Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park (Greg Dale/National Geographic/Getty)

If you're looking for a mellow, two-wheeled exploration of a unique high-desert landscape, then Joshua Tree is the perfect place for you and your bike. But don't come here looking for killer single track. The legal riding is strictly limited to pavement and 29 miles of fire roads, which means the J-Tree mountain biking experience scores a big yawn on the thrill-o-meter. That said, anyone willing to lay off the adrenaline will be rewarded by a pleasant, up-close look at desert plants and wildlife in an environment that's often described as otherworldy. It's a biking experience unlike any other.

Special Know-How

Bikers, be forewarned that the paved roads through the park have no shoulders and are often narrow. Pay close attention when rounding corners since boulder piles and Joshua trees can restrict the vision of drivers. On unpaved roads, keep an eye out for hikers and horses.

A note to renegade trail blazers: Bicycle tire tracks on the open desert can last for years and can seriously mar the landscape. If the threat of a steep fine isn't enough to keep you off the backcountry trails, please consider the damage you'll be doing to the environment. There are plenty of places in Southern California where you can find good, legal single track. This isn't one of them.

The Best Bike Trails

Trails are listed as strenuous (S), moderately strenuous (MS), moderate (M), and easy (E).

California Riding and Hiking Trail - 7 miles one way (M-MS)
On the 35-mile, multi-use trail that runs clear across the north end of the park, only this 7-mile stretch is open to bikers. If you start at the North Entrance Station and ride to Pinto Basin Road, you'll have a challenging uphill workout on sometimes-sandy terrain. If you flip it, it's a pretty easy coast. Watch out for horses while you ride. This is a popular equestrian trail, and they have the right of way.

Old Lost Horse Road Trail - 5 miles one way (E)
This road/trail begins at Ryan Campground and travels through Lost Horse Valley to the Quail Springs Historic Trail. Though it was previously open to car traffic and closed to bikers, a new management plan changed the rules in order to start some partial revegetation. Now it's cars out, bikes in. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Old Queen Valley Historic Road Trail - 4.75 miles one way (E)
Situated on the unpaved road that connects some of the park's most popular campgrounds, this trail from the Wall Street Mill parking area to the Pine City Trailhead makes for a convenient day ride if you're overnighting nearby. You'll ride past interesting rock formations and a variety of cacti, with Ryan Mountain visible to the south.

Thermal Canyon Bike Trail - 10 miles one way (S)
This is the only trail in Joshua Tree that is open to bikers and closed to horses. You'll ride through a rugged portion of the Cottonwood Mountains, surrounded by unusual rock formations. Overnight camping is available if you register at the Pleasant Valley backcountry board.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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