A few weeks, in an article about Joshua Tree National Park getting overcrowded, we mentioned that park officials suggest people consider visiting nearby federal lands that get far fewer visitors. Which begs the question: where exactly?

Desert Parks Map
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Joshua Tree is surrounded by four amazing national parks/preserves: Sand to Snow National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument, Castle Mountains National Monument and Mojave National Preserve.

The first three are national monuments designated in February 2016 by President Obama, establishing the world’s second-largest desert preserve. The new monuments added 1.8 million acres to an existing 7.6 million acres of protected land in the region.

The fourth region, Mojave National Preserve, is a vast desert park that was established in 1994. The reserve is home to many Joshua Trees and the Mojave Road, a destination overlanding route that runs along an ancient Native American trading route.

Don’t call them fall backs — these destinations rival Joshua Tree for natural splendor and gritty wilderness adventure.

Sand to Snow National Monument

Snow National Monument is located about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of downtown Los Angeles. This aptly named monument encompasses 150,000 acres from the desert floor to the mountaintops in San Bernardino National Forest. Ecological diversity at the various altitudes makes this monument unique.Snow National Monument is located about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of downtown Los Angeles, and offers great trails and campgrounds. This aptly named monument encompasses 150,000 acres from the desert floor to the mountaintops in San Bernardino National Forest. Ecological diversity at the various altitudes makes this monument unique.

The focal point of the Sand to Snow National Monument is the 11,500-foot San Gorgonio Mountain, which rises sharply from the Sonoran Desert floor and is the highest peak in California south of the Sierra Nevada. This mountain is one of eleven peaks that are over 10,000 feet in elevation in the southeast portion of the San Bernardino Mountains. The area has some of the most rugged and steep topography in Southern California, with steep slopes culminating in a granite ridge over seven miles long and two miles high.

Go to Sand to Snow National Monument Outdoors Guide

Mojave Trails National Monument

Mojave Trails National MonumentMojave Trails National Monument is more than twice the size of Joshua Tree, encompassing 1.6 million acres of desert ecosystems, that include lava flows and mountains spread across a vast tract of the Mojave Desert. The focal point is the sand dunes; in particular, the remote and nearly pristine Cadiz Dunes that formed from the sand of dry lake beds.

The park is comprised of a stunning mosaic of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows, and spectacular sand dunes. It offers numerous opportunities for exploration, camping and hiking near Los Angeles and San Diego in Southern California.

Go to Mojave Trails National Monument Outdoors Guide

Castle Mountain National Monument

Castle Mountains National Monument

Nestled against the border with Nevada and bounded on three sides by Mojave National Preserve, the 20,920 acre National Monument provides serenity, solitude, natural soundscapes and dark night skies. The National Monument, which is the smallest of the four areas, protects an expanse of relatively intact desert ecosystem and connects ecosystems in the New York Mountains and the Piute Mountains. It provides a wide variety of recreational experiences and opportunities for hiking, camping, backpacking, wildlife viewing, overlanding and plenty of solitude.

Go to Castle Mountains National Monument Outdoors Guide

Mojave National Preserve
Mojave National Preserve Flowers

Located between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Mojave National Preserve provides serenity and solitude from major metropolitan areas, and plenty of backcountry adventure. The preserve is popular for overlanding, hiking, horseback riding, stargazing and off-the-grid camping. The preserve contains much of the Mojave Road, and ancient Native American trail that is now a destination overlanding route.

Two developed family campgrounds are available year-round at Mid Hills and Hole-in-the-Wall. Roadside vehicle camping is permitted in areas that have been traditionally used for this purpose: sites with existing rock or metal fire rings should be considered suitable for roadside camping.

Go to Mojave National Preserve Outdoors Guide