Day hikers can walk through a forest of thousands of cholla cactus at Joshua Tree National Park.

Trail rambles through exotic cholla cactus garden

Cholla Cactus Garden Trail aerial map

The 0.25-mile Cholla Cactus Garden Trail loops through the otherworldly – and dangerous – sight. An excellent time to visit the garden is about an hour before sunset when the cacti seem to glow in the changing light. March through April also is a great time during the day, as the teddybear cholla are in bloom with their showy yellow to white-colored flowers.

To reach the trailhead, from the park’s Oasis Visitor Center on Utah Trail just south of Calif. Hwy. 62, take the former south. Once in the park, Utah Trail becomes Park Boulevard. Turn left/southeast onto Pinto Basin Road. About 12 miles from Park Boulevard, look for a parking lot on the road’s south side. Park there.

Trail rambles through exotic cholla cactus garden

Each March through April, showy spring-green, yellow or white flowers bloom on the teddy bear cholla.

The flat, hard-packed dirt trail leaves from the lot’s southwest corner. Spreading for 10 acres around you is a desert landscape dominated by the teddybear cholla.

It’s a particularly unique site because creosote bush and burrobush dominate the basin’s expanse of alluvial fans. Few teddybear cholla can be found there.

This particular spot at the edge of the Sonoran Desert, however, is ideal for teddybear cholla. About 4 inches of water seasonally flows out of Wilson Canyon over a loose mixture of broken rock and soil, which nicely holds the moisture. This spot in the Pinto Basin is for teddybear cholla what the Mediterranean is to humans.

The teddybear cholla, with its distinctive trunk, can grow up to 5 feet tall. A detachable sheath covers their sharp 1-inch needles.

Surprisingly, most of its seeds are infertile. Instead, the teddybear cholla reproduces when stem joints fall off.

Trail rambles through exotic cholla cactus gardenThe stem joints easily detach. Thanks to tiny barbs on its spines, they quickly latch on to anything brushing against them – including you. And as luck would have it, these barbs cause great pain when removed.

Because of this, do not wear open-toed sandals and stay on the trail…or stem joints will come home will with you. Some cholla does reach out onto the trail, so keep an eye out for them and supervise children.

Sixteen markers also can be found along the trail. Pick up the brochure at the trailhead for the info on desert fauna that goes with each marker.

The trail is entirely open to the sun, so be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses, and sunhat. Always carry extra water, even though this is a short trail.



Image Sources

  • Cholla Cactus Garden Trail aerial map: Rob Gignell
  • Thousands of teddybear cholla pack a 10-acre area: Rob Bignell