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Desert backpacking in Southern California

Joshua Tree National Park
The wonderland of rocks in Joshua Tree National Park

While most backpackers around the country have to deal with closed trails and snow this time of year, Southern Californians can still enjoy a ton of great backpacking destinations that are mere hours from the Los Angeles area. Just as the summer months are a prime time to visit the Sierras, winter time is the perfect season to explore the inland deserts. Cooler temperatures make hiking pleasant. Wide open spaces, stunning views and surreal landscapes mean these deserts rival pretty much every other hiking destination in the country around this time of year.

Here’s a quick list of some fantastic gems close to most Southern Californians.

Joshua Tree National Park – A landscape that seems to have escaped from the collective genius of Salvidor Dali and Dr. Seuss, this place has incredible climbing as well as some solid hiking both on and off trails. A liberal backpacking policy allows anyone to wander off into the backcountry free of charge, provided you register at one of fifteen or so different stations.

Anza Borrega State Park – This is the largest state park in California.  A beautiful (albeit desolate) park. it contains a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and frequently gets overlooked by people visiting from out of state.

Death Valley National Park – About four hours from Los Angeles (but on the way to Vegas) don’t let the name scare you. Death Valley has incredible vistas, bizarre rock formations and how many people can say they’ve backpacked through the hottest, driest, and lowest place in North America?  Wintertime temperatures are surprisingly cool (especially at night) so make sure to bring warm clothes, despite all the hype.