Thursday, January 10, 2013

Day hiking Little Butte Trail in Calif.'s Saddleback Butte State Park

Little Butte
The California state park boasts a forest of Joshua trees, that iconic symbol of the Mojave Desert. In fact, the Joshua tree’s range is roughly the same as the Mojave.

To reach the park, head into the Antelope Valley on Hwy. 14. Take the exit for West Avenue J. After traveling through Lancaster, you’ll soon find yourself in the desert, with each passing mile feeling more and more remote.

Joshua tree forest
Enter the park through the northwest entry, just past Avenue J’s intersection with 170th Street. There is plenty of parking in the area set aside for campers and picnicking. The small boulders marking the campground road make fun climbing for toddlers.

Though most who hike the park aim for the top of the ubiquitous Saddleback Butte, a day hike with young kids ought to be more restrained. Saddleback Butte is a long walk and steep climb.

Instead, begin by taking the trail up and around the small granite outcropping at the park’s northwest corner. The top affords a fantastic view of the Joshua tree forest stretching below.

Darting lizards
Twisted and broken granite boulders mark the small butte's peak. The collision of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates has raised a number of granite buttes out of the local desert floor; the San Andreas Fault is only a few miles away.

Next, follow the camp road that heads south. Turn onto the trailhead heading to Little Butte. The trail runs 0.9 miles one way – about half way to Saddleback Butte’s base – and can be challenging in its own right as you sometimes slog through thick sand.

Even preschoolers can easily climb Little Butte, though, which makes for a lot of fun and some great views. Go in March when the weather typically is in the low 70s, and you’ll spot yellow desert flowers blooming below Little Butte. Darting lizards also abound.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.