Climb the elephant
Mastadon Peak is a short loop in Joshua Tree National Park. One of the most beautiful and stunning Parks in the NPS in my opinion. The fact that Joshua Tree is not visited by the crowds seen at the Grand Canyon, or Yellowstone adds to the experience. One beautiful park, plus minimal visitors equals a great place to be.
That being said, Mastadon Peak is a popular hike, and if its solitude you seek, find another place in Joshua Tree's almost 800,000 acres. However, despite it being relatively crowded, it is a must for both the expert hiker and the novice who finds themselves at this part of the park. It can be accessed from Cottonwood Springs trailhead, as well as Cottonwood campground. The loop is described in a counter-clockwise direction.
From Cottonwood Springs trailhead walk down the steps to Cottonwood Springs, a major attraction in Joshua Tree. There is some water here and towering palm trees. This is a favorite place for birders. Continue on the trail, which at this point is the same trail that leads to Lost Palms oasis(another gem). The trail is wide and easy to follow, and all sorts of Desert vegetation can be observed here. Ocotillos, and Yucca seemed to be especially prevalent. However, there are no Joshua Trees in this part of the park, they are found in the higher Mojave Desert to the north.
After .7 miles you will find yourself at a signed junction, take a left following the signs for Mastadon Peak. The trail starts to gradually climb, though it won't be much trouble in less you aren't in good shape. You will be able to see the peak for the first time. It is a beautiful although small peak, and it is easy to see how it got its name. It does resemble a Mastadon, or some sort of giant elephant. In a few minutes you will come to the short spur trail to the top of the peak. Take a right and head up it, this is the steepest part of the hike, and you might use your hands in some places. After 5 minutes or less you will find yourself on top of Mastadon Peak. The views are great, especially considering this peak is not very high, one can see mountains and flatlands, and the Salton Sea. Head down and take a right at the main trail. You will soon come to the Mastadon Mine, closed up, there is a sign with historical information about the mine. Continue on the trail which at this point will go in and out of washes, but is still very easy to follow because of the signs and arrows along the way. This was my favorite part of the trail, hiking through smooth sandy washes all alone right before sunset. You will come to the remains of the Winona Mill in a short time. From here, head down the trail a short ways to the trailhead.
Since you are in Joshua Tree take your time and enjoy the other places the park has to offer. 800,000 acres of pure beauty.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.