Joshua Tree National Park: North Canyon Loop Trail

The holiday season is brutal.

It’s a wild animal waiting to pounce when you’re equal parts exhausted, depressed, triggered, and stressed.

How sick is that?? Honestly.

It’s taken me two decades to realize that I am, in actuality, an adult – and I don’t have to succumb to the endless pile of unrealistic expectations.


Instead of dragging ourselves all around the state for three Thanksgiving celebrations, we committed to attending one, and made plans to get outa dodge the next day.


Though I’m sure we disappointed some family members, the promise of solitude, peace, and adventure was well worth the initial discomfort. This people-pleasing “good girl” is slowly learning how to own her own sanity. #itsaboutdamntime #thankslizzo

As our 3:00 a.m. alarm blared rudely on Black Friday, we geared up for a long day of travel – an early morning drive to catch a flight to Denver followed by another one to Palm Springs, California.

Emerging from the plane out onto the tarmac, we were rewarded with bright sunshine, happy palm trees and a gorgeous mountain view. I was tired and overstimulated from traveling, but the promise of a cute little HipCamp yurt secluded in the desert kept me pushing through the crowds. Our quiet escape was so close I could taste it.

As we drove away from busy Palm Springs toward Desert Hot Springs, I marveled at the landscape. This midwestern girl was stoked for her first visit to the desert, and even more delighted to find herself surrounded by majestic mountain ranges. The sandy ground dotted with cute cacti and palm trees stretched my grin from ear to ear.

This was going to be awesome.

Mild concern brewed when I realized that while were only 2 miles away from the yurt, we were still surrounded by shops and traffic. Pulling into a driveway in a busy residential area, I gulped down the reality that our desert oasis was anything but deserted. I was super disappointed.

Noisy cars, barking dogs, people laughing and having fun at the house next door – all things I can handle in my own neighborhood because I can go inside and shut the door. Here, the only door I could close was the zipper enclosure to our canvas YURT. I felt misled and a little silly.

Deep breaths. Name the good. Digging around for my trusty bag of earplugs, I decided that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. We settled into our temporary home and did our best to find comfort and peace.

The lows that night were in the 40s, and my main concern was staying warm. The advertised electric heater blasted lukewarm air, and the heated blankets took hours to warm up. Our lovely hosts assured us we’d be more than comfortable, but I wasn’t convinced.

To my surprise, we woke up the next morning well rested and toasty. Whew.

After some coffee, breakfast, and gawking at the gorgeous view, we concocted plans to spend the morning at my first “real” national park – Joshua Tree.

We headed toward the west entrance of Joshua Tree National Park and popped into the Visitor’s Center to purchase a pass, find some maps, and peruse the gift shop. We learned that Joshua Trees were named by the Mormons, and I bought an adorable sticker for my water bottle. There was also a nice grab-n-go food shop next door overflowing with vegan and gluten free snacks I could raid.

After we emptied our bladders and filled up our water bottles, we crossed into the park to hike the North Canyon Loop, a trail I found on the All Trails app. It wasn’t advertised on the National Park Service’s app or on any of the paper maps. This turned out to be a happy accident, because other than a couple of people bouldering, we didn’t encounter anyone all morning. Absolute peace on what is typically the busiest days of the year in Joshua Tree. #score

I loved seeing all of the desert vegetation – prickly pear cacti, agave, Joshua trees, and so many more I couldn’t identify. The trail was easy to follow on All Trails – and pretty even and simple to traverse. We passed several interesting rock formations and beautiful views of the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio mountain ranges.

I have been working out a lot lately (thanks to 75 hard!), so I figured this moderate 4.6 mile hike at a reasonable elevation (4,000′) would be a breeze.

About three quarters of the way around the loop, All Trails sent us on a little out and back “tail” to the east of the loop. Figuring it was leading us toward a nice overlook, we followed the marked path.

Before long we found ourselves navigating a rock scramble. It was actually quite fun – jumping from rock to rock – climbing up and down – but after a while, my mind tired of deciding where to step. And when my mind was tired, it didn’t take long for my body to follow suit.

About halfway through the offshoot, I was fatigued, annoyed, and ready to turn around. And, as we descended further into the canyon, I worried about how hard it was going to be when we had to climb back out. Powered by Mike’s adventurous optimism, we continued on toward wherever this offshoot would lead us.

Toward the end of our marked journey, we came upon a drop down into a deep enclosure. A hole, really. It looked manageable enough going down, but I wasn’t so sure about getting out.

“It’ll be fine,” Mike reassured. Again with the adventurous optimism!

It was definitely not something I would do if I were out on my own. Recent news stories of a solo female hiker perishing on a trail in New Hampshire had me racked with paranoia.

However, once we landed at the bottom, it was actually kind of neat. I felt strong and capable – thankful for knees, legs, ankles, and arms strong enough to do all the rock scrambling and climbing.

After a short snack and rest, we realized that this deep hole was the end of the Canyon Loop offshoot. No epic view – no obvious sight to see. Just a hole. An anti-climactic end to our hard work.

Turning around to return to the main loop, we climbed up out of the canyon and hiked the remaining 1.5 miles back to our parking spot. I was glad we brought plenty of snacks and water – we drank almost 3 liters between the two of us.

The mountain views were gorgeous on the way back, and we stopped a few times to watch a scurrying lizard and to take pictures of interesting plants. At one point, I stopped to pee and was fascinated at how quickly the desert sand guzzled down the moisture. Very different from our midwestern soil back in Missouri!

All in all, the hike was enjoyable. Soaking in the hot desert sun in late November felt amazing – and enjoying the peaceful solitude was an added treat.

Back at the car, we were surprised to see the long line of cars waiting to enter the park. We thanked our midwestern body clocks that helped us get to the park early enough to avoid the crowds.

We left the park to enjoy a lazy afternoon at the yurt with coffee and books, followed by a fun dinner at 2 Guys Pies in the Yucca Valley. A friendly rock music themed joint with pretty tasty gluten free and vegan options.

Crashing early in our cozy yurt, I was both relieved to find my earplugs and curious about what the next days of our adventure in the desert would bring.

Published by adventurewithkatie82

Newbie adventure writer! Learn more about me at

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