How complete is this guide?
The answer? Not very complete. Like most national parks, this place is pretty big. In fact, you can likely write a book or two about it. If you feel something is missing or needs to be updated, you are welcome to contact us and contribute.
When you think of national parks, chances are that Yellowstone National Park is one of the first things that comes to mind. The iconic landscape of this massive piece of land is synonymous with raw beauty, untouched wilderness areas, and ridiculously amazing landscapes. Throw in the fact that Yellowstone is one of the most seismically active places in the world, and you´ve got the recipe for a truly one of a kind natural experience.
Yellowstone National Park, is a pretty huge place; almost 3,500 square miles to be exact. Trying to plan a weekend getaway or even a weeklong vacation can seem like a pretty tall task with so many different options and attractions. In this complete guide to Yellowstone National Park, we´ll do our best to guide you through all of the different attractions that are available to you and your family so that your next trip to Yellowstone will be unforgettable and unique.
While many of us might think that Yellowstone began once it was formally declared a national park, indigenous people have been living in the park for well over 11,000 years; following the herds of buffalo over the mountains and plains. There are over 1,000 archaeological sites scattered throughout the park giving testament to the rich, anthropological history of the area.
In the early 1800´s, during the Lewis and Clark expedition, John Colter, accidentally got separated from the expedition while off trapping animals. He eventually found his way to what is now a portion of Yellowstone National Park. He suffered through an entire winter in the park occasionally fighting with indigenous tribes that inhabited the area and miraculously survived.
When he eventually made it back to the expedition, he told tales of a place that reeked of fire and brimstone (in apparent allusion to the geysers and seismic activity). The rest of the group thought his tales to be the result of too many months out in nature by himself and playfully referred to the place as “Colter´s Hell.”
During the Civil War, in 1862, the area which now compromises Yellowstone was given over to the Department of the Interior. Ten years later, the U.S. Congress and President Teddy Roosevelt the union general who fought during the Civil War, declared Yellowstone a national park, the first ever national park on a worldwide scale.
Yellowstone National Park gets its name from the nearby Yellowstone River which has its headwaters within the park boundaries. The Yellowstone River was named by a pair of French Trappers who translated the river from the native Hidatsa name for the river, which roughly translates as Rock Yellow River.
Since being founded as a national park, Yellowstone has continued to attract the wonder and fascination of millions of people from around the world.
Yellowstone became a national park on March 1, 1872.
It is the United States first national park and is also considered to be the world´s first national park.
Yellowstone National Park is so large that it actually takes up three different states (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) and is close to 3,500 square miles in size. This makes Yellowstone larger than both Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
Because of how it is located above seismically active tectonic plates, Yellowstone receives anywhere between 1000 and 3000 earthquakes each year!
As a national park, Yellowstone has more active geysers (300) than waterfalls (290).
Yellowstone is home to 67 species of mammals, 285 species of birds, 16 species of fish, 6 species of reptiles, 5 species of amphibians, and more than 7 aquatic nuisance species.
The Canadian lynx and the grizzly bear, both of which are endangered species, find extensive habitat within the park´s boundaries.
Yellowstone has over 450 miles of roads throughout the park allowing you to explore from your car if hiking isn´t your thing.
If you do enjoy hiking, however, you´ll find over 1,000 miles of trails throughout the park.
In 2015, over 4 million people visited Yellowstone, the vast majority during the peak summer months.
Old Faithful, the park´s most famous geyser, gets its name because of the regularity with which it erupts. Every 92 minutes, almost on the dot, Old Faithful will erupt sending up a spout of hot, sulfur-smelling water into the air.
One of the biggest attractions of Yellowstone National Park is the hundreds of geysers that dot the landscape throughout the park. While some of them, like Old Faithful, “erupt” every certain amount of time, others are simply unpredictable, making this land of “fire and brimstone” as it was called by one early explorer, a landscape unlike any other. But what causes Yellowstone to be such a hotbed of seismic activity?
Yellowstone National Park sits on top of the northeastern part of the North American Tectonic Plate. Directly underneath this tectonic plate is a stationary mantle hotspot of lava, magma, and other signs of seismic activity. Since Yellowstone is on the boundary of this plate, there are hundreds of places throughout the park where the hotspot just below the earth´s crust emerges to the surface in the form of geysers, hot springs, and sulfur spouts.
Furthermore, the Yellowstone Caldera is the largest volcanic system in North America, commonly called a “super volcano” because of the strength and frequency of the eruptions. When you´re hiking across Yellowstone, a thin crust of earth and rock is all that separates you from one of the largest magma chambers in the world that is thought to be 37 miles long, 18 miles wide and up to 7 miles deep!
Over half a million years ago, a massive volcanic eruption, over 1,000 times more powerful than the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in nearby Washington, created the current landscape and seismic activity. This eruption was so powerful that many scientists consider that it shaped the weather patterns that characterize our current civilization.
This extremely powerful history has left the landscape of Yellowstone with over 10,000 geothermal features including hotspots, geysers, hot springs and much more. Over 2/3 of the world´s geysers are located within the boundaries of the National Park.
Though you shouldn´t be too concerned, hundreds of scientists in collaboration with the U.S. government have set up a permanent station at Yellowstone to study the possibility of future mega-volcanic explosions. Taking a trip to Yellowstone, then, should be considered an adrenaline pumping experience, knowing that you´re visiting a place that could potentially explode at any minute!
With over a thousand miles of trail and 3,500 square miles of mostly wilderness area, Yellowstone certainly has more than enough areas to explore. While it is hard to narrow down the list of “must-do” hikes to just a few, we´ve attempted to give you list of the top five day hikes at Yellowstone that will introduce you to the incredibly rich and diverse landscape of the park. For more options, be sure to visit the Visitor´s Center once you get to the park, and always check with park rangers since some trails are periodically closed off due to abnormally high geothermal activity.
