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Blogs California Joshua Tree National Park

52 Things to Do in the Hi-Desert

I was raised in La Quinta, California and didn’t even know where the little town of Morongo Valley was. Now, 3 years in, I’m officially a “Morogan” and have actually loved calling the swanky Hi-Desert home. The Hi-Desert is an informal designation applied to areas of the Mojave Desert in Southern California, which includes cities like Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms found along Highway 62.  Besides hiking, camping and off-roading, there isn’t a whole lot to do, which is a big part of why I love it out here. It’s open air, beautiful desert landscapes and a place where you can actually see the stars at night. Since moving here 3 years ago I have found a few fun hidden gems and we now have a few regular spots we frequent so I’ve decided to compile a list of all there is to see and do in the Hi-Desert region. Happy reading!

  1. Big Morongo Valley Preserve – Located in Morongo Valley, the preserve is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and serves as an essential habitat for both resident and migrating bird species, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.
  2. Coyote Cone – This is a fairly new ice cream and coffee shop in Morongo Valley. They serve rite-aid ice cream and make date shakes as well as serve coffee they brew themselves called, Desert Dog.
  3. Cactus Mart – A well-known nursery and garden center located in Morongo Valley.
  4. Dillion’s Burgers & Beer – Dillion’s is a local restaurant and bar in the desert with two locations, one in Desert Hot Springs and one in Morongo Valley. It’s definitely a dive bar with an interesting atmosphere but I actually really like their food and recommend trying their jalapeño poppers.
  5. Coyote Ride Stable – Located in Morongo Valley, this ranch offers guided horseback riding tours.
  6. Crazy Horse Ranch – This is another location in Morongo Valley that offers horseback riding tours.
  7. Cottonwood Canyon Ranch – This is yet another ranch in Morongo Valley offering horseback riding tours and lessons. Seeing a theme here?
  8. Sand to Snow Monument Bar & Grill – Another dive bar in Morongo Valley with a pool table and cheap drinks. I don’t care for their food all that much but it’s the only place offering any sort of nightlife if you’re looking to go out for a couple of drinks and a round or two of pool.
  9. Morongo Valley Cafe – A little diner offering breakfast and lunch in Morongo Valley. I actually really like the food here as well.
  10. Spaghetti Western – A new restaurant serving dinner in Morongo Valley with open mic night every Sunday. It’s a bit pricy for what they offer in my opinion but hey, it’s nice to actually have one restaurant in town that serves steak and potatoes.
  11. Yucca Bowl – This is the local bowling alley in Yucca Valley that we’ve been to far too many times for my liking.
  12. Frontier Café – A cozy cafe known for its breakfast items, sandwiches, and coffee drinks in Yucca Valley.
  13. Mojave Flea Trading Post – Explore an assortment of antiques, collectibles, and unique treasures from various eras at this flea market in Yucca Valley.
  14. Pappy + Harriets – A legendary desert roadhouse with live music, delicious barbecue, and a rustic, outdoor concert venue.
  15. Pioneertown – A western-style movie set turned tourist attraction. You can enjoy mock gunfights, explore the shops, and even catch a meal at the famous Pappy & Harriet’s.
  16. Pioneertown Motel – This iconic motel captures the essence of the Old West while providing modern amenities. It’s located in Pioneertown and offers comfortable rooms with a vintage vibe.
  17. Warren Peak Trail – Hike to the top of Warren Peak for panoramic views of the Hi-Desert region. This is an out & back hike in Yucca Valley that is 5.6 miles total with 1,105 feet elevation gain.
  18. Pie for the People – Enjoy a variety of creative and classic pizzas with fresh ingredients in a relaxed atmosphere.
  19. Cactus Wren Book Exchange – For bookworms and literary explorers, the Cactus Wren Book Exchange is a little used bookstore in Yucca Valley! Browse through shelves filled with carefully curated titles spanning various genres.
  20. Hoof & The Horn – A boutique shop offering a curated selection of clothing, accessories, home goods, and gifts with a bohemian and desert-inspired vibe.
  21. BKB Ceramics – This studio and gallery features handcrafted ceramics by local artist Brianna Berbenuik. Explore beautifully crafted pottery pieces that reflect the spirit of the desert.
  22. La Palapa Mexican Cuisine – This family-owned Mexican restaurant serves authentic dishes and great drinks. This is always our go to spot. Enjoy a warm and welcoming atmosphere while indulging in traditional flavors.
  23. Hi-Desert Nature Museum – Learn about the unique natural and cultural history of the Hi-Desert region at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum. The museum offers exhibits, workshops, and educational programs for all ages.
  24. Hi-View Nature Trail -This is a 1 & 1/2 mile loop trail in Yucca Valley. It is rated moderate and has a 325 elevation gain.
