All of Joshua Tree National Park might seem like a rocky wonderland, but this hike takes you into the Wonderland—the Wonderland of Rocks—home to a secluded watering hole.
Lace up! This 7-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike begins with a very gentle ascent through a dense stand of Joshua trees. Watch for wildflowers too, like the deep red blooms of claret-cup cactus. Ignore the spur trails to rock-climbing spots and head right at the 1.25-mile point on the signed path to Willow Hole. At just past the 2-mile mark, the path becomes a sandy wash, and you enter the Wonderland of Rocks. This monzogranite-surrounded terrain supports a diversity of animal and plant life due to its ability to trap rainfall. The wash is flat, but trudging through the deep sand is tiring as you follow arrow markers around mazes of boulders.
Here you’ll notice a dramatic increase in vegetation, including junipers, piñon pines, and scrub oaks. After another 1.25 miles, you’ll reach a wide, spacious clearing enclosed by towering rock formations that are often basking spots for corpulent chuckwalla lizards. Just around the corner is the namesake patch of dense green willows.
The trail slinks through the trees to a small watering hole among giant rocky outcroppings. Stay quiet and watchful. This is a significant water source for such elusive creatures as desert kit foxes and bighorn sheep. Their most active time is near dusk, so stay late if you can, but leave before sunset to catch a beautiful glow silhouetting Joshua trees and the distant hulk of Mount San Gorgonio to the west.
STAY: Ryan Campground, with 31 sites, is a first-come, first-served campground that is convenient to all of the hikes in the heart of the park. It’s got an amazing view of Lost Horse Valley area at sunset, easy access to the ruins of nearby Ryan Ranch, and is much quieter than Hidden Valley or Jumbo Rock. For more information visit the park’s camping information page.
From the West Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, follow Park Blvd. 6.5 miles to the Boy Scout Trail parking lot on your left, just after Quail Springs Picnic Area. No dogs on trails in the national park. Entrance fee is $25 per vehicle for 7 days—but free this weekend, April 22–23, 2017.