Coxcomb Mountains - Inner Basin Pass, Coxcomb Mountains - Highway 62 Turnoff, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Coxcomb Mountains - Inner Basin Pass - 11.4 miles
Coxcomb Mountains - Highway 62 Turnoff
|Round-Trip Length:||11.4 miles (cross-country travel only - distance may vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||1,708' - 2,991' (2,991' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,283' net elevation gain (total elevation gain will vary by route)|
Coxcomb Mountains - Inner Basin Pass - 11.4 Miles Round-Trip
The Coxcomb Mountains are among the most remote, rugged, and lightly traveled places in Joshua Tree National Park. This jagged and inhospitable range rises sharply from the Pinto Basin floor in the NE corner of the Park. While no maintained trails lead into the Coxcomb, several established routes follow washes and canyons into its heart.
The following route begins from a turnoff on Highway 62, and heads south up the bajada to a canyon that provides a navigable passage through the mountains. This area is typically referred to as the inner basin, and the description below ends at a high pass along the main NW-SE corridor.
Preparation is key for a safe and enjoyable trip. There is no water or shade in these mountains, nor towns anywhere nearby. It's advisable to stop by the Twenty Nine Palms Visitor Center before setting out, inform them of your itinerary and outfit accordingly:
From the parking area, identify the wash-road-trail and head south. Though innumerable washes braid the bajada, vehicular use and foot travel distinguish this wash from others. Use these visual distinctions to remain on course over the first four miles.
The trail rises through the bajada with views back north of the Sheephole Mountains, and west across Pinto Basin. The path is lined by creosote and a rich desert scrub mix. Coyote melons may also be found on vines that grow along the desert floor. Look for jackrabbit, coyote, quail, tortoise, and a variety of songbirds, snakes and lizards as you progress.
The trail moves steadily south-southeast toward the base of the Coxcomb, gradually bending SE after 1.5 miles (1,978'). Rocky outcrops - excellent places to find wildlife - are more numerous as you near the mountains. Those with time should explore these small islands, and the hidden arroyos just behind them.
The wash-road-trail steepens beyond 2.5 miles (2,125') on a more deliberate SE bend toward a distinct gap between two large mountains on the horizon.
This is an important navigational cue, as the route you'll take will head right up into this space. Travel intensifies on the final run up the bajada, merging with a wide wash at 3.9 miles (2,495').
Pay close attention to this point (GPS point below); while easy to see on the way in, it may be difficult to identify on the return.
At 3.95 miles the path centers itself in a wide wash that leads into a canyon. Head up the wash, and note that you can no longer rely on old tire tracks for guidance. The wash is dotted with smoke tree, Mormon tea, mistletoe, and cats claw (which is painfully abundant).
The canyon tapers to the base of a steep boulder field (4.7 miles : 2,673'), where you'll begin a moderate scramble into the mountainous interior.
The scramble eases beyond 5.2 miles (2,835') in the middle-canyon where a rugged but intuitively followed route continues up to a high ridge. While you can't necessarily see Aqua Peak from this point, you'll certainly get a feel for the effort required to reach it.
A final push clears the ridge, where the landscape abruptly levels and opens in a high plateau between the Aqua Peak complex and east canyon wall (5.7 miles :2,991'). This pass marks a drainage divide in the basin, which is clear once on top.
The saddle is easy to explore with great views of the inner basin area (south) and Aqua Peak complex just above you (west). Aqua Peak is a collective name for three peaks in close proximity: Tensor, Spectre, and Dyadic. Tensor Peak is the lowest, and Aqua Peak is the tallest (4,416').
- N34 05.712 W115 25.235 — 0.0 miles : Trailhead at Highway 62 Turnoff
- N34 05.322 W115 25.298 — .5 miles : Gentle rise up open bajada
- N34 04.943 W115 25.449 — 1.0 miles : Steady rise through desert scrub
- N34 04.623 W115 25.749 — 1.5 miles : Begin gradual SE bend
- N34 04.241 W115 25.719 — 2.0 miles : Rocky outcrops line path on SE bend
- N34 03.950 W115 25.573 — 2.5 miles : Explore adjacent outcrops and arroyos
- N34 03.544 W115 25.271 — 3.1 miles : Moderate but steady travel up wash
- N34 03.347 W115 24.991 — 3.5 miles : Grade steepens on final run up to mtn base
- N34 03.162 W115 24.651 — 3.9 miles : Road-Wash-Trail merges with wide wash
- N34 03.085 W115 24.558 — 4.0 miles : Route centers through wide wash
- N34 02.762 W115 24.050 — 4.7 miles : Wash ends, begin steep scramble
- N34 02.517 W115 23.753 — 5.2 miles : Scramble moderates in middle canyon
- N34 02.324 W115 23.431 — 5.7 miles : Reach high pass of inner basin
- Pay very close attention to the point where the wash-road-trail merges with the wide, smoke tree-filled wash at the 3.9 mile mark. While easy to see this point on the way in, it's quite difficult to identify on the return.
- Aqua Peak is a collective name for three peaks in close proximity: Tensor, Spectre, and Dyadic. Tensor Peak is the lowest, and Aqua Peak is the tallest at 4,416'.
- Despite inhospitable appearances, humans have a long history in the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park. As recently as 400 years ago, the Chemehuevi migrated to Southern California and established communities in the Pinto Basin and Coxcomb Mountains.
- The Desert Tortoise is an endangered species, and sightings are exceptionally rare. Tortoise spend over 90% of their lives in burrows that may reach several feet deep. The Desert Tortoise can weigh 10 - 18 pounds and live between 40 - 80 years.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- There are no designated backcountry campsites in the Coxcomb Mountains.
- The Coxcomb Mountains' inner basin and Aqua Peak area is a Day Use Area only, designated so to protect sensitive bighorn sheep populations.
- Backcountry Camping is permitted north of the first 4 miles described in this route, and approximately 2.5 miles further southeast beyond the Day Use Area boundary.
- The Day Use Area is not marked, so hikers are expected to identify and honor this zone on their own.
- Permits are required for camping of any kind in Joshua Tree National Park. Visit the Twenty Nine Palms Visitor Center to obtain a permit, and inform Park Rangers of your intended route and itinerary.
Rules and Regulations
Directions to Trailhead
There is no dedicated trailhead for reaching the Coxcomb Mountains. The route described above begins at a rather anonymous turnoff from Highway 62 (Twenty Nine Palms Highway), 38 miles east of the Twenty Nine Palms Visitor Center. This is, however, recognized by the Park as the most utilized starting point.
From the Twenty Nine Palms Visitor Center, reset your odometer and travel 38 miles east on Highway 62 to a small, sandy turnoff on your right (south side of road). A small parking area can be found at a Park Boundary sign, set just off the road. Tip: anticipate a turnoff sign after 37 miles.
Note that another turnoff and parking area exists just across the road on the north side of the highway. This provides access to the Sheephole Valley Wilderness Area. The Coxcomb Mountains are located south of Highway 62, within Joshua Tree National Park boundaries.
From the parking area, located a wash with obvious foot and vehicular tracks on it. This is the correct path. You will follow this much of the way into the Coxcomb's inner basin, and the base of Aqua Peak.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twenty Nine Palms, CA 92277-3597