Snaking Your Way Through Joshua Tree

Hiking Rattlesnake Canyon in Joshua Tree National Park

You don’t have to be a rock climber to enjoy this high-friction frolic in Joshua Tree. All it takes is a sense of adventure—a willingness to plunge into a dramatic canyon that’s devoid of such niceties as trails or signs.

Rattlesnake Canyon begins as a sandy wash behind a sign that reminds you that here you create your own path. You’ll be improvising for the next 1.5 miles or so. Follow the wash as it winds sharply right into a monzonite-walled ravine and gape in awe at the towering outcroppings all around you.

As the wash dead-ends near some cottonwood trees, turn left. Which way to scramble is up to you. When in doubt, follow the stagnant pools and continue ascending, staying right and hugging the sheer boulders. You’ll soon reach a distinctive slot canyon. Look but don’t proceed; it’s only for experienced climbers with proper equipment. Instead, go parallel to the slot on the right. It’s steep but doable.

Soon your narrow path leads you to a plateau where the granite floor flattens and links with some welcome sand. This is also where the slot canyon terminates, and you can enjoy some rock play in and around it. Take the time to ascend the boulder of your choice and gaze at the desert emptiness to the north—phenomenal views that are a just reward for your adventurous spirit.

TIPS: There’s more to see than rocks here! Look for the yellow heads of verdins—a tiny songbird whose claim to fame is not having a close relative—and listen for the croaks of California tree frogs (usually found wedged between boulders near water). Most importantly, look and listen for the canyon’s namesake, being careful when you place your hands and feet in rock crevices.

Take CA-62 past the town of Joshua Tree and turn right at Indian Cove Rd. Follow the road for 2.5 miles to the campground, turning left at the T-intersection. Follow that road for 1.2 miles to the Rattlesnake Canyon turnaround. No dogs.

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Cañada Collage

    This 4.3-mile loop through Cañada Del Oro Open Space Preserve showcases all the highlights of the season, thrumming with wildlife and wildflowers.

  2. The Beauty of Bainbridge Island

    You know a place is special when locals head to it for their in-state vacations. Follow the lead of Seattleites and venture to beautiful Bainbridge Island in the heart of Puget Sound on the Kitsap Peninsula. Hike the Grand Forest here, meet Pia the Peacekeeper, and enjoy tasty food and drinks.

  3. Little Norway

    There aren’t many small towns in America that look and feel like Europe, but Washington State sure seems to have a few! Lesser known among them is Poulsbo on the Kitsap Peninsula. Dubbed “Little Norway,” this hamlet on the waterfront of Liberty Bay is charmed with Scandinavian influence.  

  4. old church on Monterey Path of History

    Path of History Walk (+ Food Bonuses)

    Monterey’s 2-mile yellow tiled, multilingual Path of History is a do-it-yourself stroll among some of the area’s most interesting, beautiful, and culturally significant sites, including through the Old Town, past Mexican-era adobes, and to the beautiful Royal Presidio Chapel.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Sponsored

    A Very Bavarian Spring

    Ready to change up your spring scenery? Pack your bags for this alpine adventure in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains. The Bavarian-style hamlet of Leavenworth could be a stand-in for a mountain village in Europe.

  2. Be Dune-spired!

    There’s only one urban park on the planet that helped inspire a major theme in Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi book, Dune. Herbert was born and raised in Tacoma, and Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park is named in honor of his famous novel—a tribute to one of the book’s main ideas ...

  3. Go Big in Bremerton

    Make your way to the largest city on the Kitsap Peninsula, Bremerton. Best known for its naval and maritime heritage, there’s also plenty of outdoors to explore, including a hidden treasure within the Puget Sound Basin: the Keta Legacy Foundation Rhododendron Preserve.

  4. Dume in Bloom

    During wildflower season, nature puts on a spectacular show, and one the best places to see it is at Point Dume Natural Preserve in Malibu.