  25. Crossroads Café – A local favorite in Joshua Tree, Crossroads Café offers a diverse menu featuring breakfast, lunch, and dinner options made with locally sourced ingredients. The menu includes comfort foods, sandwiches, salads, and vegetarian choices.
  26. Natural Sisters Café – Known for its healthy and vegetarian-friendly menu, offering salads, wraps, and smoothies. I love this place personally!
  27. Joshua Tree Farmers Market – If you’re visiting on a Saturday, check out the farmers market for fresh produce, artisanal goods, and a taste of the local community.
  28. Joshua Tree Coffee Company – If you’re looking for a cozy spot to enjoy a cup of coffee, this café is the place to be. They roast their own beans and make great, traditional coffee drinks and a very strong cold brew. This place is another one of my favorites…obviously.
  29. Joshua Tree Saloon – A classic desert watering hole serving pub-style food, burgers, and hosting live music events.
  30. Coyote Corner – A gift shop that captures the essence of the desert with a range of southwestern-inspired goods, including jewelry, clothing, home decor, and more.
  31. Joshua Tree Dry Lake Bed – The Joshua Tree Dry Lake Bed is a large, flat expanse of dry lake bed located in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. It’s free dispersed camping where many venture out to go off-roading.
  32. Joshua Tree National Park – This is the main attraction. Hike among the iconic Joshua trees, marvel at stunning rock formations, and take in breathtaking desert vistas.
  33. Joshua Tree Music Festival – If your visit coincides with this annual event, immerse yourself in the sounds of diverse musicians, from indie to world music. Enjoy live performances against the backdrop of the desert landscape.
  34. Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum – Wander through a unique sculpture garden featuring art installations made from recycled materials.
  35. World Famous Crochet Museum – Discover the quirky Crochet Museum in Joshua Tree, featuring crochet art installations. You’ve probably seen pictures of the little green shop in Instagram photos.
  36. Giant Rock – This is the largest freestanding boulder in North America. It’s located in Joshua Tree and many locals consider the area to be sacred. Today, people like to go here for off-roading, bon fires and camping.
  37. Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center – Explore the night sky at this observatory in Twentynine Palms that offers stargazing events, educational programs, and telescope viewing.
  38. Twentynine Palms Historical Society – Discover the town’s history through exhibits, artifacts, and memorabilia. Learn about the Native American heritage, early settlers, and the marine base’s impact on the community.
  39. City of 29 Palms Visitor Center – Get information about the area’s attractions, trails, and activities at the Twentynine Palms Visitor Center. It’s a great starting point for your desert adventure.
  40. 29 Palms Creative Center and Gallery – Immerse yourself in the local art scene at this creative hub. Participate in workshops, view exhibitions, and engage with artists from the community.
  41. Smith’s Ranch Drive-In Theater – Experience a slice of nostalgia by catching a movie at this classic drive-in theater. Enjoy a film under the stars from the comfort of your car.
  42. 29 Palms Inn – This historic inn provides a charming atmosphere and is a great spot for dining. Enjoy a meal with a view of the oasis, or explore the property’s gardens and art installations.
  43. Rock Climbing – Joshua Tree is a world-renowned rock climbing destination, offering challenges for climbers of all skill levels.
  44. Stargazing: The clear desert skies make Joshua Tree an excellent spot for stargazing. Consider bringing a telescope or joining a local astronomy event.
  45. Off-roading – Off-roading is also a huge activity for locals in the hi-desert and even those visiting. There’s miles and miles off trails to explore with stunning views.
  46. Camping – Camping is another huge activity to enjoy. Aside from Joshua Tree National Park, there’s also a handful of other dispersed camping areas people enjoy.
  47. Vacation Rentals – The VRBO’s and AirBNB’s available to rent are a huge reason why people flock to the Hi-Desert. These placess to stay offer a unique, quiet and remote desert retreat.
  48. Photography – Film fanatics also tend to flock to the Hi-Desert to capture the breathtaking scenery and snag incredible shots of the stars and the infamous Joshua Trees scattered about.
  49. Scenic Drives – Take a scenic drive through the surrounding desert landscapes to experience the vastness and beauty of the Mojave Desert.
  50. Biking – Enjoy mountain biking on designated trails that offer a mix of challenges and stunning desert views.
  51. Horseback Riding – Experience the desert from a different perspective by going horseback riding on guided trail rides.
  52. Sunrise and Sunset Viewing – Wake up early to witness the stunning sunrise over the desert horizon, or capture the vibrant colors of the sunset in the evening. Hi-Desert sunrises and sunsets are some of the best I’ve seen.

