Destinations Magazine

The Best 12 Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

By Monkeys And Mountains Adventure @Laurel_Robbins

This post may include affiliate links, including Amazon Associate links. I may earn money if you click on one at no extra cost to you.

Here are 12 of the best Joshua Tree hikes. With over 130 hiking trails, it can be difficult to choose that's why we've got everything from easy hikes to challenging ones.

A place where two deserts meet, these Joshua Tree hiking trails showcase the best of the Mojave and the Colorado deserts. You'll also get amazing views of the Coachella Valley and, of course, the iconic, twisty and bristled Joshua trees from which the national park takes its name.

Joshua Tree National Park is roughly the size of Rhode Island!, so there's a LOT to see

With so many exceptional Joshua Tree hikes to choose from, finding the right one for you to tackle may seem a bit overwhelming at first. This is why we have compiled this list of the best trails for every level of hiking enthusiast.

Brought to the world's attention by the U2 album of the same name, the Joshua Tree is one of America's most enchanting, intriguing and insanely beautiful national parks.

Covering a distance of around 800,000 acres, the park has a mystical and somewhat ethereal quality to it.

Huge in scale, it is loved by hikers, outdoor adventurists, naturalists and eco-travellers. You'll love exploring its sweeping expanse. Expect imperious granite monoliths and incredible boulder and rock formations. Some of which are thought to be around 1.6 billion years old.

It's home to two dominant ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado Desert. You'll find a huge range of flora, 750 plant species to be exact!

You'll find the likes of ocotillo and creosote, which are widespread. There are also plenty of juniper and pinyon pine trees. Plus of course, the park's signature Joshua Trees as well. All of which makes for a spectacular landscape.

Flora and Fauna of Joshua Tree

The park is also known for its diverse range of fauna. You'll find 57 species of mammals, including the California Black Bear, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Mearns Coyote and California Mountain Lion.

It also has 46 species of reptiles and 250 species of birds. And an incredible 75 species of butterflies call the national park home.

For the visitor, Joshua Tree National Park can be enjoyed in many different ways. This includes rock climbing, star gazing, photography, camping and, of course, hiking - which is by far the most popular activity here.

The park is open all year round. However, the best time to hit the Joshua Tree trails is between March to May. The wildflowers are in bloom then and it's not too hot. Unlike many other national parks where the peak season is summer, in Joshua Tree peak season is March and April.

October and November are also good choices. The temperature is at its most pleasant throughout the entire course of the day.

During these months, you'll experience an average high of around 85 degrees in the day and around 55 degrees at night.

However, be mindful that the temperatures vary depending on when you visit the park. It can reach 60 degrees during the day in winter and drop to below 30 degrees at night.

It is also worth noting that the temperatures here can often be unbearable during the summer months. The mercury regularly exceeds 100 degrees during the day. At night it may drop to 75 degrees. If you visit in summer, bring plenty of water.

Conversely, in winter the park also experiences snow at higher elevations.

If you do plan to hike in the summer months, then the earlier in the day you hit the Joshua Tree Trails, the better. We recommend setting off just before sunrise. Then you'll have several hours at your disposal before the temperatures start to hit energy-sapping levels.

Safety When Hiking in Joshua Tree

Irrespective of when you do go hiking, it's a good idea to check with the Visitor Centre first. They can update you on any closures, threats of inclement weather conditions and expected fire dangers.

Also, be sure to tell someone which of the Joshua Tree hikes you plan to take. It's a safety measure that you should do before every hike.

Without wishing to scare you, even very experienced hikers have died. So telling someone your route and sticking to it could be the difference, literally, between life or death.

Don't have the time or energy for a long hike?

Check out our selection of the best easy hikes in the Joshua Tree National Park. They overdeliver on the wow factor for the minor effort involved.

Barker Dam Trail

Trail Length: 1.1 miles

Elevation Difference: 50 feet

Trail Type: Loop

Trailhead: Barker Dam parking area

Barker Dam is a terrific hike for families as the trail is predominantly flat with only 50 feet of elevation gain. That said parts of it are sandy and rocky, so be sure to put on proper footwear.

Exploring the cultural history the Barker Dam Nature Trail showcases excellent rock art and some notable boulders.

You will see plenty of Joshua trees, piñon pines, creosote bushes and bighorn sheep too. While it also passes by huge granite rock formations which are frequently scaled by rock-climbing enthusiasts.

Trail Length: 1 mile

Elevation Difference: 100 feet

Trail Type: Loop Trail

Trailhead: Hidden Valley picnic area

When it comes to easy hiking trails that convey some of the Joshua Tree's most incredible sights, the Hidden Valley Trail is hard to beat even though it's one of the shorter hikes in the park.

An easy one-mile loop trail to traverse, it's is situated slightly off Park Boulevard. It takes you through the heart of the park, highlighting a breathtaking rock valley that has been carved by the elements over time.

Whilst walking along the trail, interpretive panels relate the area's geology, biodiversity and cultural history.

highlighting a breathtaking rock valley that has been carved by the elements over time.

