Joshua Tree is known for a lot of things: the Dr. Suess-like trees, unique rock formations, bouldering, and epic sunsets in the desert. But in recent years, Joshua Tree mountain biking needs to be added to this list as well.
I’ve known about the small network of trail located just outside the National Park entrance for a while, but I only just recently had time to stop and check it out on my way from California to Arizona. I’m glad I did! While I wouldn’t Joshua Tree a ‘destination’ for mountain biking, it is a pretty fun place to get a spin in if you’re in the area.
The maze of trails features cool rock piles to navigate around, interesting trail routing, and nice views out over the desert landscape. Just bring some wide tires and some extra sealant!
Here’s everything you need to know to plan your Joshua Tree mountain biking ride.
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Getting to the Trails
The Joshua Tree mountain biking trails are located in the Desert View Conservation Area just a few miles south of the town of Joshua Tree. The turn-off is a short way up Quail Spring Road on the way into the Park. You’re looking for Onaga Trail Road.
The 1/4 mile road to the trailhead is dirt and not super well-maintained, but I was fine in my Dodge Ram Promaster van.
There is a gate that gets locked every night at 5pm and opens again at 7am. This is to prevent people from camping at the trailhead. Don’t get locked inside!
There is a small bathroom at the trailhead, but no running water.
Here are the Google driving directions to the trailhead.
What to expect
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first set off onto the trails. I had a feeling that they would be pretty desert-y: lots of cacti lining the trails (check), sandy stretches (check), and not a ton of elevation gain or loss (check).
All those things rang true, but unlike some desert rides I’ve done, the trails here are pretty interesting and well-built.
I was surprised at the slow-speed tech on and around the rock piles (Django is the techiest) as well as the fun, fast descent down Long May You Live.
Overall, I was mildly impressed with the riding here. Is it epic? No. But is it worth a few hours of your time? Yes.
Important Things to Know
As always, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Here are a few good-to-knows should you decide to head out for a ride at Joshua Tree:
- Don’t get locked inside: As I mentioned above, there’s a gate that closes every night at 5pm and opens at 7am.
- There is no water: Bring what you need with you.
- Summer temps can be dangerous: I do not recommend riding Joshua Tree in the summer. Plan your visit for late fall, winter, or early spring.
- Rattlesnakes live here: Give them their space, they don’t want to see you either.
- Wide tires are better: There are more than a few sandy patches that will eat skinny tires. I recommend at least 2.3 or wider. (I rode with 2.4’s).
- Trails are not marked: You will need to follow a route on your bike computer or have TrailForks downloaded to your phone.
- Watch out for the tortoises! I didn’t see any during my ride, but they live here and they have the right of way 🙂
Best trails to ride
You can do pretty much all the trails in one ride if you’d like (that would be maybe 15 miles). But if you’re looking for the best of the best, here are my favorites:
- Long May You Live: This was my favorite trail. A good mix of flow and tech.
- Latte Run: Pretty fun trail with tight switchbacks and slow-speed tech on rocks.
- Sidewinder: Rocky tech with great views.
- Haggis: A super fun, fast, flowy descent.
First time riding in the desert? Check out my trips on how to survive your first mountain bike trip to the desert.
You really only need a day to explore the Joshua Tree mountain biking trails. Here’s the route I rode and thought it did a good job linking everything together and hitting the best trails.
See the route notes below to modify it for your fitness/ability.
Joshua Tree Full Loop
This loop covers pretty much all of the trails at Desert View Conservation Area. The black trails are moderately techy, so if you’re looking for an easier route, see my suggestions below.
Ride it for:
- Joshua trees!
- Rocky tech
- Desert flow
Need to know:
- Watch out for rattlesnakes
- Carry enough water
- There are some technical moves, but nothing with high consequences
- The trails are not signed
Route directions: Trailhead Parking > Out The Gate > Scouts > Sidewinder (or Haggis) > The Luge > Good Manor > Eastside Vista > Latte Run > Eastside Vista > Bad Manor > Backside Cutoff > Long May You Run > Road Back > South Ridge > Chesters > Southridge > Django (or road) > Haggis > Scout’s
Make it easier: Stick to the blues! It’s actually pretty easy to skip the black trails and take a blue instead for most of the route. The hardest trail is Django, but you can take the road instead.
Make it shorter: Here are two options to make your ride shorter:
- Skip Latte Run and take Spike’s Run instead.
- Climb Chesters after Long May You Run instead of the fire road and skip Southridge
Where to camp
I camped at some free dispersed camping about 15 minutes northeast of Joshua Tree off of Sunflower Road. It isn’t pretty, there are some sketchy characters, and there aren’t any facilities, but it is free.
If you’re looking for a paid campsite, there are several Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds, which are relatively close to the mountain bike trails. Some are first-come-first serve while others can be reserved.
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What to Wear & Pack
The mountain biking at Joshua Tree is pretty straightforward, so there’s nothing extra or specific you need to pack other than your mountain bike pack essentials and plenty of water.
If you’re new to mountain biking, check out these posts to help you gear up for your ride:
- What to Wear Mountain Biking
- Mountain Bike Protective Gear
- Mountain Bike Gear Essentials: What you need to get started
Now that you’re armed with the best trails and route recommendations for Joshua Tree mountain biking, it’s time to hit the trails! I hope you enjoy your ride out there.
While it may not be the best mountain biking in California, it’s fun and unique and a great activity to add to your Joshua Tree National Park adventures.
On a California road trip? Check out more great places to ride in the Golden State:
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Have you ridden the Joshua Tree mountain biking trails? What did you think? What questions do you still have? Leave a comment below!