Joshua Tree National Park Association

Health and Safety


Safety Protocols and Our Promises To You

  • Class sizes have been reduced to allow for social distancing. When possible, we will eliminate some classroom lectures and replace them with Zoom meetings that you can access and view from the safety of your home prior to the field component.
  • Classrooms will be disinfected, and hand sanitizer stations will be available.
  • Face coverings may be required for all participants, volunteers, and instructors for indoor programs.
  • Social distancing will be required. Please be respectful to your neighbors in our programs.
  • Our instructors and volunteers will have the authority to enforce these protocols. If these rules are not acceptable to you, please don’t register. We reserve the right to deny a student participation in the course due to concerns regarding health and safety issues.
  • Of course, as our country’s vaccination rate increases and CDC recommendations are revised, we will monitor the situation and these protocols will be reviewed and changed as needed for your safety and for the safety of our instructors and volunteer team.

Fitness Levels

The fitness levels of each class are as varied as the topics we offer. Most of our courses require some hiking during field trips in the park which may be hot, dry, windy, and sometimes cold. In rating the difficulty of each class, we consider elevation gain and loss, distance, time of year, pace, and terrain. Please review and select a class that matches your fitness level. We want to ensure that your skills and abilities match those of your fellow participants. Note that the ratings are guidelines. For a person who is very active a class rated ‘strenuous’’might not pose a challenge or a ‘moderate’ rated hike could be very difficult for someone not used to walking outside in the desert environment at moderate elevation.


Leisurely to moderate pace up to 3 miles (≈ 4.8 kilometers) per day through relatively flat terrain with frequent stops.


Moderate steady pace up to 6 miles (≈ 9.7 kilometers) per day with some elevation gain and loss through some rocky or uneven terrain.


Longer rigorous hikes at a moderate to brisk pace up to 12 miles (≈ 19.3 kilometers) per day with significant elevation gain and loss up to 3,000 feet (≈ 914.4 meters) through rough steep terrain, with possible rock scrambling.


Course includes rock scrambling throughout a significant portion of route, good balance, full range of motion, and three points of contact while scrambling are necessary.

How Fit Do You Need To Be?

If you take part in a guided hike in Joshua Tree National Park, you will need to carry a backpack — with food, clothing, water and other essentials — that generally weighs up to 15 pounds. You will be exercising with either heat or cold, typical of California deserts and elevation gain, and you may need to scramble over large boulders along the route. To help you decide on which course is best for you, please take into account the “Hike Level” ratings. For the most precise information about each activity or the effects of the desert environment, please contact us at (760) 819-4714 or

Safety, Insurance, and Physical Fitness

Every effort is made to ensure safety on Desert Institute courses. However, participants are responsible for their own safety and accident insurance. Joshua Tree National Park Association does not accept responsibility for lost, stolen, or damaged property or any bodily injury incurred during the course. You must sign a liability waiver in order to participate in the course. Participants must be in good physical condition for courses/activities in a desert that may be hot, dry, windy, and sometimes surprisingly cold.

Stay Hydrated

The desert area is a very dry location and requires proper hydration at all times. This is especially the case during the extremely hot months in the late spring to early fall. The general rule to follow is that if you’re sweating, you should be drinking at least 1 to 2 gallons (≈ 3.8 to 7.6 liters) of water per day. So bring an ample supply.

Eat A Proper Meal and Bring Snacks

Some of the hikes and climbs require a lot of calories to burn. This is especially the case with hikes that involve rock scrambling. Bring snacks with you just in case. To help the body retain water and replace the body’s electrolytes lost through sweating, salty snacks are recommended.

The Blistering Sun

UV levels in the national park can cause skin damage if proper protection is not applied. Wide-brimmed hat, light colored clothing, sunglasses, and clothes that fully cover arms and legs are a good way to avoid the damaging effects of the sun.

Keep The Wild Animals Wilds

Do not feed the animals. Do not touch the animals. Leave any animal you find alone. Human interaction with the wildlife can cause the animals to become aggressive. There are several venomous animals in the park such as rattlesnakes and scorpions. Some animals carry diseases that can be dangerous to humans. The park is also home to creatures such as mountain lions. Most animals just want to be left alone. Be sure to educate yourself on the proper ways to avoid getting bit, stung, or sick.

Flash Floods Are Dangerous

If it is raining, be prepared to avoid flooded roads. The water flow might seem tame, but a wave of fast-flowing water carrying debris might be just around the bend. If you see water flowing in a wash on the road, turn around and get to safety. This is true even if it doesn’t seem like it is raining anymore. It might be raining in the distance. It is safer to wait it out.

It Can Get Cold

One unexpected danger to be cautious of is that the weather can drop below freezing during the winter months in the desert. This can cause hypothermia if you are not properly prepared for it. Bring extra layers just in case.

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