Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail (Joshua Tree National Park, CA)

Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, January 2022

Situated in the transition zone between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, the Cholla Cactus Garden in southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park boasts one of the area’s most impressive stands of teddy bear cholla, a species of cactus known for its attractive look that belies a piercing clutch of pointed spines. Taking advantage of an ideal location and soil composition, thousands of chollas cluster in the western Pinto Basin, with easy access by way of Pinto Basin Road, which runs through the heart of the park. Stop off here for a quick walk on the ¼-mile Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail to admire the beautiful, showy cacti.

Map of Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park; created using

The hike

The Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the few official roadside attractions along Pinto Basin Road between Cottonwood and the Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree National Park. This makes it a popular place for visitors to get out and stretch their legs. The ¼-mile boardwalk loop begins and ends at a moderately-sized parking area about 10 miles southeast of Park Boulevard, just after Wilson Canyon and a modest pass.

Start of Cholla Cactus Garden Trail

The loop is fine to do in either direction, although a park brochure suggests heading counter-clockwise, stopping at a series of numbered markers for more information on the cholla. (Note: However, these brochures were missing when I visited, and the dearth of waysides left much to be desired for those wanting to learn more about the intriguing chollas.) The path quickly enters a dense “forest” of the stunning chollas, defined by their thick, dense spikes that—from afar—give them a fuzzy appearance. Some of the cacti rise higher than five feet, with the golden spines giving way to a blackish-brown stem that stabilizes the plants in the frequent wind.

Teddy cholla cactus with Pinto Basin beyond

The boardwalk trail occasionally crosses small ditches and has a handful of minor turnoffs, but the entire walk is easy to follow and relatively level, accessible for wheelchair users. The surroundings are defined by the broad Pinto Basin, with the Pinto Mountains and Eagle Mountains in the distance to the east and Hexie Mountains closer to the southeast. Here the terrain transitions from the Mojave Desert to the Colorado, each boasting different plants found nowhere else (for example, Joshua trees grow almost exclusively in the Mojave Desert).

After completing the loop, return to your car and move on to some of the other nearby sights of Joshua Tree National Park.

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4 Responses to Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail (Joshua Tree National Park, CA)

  1. Maha says:

    Great, entry. I went to HS in Southern Arizona, and hiked amongst Teddy Bear Cholla often. There is an impressive stand on Picacho Peak, at Picacho Peak State Park right off I-10 north of Tucson.

  2. Len Henzke says:

    My last prepandemic hike.Hope to go back sometime.

  3. Len Henzke says:

    My last prepandemic hike.Hope to go back sometime.

  4. This place is really spectacular in the late hours of the day before sunset or as the run rises and clears the mountains. Little halos form around each cactus. Thanks for sharing!

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