From the South Rim of the Yellowstone Canyon Area, Uncle Tom´s Trail offers a short but strenuous hike that will give you some fantastic views of some of the best waterfalls in the park. The trail is actually a metal staircase that will take you down 328 steps to the rim of Yellowstone Canyon. The views of the canyon and the Lower falls are spectacular, though the hike back up will certainly tire you out. It´s not every day, however, that you´re able to descend into a steep canyon without the use of ropes and climbing gear.
This 8 mile round trip hike leaves near the Mammoth Campground. If you´re looking for a quality hike that will take you by rivers and creeks, through steep canyons, and also offer quality overlooks, this is the hike for you. If you´re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of a herd of buffalo passing through the river which is a sight definitely worth seeking out.
Just north of Canyon Village, you will be able to find the Mount Washburn Trailhead. This 6.4 mile round tripper is a fairly easy hike with only a few moderate uphill climbs making it a great option for a family hike. There are several sweeping lookout points that will give you access to incredible scenery. These lookout stations are also some of the best places in the park to look for wildlife including grizzly bears, buffalo, and everything in between.
If you make a reservation to see one of Old Faithful´s early eruptions, don´t head back to camp right away. Just north of the Old Faithful Geyser you will find the Fairy Falls trailhead. This easy 5 mile round trip hike will take you very near the Midway Geyser Basin and the Grand Prismatic Spring. The Grand Prismatic Spring is easily the most colorful geyser in the whole park and will remind you of a deserted Caribbean beach, minus the not so lovely smell of sulfur. There is also a new growth forest that can help young children understand the importance of reforestation efforts.
Not every traveler or visitor to Yellowstone is content with the short and fairly easy day hikes. While the day hikes definitely show you some of the most unique features of Yellowstone, they are also usually pretty crowded with tourists, especially during the summer months. If you´re wanting to explore a bit of the less explored areas of Yellowstone, below you´ll find several quality backpacking trips that will take you into the places inhabited by only buffalo and grizzly bears.
The Sky Rim Trail is a one of a kind backcountry trail that traverses the Gallatin Mountain Range in the northwestern part of the park. Bordering the park is the Gallatin National Forest, and this trail takes you right along the edge of the park. The 21 mile round trip is strenuous at times, especially during the summit of the 9,899 foot Big Horn Peak. Once you make it up to the top, however, you´ll be rewarded with some of the best panoramic views the park has to offer, including an uninterrupted view all the way to the Grand Teton National Park which you can see on a clear day.
Another attraction of this trail is the herds of sheep, found appropriately on Sheep Mountain, another moderately difficult summit that you´ll have to cross. Start your trip at the Dailey Creek Trail, and if you plan to spend a night or two camping on the trail, apply for a backcountry permit and seek out the best view for a perfect night. There are frequent afternoon storms, so be careful when picking the best spot for camping.
This is only an 18.5 mile hike, but the scenery is so astounding that you will want to stretch it into a day or two hike. Also located in northeastern Yellowstone which is one of the least developed parts of the park, this trail starts at the Thunderer Cutoff trail before taking you through the Cache Creek drainage all the way to the Lamar River where you´ll meet up with the relatively easy Lamar Creek Trail.
This trail is only meant for serious backpackers as you´ll spend a little bit of time off the trail through creek beds, but is well worth it if you have some basic navigational skills. Just before you make it to the Lamar River, you´ll be able to see Death Gulch, which is a geothermal basin for Wahb Springs. If you want to (carefully) explore some of the geothermal activity of the park on your own, this is a great opportunity.
Near the Cache Creek and Lamar River you have a pretty good chance of running into herds of bison as well, so make sure to be on the lookout for all sorts of wildlife.
This 20 mile backpacking trip will take you into a different part of Yellowstone which may make you feel like you´re in a completely different ecosystem. The thick grasslands of the Central Plateau of Yellowstone are the favorite abode of the herds of bison, and you might find that you run into a traffic jam of buffalo during your trip.
For adventure seekers who have always wanted to look for a grizzly bear in the wild, this is most likely the best place to do it. Fatal bear attacks have occurred in this area, so take precaution and make lots of noise to alert the bears of your presence.
This unique trail starts in the grasslands, rises through thick pine forest before taking you to Mary Lake, a charming small mountain lake which is synonymous with true wilderness.
You don´t have to venture into the wilderness to brave the bears and bison in order to enjoy Yellowstone. There are dozens of family oriented and family centered activities that make Yellowstone a great place for a memorable family vacation. Below we´ll explore four different activities that can be enjoyed in family and leave your kids with lifelong memories of the beauty of this one of a kind national park.
Without a doubt, one of the best attractions of Yellowstone for young kids is seeing the super-hot and sulfur-smelling water erupt hundreds of feet into the air in the form of geysers. A child´s imagination can run wild when contemplating these truly unique spectacles along with boiling mud pots, steam vents, and hot springs that look like a tropical beach.
The Upper Geyser Basin has the highest amount and concentration of geothermal features anywhere in the park (and in the world, for that matter). A nice boardwalk makes for an easy path allowing kids to see the unique geothermal features while also keeping them at a safe distance. Midway Geyser Basin is home to the world´s largest hot spring and is also a family friendly place to stop.
Though you might not want to take young kids for a cycling tour on the paved roads that you´ll have to share with cars, Yellowstone National Park also has hundreds of miles of dirt roads that are open to mountain biking.
Blacktail Plateau Drive is a sweet seven mile trip through meadows, mountains and forests and will definitely get you some great opportunities for wildlife sighting. Another good family ride to consider is the 5 mile cruise along the Old Gardiner road which is graveled. This old road is the best place in the park to spot elk and pronghorn which might be a bit safer for young kids that going into the heart of grizzly country.
