Hike Mastodon Peak Trail

Hike Mastodon Peak Trail

In This Guide
  • Mastodon Peak Trail Hike Directions & Video
  • How to Get to the Mastodon Peak Trail
  • Everything You Need to Know to Plan Your Hike
Distance2.6 miles (4.2 km)
Hike Time1:30-2 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)510 feet (155m)
Highest Elevation3,440 feet (1049m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entry Fee
Dog FriendlyNo
Park Website (?)Joshua Tree National Park
Park Phone760-367-5500
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A hike on the Mastodon Peak Trail loop is a fun way to explore the rugged southern part of Joshua Tree National Park without a huge effort. You’ll hike on sandy trails that are more Sonoran than most trails in Joshua Tree, then hike up stairs carved in the stone to the base of Mastodon Peak. It’s an easy scramble to the top of Mastodon Peak where you are treated to panoramic views of the desert and mountains. After that, the hike passes the abandoned Mastodon Mine on a long easy downhill back to the finish.

Where is the Mastodon Peak Trail?

The Mastodon Peak Trail is in the southern part of Joshua Tree National Park and uses the Cottonwood Spring parking area as the trailhead. Parking can get crowded quickly. Arrive at sunrise for the best hike (and parking!) experience.

Use this trailhead address:
Cottonwood Spring, Lost Palms Oasis Trail, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

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When you first turn off the main road to the trailhead, you’ll pass the Joshua Tree NP Cottonwood Visitor Center. If you need to fill up with water or use the bathroom, this is your only option before continuing the short drive to the trailhead.

Instead of paying the park entry fee, just get a National Parks Pass.

Mastodon Peak Trailhead Start
From the Visitor Center it’s a short drive down to the trailhead. You’ll pass a campground and then reach Cottonwood Spring.

There is no backcountry camping in this section of the park because it’s a protected area for bighorn sheep. If you want to camp, you can stay at Cottonwood Campground.

Gear for the Hike

The trail is sandy and exposed. Having hiking shoes or boots will help with your footing. On the climb trekking poles come in handy. Bring at least 1L of water and avoid the hike in the hot summer periods.

La Sportiva Spire

The La Sportiva Spire boots feel like comfortable sneakers but offer the protection of hiking boots. They’re great on everything from short hikes to longer hikes of 10+ miles. You don’t want to skimp on your feet.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Opsrey Stratos Blue

I test a lot of gear, and for short to medium day hikes, travel, and everyday use, the Osprey Stratos (men) and Osprey Sirrus (women) are consistently the best. They’re lightweight, hold a hydration bladder to make drinking water easy, have lots of pockets to organize gear, and most importantly, are incredibly comfortable. Check out the reviews; they are impressive.
Reviews & Colors Here: Osprey Stratos (men) and Osprey Sirrus (women) 

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated February 2020.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Mastodon Peak Trail Maps

The trail is well marked and easy to follow. Having a GPS with the track loaded (downloadable below) will help pinpoint your position if you get confused in any spots. My route follows the loop trail in the counterclockwise direction, which I find more enjoyable and easier.

Click To View Map

Hike Mastodon Peak Trail Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy (prices on REI and Amazon) and does a lot of the same things.

Elevation Profile

Mastodon Peak Hike Elevation
From this view the trail looks like a big mountain climb, but just remember that it’s only a few hundred feet tall. The first part of the hike has some steep sections but then you have a nice cruise back to the start.

3d Map

Mastodon Peak Hike 3d Map
Here in this view you can see that the climbing isn’t too bad. The loop follows the Lost Palms Oasis trail and then turns off and up to the summit of Mastodon Peak. From there you continue the loop hike back to the Cottonwood Spring parking area.

Mastodon Peak Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VRWhy are 360 videos great for hiking?

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Turn by Turn Directions

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The trail starts at the far end of the Cottonwood Spring parking area.
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Follow the main trail towards Lost Palm Oasis.
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The well-marked trail makes its way through the Cottonwood Spring area. Cottonwood Spring is one of the few water sources in the area.

In the spring Cottonwood Spring can become an explosion of wildflowers. Even if you don’t see any wildflowers, the California Fan Palm trees that you see are pretty rare, only growing where there is a permanent water source. Because you are at the lower elevations in the Sonoran Desert here in Joshua Tree National Park, there are no Joshua Trees (they grow at higher elevations).

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After the oasis area, the trail turns sandy and generally continues straight. You’ll also see signs for the Mastodon Peak Loop.
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There’s some light climbing, and stairs help out in places.
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Keep following the trail. There are occasional trail arrow signs and rocks along the sides of the trail that confirm where the trail is.
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At about 0.7 miles you’ll reach the junction for the Mastodon Peak Loop Trail. Make the left and continue up toward Mastodon Peak.
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The trail gets steeper between here and the peak.
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Wind your way up on the trail which includes stairs.
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These stairs carved into the rock are my favorite part of this section. Keep heading up. That’s Mastodon Peak in the distance.
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When there are no stairs the trail has some twists and turns.Don’t forget to look back and up for the main trail.
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Soon the trail levels out as you approach the peak.
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When you reach the junction, you can either continue on the loop or scramble about 0.1 miles to the peak, which I recommend. The scramble isn’t too bad; you can always stop if you get scared.

It’s called Mastodon Peak because early miners thought this monzogranite rock formation looked like a mastodon head.

Mastodon Peak Hike Directions 1
To get to the peak, follow the worn path around to the east and then northwest.
Mastodon Peak Area Map
Here’s a map view of the route up to the top.
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Follow the worn path around the side.
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And then up the rocks to the top. Although you have to pull yourself up some small boulders, there is no point where you hang off an edge or otherwise do anything very dangerous. It looks worse than it is. Just take it one step at a time and if you are scared or confused, go back down the way you came.
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From the top you’ll get sweeping views throughout Joshua Tree. To the south, the Salton Sea, to the east, Eagle Mountain, to the north, the Pinto Mountains, and to the west, the Cottonwood Mountains.
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On a clear day you’ll also be able to see San Jacinto Peak to the west, rising above the Cottonwood Mountains.
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When you’re done on the peak, head back down to the last junction and continue on the loop trail.
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The trail is easy to follow just past the junction.
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And soon you’ll see the Mastodon Mine in front of you.

Mastodon Mine, a gold mine, was in operation intermittently between 1930 and 1971. There are 288 abandoned mines in Joshua Tree National Park, most are gold mines, and most were unsuccessful. People have laid mining claims in this area as late as 1998.

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The main mine shaft, which goes down 45 feet on an incline, has been caged over to keep out visitors who don’t think the rules apply to them. A few years ago Joshua Tree had a problem with visitors taking home artifacts from mining sites. The park had to remove any all loose mining items from the abandoned mines to preserve them.
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There’s also a lower mine structure as you leave the area.
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After the mine, continue down the trail.
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The trail enters and follows a wash. There are a few sections like this on the way back. Look for signs and rocks to help lead the way.
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At the end of the first wash, rocks across the main area help you find the trail which splits off to the right.
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The trail goes over a small rise.
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And then enters another wash, which you exit again to the right.
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Keep your eyes open to the right to spot another unnamed palm oasis.
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When you get to this junction, make the hard left.
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You’ll be following this wide wash almost the whole way back to the start.
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Soon you’ll see the road to the trailhead off to your right. Follow the trail off the wash where you see these stones.
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A low trail maker confirms that you’re in the right place. Continue along the trail. The road is not far to your right.
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Soon the trail will rejoin the road and you arrive at the parking lot where you started. That’s the hike!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.