Joshua Tree National Park is a hiker’s paradise. With 122 hiking trails, there are hikes for all levels of skill. The park has some easy trails, but it also has moderately skilled and more difficult ones. No matter what your level of experience come and explore one of the 11 best hikes in Joshua Tree in this gorgeous park!
Joshua Tree National Park: At a glance
- Where is it? The park is in southeastern California, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles and 40 miles from Palm Springs
- Best Time to Visit: Joshua Tree is open all year-round. However, the best time to visit is in the cooler months (it is a desert after all) with peak times October through to May
- Where to Stay: There are nine campgrounds in the park, as well as various hotels and inns located nearby in Palm Springs
- How to Get Around: The best way to get around Joshua Tree National Park is by car
- Park Access: The America the Beautiful National Park Pass can be purchased ahead of time. This $80 pass is valid for 12 months and gets you into all national park sites including Joshua Tree National Park
Where is Joshua Tree National Park?
Joshua Tree National Park can be found in southeastern California, just 40 miles from Palm Springs and a couple of hours from Los Angeles. It is named for the Joshua tree, a yucca plant that grows in the Mojave Desert. In total, the park is about 800,000 acres of land comprising two distinct ecosystems that are primarily determined by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert.
With its beautiful rock formations, panoramic views, wildlife, and various wildflowers and cacti, Joshua Tree has a lot to offer an adventurous family. There are nine campgrounds throughout the park, so you can stay the night, enjoy the spectacular sunsets, and gaze at the stars. Then, wake up early the next morning for a sunrise hike, or you can pack a picnic and plenty of water and bring your family for the day.
If you wish to see some stunning desert views that will leave your jaw on the floor, just look at these 11 best hikes in Joshua Tree you cannot miss.
Barker Dam Nature Trail
Distance: 1.1 mile/1.8km Elevation change: 50ft/15.2m Approx time: 1 hour
Barker Dam Nature Trail is a popular trail that is easy for both beginner and experienced hikers. The trailhead can be found at the end of Park Boulevard, near the Barker Dam parking lot. The trail takes you on a loop around Barker Dam, which was built in the early 1900s. If you visit in the winter or spring, you will see a small lake that is formed by the dam but in summer and autumn it is usually dry but it’s still interesting to see. The trail offers great views of the surrounding mountains and desert landscape. This easy trail is a great option for hikers with children, as it’s short and offers beautiful views of the Joshua tree forest. The Barker Dam Trail can be found near the Barker Dam Parking Lot (there are several parking lots in Joshua Tree National Park, so make sure you check which one is closest to the trailhead). The Barker dam was built during the construction of Highway 62 and provides a beautiful view.
Hiking along this trail will take you by many juniper trees. There’s also an old car that was abandoned during the Great Depression and serves as a great place for photos.
Cholla Cactus Garden Loop
Distance: 0.25 mile/0.6km Elevation change: 10ft/3m Approx time: 15-30 minutes
Cholla Cactus Garden Loop is a must-see short trail in Joshua Tree with thousands of densely packed, naturally developing cholla cactus are waiting to be discovered along this easy-to-follow trail. Wear closed-toe shoes and do stray from the path if you want to avoid prickles! It is a short, flat walk through a dense grove of cholla cacti or teddy-bear cholla and is ideal for small children and is pram friendly.
Skull Rock Trail
Distance: 1.75 miles/2.1km Elevation change: 400ft/122m Approx time: 1-2 hrs
Skull Rock Trail is an easy hike that leads to an unusual rock outcropping that looks just like a human skull. The trailhead is located near the Jumbo Rocks Campground. The hike is a loop and takes you up to Skull Rock, which offers great views of the surrounding area, then back down via a different path.
Arch Rock Trail
Distance: 1.4 miles/2.1km Elevation change: 100ft/30m Approx time: 1 hrs
Arch Rock is an easy trail that takes you to a natural arch formation. The Arch Rock Trail can be found near the Twin Tanks Parking Lot. It is a lollipop-shaped trail through sandy and rocky terrain. A 0.6-mile trail leads to a 0.2-mile loop with the arch rock about halfway around. This trail does require some basic scrambling skills, but the rock formations are breathtaking to look at. You may also spot a few bighorn sheep on your hike.
Hidden Valley Trail
Distance: 1 mile/1.6km Elevation change: 100ft/30m Approx time: 1 hour
This is a great loop trail for hikers who are new to Joshua Tree National Park, as it’s an easy and short hike. The Hidden Valley Trail takes you through a rock valley surrounded by rock formations that were used by cattle ranchers in the early 1900s. It has also been rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers as well!
There is a lovely picnic area near the parking lot which is surrounded by imposing rocks. Choose the right picnic table to provide welcome shade from the hot desert sun. The Hidden Valley Campground is located a short walk from the trailhead, it has 39 sites and is popular with climbers who spend their days climbing the rock formations.
These hikes are not recommended for summer. When hiking in the desert during the heat, use caution.
Lost Horse Mine Trail
Distance: 4 miles/6.4km Elevation change: 550ft/168m Approx time: 2-3 hrs
Lost Horse Mine is an interesting hike that leads you to one of the most successful gold mines in the park. The trailhead can be found near the Jumbo Rocks Campground, at the end of Lost Horse Road. Everything is blocked by a chain-link fence due to the risks of crumbling buildings and collapsing shafts. However, it’s still worth the trek to see this relic of history. Continue along the path to the ridge for a greater challenge if you’re up for it.
The fact that this route is less well-known and seldom crowded is only one of its many advantages. Continue up the road to Keys View for one of the park’s finest scenic views.