There are several places around the park where you can rent bikes, including near the Old Faithful Geyser which allows you to explore some of the geothermal activity in the area from the safety of your bike.
If you´re not a huge fan of pedaling, signing up for a horseback riding trip is the quintessential family activity, and you´d be hard pressed to find better scenery for a trip that at Yellowstone National Park. The wide open meadows and plains of Yellowstone make it a perfect place for a horseback ride and can get younger children a higher vantage point to spot distant wildlife and appreciate the views.
There are a number of horseback riding outfits in and around the park, and you could even sign up for a covered wagon ride so that you and your family can get the true Wild West historical experience. Most horse operations require children to be at least eight years old to sign up, so make sure to plan accordingly.
Trying to hold on to your tube while going through a class five rapid might not sound like a great family activity, but the rivers that run through Yellowstone National Park have a number of easy to moderate rapids that are family friendly. The Yellowstone River, Madison River, and Snake Rivers all offer cool rafting expeditions, with the Snake River being the most intense of the three.
Some rafting companies even offer complete packets that combine zip lines with white water rafting adventures; a perfect combination for family fun.
There simply isn´t enough space here to list ALL the great things to do and places to explore around Yellowstone. One of the most unique aspects of this park is that its natural biodiversity allows it to offer all different types of activities for different people. While the vast majority of visitors to the park stick to the most well-known attractions, getting “off the beaten path” and doing things that most visitors would never think of is a way to make your Yellowstone trip stand apart from the rest. Below you´ll find a couple of quality options to spice up your trip to Yellowstone.
Old Faithful is arguably the park´s most well-known and famous feature. Especially during the summer months, thousands of people line up to see it´s timed explosions. The park has even built bleachers too help accommodate the crowds but if you don´t get there on time, chances are that you´ll be trying to see the eruption over the head of someone in front of you.
For a more “private” showing of and Old Faithful eruption, simply walk around to the back of the geyser along the boardwalk. From there, you can leisurely hang your feet over the boardwalk and watch Old Faithful erupt without all the fanfare of hundreds of other tourists crowded around you.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is another favorite for tourists, along with the beautiful Upper and Lower Falls at the canyon. Instead of trying to meditate on the beauty of nature while surrounded by hundreds of talkative tourists, try this alternative, little-known path to get a view with solitude of the Canyon and the falls.
From the Upper Falls parking lot, walk left of the overlook (most of the crowds just go to the overlook). A short trail over two wooden bridges will get you a beautiful view of the upper fall complete with rainbows and mist. Best of all is that you will most likely have the place all to yourself.
While most of the thermal pools around Yellowstone are so hot that they´d end up giving your third degree burns, there is one gem of a pool that allows you to swim in it comfortably. Not many tourists know of this tiny, thermal pool, but it´s only a ten minute drive from Mammoth.
Head north until you reach a sign that says “welcome to Montana.” There, park on the right side of the road where you see a trailhead. Only 1/3 of a mile up the path you will find the Boiling River which is (as its name implies) a thermal river that is boiling hot. Though you can´t bathe there, a couple more minutes up the path and you´ll find that the Boiling River flows into the Gardiner River (which is a regular cold water river.
Where these two rivers meet you´ll find a perfect mix of hot and cold waters and steam rising up around you. This unique thermal pool is truly a one of a kind Yellowstone experience.
If you are wanting to get a National Geographic-esque wildlife picture while at Yellowstone, Mud Volcano offers you a great chance for a great shot. Herds of buffalo usually enjoy the Yellowstone River near Mud Volcano, and a couple of geysers rising out of the river banks are also a place the bison go to warm up. Getting a shot of these majestic animals while geothermal steam rises up around them with the Yellowstone River in the background is definitely Instagram worthy.
The vast majority of tourists show up to Yellowstone during the summer months and for good reason. The summer weather at Yellowstone averages a comfortable 75 degrees and offers long days of sunlight. At the same time, all the park attractions are open (unless unexpected geothermal activity is occurring). The downside of visiting Yellowstone during the summer, however, is the crowds which can be suffocating, especially at some of the most famous attractions such as Old Faithful.
In the spring months of April and May, you´ll be able to miss the biggest crowds, though the weather is unpredictable. Temperatures can rise into the 60´s, but a snowfall isn´t out of the question either. Some of the main roads will probably be closed until mid April meaning that some things will be off limits. However, the beauty of watching the park emerge from its winter hibernation is well worth the extra cold.
Early fall time is our recommendation for the best time to visit Yellowstone. The weather is still decent while the main summer crowds will have started to diminish. It´s also a great time to see certain types of wild flowers while the bison and other wildlife will just out foraging before the winter months hit.
Winter at Yellowstone is a treat for adrenaline seekers. Be forewarned that the park experiences heavy snowfall and bitter cold. However, if you come prepared, you´ll get the deepest type of solitude and some truly magnificent winter scenery.
There aren´t many places in our world where you can go and say that you were walking around the mouth of a super volcano ready to erupt at any moment. Yellowstone National Park offers visitors a unique perspective of the geothermal activity going on just below the earth´s crust. At the same time, Yellowstone is a place alive with herds of bison, elk and pronghorn and one of the best places in the lower 48 states to see a grizzly bear.
In this complete guide to Yellowstone National Park, we´ve done our best to choose some of the best hikes, backpacking trips, family activities, and other unique activities to make your Yellowstone experience truly unforgettable.
Welcome to our guide about Joshua Tree National park. Just a quick note before we get started:
How complete is this guide?...
Like most national parks, this place is pretty big. In fact, you can likely write a book or two about it. If you feel something is missing or needs to be updated, you are welcome to contact us and contribute.
When we think of national parks, the first image that comes to mind is that of pristine mountain lakes, towering mountain ranges, and roaring rivers where all sorts of wildlife find an abundant habitat. Very rarely do we consider an arid desert to be the representation of an unspoiled natural area.
