Joshua Tree Backpacking | Under 35

Trip Length4 Days
Group Size4-10
Activity level
Starting from
$1,799 for REI Members
$1,979 for non-members
DeparturesMar 2024-Nov 2024

A challenging, enlightening 4-day backpacking trip through the otherworldly landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park.

Known for its rugged mountains, towering boulder piles and spiky yucca palms that give the park its name, Joshua Tree lies at an ecological crossroads where California’s high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado Desert. This memorable backcountry exploration into Joshua Tree’s wild and rugged heart was designed for travelers aged 18–35 (but anyone over 18 can join). We strike out into the desert wilderness, searching for Bighorn sheep and climbing rocky trails to awe-inspiring park vistas. We test our agility on a scramble through the fantastic Wonderland of Rocks and hike to Willow Hole where seasonal pools provide life-sustaining water to the animals that make this park their home.

As we hike, our exceptional guides teach us about the complex desert ecosystem while also sharing invaluable tips on gear, wilderness travel and even backcountry cooking. At day’s end, we kick back relaxed and tired, enjoying the dusky colors of sunset and the campfire glow on the smiling faces of our newfound adventure companions.

All departures include comfortable and lightweight REI Quarter Dome tents.

Trip Highlights

  • Backpack through the dramatic desert landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park
  • Exceptional guides lead us down trail and teach us about the desert ecosystem
  • Learn basic scrambling techniques in rugged Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo
  • Geek out on gear tips and spice up your backcountry cooking
  • Discover new skills and friends on this awesome under 35 adventure

Activities

This trip is rated Moderate Plus [3-4]. Participants will carry their own backpacks weighing 35-40 pounds distances of 3 to 8 miles daily over varied and uneven terrain including rocks and sand. Please make sure your backpack is fitted to your body before the trip. Day 3 will include a day hike incorporating an optional 1.5 mile, Class 4 rock scramble. While rock scrambling, you will be using four points of contact (both hands and both feet) on the rocks at most times as you climb up, over, and around big boulders.

  • Backpacking
  • Scrambling

What's Included

Lodging and meals as indicated on the daily itinerary. Professional guide services. Transportation during the course of the trip. See this trip’s Gear List for details regarding any equipment that may be provided for your use during the trip.

Accommodations

Established frontcountry campsite, 1 night; primitive backcountry campsite, 2 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Joshua Tree Backpacking | Under 35
Day 1

Hike Cactus-dotted Deserts to our cache drop

Our adventure begins in Palm Springs where we meet our guides and fellow adventurers at our host hotel before setting out on our journey to Joshua Tree National Park. Our warm-up hike is the perfect introduction to this unique desert ecosystem as we load up our packs and sojourn to our cache location. Soon after hitting the trail, we’re surrounded by the park’s namesake trees and a dramatic landscape of mountains and canyons, formed over the ages by the forces of wind and water at trails end, we drop our load of fresh water for use later in our adventure. In late afternoon, we head to our campground and pitch camp, our guides assisting with tent set-up. If desire, weather, and daylight are favorable, we can enjoy another short but fun adventure close to camp as the surrounding desert glows with late-day light. We'll watch the sunset cast shades of orange, pink, and gold over the Mojave Desert while our guides prepare a delicious dinner in camp. Lunch and dinner included.

Hiking: 3 miles, Elevation gain/loss: Minimal; Transfer: 2 hours

Day 2

Spot Bighorn Sheep and Backpack into a Desert Wilderness

We fuel up with a hot breakfast this morning in preparation for our journey into the park’s magical backcountry. After breaking camp, gearing up, and adjusting our backpacks, we head down trail into the heart of the desert. As we hike away from the park roads and deeper into the wilderness, our guides interpret the unique features of this rugged landscape and provide insight into the subtle details easily missed by the untrained eye. We pass by towering rock fins, cacti of all shapes and sizes (some may even be sporting their colorful blooms) and uncountable picturesque Joshua Trees, which only exist here in the Mojave. We also watch for Bighorn sheep, a desert-adapted species that seeks out this rocky terrain for protection against predators. Stopping at Keys Mountain, we get a taste of the scrambling we’ll do more of tomorrow, and a killer view of this awesome national park. We arrive at our campsite, but before we can enjoy this tranquil oasis, we must do one more stroll and reclaim our cache, then we can enjoy being nestled in our tents amongst the giant rocks, from where we can gaze up at an inky sky filled with countless stars, enjoying the company of newfound friends. All meals included.

Backpacking: 8 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +414’/-627’

Day 3

Hike the Wonderland of Rocks to a Historic Hidden Cabin

Our day begins with the crystalline morning light and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. We leave our backpacks at camp today, and after another hearty breakfast, head out with just our daypacks for more backcountry excitement and exploration. Before long, we reach Willow Hole, a beautiful riparian area dotted with seasonal water pools. After a picnic lunch among the Wonderland of Rocks’ giant granite boulders, group members interested in a challenge can join our guides for an adventurous option to scramble to an amazing vantage point overlooking Rattlesnake Canyon that our guides have affectionately named Pride Rock. Those looking for even more adventure, may have the chance to discover a hidden hideout from the 1930's known as Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo. Those participating in the scramble will use gloves to protect our hands from the course rocks, and should expect scrambling up, down, over, and around huge boulders, some exposure, short leaps from one rock to another, and balancing with your feet and hands in contact with the rock. Your guides will be there to provide coaching and lend a helping hand when needed. The route isn’t an easy one but promises to be one of the highlights of this adventure! Our final evening in camp is filled with good food and laughter as we reflect on another epic day in Joshua Tree. All meals included.

Hiking: 7.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +320’/-420’; Optional rock scramble: 2+ hours, 1.5 miles

Day 4

Relish the Trail, the Sky and the New Friendships

We enjoy a last relaxing morning in the backcountry before reluctantly breaking camp and loading up our backpacks for our hike out. We walk north along the photogenic Boy Scout Trail, surrounded by the wide-open desert under the brilliant SoCal sky, across an alluvial plain to Indian Cove where our van awaits. We enjoy our last lunch together before transferring to Palm Springs and our host hotel, saying our final goodbyes to our guides and fellow adventurers. We anticipate being back at the hotel between 4–5pm this afternoon. If you are flying out of Palm Springs today, we recommend not booking any flights departing earlier than 6:00 pm. Breakfast and lunch included.

Backpacking: 6.5 miles; Elevation gain/loss: +150’/-1,200'; Transfer: 2 hours

Itinerary map for Joshua Tree Backpacking | Under 35

Gear List

This gear list has been created to help you choose the best equipment for the trip. Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff. The weather and other conditions at the time of your arrival will dictate what clothing and equipment you will be required to use each day and what (if anything) can be left behind. It may be a necessary precaution that you bring certain items on the list, even if it is uncertain whether or not they will be needed.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

REI members can shop for gently used gear online or at most REI stores. Members can also trade in pre-loved used gear online or at any REI store in exchange for REI gift card credit. Check out Re/Supply at REI to learn more.

We provide

  • All Group Cooking Gear
  • Group First Aid Kit
  • Stoves and Fuel
  • Tent(s)
  • Trekking Poles

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Trip specifics may change over time. Reviews reflect the version of the trip that was active at the time the reviewer took it. Please review the itinerary as described above and call our team for any additional details.