Summit Springs in Munsen Canyon, Cottonwood Spring Trailhead, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Summit Springs in Munsen Canyon - 11.4 miles
Cottonwood Spring Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||11.4 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||2,998' - 3,010' (3,444' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+12' net elevation gain (+2,510' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Summit Springs in Munsen Canyon - 11.4 Miles Round-Trip
Beyond Lost Palms Oasis exist a series of smaller, less accessible oases and palm groves. Summit Springs - nestled deep in nearby Munsen Canyon - is an isolated and exceptionally attractive destination for the more adventurous and physically fit.
Travel beyond Lost Palms is difficult, and should only be attempted by those comfortable with bouldering, scrambling and creative route finding:
The trail gently drops through the 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.
The trail exits the oasis and enters a maze of canyons, washes and undualting ridges. While generally well marked and directionally intuitive, the trail occasionally fades and wash entry-exit points can be obscured in this environment.
Despite dry conditions, the landscape is alive with Mojave yucca, creosote, jojoba, juniper, ocotillo, chuparosa and numerous species of cacti and cholla. Some washes support mesquite, willow, palo verde, smoketree and ironwood.
You'll bypass the Mastodon Peak and Nature Loop Trail split (.7 miles : 3,160') and continue across a wide, heavily vegetated wash at 1.4 miles - the only shade before reaching Lost Palms Oasis.
At 2.45 miles the trail drops into a wash, enters a slot-like arroyo and exits left at 2.65 miles with a steep climb and hairpin turn left. The trail drops into and across another small wash, then climbs steeply to a rolling, ocotillo-lined ridge with views of the Salton Sea to the southwest (2.85 miles).
The trail drops sharply once more into a shallow canyon (3.2 miles), then climbs steeply out past the Lost Palms Canyon Day Use Boundary (3.5 miles : 3,277').
It levels off a few steps higher at the Lost Palms Oasis overlook; a sign marking it sits at the foot of a faint but intuitively followed path leading down to the oasis. Scan the far canyon wall to locate seldom-visited satellite groves before descending into the main oasis (3.7 miles : 3,113').
Scores of Fan Palms, dense vegetation, large boulders and spring-fed pools line the deep and narrow canyon floor. Natural obstacles make extensive exploration difficult, but it's easy enough to find an accommodating rest spot before pressing on to Victory Palms.
The narrow canyon is initially easy to navigate once through the oasis entanglement. The trail however - now a route along the canyon floor - is physically demanding: there's a 430', 1 mile drop over steep boulders and dry falls to Victory Palms (2,680').
While some suggest using an unmaintained trail along the canyon's south (right) wall, it's difficult to follow the whole way. It quickly fades, and the canyon wall itself is very steep and unstable. Nevertheless, there is a visible cairn for this faint path just before you see the park-posted 4 mile marker. This also begins the first of 3 steep boulder fields leading to Victory Palms.
Taking this path at the cairn for a short time is advisable, if for no other reason than to avoid a brief but difficult section of boulders, and to see the adjacent Teddy Bear Cholla garden.
The path fades beyond the cholla, leaving little choice but to begin the arduous process of downhill bouldering. While manageable, it requires an all-body effort and some creative routing.
The boulder field momentarily eases around 4.5 miles (2,865'), a point at which the canyon splits off back to the right. Stay straight (this is important to remember on the return, as you will need to recognize this subtle fork in the canyon).
More boulders await, though steady progress down canyon soon yields a glimpse of Victory Palms. The canyon widens and flattens out just before reaching the foot of this two-palm grove (5.0 miles : 2,680'). Though not nearly as lush as Lost Palms, the vicinity's coloring, isolation and ruggedness are beautiful in itself. This is also an ideal spot to find Bighorn Sheep.
A topographic map is now essential, as you will soon be leaving Lost Palms Canyon and climbing north into Munsen Canyon at an unmarked point. A good map will help you anticipate upcoming topographic and directional changes.
Beyond Victory Palms the canyon widens and flattens considerably beneath tall walls. Though travel is slowed by deep sand, the brush-filled canyon floor is otherwise obstacle free. This area is well depicted on topo maps, and important for understanding your location.
About .3 miles past Victory Palms, begin looking off to your left (north) for Munsen Canyon. Rather than a clean identifiable split, the turning point (N33 42.378 W115 44.877) is actually a steep dry fall that's easily mistaken for nothing more than another canyon wall.
The vague entrance requires a steep climb up a large boulder field to access Munsen Canyon.
From the Lost Palms Canyon floor, it's a .4 mile, 365' climb through Munsen Canyon to Summit Springs. The climb levels out about 200 hundred yards before reaching the grove's edge (2,998'). To the right of the main grove is a second, smaller grove that's easily accessed. Though not without challenges, travel moderates in the upper canyon to Munsen Oasis.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N33 43.897 W115 48.085 — Mastodon Peak and Nature Loop Trail junction
- N33 43.774 W115 47.819 — Mile One Marker
- N33 43.343 W115 47.011 — Mile Two Marker
- N33 43.170 W115 46.669 — Enter Arroyo Slot
- N33 43.080 W115 46.548 — Exit Arroyo Slot (bear left)
- N33 42.757 W115 45.896 — Lost Palms Canyon Day Use Boundary
- N33 42.760 W115 45.756 — Lost Palms Oasis
- N33 42.341 W115 45.139 — Victory Palms
- N33 42.378 W115 44.877 — Climb up boulder-strewn dry fall into Munsen Canyon
- Travel beyond Lost Palms Oasis can be very difficult. Only those in good physical condition and comfortable with scrambling, bouldering and route finding should attempt further travel.
- Lost Palms Canyon and Munsen Canyon are home to Bighorn Sheep. Signs of these elusive animals are more prevalent as you travel deeper through the canyons and approach water sources.
- There are bees around the main grove at Summit Springs, and travel through it is initially heavily obstructed.
- 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 can actually 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.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- This is a Day Use Area only.
- Camping is not permited within the Day Use Area encompassing Lost Palms Canyon and Munsen Canyon. Speak with a Ranger for backcountry camping options adjacent to the Day Use Boundary.
Rules and Regulations
- This is a day use area only. Camping is strictly prohibited.
- Avoid interaction with natural water sources and leave these delicate resources to local wildlife.
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 Highway 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.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597