Nonetheless, deserts are unique ecosystems that offer home and habitat to thousands of different types of flora and fauna. And despite their apparent harshness, many deserts around the world are actually fragile ecosystems that warrant protection and preservation.
The Joshua Tree National Park is one of the nation´s largest desert areas that is officially protected by the U.S. government. Spanning an area that is larger than the state of Rhode Island, this desert paradise offers a whole range of outdoors activities, from desert hiking to star gazing.
In this complete guide to the Joshua Tree National Park, we give you all the information you need to plan a one of a kind trip to one of our nation´s most unique ecosystems.
Joshua Tree National Park officially became a national park only a little over two decades ago. However, it has been a National Monument since the 1930´s. The park is named for the Joshua tree, Yucca Brevifolia in Latin, an inimitable desert tree that is appears to be a hybrid between a palm tree and a cactus. The abundance of these increasingly rare trees in the National Park may make you feel like you´re in the middle of a scenery painted by the famous children´s author Dr. Seuss.
Minerva Hoyt was one of the United States first female environmental activists and spent her life struggling to protect the desert areas of her native southern California. Despite her concerted efforts to protect the area now known as Joshua Tree National Park, over 250,000 acres of the park were given over to mining interests in the 1950´s.
However, when the park became a park in 1994 due to the signing of the Desert Protection Act by the U.S. Congress, most of those acres were reincorporated into the protected area of the park.
The park has over 790,000 acres, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island
Over half of the Joshua Tree National Park is a designated wilderness area waiting to be explored by desert lovers
The famous band “U2” has an album named after the national park´s namesake: The Joshua Tree
The name “Joshua Tree” was given by early Mormon settlers who thought that the tree looked like the biblical character of Joshua who raised his hands to the heavens
In Spanish, the tree is called “izote del desierto”, roughly translated as desert dagger
Joshua trees are an indicator species that designate an area as a desert
The Joshua Tree National Park is unique in that it encompasses two distinct desert ecosystems: the Colorado Desert which is a lowland desert and the higher Mojave Desert which is over 3,000 feet in elevation
Over 2.5 million people visited the park in 2016
Despite officially being a desert ecosystem, the Little Bernandino Mountains run through a part of the park and can occasionally receive snow fall during the winter months
Geologists estimate that the rock formations in the park are well over 100 million years old
There are also several oases located throughout the parks where lush green vegetation contrasts sharply with the dryness of the surrounding landscape
One of the most interesting and fascinating aspects of Joshua Tree National Park and desert ecosystems in general is their unique geology, ecology and botany. While most people are under the impression that deserts are harsh, cruel environments where few forms of life exist, deserts are actually teeming with different forms of life that have adapted over the course of millions of years to the specific climatic conditions.
From a Geographical standpoint, the national park is unique in that while all of the park is considered to be a desert, it is actually made up of two very distinct desert ecosystems. The Mojave Desert is higher and significantly cooler than the Colorado desert which is much lower. It is in this higher desert where the Joshua Tree best grows.
The eastern part of the park is where you will find the lower and hotter Colorado Desert. This desert ecosystem has much less Joshua trees and more typical desert type flora including desert scrub and cacti.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Joshua Tree National Park are the unique rock formations that can be found around the park. Visitors often describe the rock strewn landscape as otherworldly with comparisons to Martian and Lunar landscapes common.
Geologists estimate that the unique rock formations scattered around the park were formed over 100 million years ago as molten lava boiled up to the earth´s surface and cooled just before the earth´s surface. This eventually formed a type of granite rock called monzogranite where a bizarre collection of rectangular joints, slow erosion, and ground water percolation eventually created these massive rock formations that continue to fuel our imagination.
Though it may be hard to imagine, the geology of the national park was also formed by flash floods and times of wetter climate when rain and rivers also contributed to the slow erosion of the rock faces.
While most travelers come to the park to see the oddly formed, Dr. Seuss-reminiscent Joshua Tree, there are dozens of other unique plant species that make up the botany of the park. Among the rock outcroppings, especially in the cooler Mojave Desert, you can find desert tree species such piñon pine, Juniper and a number of desert oak trees that are hard to find in almost any other part of the world.
The lower desert in the south and east parts of the park has large sand dunes, cacti and other scrub bush. Native California palm trees, called Fan Palms, occur throughout the park where oases form.
Without a doubt, one of the main attractions for nature lovers who come to Joshua Tree National park is the fairly large network of hiking trails. If you are worried about hiking into a desert for a multi-day trip, there are also a number of nature trails and short day hikes that will give you a unique insight into the desert reality.
Below we look at the top five trails in the park, three of which are longer hikes and two shorter hikes that pretty much anyone can handle.
This three mile round trip hike is a good middle ground for people who want a little more desert exposure than what you can get on the nature trails, but aren´t quite ready to haul with them several gallons of water into the desert night.
This trail also will allow you to explore the oasis ecosystem where the contrast with the dry desert surroundings will make you feel as if you have found a Garden of Eden. The unique Californian Fan Palms surround the oasis where, especially during certain times of the year, you will even be able to find standing water. Imagine taking a swim in the middle of the desert!
The hike to the oasis is moderately strenuous, but you should be able to find abundant wildlife, especially a number of unique bird species that populate the oases in the park.
Not all oases are the same, and the 7.2 mile hike to the Lost Palms Oasis is significantly different than the previous hike we reviewed. This hike starts at the Cottonwood Spring, which is an oasis in itself that is worth seeing. This spring has been used for hundreds of years, starting with the Cahuilla indigenous group that lived in the region prior to western settlement.
From the Cottonwood spring, a fairly easy hike through the desert will take you to a spectacular overlook of the Lost Palms Oasis. From there, you can choose to wander into the oasis which is actually situated within a canyon.
