The top 8 California deserts worth visiting: From the spiky but beautiful cacti in Joshua Tree National Park to the barren and haunting landscapes of Death Valley, you simply can’t travel to California or visit these spectacular deserts.
California is the state of many landscapes, from the rugged coastline of Southern California and its many vibrant, multicultural cities to the mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevada. While each piece of scenery is captivating and beautiful, California’s stark and massively impressive desert may top the list of must-see landscapes.
To help you with your decision on which California desert you should visit, we’ve put together a guide on 8 incredible desserts. Whether you want to stroll past ancient volcanoes in the Mojave National Preserve or take in the vast piles of golden sand that makeup Algodones Dunes, these desert landscapes can take your breath away.
Known as the largest state park in California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park attracts visitors all season but is especially popular in spring when the wildflowers are in bloom. Filled with palm trees, cacti plants, slot canyons, and the park’s native wild sheep, this desert has more than enough charming outlook to keep you transfixed (and to fill up your phone storage).
Rugged and wild, the park is still being shaped by wind and rain, with small waterfalls and interesting rock formations that have changed little over the years. To make the most of your time here, there are various camping facilities on-site so that you get a chance to witness as much natural beauty as possible.
Arguably one of California’s most popular and famous deserts, Joshua Tree National Park is home to many cacti plants, as are the stars in the night sky in this still and stunning landscape. Not only is this desert full of Joshua trees (who would have thought that right?!), it’s also filled with numerous hiking trails, each one more impressive and breathtaking than the next.
But that is not all this national park has to offer. You can also participate in various other activities like rock climbing, biking, horse riding, and birdwatching, ensuring that there is something for everyone in this desert. Whether you want to take in giant boulders and rock formations or wander among the beautiful desert wildflowers, “J-Tree” should be high on your priority list.
The great outdoors is waiting for you to see it all in the Mojave National Preserve. From vast, golden sand dunes and dense Joshua Tree forests to dormant volcanoes and vast wildflower fields, this Mojave Desert park really has it all. Spread across 1.6 million acres, this national park not only has some of the best hiking trails in the state, but also some of the most breathtaking views.
Whether you’re just a hiking beginner or consider yourself more advanced, Mojave National Preserve has hikes for everything from backcountry routes to established trails. Enjoy stunning desert views from atop mountain peaks or spot barrels and Chola cacti, which are guaranteed a hike of a lifetime (or at least your vacation).
You would be forgiven for thinking that Death Valley is nothing more than a barren landscape to its name, but this spectacular desert is well and truly alive. Nearly immeasurable in size, Death Valley National Park is one of the most popular parks in California (perhaps even in the whole of North America) and it’s actually the hottest. With temperatures reaching 110 °F (43 °C), a visit to this park in summer is not for the faint of heart.
But what the park lacks in cold climates, it makes up for in breathtaking beauty. Why doesn’t the park’s lowest point at 282 feet below sea level lead to Badwater Basin? Or take one of the many hiking trails available? Home to a myriad of natural phenomena including saltwater flats, towering sand dunes, and deep canyons, Death Valley promises to deliver spectacular desert views everywhere you look.
You get two guesses when you search Red Rock Canyon State Park (joke, we know you only need one). That’s right, this desert landscape is full of highly impressive Red Rock cliffs. On one of the many hiking trails you can make your way up, these rocks were formed millions of years ago by both white and red layers of sediment and were raised by several faults including the Garlock and Sierra Frontal Faults.
While this national park may be small in size, it is big where it counts. Red Rock Canyon State Park is a beautiful natural, one-way drive, with lots of wildlife to see and plants and other geology highlights, truly unique. From towering balusters full of Joshua trees to impressively carved canyons, this California desert park is a sight to behold.
If you’re after a more intimate desert experience, Whitewater Preserve is the landscape for you. Largely overlooked on the side of California’s larger deserts, this stunning piece of scenery is nestled between the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountains and is a peaceful yet impressive spot to take in the beauty of nature.
Not only is the Whitewater Preserve home to an abundance of wildlife, including wild sheep, bears, deer, and more than 200 species of birds, but it also includes the Great Whitewater River. With only a handful of trails to explore, this desert park feels calm and serene, allowing you to fully appreciate the chirping of the birds and the waters that flow through the river.
Indian Valley, located just outside Palm Springs, is the ultimate desert oasis. Not only does it have sparkling waterfalls, uniquely built canyons, and California’s own lush palm groves, but Indian Valley also has a number of hikes for you to choose from, so that you can enjoy as much as this place has to offer. Enjoy the natural beauty.
Not only a place for hiking and other outdoor activities, but the Indian Valley is also the ancestral home of the pioneer Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians. Particularly sacred to the Cahuilla Indians today, these canyons tell of a life story thousands of years in the making, with rock art, house pits, and irrigation ditches still on display.
Algodones Dunes may be a barren, extremely hot landscape that is almost completely devoid of any plant life but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of natural beauty. These sand dunes have accumulated over the years so that they are nothing but pure, golden sand in the form they are today as far as the eye can see.
While there may not be beautiful trees to see or waterfalls to sway over, this desert spot still offers a uniquely spectacular view, with only two colors: the blue of the sky and the gold of the sand. Very magical to look at, these dunes can also change color slightly with the sand dunes giving a blue hue due to the sun’s rays and the shifting sand.