described in this post.

Desert Edge is an unincorporated community in Riverside County, east of Desert Hot Springs. We hiked this trail several times, each time taking a slightly different route to get to the canyon. One thing that will likely be true is that you will have the trail to yourself. Feeling like taking a walk in our front yard, I didn’t take as many photos when we hiked this trail. So, to provide a better sense of what the trail is like, the pictures used in this post came from our hike on multiple occasions.

The first part of the hike you go through desert valley floor landscape with a typical desert vegetation in the area, mostly creosotes, brittlebushes mixed with cacti, like chollas, barrel cacti, and beavertails.

View from the trail on the east side of the Dragon’s Back with snow-capped mountains of the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the background
View from the trail looking back as we left the Dragon’s Back behind. San Jacinto Mountain dominates the skyline of the Coachella Valley.
Continuing toward the mountains

After about a mile into the hike, the trail enters a canyon/wash. Most of this hike is really on a dirt road. You could see tire tracks on the road. However, we never see any vehicles during any of the hikes we did on this trail.

The canyon became narrower. Although the trail looks relatively flat, you gain elevation gradually the further you go. So it wasn’t an easy stroll.
Looking back out toward the valley. Shortly afterward the trail turned sharply to the right as it entered the inner canyon.

Other than some lizards and jackrabbits, we almost never saw other wildlife on this trail. One time our friends encountered a rather large rattlesnake. But last week we were lucky to see desert bighorn sheep, 12 of them. What a treat!

The trail winds its way up the canyon. As we approached a bend in the trail, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep hurried up the side of the mountain.
After a staring contest, the herd moved higher up the mountain as we continued on the trail.
The fire pit at the end of the hike

At the end of the hike, which is inside the Joshua Tree National Park Boundary, there is a well-used fire pit. It has a wide and level space to park a car and to set up tents. It looks like a nice place to camp. From the fire pit, the canyon splits into short left and right forks. They are impassable by vehicles, but you can explore on foot.

A satellite view showing the left and the right canyons beyond the fire pit.
From the left canyon looking back toward the fire pit
Exploring the left canyon
A rock slide at the end of the left canyon
Exploring the right canyon
Graffiti at the end of the right canyon
More graffiti
Returning to the fire pit junction

After taking a break and refreshing ourselves, it’s time to head back out. The return hike was much easier as it’s a downhill walk pretty much all the way. This is the hike that we love to have, basically just a few steps away from Sam’s Family Spa. It doesn’t have as spectacular views as many that we’ve done, but the scenery is interesting enough and the solitude we get is a big plus.

San Jacinto Mountain peeking out in the background as we headed out
A picture from a year ago (2017) when the area got significantly more rain. You could see how much greener the canyon was last year compared to the picture above.
Continuing on the trail out of the canyon
Last spring the area was dotted with desert dandelions.
Desert dandelions were everywhere.
In late spring, cactus blooms were at their best.

If you do this hike from Sam’s Family Spa, the hike takes the same path as the Flag Mountain Hike across the desert toward Hacienda Avenue, which is unmarked and is just a dirt track. Note that before you come to Hacienda Avenue, you’ll cross a path that is lined with power poles. This is a service road for these power poles, not Hacienda Avenue. Continue north through the desert (if you don’t see an obvious path, just keep walking north) and turn left at Hacienda and head for the northwest direction.

Depending on where you turned left onto Hacienda, about 0.2 mi later you should reach a small trail junction where you can turn right and follow a red GPS track on the map heading north. This trail junction, however, may not be obvious to spot from Hacienda. If you never hike this trail before, it will be easier to continue on Hacienda. At about 0.3 mi from when you turned left onto Hacienda, you will reach a dirt road that crosses Hacienda. At the intersection, on your right, there is a tall rock pile that stretches approximately in the north-south direction. This elongated rock pile lies between the two red GPS track in the map. It’s one of the first places we explored when we stayed at Sam’s in winter 2016/2017. We called it the Dragon’s Back. You can walk on top of the Dragon’s Back for its entire length for a better view of the valley.

From Hacienda, turn right at the intersection and head toward the mountain to the north with the Dragon’s Back on your right. About 0.6 mi after leaving Hacienda, you will come to a three-way junction where the road joins the trail from the east side of the Dragon’s Back. Beyond the three-way junction, there is only one route going into the canyon, and there’s no route finding required.

  • Date hiked: Winter-Spring seasons
  • Hiking time: 2h 20m
  • Distance: Approx. 5.5 mi round-trip (out and back)
  • Elevation change: Approx. 877 ft gain

Note: Bring plenty of water and sun protection. There is very little to no shade on this hike, so it’s best to avoid taking this hike on a hot and sunny day.

10 thoughts on “Hiking in Desert Edge to the Joshua Tree National Park Boundary

  1. I always love pictures of desert in the foreground, snowy peaks in the back. Looks like a fun hike! This reminds me a bit of a hike we did in Joshua Tree – Pinto Mountain. Or maybe it was an overnight backpacking trip. Either way, I love that area!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for taking us on the hike. Yeah, it sure has been dry in the desert this year, and thus I’m not expecting very many wildflowers. Things are looking rather stark in the desert southwest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much, Keng, for taking us along on this peaceful hike. The desert vistas are beautiful, and I liked seeing it in different years. You two were super lucky to have come across the bighorn sheep.

    Liked by 1 person

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