So, how many things on this list can you successfully cross off? As always, travel on my friends.


Hiking Cactus-to-Clouds

Hiking Cactus-to-Clouds has always been a bucket-list goal of mine and this past November, I accomplished it. I am by no means in the best shape of my life, but hey, I freaking did it! If this trek is a goal of yours too, below is a few training and packing tips to help prepare! Happy hiking!

What is Cactus-to-Clouds

Cactus-to-Clouds is a 21 mile assent from the Palm Springs valley floor, at about 400 feet, up to the San Jacinto Peak at 10,834 feet. It is rated one of the hardest day hikes in the United States and the trail actually has the largest elevation gain out of any hike in the United States. Skyline trail takes you up about 9.4 miles, starting behind the Palm Springs Art Museum ascending up all the way to the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Then, to do the full Cactus-to-Clouds hike you must continue on for another 11 miles to the peak and back down to the tramway station to ride the tramcar back down to the valley floor.

I wrote a separate blog called Training for Cactus-to-Clouds, where I mostly talked about hiking different trails throughout the Coachella Valley each week with my mom to train for this hike. The blog was more centered around our journey together and not so much about what you realistically need to be able to do in order to be as prepared as possible for a hike like this. So, in this blog, I’ll list out a few tips and information for more practical advice!

How to Train for Cactus-To-Clouds

Tip #1: Cross-Training. As mentioned in my last blog, we did one hike each weekend at the start of our training and then increased to twice a week, taking on more strenuous trails as the date got closer. Aside from hiking though, we also added in other workouts on our own during the week. I was actually working with a personal trainer at the time who created a lifting program for me that I followed. Each workout program was four workouts each week for four weeks and then I’d get a new plan for the next four weeks and so on and so forth. Lifting weights allowed me to really strengthen my legs and increase my stamina. I would highly recommend cross-training in the gym or just with weights at home as a means for preparing yourself for a full day of hiking on an incline.

Tip #2: Mindful Eating. I am still very far from where I want to be with my daily eating habits, but, I did fairly well leading up to this hike. I didn’t drink any alcohol for about 2 weeks prior to the hike and my trainer was working with me on learning to track macros. Again, this is still a work in progress for me and I’m definitely not the person to give out advice in this area, but, I felt that I was at least being mindful of what I was fueling myself with which really helped me feel more prepared. I focused on drinking a gallon of water every day, and tried to preplan my meals to hit a specific number of calories and grams of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. I also stopped drinking coffee as breakfast and began focusing on having a good nutrient dense meal before any caffeine intake. Lastly, I discovered these magical magnesium tablets from a brand called Voost that seemed to really help aid in muscle and bone recovery! They also have electrolyte tablets that I’d highly recommend as well!