Split Rock Loop
Distance: 2.5 miles/4km Elevation change: 150ft/45.7m Approx time: 1.5-2.5 hrs
Split Rock Loop is a moderate hike that takes you to a natural split rock formation about half way through the loop. Split Rock, Tulip Rock, and Face Rock are three of the park’s legendary monzogranite boulders that you’ll find on this traditional Joshua Tree short excursion.
The route passes numerous signposted climbing spots, each with a stake indicating the user path. In the past, it was simple to confuse the hiking trail and climbers’ path because they ran concurrently.
Ryan Mountain Trail
Distance: 3 miles/4.8km Elevation change: 1050ft/320m Approx time: 1.5-2.5 hrs
Ryan Mountain Trail is one of the most popular and challenging hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. Don’t be fooled by this “short” three mile hike as it has a swift 1050ft elevation gain making it a great workout. The trailhead can be found near the parking area between Sheep Pass and Ryan Campground. The hike up to Ryan Mountain offers great views of the surrounding area, but be prepared as this is a long and strenuous hike. It takes you over rocky terrain with steep ascents. The hike down is much easier, but be careful as the trail can be slippery.
The strenuous climb to Ryan Mountain rewards hikers with an awe-inspiring 360-degree view from the summit that stretches across Joshua Tree National Park and into the Mojave Desert.
Boy Scout Trail
Distance: 8 miles/12.9km Elevation change: 1090ft/362m Approx time: 6 hrs
Boy Scout Trail is a long and challenging hike that takes you up to the summit of Ryan Mountain. The Park Service advises booking a vehicle shuttle at the northern trailhead of Indian Cove Backcountry Board if you plan on hiking. Most hikers complete the trip as a one-way journey because there is no water along the route and you must carry all of your supplies. Although some people do it as an overnight trip out and back.
The South trailhead, inside the West Entrance, is where most hikers start their hike; finishing up at Indian Cove. Along with your planned dates out, remember to sign in at the backpacker’s permit registration board. There is no cell service along most of this route, thus you won’t be able to use your phone in an emergency so consider taking a GPS beacon. The majority of people prefer to park their cars at Indian Cove and then take the West Entrance path.
Lost Palms Oasis Trail
Distance: 7.5 miles/12km Elevation change: 500ft/152m Approx time: 5-6 hrs
The Lost Palms Oasis Trail is a moderate to a difficult hiking trail that takes you through the sandy wash of California’s Joshua Tree National Park. It offers stunning views while passing by palm trees, creosote bushes, and other desert plants. Walk down into the canyon to discover an oasis of fan palms. Climbing back out of the canyon can be quite strenuous so take your time.
You will find the trailhead just past the road heading to the Cottonwood Campground. The canyon is a beautiful place to explore throughout the day and watch for bighorn sheep and other fauna. In the morning, this is an excellent location to look for bighorns and other animals in the backcountry. This is a particularly lovely journey in the spring, when wildflower blooms may be seen on the lower slopes.
Warren Peak Trail
Distance: 6.3 miles/10.1km Elevation change: 1050ft/320m Approx time: 3-4.5 hrs
Warren Peak Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree, and it’s a challenging hike that offers beautiful views. The trail climbs steadily for most of the way to Warren Peak, with a few steeper sections. There are also some great boulder scrambles along the way. The summit provides wonderful 360-degree views of Joshua Tree National Park, so be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and bring your camera.
The trailhead is located at the Black Rock Campground, which currently has no potable water for hikers (be prepared with up to four liters in a backpack). The campground is also home to Joshua Tree’s only bathrooms – vault-style toilets that are not exactly pleasant but are better than nothing.
From the campground, cross the road and follow the trailhead sign for Warren Peak Trail. The first section of the hike is a gentle climb through the juniper and pinyon pine forest. Once you reach the ridge, you’ll get your first views of Joshua Tree National Park. After a short break, the trail continues steeply up to Warren Peak.
Enjoy the views from the summit before starting your descent. The return trip is mostly downhill, with a few gentle uphill sections. Be sure to take your time on this hike – it’s easy to get carried away and miss some of the amazing scenery along the way.
TIPS FOR HIKING JOSHUA TREE
- Bring plenty of water as most of the hikes do not have potable water
- Avoid the more strenuous hikes in the heat of summer – dehydration and heat exhaustion are common occurrences on the trails
- Not sure what to pack? Check here for some guidance!
- Bring sunscreen and wear a hat. The desert sun is brutal
- Bring some salty snacks to replace your electrolytes
- In summer we recommend hiking early morning or late afternoon and avoid hiking between 10am-4pm
- The NPS App includes maps, trips to park locations, and on-the-ground accessibility information about more than 400 national parks to help visitors plan their visit. Download the app before you get there as well as any offline material ahead of time. There is limited to no mobile service in Joshua Tree National Park, so you’ll need to pre-download content on your phone so it’s accessible at all times.
Ways to Make Your Trip to Joshua Tree Kid-Friendly
To make your trip to Joshua Tree even more fun for your kids, the park offers a couple of programs designed for children.
- Children 5 to 13 can earn their Junior Ranger badge by completing activities featured in the Junior Ranger booklet. You can find these booklets at all park entrance stations and visitors centers.
- Every Kid Outdoors allows 4th graders and their families to explore public lands for free for a year. Visit their website for further information, including links to locations that accept the pass.
Joshua Tree National Park is a hiker’s paradise, with trails of all levels of difficulty and stunning views around every corner. No matter what trail you choose, be prepared for an amazing experience in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Here are our top three picks for the best hikes in Joshua Tree:
– Lost Palms Oasis Trail
– Warren Peak Trail
– Ryan Mountain Trail.
Happy hiking! 🙂