Mastodon Peak is a fun short hike in the southern portion of Joshua Tree National Park. You can climb this peak as part of a 3 mile loop or combine it with a hike back to Lost Palms Oasis for a longer 9 mile hike. Along the way you'll see a desert palm oasis, remains of old mines, lots of interesting rock formations, desert washes, far-reaching views, and desert wildflowers (Jan-April). The peak is made of a jumble of quartz or granite manzonite rocks that requires a little bit of scrambling to get to the top of.
Miners in the area named the peak for a resemblance to a prehistoric elephant's head and trunk.
This area is part of the Colorado Desert Ecosystem. Mojave yucca, creosote, jojoba, juniper, mesquite, willow, palo verde, smoketree, ironwood, ocotillo, numerous species of cacti, native California fan palms, and springtime wildflowers are some of the plants you'll see along the hike. If you're lucky you'll also spot some wildlife including ravens and other birds, lizards, jackrabbits, and coyotes.
From I-10, 25 east of Indio, take the Joshua Tree National Park exit near Chiriaco Summit. Drive north about 7 miles to the Cottonwood Spring Visitor Center. Turn right here and drive about one mile to the trailhead parking area. At the south end of the parking area is the trailhead and it is well-signed.
From the parking area hike south about 1 mile along the Lost Palms Oasis Trail. Shortly after leaving the trailhead you go dowhill and pass by the Cottonwood Spring Oasis with its pretty fan palms and archaeological sites. Then the trail ascends up a draw and then climbs a ridgeline and soon you will see the sign for Mastodon Peak. Go left (east) and here the trail gets a littls steep in spots but it's not too difficult. You'll go up some rock steps then switchbacks then soon you'll encounter another sign directing you to the short side trail to Mastodon Peak.
Up until now I'd rate the hike as moderate, but this side trail is more strenuous, but is very short so most hikers in decent physical condition can do it. Here the "trail" is a little hard to follow and becomes a Class 2-3 scramble up through the rocks on the east side to the top of Mastodon Peak. The view from the top of the peak is great. You'll have views of Eagle Mountain
, Pinto Mountain
, and the Salton Sea.
Climbing down off the peak and continuing north on the loop you'll pass the Mastodon Mine which was in operation from 1934-1971. The Hulsey Family operated the mine which has a shaft length of 45 feet along 3 parallel veins of quartz. Milled ore was reported to have an average of $40 gold per ton. After the mine the trail descends a ridgeline and then enters a wash. Follow the wash northwards and soon you'll round a bend and head west and here you'll see some eucalyptus trees (non-native) that were planted near the Winona Mill site. The mill was in operation in the 1930's and 1940's to process gold ore extracted from nearby mines. Continue walking down the wash to where there's a sign for a side trail leading to the campground. Then the main loop trail becomes part of the Cottonwood Nature Trail and you'll see some interpretive signs. Soon after you'll see the road and then the trail parallels it back south to the parking area.
The overall loop hike is 3 miles with about 440' elevation gain. I'd hike it in the fall, winter, or spring as summertime is quite hot in this area! Anytime of the year be sure to bring sun protection and plenty of water.
The Joshua Tree National Park entrance fee is $15 - Interagency Annual, Senior, and Access Passes are accepted.
Naturally occuring water sources in the park are reserved for wildlife, so carry all the water that you'll need!
Dogs are not allowed on trails inside the park.
Firearms and off-road vehicles are prohibited.
Campfires are restricted to campgrounds only - bring your own firewood!
Nearby Cottonwood Campground is open year-round and is one of only two campgrounds in the park that have restrooms with flush toilets and water. They do charge more for these amenities, $15 instead of the standard $10. There is little shade here but otherwise it's a pleasant enough campground. The campground is first-come, first-served and has 62 sites. Sites accomodate 6 people, 3 tents, and 2 cars.
There are 3 group campsites here as well. At the groups sites there are shade pavillions. The fee is $30. Reservations for the group sites can be made at www.recreation.gov
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree NP Weather Forecast
Joshua Tree NP Geology
Geology and History of Mines in Joshua Tree NP
Desert USA page on Joshua Tree NP