Bajada Trail in Joshua Tree National Park Bajada All-Access Nature Trail hike California desert botany trail

Bajada All-Access Nature Trail is located on the southeast side of Joshua Tree National Park between the 10 Freeway and the Cottonwood Visitor Center. The hike, which you could do in flip-flops or tennis shoes, is a 0.3-mile loop with about 5 feet of elevation change. If that wears you out, there are three benches along the way where you can pause to admire the vegetation and scenery. Sixteen panels along Bajada Trail describe the Colorado Desert plants that manage to survive on this bajada. Mountains surrounding this level loop create a powerful backdrop for an unimposing trail.

Bajada Trail
Mountains beyond Bajada Trail

One of the first signs along Bajada All-Access Nature Trail explains what a bajada is and how this one is special:

A Bajada, or slope, at a mountain’s base, is formed of eroded sand and gravel. More moisture is trapped and available to plants in a course, well-drained soil. Plant growth begins earlier in the warmer soil of this south facing bajada, which allows a greater variety of plants to grow here than on the bajada across the valley.

The nature trail highlights some of the key plants that have found a way to survive on the bajada, like cacti, ocotillo, creosote bush, brittle bush, indigo bush, chuparosa, and palo verde. Only certain plants can tough it out in this environment, and another panel explains why life on a Colorado Desert bajada can be such a challenge:

The subtropical Sonoran Desert, with its higher rainfall and longer growing season, has the most diverse plant life of any America desert. However, the Colorado Desert, a subdivision of the Sonoran Desert, lies in the rainshadow of high mountain ranges. The combination of reduced rainfall and low elevations make this desert the hottest and driest in North America. how do plants and animals survive here? A complex web of interactions between each other and the environment allow the residents of the bajada community to thrive in an arid land.

Bajada Trail
Bajada Trail

As you walk around the level hard-packed loop, you’ll learn how each plant has adapted for survival in the desert. Cacti keep water in their stems and have spines to protect this cache from hungry animals and the harsh sun. Ocotillo grow quick leaves when it rains and drop them during long droughts. Brittle bush have big leaves during a wet period that shrink and become brittle during droughts. Palo Verde only grow leaves during a rainy period and can rely on their branches for photosynthesis during a drought. Each plant has devised a way to live where plants from other climates would wither and die.

Along the loop, you will also pass Ironwood trees, both alive and dead, a rare sighting for Joshua Tree:

Within Joshua Tree National Park, the frost-sensitive ironwood, a Sonoran Desert plant, is found solely on this bajada. Only here does it find enough warmth and moisture to meet its specialized needs. The ironwood, which can grow quite large, provides shelter for many shade-loving plants and animals.

Bajada Trail
A dead ironwood along Bajada Trail

In this arid landscape, a dead ironwood can remain standing for many years. You won’t be standing around for nearly as long because this quick and easy hike is over after 0.3 miles.

The loop is usually done in a counterclockwise direction. No permit is required to hike Bajada Trail. The trailhead is located within the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park, but outside the area where you are required to stop and pay an entrance fee. To get more information about the park, drive 5.4 miles north of Bajada Trail to the Cottonwood Visitor Center, where you will also find nearby trails to Mastodon Peak and Lost Palms Oasis.

To get to the trailhead: From the 10 Freeway, take exit 168 and head north on Cottonwood Spring Road. After 1.5 miles, you will spot a parking area for Bajada Trail on the right (east) side of the road. Park and start on the trail beginning next to the kiosk. Bajada Trail is 5.4 miles south of the Cottonwood Visitor Center.

Trailhead address: Cottonwood Springs Road, Joshua Tree National Park, CA 92277
Trailhead coordinates: 33.681238, -115.801784 (33° 40′ 52.45″N 115° 48′ 06.42″W)

Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.
Trail Map

View Joshua Tree National Park in a larger map
Or view a regional map of surrounding California Desert trails and campgrounds.

Photos

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These photos were taken in February of 2013. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Lost Palms Oasis Trail Lost Palms Oasis
This 7.2-mile hike visits a desert oasis nestled between mountains in the southeast corner of the park.
Mastodon Peak Trail Mastodon Peak
This 2.6-mile loop visits a 3,400-foot summit with panoramic views of southeastern Joshua Tree.
Cholla Cactus Trail Cholla Cactus Garden
This quarter-mile loop allows visitors to stroll through an intense concentration of cholla cacti.
California Trails Hikes in the California Desert
Explore more trails in Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Mojave National Preserve.
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Colorado National Monument Trails Alcove Nature Trail in Colorado National Monument
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Camping
Joshua Tree Camping Joshua Tree Campgrounds
Nine campgrounds with 500 total sites are spread throughout the park to facilitate your visit.
Wildflowers
Joshua Tree Wildflowers Joshua Tree Wildflowers
The desert in bloom is something any outdoor enthusiast in California should see.
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Tagged with · National Parks · Nature Trails
Distance: 0.3 miles · Elevation change: 5 feet

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