Trekking across the high desert.
Note: Although it is called the California Riding and hiking trail, bikes are NOT allowed, the trail is in the Joshua Tree Wilderness for most of its length and so bikes are prohibited. The riding the trail name is referring to is horseback riding.
Overview: This trail runs through Joshua Tree National Park for 37 miles, it is the best option for extended backpacking in the park. But that does not mean it is easy, there is NO water along the route, which means you have to carry alot and have a heavy pack, and it is a good idea to cache some along the way, just in case. Carrying all your water for 3 days is quite the load, especially since this is the desert. There are several places where the trail crosses roads, these are great places to pull off while on the way to the trailhead and hide some water for when you hike through the area.
Hike: The hike begins at Black Rock canyon backcountry board. Make sure you register so that your car doesnt get towed and they can try and help you should you run into trouble. Start hiking, the trail is flat and easy to follow, 100 feet into the hike you run into a sign, it shows you that the North Entrance of the park and the other end of the trail is 37.3 miles away, you have quite the trip in front of you still. At this point in the hike both me and my hiking buddy were filled with enthusiasm and excitement. We were looking forward to a fun backcountry trip over spring break.
If you are going to lose the trail at any portion of the hike you will lose it here, the trail follows a wash, make sure you follow all the signs for the CARHT, and any other trail markers, we lost the trail at this point and didnt pick it up again until Eureka Peak. These washes are the best opportunity for a flat place to camp, and this is were we spent the first night. The trail begins to climb making the ascent to Eureka Peak. Once at Eureka Peak, the trail parallels a dirt road and eventually crosses it, paralleling it the entire way. At the end of the dirt road you come to Covington Flats trailhead, where you will find another back country board. Continue on the trail going east. At this point you pass through large Joshua Tree forests, these are cool plants to say the least. .1 miles from Covington Flats you come on the remains of what was the largest Joshua Tree in the park, sadly it shed its last living branch years ago. The trail descends and you pass through some nice areas, surrounded by mountains, you can even make out San Gorgonio and San Jacinto, which will be covered in snow if you hike during winter or spring. Gorgeous area. The trail crosses the flats and then zigs around and ascends moderately until you reach Juniper Flats. From here the trail is nice and FLAT. Before too long you come to a sign for the Stubbe Springs loop. Might make a cool side hike if you have the time, but will add 4 miles to the trip.
After you reach the second junction with Stubbe Springs its all downhill to Keys view road, a major paved road in the park. After crossing the road continue .8 miles to Ryan campground, its a great place to spend the night at about 18 miles into the hike.
From Ryan continue on Eastward. From this point on to the end of the hike, the trail is all flat and downhill. Quite the change from all the climbing you've already done. From Ryan Campground to Geology Tour Road is 5.5 miles and my favorite part of the hike, flat and passes through Joshua Tree stands with cool jumbled rock formations. You will cross a wash, and you might notice the strange cairn circle if its still there.
After crossing Geology Tour Road the trail continues downhill this time through Creosote and J-Trees. This could be the easiest part of the hike. It is 4.5 miles from Geology Tour Road (dirt) to Pinto Basin Road (the major road in the park). At Pinto Basin road we stashed a gallon of water. From Pinto Basin Road now you will travel North instead of East which has been the direction of travel from the beginning. It is 1 mile to Belle Campground, another excellent place to spend the night, complete with outhouses dumpsters and fire pits. From Belle it is a simle 6 miles downhill to the north entrance. Congratulations you've now completed a walk across Joshua Tree!
This has been one of the coolest experiences in a national park I've had. You will see no one on the trail, it will be 35 miles of solitude and desert. You will see only people at the road crossings, and at the 2 campgrounds that the trail passes through. Please respect the desert, I absolutely love this area and would hate to find it trashed next time I hike through there. If you're willing to carry lots of water, and spend 3 days in one of the coolest parks out there totally away from the crowds then have fun. It is totally worth it.
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.