Backpacking Joshua Tree National Park

Trip Length 4 Days
Group Size 4-10
Activity level
Starting from
$1,349 for REI Members
$1,449 for non-members
Departures Dec 2022-Dec 2023

There is much to do in the 800,000 acres that make up Joshua Tree National Park; our 4-day adventure takes us through the best of the deeper backcountry spots.

Nestled between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts in Southern California lies this surreal and iconic national park. Stark desert landscapes contrast rugged rock formations, and twisted trees spring from the earth, creating an exciting and challenging landscape to explore. Joshua Tree has long enticed rock climbers and rock stars alike—its world-class climbing and otherworldly geography put it at the top of any adventurers list.

Our trip is designed to take us into the backcountry to experience more of the park. We backpack, hike and scramble to little-known and seldom seen destinations with the help of our experienced guides. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, wildflowers and famous rock formations. Hike to Willow Hole to explore seasonal water pools that supply critical water to the national park’s wildlife. Experience days filled with discovery, evenings alive with impossible sunsets and nights spent under a brilliantly starry sky.

We keep our eyes peeled for Bighorn sheep, a desert-adapted species that seeks out this rocky terrain for protection against predators.

Trip Highlights

  • Hike through canyons and across sandy flats; scramble on giant granite boulders
  • Follow expert guides who provide in-depth knowledge and backcountry meals
  • Experience Boy Scout, Big Pine, and Willow Hole Trails on this 4-day adventure
  • Enjoy beautiful and diverse plants and animals in this other-worldly landscape

Activities

This trip is rated Moderate Plus (3-4). Participants will carry their own backpacks weighing 35 to 40 pounds distances of 4.6 to 8 miles daily over varied terrain. Please make sure your backpack is fitted to your body before the trip. Day 3 will include a dayhike incorporating an optional 1.5 mile, Class 4 rock scramble.

  • 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

Group campsite, 1 night; backcountry campsites, 2 nights.

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Backpacking Joshua Tree National Park
Day 1

Hike the Boy Scout Trail and camp in Joshua Tree National Park

Our adventure begins in Palm Springs where we meet our guides and fellow travelers at our host hotel before setting out on our journey to Joshua Tree National Park. Our warmup hike provides a beautiful setting for a safety brief about desert hiking and proper backpack fitting. We’ll load our packs with water and hike to our cache—essential for the second leg of our expedition. Our campground is our next stop where we'll set-up camp and distribute group gear. This evening our guides prepare a delicious front-country meal while you relax and enjoy our desert home for the night. Lunch and dinner included.

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

Day 2

Backpack to our wilderness camp

After a hot breakfast we break camp, pack our backpacks, and depart for our trailhead. As we go deeper along this trail stacked with boulder fins, we keep our eyes peeled for wildlife such as big horn sheep and famous rock formations like Window Rock. We have opportunity to see flowering cacti, an array of wildflowers, and of course the park’s namesake, the Joshua tree. We'll stop at Keys Mountain to get warmed up for tomorrow’s scrambling, providing a little extra adventure and a panoramic view of the park we’ll be exploring over the next two days. We journey on until we find the perfect campsite among the towering rocks. After a short hike to reclaim our cache, our guides prepare an excellent backcountry dinner and we recount our day’s adventure and enjoy a beautiful Joshua Tree sunset with new friends. All meals included.

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

Day 3

Explore a Wonderland of Rocks and hike to Willow Hole

Our day starts with the essentials—hot coffee and breakfast! With just our daypacks, our first destination is Willow Hole, a beautiful riparian area with seasonal water pools; this is our best opportunity to see wildlife. We'll picnic among the giant granite boulders that make up the Wonderland of Rocks before an adventurous option to scramble to a hidden hideout from the 1930's known as Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo. While this scramble is the most challenging part of the trip, it is sure to be a highlight of your adventure. Using our gloves to protect our hands from the coarse nature of the rocks, 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. Our skilled guides prepare another meal this evening as we await another star-filled night. All meals included.

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

Day 4

Backpack the Boy Scout Trail to Indian Cove

We take the morning to enjoy camp and breakfast as a group and then start packing up camp in preparation for our last hike and our reluctant return to “reality”. Today’s hike takes us north up the Boy Scout Trail across an alluvial plain to Indian Cove where our van will be waiting for us. After enjoying a satisfying last lunch together, we head back to Palm Springs and our host hotel where we say our final goodbyes. We anticipate being back at the Courtyard Palm Springs Marriott at 4pm; however, this cannot be guaranteed. If you are flying out of Palm Springs on this day, we recommend not booking a flight that departs before 6pm. Breakfast and lunch included.

Backpacking: 6.5 miles; Elevation gain/loss: +150’/-1,200’.

Itinerary map for Backpacking Joshua Tree National Park

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering.  To obtain maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection.  This gear list has been created to help you choose equipment for the trip.  Try to bring only what is necessary - this will help you and the field staff. 

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.

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.