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.
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.
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.
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.