Southern California’s Colorado Desert, part of the larger Sonoran Desert, stretches from Mexico north to the Mojave Desert, covering 7 million acres (28,000 square kilometers of terrain. Hikers, rock climbers, and campers are particularly drawn to the region for the numerous hiking trails and desert scenery to be explored.
Nine national and state park sites sit within the Colorado Desert, of which the best known are Joshua Tree National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The others are Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, Picacho State Recreation Area, Heber Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, and Salton Sea State Recreation Area.
The Colorado Desert mostly encompasses low-elevation lands below 1,000 feet (300 meters), with some areas below sea level. Hikers and other explorers may spot wildlife such as lizards, desert tortoises, and bighorn sheep, as well as cacti and wildflowers.
Things to know before you go
- Be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen on any trip into the desert.
- Avoid hiking in the middle of the day, especially in the summer months, when temperatures can be dangerously high.
- Some parks and preserves in the desert are free to the public while others, like national and state parks, require a fee.
How to get there
Some of the most popular sections of the desert—like Joshua Tree National Park and Coachella Valley—are located off Interstate 10 near the towns Palm Springs and Palm Desert. Other sites can be found closer to the Mexican border.
When to get there
Parks and preserves are typically open between sunrise and sunset; some sites may close or have shorter hours during the hot summer months. To avoid the heat, hike in the morning or evening. Wildflower season is in the spring, after the rains.
Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve
Together with the Mojave Desert, the Colorado Desert forms a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve to promote and protect the ecology of the area. The Mojave Desert’s biggest attraction is Death Valley National Park, which is 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of Joshua Tree National Park.
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Oasis Date Gardens
- Coachella Valley Preserve
- Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
- Palm Springs Air Museum
- San Andreas Fault
- Indian Canyons
- Tahquitz Canyon
- Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
- Mission Creek Preserve
- Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
- Mojave Desert