Tip #3: Write Out a Plan

This tip was already completely done for me by my wonderful master planning mother. BUT, for those of you that don’t have a mom with a mapped out notebook filled with hikes by week to follow, I’d recommend making your own! We started planning about three months ahead of our hike date and my mom wrote out which trails we’d be doing each week in order to feel ready. For reference in creating your own plan, avid hikers who know this trail like the back of their hand have said you should be able to do the Bump n’ Grind trail in Palm Desert (up the hard side) four times in a row to be able to take on a trail like Skyline (let alone Cactus-to-Clouds).

What to Pack

Here is a list of everything I packed, with links to a few recommended essential items.

  • Layers, Layers, Layers. – I wore biker shorts and a long sleeve dri-fit with a hat, which was perfect for the heat during the first half of the trek, and then I packed, sweatpants, a hoodie, a light wind breaker, and a larger warm jacket, a beanie and mittens. By the time I reached the peak I had every layer on and was so glad I packed it all.
  • 1 Galloon of water (and some extra) – I brought four, one liter smartwaters. Not the most environmentally friendly I know, but, it was the most comfortable and cheap way I could think to pack them all on my back. I also packed four additional 16.9 ounce plastic water bottles that I preprepared with the Voost magnesium and electrolyte tablets ahead of time (linked below).
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • First-Aid Kit with some sort of compression wrap in case of a sprained ankle or other form of injury.
  • Ibuprofen
  • Headlamp (I started and ended the hike in complete darkness)
  • Walking sticks (these were life savers for my legs)
  • Runner’s Goo (linking my favorite below)
  • Snacks! I cut up two protein bars into small bite size pieces and put them in a baggie to snack on throughout the day. I’d also recommend some sort of salty snack like trail mix, crackers, etc. I also packed a peanut butter and honey sandwich which is alway my go-to trail food.
  • Hiking Backpack large enough to fit everything mentioned above (linking the pack I used below!)
Know Before You Go

Aside from what to pack, here’s a few other useful tips/information to consider.

  • Start at the Right Time – It is recommended you start this hike between 12 a.m. and 4 a.m. to allow yourself enough time to finish before the last tram car down at 9:30 p.m.
  • Hike During the Right Time of the Year – Fall and spring are the best seasons to do this hike so that the temperature isn’t too hot at the beginning and isn’t too cold as you reach the top. Temperatures in Palm Springs are in the triple digits during summer and temperates at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway are typically around 30 degrees in the winter with plenty of snow.
  • Pack AT LEAST 1 Gallon of Water – There are two rescue boxes along the trail that sometimes contain extra water left behind by other hikers and you can also fill up at the ranger station at the top of the tramway, but, I would highly, highly recommend not relying on these sources. You will be hiking for many hours and need to be properly hydrated the day before the hike AND during the hike.
  • You Will Need a Permit – You must obtain a permit before continuing on once you reach the top of the tram. The permits are free and located at the ranger station. This not only allows rangers to protect the wilderness but is also meant to keep you safe. With limited cell service in the San Jacinto mountains, permits allow the rangers to know if you’ve safely returned from your hike.
  • Know Where to Park at the Trailhead101 N Museum Dr, Palm Springs, CA, 92262, USA. Do not park in the museum parking lot or the parking garage across the street or you will be ticketed (or worse, towed). There is however, free street parking around the museum with plenty of spots if you start early morning. Also keep in mind, you will be finishing the hike at the parking lot at the bottom of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which is actually around 20 minutes from where you began your journey behind the Palm Springs Art Museum. Be sure to have a plan for how you will get back to your car.
The Route

Lastly, here are some trail markers that are helpful to know so you can see how far you’ve traveled and how many miles you still have left to go!

(Chart credit: HikingGuy)

I hope this blog helps anyone out there looking to cross this beast of a hike off their bucket list! As always, travel on my friends.