Experience a Wild West set brought to life at Pioneertown. This article covers the best things to see and do in this tranquil desert community.
California is known for its bustling metropolises and National Parks, but this state is also home to many undiscovered places filled with hidden gems. Adventure-seekers can venture off the beaten path to the desert community of Pioneertown. This tranquil region in Yucca Valley offers the perfect respite for wandering souls.
While Pioneertown has existed for decades, it remained largely unknown for many years. The town recently got its claim to fame thanks to famous neighbors like the Joshua Tree National Park. It served as the set for various Western movies and was later transformed into a community with motels and restaurants. The town makes for a great day trip from Palm Springs, too.
The History of Pioneertown
The area of Pioneertown served as an ‘Old West’ set for over 50 films in the 1940s and was frequented by Hollywood’s top actors, actors like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Given the town’s long commute to Los Angeles, the actors (together with Hollywood investors) decided to build a town they could stay in during filming to avoid going back and forth to LA.
The town was the set for movies like ‘The Cisco Kid’ and ‘Main Street’ and today it offers visitors an authentic ‘Old West’ experience.
If you enjoy line-dancing, good food and a cold beer, Pioneertown is the place for you.
Best things to do in Pioneertown
Step back in time and experience the Wild West at its best. Here are the top things to do in Pioneertown:
1. Visit an Old West Movie Set
Pioneertown was the brainchild of a group of Hollywood actors who wanted to create an Old West movie set that also served as a functional community. The town was influenced by the Wild West architecture of the 1800s with its false facades, bars and saloons, jails and ice cream parlors (think WestWorld).
While most movie sets are just that- a set, Pioneertown is a set that was brought to life. ‘Mane Street’ is a major attraction here and includes everything from a post office, to a church and even a marshal’s office. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see a mock gun-fight and Old West reenactments. Make sure to stop by the gift shop for a souvenir from this unique town.
2. The Pioneer Motel
One of the highlights of Mane Street is Pioneer Motel, a quaint desert inn that provides an authentic Wild West experience. This desert escape offers a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. It is also in close proximity to attractions like Palm Springs and Joshua Tree.
While the motel does come with air-conditioning and showers, it does allow visitors to disconnect from the real world. There are limited amenities and no TVs or phones in this rustic respite. Make sure you pack everything you need and set your status to ‘out of office’ before you get here. This desert getaway is a must-see spot on a trip to California.
3. Pappy and Harriet’s
A major attraction in Pioneertown is Pappy and Harriet’s, a local indie bar where you get to experience entertainment in the Wild West. The bar is perfect for music lovers and has attracted artists from all over the world. Singers like Paul McCartney and the Arctic Monkeys have performed here.
Once Pioneertown was past its Wild West set days, Pappy and Harriet’s was a joint for biker gangs. It was later transformed into a more family-friendly destination and offers great Tex Mex food with beer.
You get to dig into the diner’s famous Asada chili and enjoy some great live music. This spot is famous among many travelers and even earned the title as one of the Top Ten Hidden Gems in the country by Billboard Magazine.
4. The Integratron
Take a break from the Wild West and get your dose of science for the day. Located in the Mojave desert, right outside Pioneertown is The Integratron. This is 38 ft. mystical energy machine was built by ufologist, George Van Tassel. He claimed to have built the structure based on instructions he received from visitors from the planet Venus.
The Integratron was built with the purpose of rejuvenation and was funded by donations from prominent figures like Howard Hughes. The sound bath is the highlight of this place and is raved by many.
It includes a 60-minute bath that provides sonic-healing with different sounds for relaxation and introspection. Tickets to the sound bath sell out quickly so make your reservations well in advance.
5. Keys Ranch
Once you’re done exploring Mane Street in Pioneertown, it’s time to head deeper into the West and experience ranch life. Keys Ranch is a preserved ranch that depicts the life of a pioneer family in the 1900s. It once belonged to a miner named Bill Keys who lived on the property for nearly 60 years.
Keys called the remote patch of land Desert Queen Ranch. As the owner of more than 30 mines and a stamp mill, he dug for gold and ore in the surrounding area. In the rocky terrain that he called home, Bill along with his wife Frances raised three kids. They also had a vegetable garden and a farm with chickens and goats on the property.