For more adventurous hikers, some boulder scrambling can be found nearby at Victory Palms and Munsen Canyon. This hike can take anywhere between 4-6 hours (and more if you decide to explore other nearby areas) so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen with you. If you have some simple purification equipment, you can refill your water supply at the oasis.
Be on the lookout for bobcats and mountain lions as several visitors have claimed that the Lost Palms Oasis is a prime spot for spotting these hard to find cats.
If you are wanting a true desert adventure that can be turned into an overnight experience, the Boy Scout Trail is the hike for you. At just over 16 miles round trip, this hike isn´t for novices, and you will have to carry with you a fair amount of water.
This unique trail passes through the Wonderland of Rocks, which offers seemingly endless vistas of the unique, otherworldly rock formations that dot the park. This trail is also shared by horseback riders, so if a member of your family isn´t keen on hiking through the desert on their own two legs, you should be able to rent a horse for the day as well.
Spending the night under the desert sky is an experience that should not be missed, and the Boy Scout Trail is perhaps the best place in the park for an overnight trip. Any number of rock outcroppings along the trail offers a quality desert shelter. Make sure to check out the Backcountry Board once you get to the park to find information on overnight use for this trail.
For less avid hikers who still want to get the desert experience, the Hidden Valley Nature Walk is a great alternative. Much shorter than the previous three trails, this one mile loop trail will take you among massive boulders and offers vistas of a number of desert panoramas.
Because this valley is situated in between the two desert ecosystems, visitors to this trail will be able to observe pretty much every type of tree that grows in the park. From the infamous Joshua trees, to piñon pine, Juniper, desert oak trees, cacti and scrub brush, this trail will give you the full park experience in only one mile of hike.
The large rock formations are also a popular destination for mountain climbers and you´re bound to find a number of climbers hanging perilously from the sides of rock faces. This makes for an interesting side attraction. A nearby campground is also available year round.
If you are looking for the best place to enjoy spectacular desert panoramic views and sunsets, look no further than Ryan Mountain. At 5,456 feet, Ryan Mountain towers over the rest of the landscape. The relative lack of vegetation on top of the mountain allows for spectacular vistas of the surrounding desert.
While the hike to the top is only a mile and a half long you will be ascending over 1,000 feet, making it a moderately strenuous hike. The views of the Pinto Basin and the Lost Horse Valley are well worth the climb, and the sunsets from the summit turn the surrounding desert landscape into a blaze of intense colors.
While the hiking trails throughout the park are undoubtedly one of the main attractions in the park, there are also a number of high adrenaline climbing activities. Since none of the rock formations are very tall (most of them are actually under 200 feet in height), the climbs aren´t very long.
There are, however, varying degrees of difficulty, and you can design your own climbing circuit throughout the park. There are over 400 different objects to be scaled in the park, and thousands of potential routes.
If climbing isn´t your thing, you can also find places around the park for bouldering. Below we look at three of the best places to get the adrenaline flowing on the rocks. All three of these climbs are easily accessible from Quail Springs.
While the name doesn´t sound classy, this popular crag has a number of different routes for all levels of expertise. The more commonly climbed west face is great for beginners, and can be mastered with even the minimum of training and experience. The eastern face of the rock, however, presents significant challenges.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are not permanent anchors at Trashcan Rock so you will need to bring along your gear anchors. Also, if you´re looking for a bit of solitude on your climb, don´t come during the weekend when the rock is almost always filled with amateur climbers.
This rock face is actually composed of two separate rocks with a narrow canyon in between. History tells us that it used to be the site of a long since abandoned mining camp. To get to Hound Rocks, you´ll need to drive to the Quail Springs parking lot, and then follow a simple path over some sand dunes.
The two best routes on this climb are named the “right Baskerville Crack” and “Tossed Green.” Both of these receive a good amount of sun early in the morning. If you´re looking to stay cool during your climb consider adding this climb to your route during the afternoon hours.
If you are looking for a place to prepare for a bigger climb, say at Yosemite National Park, then the White Cliffs of Dover offer a quality training grounds. The White Cliffs of Dover have a number of features that are pretty similar to the legendary granite rock faces at Yosemite.
The cracks and corners on the climb will prepare you for what you´ll find if you are preparing for Half Dome or El Capitan in Yosemite. Furthermore, this is one of the only areas in the park where you´ll find smooth, fine grained granite. Most of the other rocks don´t have the smoothness because of the desert climate.
While mountain biking or hiking, there are also a number of other great activities that you can incorporate into your planned trip to Joshua Tree National Park. The unique desert ecosystem offers a number of unique opportunities for activities such as birding, mountain biking, and four wheel driving. For people who live in cities or other urban places with massive amounts of light pollutions, the desert nights and the dark sky also make amateur astronomy a great enjoyment for the whole family.
For bird watchers, the idea of finding a plethora of species in the desert might sound counterintuitive. From experience, most birders know that the majority of bird species flock to places where there is an abundance of water and tree habitat, no exactly what you would expect to find in the desert. Nonetheless, Joshua Tree National Park is home to over 250 species of birds, many of them rare species who only live in harsh desert climates.
The several oases around the park provide needed refuge and habitat for several species of birds who find themselves “trapped” by desert on every side. In many ways, the relatively small spaces of oases make birdwatching almost too easy, as you´ll likely see dozens of different species during any visit.
If you are looking for some of the rarer desert species such as greater road runner, the cactus wren, or several different types of mockingbirds, they are also quite prevalent throughout the different areas of the park. Some of the rarest species that birders come to look for include the ladder backed woodpecker and the oak titmouse.
Since most of the bird species can be found most easily around an oasis, you can combine a hike to one of the oases, with a planned overnight backcountry trip where you will be able to search for birds during the evenings and early mornings.
