WINTER in Joshua Tree National Park

By Lisa Morgan

Winter Visits

Winter temperatures can drop well below freezing. Hypothermia can be a hazard even at temperatures above freezing. Always carry extra layers of clothing during the cooler months.

The short days of winter lead some hikers to miscalculate how much time they need to complete a hike. Around the winter solstice, plan to be back at the trailhead by 4 pm.

Hypothermia– A life-threatening emergency where the body cannot keep itself warm, due to exhaustion and exposure to cold, wet, windy weather.

Symptoms: uncontrolled shivering, poor muscle control, careless attitude. Look for signs of the “umbles” – stumbling, mumbling, fumbling, grumbling.

Treatment: remove wet clothing and put on dry clothing, drink warm sugary liquids, warm victim by body contact with another person, protect from wind, rain, and cold.


Keep wildlife wild. Any wild animal may be dangerous if approached. Additionally, wild animals can carry deadly diseases such as hantavirus, plague, and rabies. Always view wildlife from the safety or your car or from a distance. Do not approach animals to take pictures and teach children not to chase or pick up animals.

Never feed wildlife; it is unhealthy for animals and may lead them to become aggressive towards humans. Store food in hard-sided containers or in your vehicle to prevent ravens, coyotes, and other animals from eating it.

It is exciting to see wildlife but remember: the park is their home, and it is our responsibility to allow animals to live their lives undisturbed.

A few venomous animals live in the park, including rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders. When hiking or climbing in the park, always look before you place your hands or feet. Avoid stepping or reaching into places you cannot see.

Bees may attack when their hives are threatened. Listen for buzzing and stay away. Bees looking for water are attracted to any moisture source, including human perspiration. Do not swat at them; they might sting you. Keep drinks and food inside your vehicle. Keep car windows rolled up and use caution when exiting your vehicle.


Park roads are narrow and winding, with soft, sandy shoulders. Drive carefully and obey posted speed limits. Many wild animals, including the threatened desert tortoise, have been killed by speeding cars.

If you stop to view wildlife or scenery, please use pullouts or parking lots. Do not stop in the travel lane—it could cause an accident.

Off-road driving is prohibited. The desert environment is more fragile than it may look. Off-road driving creates ruts, upsets delicate drainage patterns, compacts the soil, and leaves visible scars for years. Crushed and uprooted plants may not recover.

Travel with extra water in your vehicle. If you experience car trouble, stay with your vehicle.

Flash Floods

Storms and flash floods can be powerful and sudden. Avoid canyons and washes during rainstorms and be prepared to move to higher ground. While driving, be alert for water running across dips in the road. Remember: turn around, don’t drown.

Hiking and Climbing

Planning to hike, climb, or cycle in hot weather? Plan to bring along two gallons (8 liters) of water per person, per day. Drink the water and do not economize. When the water is half gone, it’s time to turn back.

Avoid hiking alone. Whether or not you’re with a group, always inform a friend of family member of your planned route and expected return time. Carry a map and compass and know how to use them. Check the weather forecast before departing for your hike, but recognize that desert weather can change suddenly. Carry a headlamp on every hike, even a short day hike. Remember that the first principle of Leave No Trace is plan ahead and prepare.

Carry a comprehensive first aid kit. Add a comb and tape to your kit. These items are often helpful in removing cholla and other cactus spines from the skin. Other suggested items for desert hikers include tweezers, safety pins, bandages of various sizes, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic towelettes, wound closure strips, moleskin or duct tape for blisters, compression bandage, ibuprofen, aspirin, antihistamine tablets, extra food and salty snacks, and an emergency blanket. This is not a comprehensive list, but will help you get started in your planning.

Know your skill level and do not take chances. The desert can be deadly.

Stay Out, Stay Alive

Many old mine sites are found within the park. If you choose to visit them, use extreme caution and never enter mine tunnels or shafts.

Find these important safety tips and more at

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