Why settle for Twentynine Palms when you can see Fortynine? While the exact count is likely no longer quite right, Fortynine Palms Oasis is one of five desert fan palm oases in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. Here, secluded in a rugged canyon just south of the broad Yucca Valley, dozens of fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) have sprung up around a rare water source, offering tranquil shade in an otherwise dry, hot, and desolate environment. The moderately-difficult Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail edges a hilltop with outstanding views of Yucca Valley before plunging into the hidden canyon and ending at the oasis—a 3-mile out-and-back hike.
The trail begins at the end of Fortynine Palms Canyon Road, a paved track leading just across the northern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park. Arrive early to beat the heat and get a spot in the rather small parking lot.
There is one—and only one—hiking path taking off from the trailhead, and it is well-marked and obvious for most of the journey. The trail begins down a dusty track, entering the boulder-strewn hills that guard the northern frontier of Joshua Tree National Park. Look for all kinds of cacti—prickly pear, cholla, red barrel, and others—as the trail laces gradually south and eastward, steadily climbing to points overlooking Yucca Valley and the town of Twentynine Palms.
At about the half-mile mark, the trail finally crests a windy ridge with terrific views and the first look down into Fortynine Palms Canyon, which is fed by a minor spring that gives life to the oasis ahead. For now, the steep declivity shields the oasis from view, but the trail heads toward it by climbing a sunny hillside, with lots of red barrel cactus on the left.
At 8/10 mile, the trail gives way to a steady downhill, with the path dropping to a low notch and then proceeding down to a side drainage. Follow the dry wash downstream for about 100 feet or so, then exit up to the right, rising to a point with the hike’s first views of the oasis ahead.
From here the narrow route resumes its descent for a quarter mile, culminating at the edge of Fortynine Palms Oasis, the highlight and destination of the hike. Here the impressive trees rise dozens of feet, shedding dead palms and developing a furry underbelly, with the very highest revealing a tall and wily trunk. The trail officially ends at a spot past the first batch of palms but short of the main stand: being a sensitive ecological area, further travel is prohibited.
But the views peering down at the main group of palms are impressive, as are the vistas down-canyon back toward Twentynine Palms. Hummingbirds frequent the area, as well as a variety of other avifauna, insects, and occasionally bighorn sheep. Soak in the serenity of this place before returning the way you came on the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail. The return route requires rising around 350 feet to clear the ridgeline; reach the parking lot after about a 1.5- to 2-hour hike that includes one of the most impressive oases in Joshua Tree.