For many folks who come from the city, one of the most awe inspiring sights in Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t have to do with anything that is actually in the park, but what is above it during the night. While most of southern California is infamously renowned for its massive amounts of light pollution and smog that essentially block out the lights from the stars. Joshua Tree National Park is far enough away from the urban area to escape these phenomena.
Furthermore, the desert night usually produces clear skies with very few clouds and very little humidity or other forms of interference. For these reasons, the park is also a favorite for astronomers and star gazers.
According to the Bortle Dark Sky scale, the park has a dark sky rating of 3-4, which is significantly darker than most other places around the country. Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and some simple sky maps to help you navigate the constellations. If you can plan your trip around a known meteor shower, you´ll find it difficult to sleep while watching hundreds of falling starts rip across the massive sky above you.
Joshua Tree National Park is also a great spot for people looking for a mountain biking or four wheel driving adventure. While there are several paved roads throughout the park, there are much more relatively solitary backcountry roads that the park allows 4 wheel drive vehicles to enter. Make sure you stay on the road, whether you´re on a bike or in a truck since tracks in the desert can last for years and disrupt the vulnerable desert ecosystems.
Below we look at three backcountry roads that are great for either a mountain biking trip or a four wheel drive experience.
This twenty mile road is a challenge for mountain bikers. It takes you deep into a canyon and then through flood plains. The soft sand might be a challenge to pull your bike or car through, so come prepared for some tough terrain.
This backcountry trip is an adventure and a geology lesson all wrapped into one. The roughly 18 mile round trip has 16 stops along the way to help novices understand the subtle differences in the fascinating rock formations that you´ll be seeing. Make sure to bring along an informative brochure that explains each of the 16 stops so you´ll know what you´re witnessing in geological terms.
For a different route consider the Black Eagle Mine Road. This route will take you through the Eagle mountains, through several different dry washes, and along the Pinto basin. After nine miles or so you will leave the park, but the road continues where you´ll find remnants of several old, abandoned mines.
Just a quick tip from a reader, you should book a campsite months in advance. Even during the week, during peak season.
The best time of year to visit the park really depends on what you are looking for and wanting to do. For hikers, one of the main attractions is finding wildflowers bloom in the desert, a unique experience in itself. In order to see the flowers, however, you will have to plan a trip in the late fall.
If you want to avoid the crowds, the winter months are the best though the desert can get cold and even experience snowfall at the higher elevations. For milder temperatures to avoid heat exhaustion while exploring the desert, your best bet is to visit during the early spring. No matter when you come, however, Joshua Tree National Park always has something to offer.
It goes without saying that those who visit national parks do so to satiate a pull towards nature. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to be mindful of the wildlife surrounding you and remind yourself that you are visitors in their home.
Tortoises are frequently were killed by negligent drivers. Park officials have advised drivers to look out for large boulders or rocks that could actually be tortoises, PLEASE BE CAREFUL
The urgency to protect these tortoises comes from their status as a threatened species, but an increase in their deaths could lead to having them put on the endangered list. As spring blooms increase, so does the presence of hungry tortoises. Be sure to do your part in keeping these tortoises safe in their natural habitat.
While taking the path less traveled can seem appealing for many reasons, it also carries with it several dangers. Here are some tips to maneuver the unbeaten trail:
Do your research, plan your route, and study your map beforehand.
Consider factors such as weather, wildlife, and terrain.
Be over-prepared for “what if” situations. If you twist an ankle off trail and your one-day hike suddenly turns into a two-day hike, will you have enough food and water to sustain yourself?
Be honest with yourself: are you fit enough to handle the trail? Know your limits and start off small.
The amount of water you carry should be dictated by the time of year. Pre-hydration is essential, so drink at least 1 liter before starting your hike. Water filters can cut the amount of water you carry, but this depends on how many sources of water you will come across.
Familiarize yourself with the wildlife that inhabits the park. This includes being prepared for mosquitos and storing your food safely from rodents.
Take extra precautions. It’s fairly common for people to mistake soft terrain for solid ground, lose their footing, and fall several feet off path. This could lead to serious injuries coupled with being out of range of other hikers and park rangers, delaying rescue time.
When considering off trail hiking, be sure to stay within park restrictions. In many cases, off trail hikers who were rescued from accidents were found in restricted areas. On top of having to pay for medical bills, they were written citations for breaking park rules. Off trail hiking not only puts you in danger, but it also puts the lives of rescuers in danger as well.
The risks that come with off trail hiking automatically increase if you are hiking off trail alone. The intimacy with nature that comes with solo hiking is understandable, and while many can advise you against hiking off trail alone, the decision is ultimately yours.
Leave an itinerary with someone back home including the date and time you expect to get back.
Consider investing in a GPS device, but don’t rely too heavily on it.
Always have a map and compass for guidance.
Check in with park rangers along the way.
The biggest dangers that come with off trail hiking are getting lost and getting injured, but with enough preparation, it is possible to successfully execute an off trail hike.
Without a doubt, Joshua Tree National Park offers a unique desert geography, otherworldly geological rock formation, spectacular hiking trails, high adrenaline climbing and mountain biking paths, and so much more. For a truly authentic desert experience, look no further than Joshua Tree National Park.
The first effort to protect the area that is now Yosemite National Park was actually done by President Abraham Lincoln (a pretty influential person in American history) who signed a bill to protect parts of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa grove of Sequoia trees.
John Muir, one of the best known American environmentalists, loved exploring the vast wilderness areas of northern California. The destruction of subalpine meadows around Yosemite Valley lead Muir into a prolonged struggle to protect the area which eventually lead to Yosemite becoming the nation´s second National Park (after Yellowstone) in 1890.
