Mirages? No, these California desert oases are real yet magical

Star Trails at Cottonwood Spring in Joshua Tree National Park.
(Hannah Schwalbe)

Just when the bedraggled traveler is about to die of thirst, a desert oasis appears, complete with greenery and all you can drink. Those movie scenes may be the stuff of imagination, but the oases are real. Here are five places where you can seek some shade in the Southern California desert.

Joshua Tree National Park

Oasis of Mara is one of five desert fan palm oases at Joshua Tree National Park.
(Evan Heck)

Joshua Tree National Park, about 130 miles east of Los Angeles, is home to five desert fan palm oases. Not bad considering there are only 158 in North America.

The palms can grow up to 75 feet and weigh as much as 3 tons. When visiting Joshua Tree, you can see 49 Palms Oasis, Lost Palms Oasis, Cottonwood Spring, Oasis of Mara and Munsen Canyon.


For some oases, expect a short walk. Others involve more lengthy hikes. Cottonwood Spring, a natural desert oasis, is near the park’s Cottonwood Visitor Center, and the Oasis of Mara is behind the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms. Lost Palms Oasis, meanwhile, is a more than seven-mile roundtrip trek from the Cottonwood area, and 49 Palms Oasis is a three-mile roundtrip hike.

Info: Joshua Tree oases,

Coachella Valley

Thousand Palms Oasis is part of the Coachella Valley Preserve, just west of Joshua Tree. The palm-filled oasis is, its website says, the second largest grove of palm trees in the Coachella Valley.

Admission to the preserve is free (donations are accepted); open from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Its visitor center, a palm log cabin known as the Palm House, was built in the 1930s.

Info: Coachella Valley Preserve

Palm Springs

Indian Canyons, just south of Palm Springs, has more than 60 miles of trails.
Indian Canyons, just south of Palm Springs, has more than 60 miles of trails.

Indian Canyons, just south of Palm Springs, has more than 60 miles of trails. Among them is an easy 1.2-mile walk to Andreas Canyon, among the world’s largest fan palm oases.

Along with the palms, hikers can expect to see willows, cottonwoods and sycamores. Regular ranger-led interpretive hikes are offered from now until June. Admission costs $9 per adult and $5 for children 6-12.

Info: Indian Canyons

Whitewater, Calif.

Whitewater Preserve is about a half-hour drive northwest of Palm Springs.
(Jack Thompson)

Whitewater Preserve, about a half-an-hour drive northwest of Palm Springs, is a gateway to the Sand to Snow National Monument. Snowmelt-fed Whitewater River runs through the preserve, creating an oasis from the desert landscape.

The area reopened Nov. 1 after floods earlier this year damaged the preserve’s only access road. Whitewater Canyon, however, remains in a county-mandated fire closure, which prohibits roadside parking. Visitors are encouraged to arrive early because of limited parking.

The preserve is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except select holidays. Both admission and tent camping is free.

Info: Whitewater Preserve

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, about a two-hour drive northeast of San Diego, has an oasis star in Borrego Palm Canyon, which the California Travel and Tourism Commission calls “a watery haven fed by underground springs and shaded by California fan palms.”

As with all oasis hikes, remember to take plenty of water for the journey.

Info: Borrego Palm Canyon