Growing up in California, it’s easy to take how beautiful the state is for granted. But the longer I’ve been living away from home (11 years now, more than a third of my life), the more I’ve come to appreciate just how beautiful and diverse the state is.
With a land mass just about the size of Spain, California is home to a stunning variety of landscapes: from arid deserts to lush pine forests. It’s grand on a scale that can’t be believed, home to both the tallest tree in the world (Hyperion in Sequoia National Park) and the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevadas). It’s no surprise that California hikes are some of the most beautiful in the world as a result.
While I’d like to think I’m a California expert, sadly, it’s far from the case. More than a decade away from my home state has made California seem almost foreign and exotic when I go home. Though I know a lot about the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe, having grown up just outside San Francisco, so much of the state is still a mystery to me outside my one tiny area of awareness.
Southern California Hikes
1. Lost Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Most people, for obvious reasons, think of Joshua trees when they hear the name of Joshua Tree National Park. But in the south of the park, as the Mojave Desert turns into the Colorado Desert, the flora changes. In this part of the park, it’s all about the palms.
The best place to see the palms that grow in Joshua Tree National Park is at the Lost Palms Oasis. The hike to get there is a fantastic walk that is about 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) in each direction through some stunning desert landscapes with cacti, rock formations, and colorful flowers.
Even though it’s very dry here, palm trees are able to grow because of cracks in the ground that allow water to come up from subterranean reserves. It means you won’t see many of the palms until you get to the final destination – a large ravine where the tall trees are clumped together along the bed.
The hike begins from near the Cottonwood Spring Visitor Centre in the south of Joshua Tree National Park. There is a car park at the trailhead. It’s not one of the busiest hikes, which means the path isn’t too crowded. However, you will probably never be too far away from other hikers, which makes it nice and safe.
The return hike will probably take around 3 hours at a decent pace with a break at the oasis and is moderately difficult – there are some rough patches when you’ll need to scramble up and down rocky hills. It can be hot at any time of the year but especially in the summer. You should always carry sunscreen and lots of water. You may even want to reconsider hiking it on very hot summer days.