Even though the park was protected by the national government, the city of San Francisco, California had long been planning to dam the Tuolomne River as a source of drinking water and hydroelectric power for the city. Despite another long, political struggle (with Muir again at the forefront), the river was eventually damned. There are still efforts underway today to recover the natural state of the Tuolomne River which runs through the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
When it comes to any large place, it's hard to say the guide is "complete" - many of the places we write about can have a book (or even books) written about them.
We do our best to visit, write, research, about all the places on this site. But alas, there are only so many hours in one day.
That said, if you want to contribute, or feel something somethign is incorrect, feel free to contact us to help make this guide a better places on the interwebs.
Yosemite gets around 4 million visitors each year
The vast majority of those visitors never go beyond Yosemite Valley, a beautiful valley that only makes up 1% of the parks total area
Over 95% of Yosemite National Park is considered to be wilderness area.
Yosemite is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Yosemite Falls, the parks biggest waterfall, falls 2,425 feet making it one of the tallest waterfalls in the world
The park has an elevation range that ranges from 2,127 to 13,114 feet
The original name for Yosemite was “Ahwahnee”, a term used by local indigenous people which meant “Big Mouth”
The park gets its name from another indigenous group (the Yohhe'meti) that lived in the region before being driven out by the U.S. army during the “Indian Wars”
Yosemite Valley has been inhabited for close to 3,000 years, a remarkable fact when considering the continued ecological health of the region
In 2016, over 5 million people visited Yosemite National Park
Among other attractions, Yosemite has 1600 miles of streams, 350 miles of roads, and 800 miles of hiking trails
Yosemite National Park is a land of extremely diverse topography and landscapes. The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (https://pubs.usgs.gov/dds/dds-43/) was fundamental in mapping out the entire Sierra Nevada ecosystem where Yosemite is located and offers us an abundance of information regarding the natural wonders of Yosemite.
One of the best known features of Yosemite are the massive granite cliffs that rise throughout the park. “El Capitan” and Half Dome are two of the most easily recognizable (and most sought out by mountain climbers).
These granite cliffs began forming around ten million years ago when geological forces caused the Sierra Nevada to lift up and tilt to its side. This caused steep eastern slopes where much of Yosemite is located.
During one Ice Age, around one million years ago, glaciers dominated the high alpine meadows in the region. Scientists imagine that the ice around what is today Yosemite National Park might have been upwards of 4,000 feet thick, more than ¾ a mile thick. When that mass of ice began to slide downwards off the mountain, it carved out the U-shaped valley which is today called Yosemite Valley, the most famous part of the park.
Yosemite also has over 300 species of vertebrate animals in the park. Black bears, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and the grey wolf are some of the most sought after animals by tourists, though catching a glimpse of the grey wolf takes a considerable amount of patience and good luck.
Yosemite also has three separated and isolated groves of Sequoia Forest, which are home to some of the largest trees in the world. Outside the sequoia groves, the majority of the vegetation is made up of coniferous forest. Over 225,000 acres of old growth forest still remain standing and intact in Yosemite National Park, one of the few areas in the continental United States where old growth forest remains.
If you don’t mind the crowds of picture taking tourists, visiting Yosemite Valley in the peak summer months is the way to go. You won’t get any sort of solitude and seclusion, but it can be fun to share the beauty of the valley with others. If, however, you want a more unique Yosemite experience, you will want to consider alternative times to visit the park.
To avoid the crowds in Yosemite Valley, you will have to avoid the summer peak period of June to August all together. However, if you want to explore the other 99% of the park outside the Valley, you can pretty much go any time during the year.
Spring time is by far one of the best times to visit the park. School hasn’t let out for the summer meaning that you’ll miss most of the family vacations. Furthermore, the relatively chilly nights will keep other tourists away.
The snowmelt is at its peak meaning that the waterfalls will be gushing and if you time your trip right, you will also be greeted by a mosaic of wildflowers throughout the park.
When most people think of Yosemite National Park, the first thing that comes to mind is the image of adrenaline seeking mountain climbers hanging off of the sheer granite face of Half Dome. While they certainly are fun to watch, that´s not exactly a family friendly activity. Taking on a 4,000 foot incline to make it to the top of Yosemite Falls with two toddlers also makes for quite a strenuous hike that isn´t exactly made for families.
If you have small children or a large family, there´s no reason to put off a vacation to Yosemite until the kids are grown and off to college. There are dozens of family friendly activities all throughout the park. From panning for gold in a pristine mountain river to enjoying easy nature hikes, we´ve got all the information you need to plan a quality family vacation to one of America´s most iconic national parks.
What could be more unique than taking your tiny children to stare up into the canopy of the massive sequoias. One of the pleasures of being a parent is watching your children explore the natural world and express their awe and wonder and what they see around them.
Children love to explore the relatively easy trails throughout the two different groves of Sequoias in Yosemite National Park, and are encouraged to touch and explore the gigantic trees. At the very least, it will make for a great photo opportunity.
The Merced River is a great river for family fun. Unlike other mountain rivers with their quick currents and rapids, the Merced flows peacefully throughout Yosemite Valley. The relatively shallow areas with large sandy beaches make it a great place for a family picnic, some fun mini-tubing practice, and a chance to cool off from the warm summer temperatures.
You can also give your kids a history lesson on the California Gold Rush, as bits of gold can still be found in the Merced River. Read up on how to pan for gold, bring along some basic equipment, and see if your children can find some gold specks in the river sand.
An essential part of visiting the beautiful areas of our nation´s national parks is also teaching our children about the importance of protecting these pristine areas. Yosemite has a fantastic Junior Ranger program that is both educational and participative. Your kids will have to fill out a workbook on the park, learn about some of the park´s wildlife, and do a “service project” to help keep the park clean in order to earn their badge.
Just because your kids aren´t able or willing to endure a grueling 10 mile hike up to the top of Half Dome doesn´t mean that you can´t enjoy the stunning panoramic views that Yosemite offers. A short drive up to Glacier Point can be done with your kids which will offer you unbelievable views of the surrounding valley and most recognizable mountains.
