Mastodon Peak and Nature Loop Trail, Cottonwood Spring Trailhead, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Mastodon Peak and Nature Loop Trail - 2.8 miles

Cottonwood Spring Trailhead

Mastodon Peak

Mastodon Peak

Round-Trip Length: 2.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,998' - 3,440' (3,440' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +442' net elevation gain (+595' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Mastodon Peak and Nature Loop Trail - 2.8 Miles Round-Trip

Mastodon Peak (3,440') ooms over Cottonwood Spring Oasis and portions of the Lost Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. The Cottonwood Spring area is an ecological transition zone between the lower Colorado sub-district of the Sonoran Desert (to the east) and higher, wetter Mojave Desert (to the west).

This particular area supports plants from both distinct ecosystems, and astute travelers will see many examples of each along the way. The peak - a massive monzogranite rock formation - was named by early miners for its supposed resemblance to a mastodon's head.

This short loop features great views and an educational review of the area's unique ecology and human history:

The trail drops through Cottonwood Spring Oasis beneath Fan Palms, mesquite, cats claw and desert willow. Interpretive signs discuss oasis ecology and the life of Cahuilla Indians who once inhabited the area.

It leaves the oasis for a maze of canyons and washes. Despite stark conditions the landscape is busy with creosote, jojoba, juniper, ocotillo and numerous species of cacti and cholla. Some washes support mesquite, willow, palo verde, smoketree and ironwood.

Mastodon Peak Trail (.7 miles : 3,160') splits north on a moderately steep climb through large boulders en route to the summit. At .95 miles the main trail reaches the summit access point (3,345'); bear right for a quick scramble to the summit of Mastodon Peak (1.1 miles : 3,440').

Views stretch across the Eagle Mountains (northeast), Salton Sea (south) and Cottonwood Mountains (west).

Once back on the main trail continue right (west) on the loop. It runs on a high ridge below the summit past Mastodon Mine (1.25 miles). The trail drops into a wash and turns left (1.55 miles : 3,210'), where you should anticipate successive and sparingly marked wash crossings back to the parking lot.

This area is close to Cottonwood Spring and supports a high concentration of vegetation.
The trail veers out of the wash to the right over a small knoll (1.8 miles), then drops back into and makes a left in the wash (2 miles).

It rises out again (2.2 miles) then drops on a hairpin turn through a Eucalyptus stand,  a non-native species brought here by miners in the early 1900s.

The trail spills back into a wash and bypasses the Cottonwood Campground A-B access trail (2.45 miles : 3,055'). Worthwhile interpretive signs line the remainder of the intuitively followed route, which dead ends on Cottonwood Oasis Road, just a few dozen yards from where you parked.

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Worth Noting

  • The Cottonwood Spring area attracts wildlife, especially birds.

  • Desert Fan Palm Oases typically form along fault lines, where seismic activity has uplifted layers of impermeable rock that forces underground water to the surface.

  • There are 158 Desert Fan Palm Oases in North America - 5 are found in Joshua Tree National Park.

  • Fan Palms can live for 80-90 years, grow over 75 feet tall and weigh as much as three tons.

  • Fan Palms are naturally fire resistant, and often can benefit from it. The tree's vascular bundles are spread throughout the trunk (versus just beneath the outer bark), thus increasing insulation from heat. Seed production increases significantly after fires, and generally benefit from the removal of competitors and the creation of new space for growth.

  • The Eucalyptus Trees near Cotton Spring are not native.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • This is a Day Use Area only.

  • No camping is allowed at Lost Palms Oasis, or within the designated Day Use Area encompassing much of Lost Palms Canyon and Munsen Canyon. Speak with a Ranger for backcountry camping options adjacent to the Day Use Boundary.

Directions to Trailhead

From the Oasis of Mara Visitor Center:

Follow Park Blvd (which becomes Pinto Basin Road, which becomes Cottonwood Springs Road) south 38 miles to the Cottonwood Springs Vistor Center. Turn left on Cottonwood Oasis Road for 1 mile to the trailhead.

From Interstate 10:
Travel north on Cottonwood Springs Road 7 miles to the Cottonwood Springs Vistor Center. Turn right on Cottonwood Oasis Road for 1 mile to the trailhead.

Contact Information

Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597

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