I don’t think I am alone in this, but almost every visit to Joshua Tree National Park has me spending most of my time in the northern, high desert region. This area is home to a high concentration of the tree of the park’s namesake, so it make sense most visitors stay around there. Like most outdoor places I have visited frequently, there comes a point where I want to start seeing what else is around. I imagine if you are reading a hiking blog like this, I am not alone.
The southern entrance off Interstate 10 will take you to the Cottonwood Spring area of the park. This is in the low desert section, so there is sparser foliage. Don’t expect to see the Joshua Trees down here. From the Cottonwood Springs Ranger Station, you can keep driving up the road past the campground and to the end of the road to the Mastodon Peak trailhead. On my visit, in late December, it filled up quickly, so you may need to walk a ways into the trailhead.
The hike from here takes you through a grove of desert palms and up to the rocky outcropping of Mastodon Peak. From the top, you will get views of the southern part of the park as well as far as the Salton Sea to the south. The hike here is only about a mile, but you can opt to take a detour back down by the old and abandoned Mastodon Mine. This loop will take you back to the road you came on.