For a real stunning experience, consider driving up around sunset during the full moon phase to watch the sun set and the moon rise. You can also enjoy a unique opportunity for star gazing at Glacier Point to get your kids interested in the heavens above.
These are just a few of the activities that you and your family can enjoy while at Yosemite, but there are virtually unlimited amounts of activities that you can plan for the entire family. Ask the ranger station for other ideas for family centered activities at the park and you´ll soon find that your kids won´t ever want to leave.
If you can’t make it to Yosemite in the spring, don’t fret. Each of the four seasons in Yosemite offers truly magical sights. The sunny, summer days are rightfully a crowd favorite, and if you don’t like cool temperatures, the warm, dry air is perfect for hiking and getting the best views.
Fall time in Yosemite also offers a way to avoid the crowds since most people stop visiting after Labor Day. The crisp night air often times drives out the summer haze leading to beautiful panoramic views. There is no better time of year to go stargazing at Yosemite than in September or October.
Though many of the parks roads close in winter time, the park service does regularly plow Glacier Point Road up to Badger Pass. Driving up to the pass after a night of snow fall will offer a magical glimpse of Yosemite´s winter wonders.
Furthermore, if you can make it to Yosemite in February, you will get to watch the Firefall, one of the most amazing natural phenomena in the world. The setting sun at that time of year is at such an angle that the sun illuminates Horsetail Falls in such a way that the falls glow orange and red while the sun sets.
With 1,200 square miles, Yosemite is a backpacker and hikers dream. Since the majority of the crowds never leave Yosemite Valley which only makes up 1% of the park, you should be able to find plenty of solitude and untouched, natural beauty, whether that be on the cliffs of a high granite peak or in an unexplored valley.
Below we offer our five best hikes for true nature lovers. Four of these hikes are day hikes while one can be done as an overnighter.
This 17 mile round trip hike isn’t for folks who are out of shape. If you think that you have the energy and the stamina to make it up one of the largest granite rocks in the world, however, you will be rewarded with a once in a lifetime experience.
To begin your hike you will go by past two gorgeous waterfalls, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, before hiking through thick pine forest. As you approach the top of the granite dome, you will have to pull yourself up with the aid of granite steps (think stairway of hell) and wire cables.
Once you make it to the top, however, the views are otherworldly with sweeping panoramas of Yosemite Valley and the surrounding landscape. You do need a permit to do this day hike so plan in advance.
If you make it Yosemite, you have to at least to try to climb up to the top of North Americas highest waterfall. The upper Yosemite Falls hike is a 7.2 mile round trip hike, though be warned that the majority of the trail is made up of steep, gruesome switchbacks.
Once you make it to the top of the falls, however, you will have gorgeous views of Half Dome and parts of the Yosemite Valley. You will also be able to say that you were at the headwaters of the largest waterfall on the continent.
If you are looking for a less strenuous hike, Taft Point is a relatively easy 2.2 mile round trip hike that takes you to the edge of Yosemite Valley and offers breathtaking views of the park’s main attractions.
You will also get to travel by deep cracks or crevices in the rock that extend several hundred feet downwards, displaying the geological and seismological activity of the park.
If you have never walked through a towering sequoia forest, it truly is a one of a kind experience that makes you see your life in perspective and consider your relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things.
There are a number of different trails leading through the forest, but you should definitely try and see the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree, two of the most iconic giants.
Nothing is quite so pleasant as spending the night camping in the wilderness on the shores of a pristine mountain lake. The Ostrander Lake trail isn’t as popular as some of Yosemite’s other trails, but that is what makes it so desirable.
If you are looking for great wilderness solitude, this 12.7 mile round trip hike will take you through meadows and prairies before climbing steeply to the Lake. You will also be gifted with breathtaking views of the Clark Mountain Range. Make sure to get a back country permit at the park offices before heading out to camp for the night.
Another fantastic overnighter to get away from the crowds is a hike through Sentinel Meadows. Besides offering fantastic views of pristine meadows and wildflowers, you also have your best bet of viewing grizzly bears along this trail.
The Sentinel Meadows Trail is managed by the Firehole Bear Management Area and is closed until Memorial Day Weekend every year. Once it opens, however, you have a pretty good chance of sighting a grizzly bear or two. Make sure to use precaution, but enjoy the adventure.
For folks who are looking for more of an adrenaline rush than what hiking offers, there are a number of opportunities to mountain climb throughout the park. Yosemite is often considered to be a mountain climbers dream with numerous sheer granite cliffs and vertical faces over 3,000 feet high.
Below we offer some advice on two of the best climbs for adrenaline junkies. Make sure to check for any closures before planning your trip as the park often times unexpectedly closes a route for restoration. Also, if you are looking for guided mountain climbing trips, consider Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides (http://www.symg.com/trips/rockclimbing/)
This monster of a climb is one of the best crack climbs you can find. It is also a relatively easy climb for beginners since it is basically a manufactured climb with plenty of pin scars making it easy to find your way to the top.
Climbing half dome is on every mountain climber´s bucket list. The granite face of Half Dome looks almost unclimbable from the base, but once you get started, you will find it impossible to turn around. During your ascent, there are a number of places where curious hikers will admire your insanity as you take the “short cut” to the top.
You will need a partner and lots of problem solving ability to be able to master this climb though most of the climbing in itself is actually moderate if you pick the right route.
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The incredibly varied landscape of Yosemite offers so many different, unique views and adventure activities that pretty much anyone find something they love. From meandering through groves of giant Sequoias to climbing up a sheer granite face, Yosemite National Park is one place that everyone should visit.
Has this article got you thinking about Camping? Remember to keep your food fresh & drinks cool with our recommended camping coolers. Check our guide it before you plan your next trip. We think you'll enjoy it.