Cholla Cactus Garden, Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Cholla Cactus Garden - 0.25 miles

Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden features a high concentration of Teddy Bear Cholla

The Cholla Cactus Garden features a high concentration of Teddy Bear Cholla

Round-Trip Length: 0.25 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,188' - 2,205' (max elevation)
Elevation Change: +17' net elevation gain
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Cholla Cactus Garden - 0.25 Miles Round-Trip

The Cholla Cactus Garden is located on the gentle northwest bajadas of Joshua Tree's Pinto Basin. This area spans the ecological transition zone between the Mojave and Colorado deserts.

The basin formed as opposing fault lines stretched and pulled the earth's crust apart, forcing mountainous uplifts on either side while the expanding space in between sank. This depression once held a shallow lake that disappeared with a warming climate.

The Hexie Mountains (south) and Pinto Mountains (north) - once much taller than we see today - have since layered the basin's perimeter with sand and gravel eroded from its steep, sparsely vegetated slopes.

Loose gravel and sand brought down from the mountains form alluvial fans and bajadas at their base; these loosely-packed, well-drained slopes are ideal for cacti - especially Teddy Bear Cholla.

All cholla have woody skeletons and jointed branches. Its stem segments are not truly cylindrical, but rather a series of connected, raised tubercles from which spine-bearing areoles emanate. The spines of most cholla are covered with a papery sheath that reflects sunlight and protects the stems from overheating.

This feature is especially pronounced in Teddy Bear Cholla. Teddy Bear Colla (Opuntia bigelovii) appear covered with soft beige bristles, which account for its common, innocuous name.

However these bristles are hardened spines, each tipped with a microscopic barb, or glochid. These imperceptible barbs earn it its second nickname, 'Jumping Cholla', because entire joints can detach and imbed a transgressor with even the slightest touch.

They average 4-7 feet high with a dark base (where older joints have dislodged) and lightly colored extremities of new growth. Although Teddy Bear Cholla flower, they rely on fallen joints for reproduction, which root easily where they land. Known as clonal propagation, it's common that any local population consists of genetically identical individuals.

The Cholla Cactus Garden Trail circles through a dense 'forest' of Teddy Bear Cholla, Silver Cholla and Creosote. Interpretive brochures are available for a small fee and come recommended.

Early mornings and late afternoons enjoy the best light. Watch your step and be mindful of fallen joints, which typically maintain barbs and easily latch onto clothes and footwear. Cholla barbs can be painful to remove.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N33 55.516 W115 55.733 — Cholla Cactus Garden Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Cholla species are often difficult to tell apart because they can hybridize, leading to intermediate forms. The Teddy Bear Cholla is one of the most discernable species.

  • Teddy Bear Cholla are also known as 'Bigelow' Cholla, derived from its scientific name - Opuntia bigelovii.

  • These plants are closely related to the prickly pear (also of the Opuntia species), which have large, flat pads.

  • Parking is limited and roadside parking is restricted.

Directions to Trailhead

The Cholla Cactus Garden is located 20.8 miles north of the Cottonwood Spring Visitor Center on the west side of Pinto Basin Road.

Contact Information

Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597

Visitor Information

Park Headquarters

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Recently visited the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree NP. Made the mistake of picking up one of the seemingly harmless balls from the ground. The Bigelow Cholla cactus has an unparalleled defense. It attaches itself to your skin and is nearly impossible to remove. I had to use a shrub with a "Y" joint in the branch. I put the Cholla on one side of the y and my hand on the other side. I then squeezed the y together to isolate the cholla from my hand. I then, very painfully, pulled the cholla off of my fingers. THEY MAY APPEAR HARMLESS BUT THEY ARE EXCEPTIONALLY MADE TO RESIST HUMAN DISTURBANCE!!!!!"
Ray DeTerra  -  Olympia, WA  -  Date Posted: January 12, 2017


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