Bill Keys developed the property through the years and after his death, it was preserved to depict the life of a true pioneer of his time. You can take a 90 minute guided tour of Key Ranch to learn more about the history of the people and the land.
6. Lost Horse Mine
The land surrounding Pioneertown was once famous among miners who dug nearly 300 mines in the 1800s in the hopes of finding riches. While most of their efforts were futile, one mine did produce returns. The Lost Horse Mine now sits on the land protected by Joshua Tree National Park.
Between the late 1800s and 1900s, this mine produced 16,000 ounces of silver and 10,000 ounces of gold which equals a value of $5 million. While there are no more gold and silver treasures buried below (unfortunately), visitors get to see what is left of the mine.
If you are an avid hiker, take the 4-mile loop around the mine that starts from Keys Views Road. This will take you to the gold mine and a mine shaft where workers were lowered into the mine. This is followed by a stamp mill that was used to crush ore by miners like Bill Keys.
For a shorter hike, take the 0.3-mile loop that takes you to the top of the hill where you get to enjoy spectacular views of Lost Horse Valley and Pleasant Valley.
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7. Cholla Cactus Garden
A visit to Pioneertown also gives visitors the opportunity to explore the vast landscapes in the surrounding regions. If you consider yourself a thrill-seeker, consider taking a walk in the Cholla Cactus Garden. This is one of Joshua Tree’s most treacherous paths and is not for the faint of heart.
This garden is also called the Teddy Bear Cholla but don’t be fooled by its name because these cacti are anything but cuddly. While the terrain is quite flat, it’s the cacti that make the hike so dangerous.
The best time to walk this 0.3 mile trail is during sunrise or sunset. When the sunlight shines through the cacti, it gives the plant a divine glow and is totally picture-worthy.
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8. Joshua Tree National Park
Just 15 minutes outside Pioneertown is one of California’s most famous national parks- Joshua Tree. It is made up of two deserts, the Mojave and Colorado that come together to form the Joshua Tree. This ecological terrain is most famous for its Joshua Tree (hence the name) that attracts tourists from all over the world.
While the park is mostly known for its flora and fauna, you can explore its surroundings on different hiking trails that take you across valleys and plains. These places offer some great sunset views.
If you like rock-climbing, the park offers more than 8,000 climbing routes that range from beginner to expert levels. You can even take a guided tour of Joshua Tree National Park through GetYourGuide.
Visitors can either spend the night glamping at Joshua Tree or just do a day trip to the park, given its close proximity to Pioneertown. Joshua Tree National Park is one of the top places to see in California. You can take even take a guided walking tour to learn more about the park.
9. Palms Oasis
Visitors get to explore California’s wild west at Pioneertown but the surrounding region has a lot of history to offer as well. The Palm Oasis located just outside Pioneertown is a trail filled with exotic fauna and flora.
The Native American path sits at an elevation of 300 feet that curves around a sharp ridge and again around a palm grove. In order to get to the narrow ravine, you will need to hike across rocky terrain. The trail ends with 100 palm trees and pools that are the highlight of their place. These palm trees are native to California and require a constant supply of water.
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10. Spiritual Vortex
While many believe Vortexes to be a myth, they actually exist in places like Joshua Tree. A vortex is a space that exudes an energy that washes over you the minute you arrive. Joshua Tree is known for its cosmic draw and each year spiritual people flock to desert feel its energy.
With its exquisite rock formations and punctuated Yucca trees, this landscape of the desert can lull you into a meditative state. While we can’t know for sure if Vortexes exist in Joshua Tree, the desert town definitely has calming energy to it.
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11. Gaze at the stars
One of the best parts about venturing into the outdoors is watching the stars on a clear night and Pioneertown has no shortage of them. Almost any spot in this area is great for stargazing. You can even camp out in Joshua Tree and watch the stars from there.
On a clear night, you can see different constellations and even galaxies from the Pioneertown. The low humidity in the desert region and its distance away from the city, make it the perfect place to watch the stars. If you enjoy stargazing, there are various groups you can join or you can even sign up for a guided Night-Sky program.
Spend your day exploring the pioneer way of life and nature that surrounds this town. While this place does not have WIFI, you can use this time to unwind in a sound bath or watch the stars in the night sky.
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