The trail to Pine City is often overshadowed by the more prominent Ryan Mountain Trail and the more accessible Barker Dam Trail. But I’ll let the secret out — this is one of Joshua Tree’s best hikes. It’s the perfect mixture of a casual desert walk filled with classic Mojave plants, a pinyon pine microclimate formed from large boulders and a seasonal wash, and sweeping views of Queens Valley and down towards Twentynine Palms. All this is wrapped up into a four-mile day hike with bonus rock scrambling and side trails to explore.
Start out from the parking lot that is shared with the Desert Queen Mine Trail. Access this trailhead via the Desert Queen Mine Road from Park Boulevard (near Jumbo Rocks).
The first 1.25 miles of this trail parallels a wash, located on your left, as it slowly climbs towards the Pine City site. While walking this trail, you have the opportunity to observe pretty much every type of classic Mojave Desert flora, including:
The shining, smelly, and medicinal Creosote
The classic (and sharp) mojave yucca,
The jumps-onto-your-pants-as-your-walk-by silver cholla,
And the namesake Joshua tree.
All of these plants thrive in the higher elevations found within the Mojave Desert.
One of the first signs that water is becoming more abundant is the presence of the juniper tree, which is often found along the banks of washes like this one.
There is also a huge variety of cacti found along this hike, such as the California barrel cactus.
All these plants are neat to see, but isn’t this supposed to be pine city? Well, just after your first pinyon pine sighting, at mile 1.3, the trail drops into a beautiful alcove of large granite monzonite boulders with large pinyon pines nestled between them. When you mix large rock piles with a fairly active wash, you create a microclimate suitable for plants that require a much more cool and moist environment.
While it’s easy to complete this hike in a couple hours, I would highly recommend spending at least a half a day exploring the pine city site and nearby canyons. You’ll find a rare mixture of fantastic scrambling, beautiful flora, and almost guaranteed solitude. A trail junction, found just before Pine City, offers a variety of exploration options.
The left-most trail contours around the west side of Pine City for one-third of a mile, eventually reaching an airy vista looking into the valley to the north.
The right-most trail dips briefly into Pine City before starting a rapid descent towards the Oasis Visitors Center. You can actually thru-hike all the way down to Utah Road if you shuttle a vehicle. Otherwise, don’t venture too far down that direction or it will mean a lot of climbing on the way back.
Another option is to go directly into Pine City and enjoy the shade of pine and boulders while having lunch, reading a book, or taking a desert nap.
Once you are satisfied with your experience, return to your car by retracing your steps to the south.
An easy to follow trail to Pine City. From the junction the trail becomes less clear but is occasionally marked with cairns.
Jumbo Rocks campground is located just a few miles to the southeast from the trailhead. This campground has over 100 site, pit toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. Sites are first-come first-served for $15 a night (as of spring 2015). Many other first-come campgrounds are available along Park Boulevard.
From I-10 take Highway 62 towards Twentynine Palms until you reach the town of Joshua Tree. Turn right onto Park Boulevard and continue for 21 miles. The trailhead to Pine City is located 1.3 miles north of Park Boulevard, on Desert Queen Mine Road.