Trail Length: 0.25 miles

Elevation Difference: 10 feet

Trail Type: Loop

Trailhead: 20 miles north of Cottonwood Visitor Center

The Cholla Cactus Garden trail is a short loop flat trail that takes less than 5 minutes to complete. And with only 10 feet of elevation gain, it's a perfect family hike if you have young children.

However, it over-delivers with its fantastic view of the Cholla Cactus.

You'll find it on the Pinto Basin Road, quite close to the transition zone which lies between the Colorado and Mohave Deserts.

Given how short it is, it's no surprise that it's one of the most popular hiking trails in the park, so you definitely won't have the trail o yourself.

It's also a great trail for the birdwatching opportunities it offers as well.

Trail Length: 2.5 miles

Elevation Difference: 150 feet

Trail Type: Loop

Trailhead: Split Rock picnic area

This loop trail features stunning rock formations, stark desert landscapes and diverse wildlife. It's a lovely hike that immerses you in the beauty of the Joshua National Park.

It can be hiked in either direction, but whichever way you go it is worth also checking out the nearby Split Rock and Face Rock.

As the trail is exposed to the elements, this is a very good hike to do in the winter months when the weather is much cooler. If you decide to head there in the hottest summer months, we advise tackling the route well before 9 am and bringing plenty of water.

Trail Length: 0.7 miles

Elevation Difference: 70 feet

Trail Type: Loop

Trailhead: Skull Rock parking area just east of Jumbo Rocks Campground

The Discovery Trail is a loop that connects two other trails (the Split Rock Loop and the Skull Rock) via the Face Rock Trail.

Comprising a rocky dirt road, which includes steep areas, stairs, and narrower sections, this hike will take you through a spectacular terrain of desert washes and past imposing boulder piles.

Be sure to have your camera ready!

Trail Length: 1.98 miles

Elevation Difference: 75 feet

Trail Type: Out-and-back

Trailhead: The main Wonderland of Rocks

This popular hike will take you to the historic Wall Street Mill site.

It's an easy hike, with little in the way of elevation gain. You'll pass stunning rock formations and enchanting Joshua Trees along the way.

Once you get to the site, you can check out a bit of history with the various ruins associated with the old gold mine. You'll also see rusted automobiles and an aging homestead.

Looking for a hike to get the heart rate going? Check out these moderate hikes.

Trail Length: 3 miles

Elevation Difference: 1050 feet

Trail Type: Out-and-back

Trailhead: Parking area between Sheep Pass and Ryan Campground

The Ryan Mountain Trail features impressive rock formations, Joshua Tree forests and sensational, sweeping landscape views.

Best seen from the summit of Ryan Mountain, the top-down view of the park is well worth the 1050-foot elevation gain to get there.

This lofty viewpoint also provides a magnificent vantage point to see the sunset. If you can time your visit with this, you'll be well-rewarded.

Trail Length: 3 miles

Elevation Difference: 300 feet

Trail Type: Out-and-Back

Trailhead: Fortynine Palms parking area, accessed off Highway 62.

A hike along the 49 Palms Oasis Trail will treat you to exceptional views of sandy washes, rolling terrain and rocky ridges.

You'll also descend into a remote canyon. From there, you'll be able to see a stunning fan palm oasis.

Located just off the Twenty-Nine Palms Highway, the trail does have a steeper section that climbs over ridges, replete with barrel cactus and other desert plants, before heading down into the canyons.

Trail Length: 6.5 Miles

Elevation Difference: 550 feet

Trail Type: Loop

Trailhead: Lost Horse Mine trailhead off Keys View Road

If you are looking for a moderately difficult trail that offers peace and seclusion, then consider the Lost Horse Mine Trail.

Passing through the stunning terrain of Joshua and Yucca trees, jagged boulder-strewn ridges, and gorgeous wildflowers (in the spring), the trail offers sweeping views en route to the Lost Horse Mine.

For those interested in the park's history, this is one of the best trails to go on. The Lost Horse Mine has a well-preserved mill that is worth checking out.

Searching for a more strenuous hike? These Joshua Tree Trails fit the bill.

Trail Length: 6.3 miles

Elevation Difference: 1100 feet

Trail Type: Out-and-back

Trailhead: Black Rock

Popular among hikers, horseback riders and trail runners, the Warren Peak Trail will take you to the summit of Warren Peak.

It starts at the Black Rock trailhead and showcases fantastic, panoramic views of the much quieter western region of the Joshua Tree National Park.

Along this trail, wildlife is abundant. So don't be surprised to encounter fox, deer, rabbit, coyote and mountain lions!

Trail Length: 8 miles

Elevation Difference: 1190 feet

Trail Type: One Way

Trailhead: North end: Indian Cove backcountry board. South end: Boy Scout Trailhead.

The Boy Scout Trail is a popular trail for backpacking, camping, and naturally hiking. That said, you should be able to enjoy plenty of solitude for most of the day.

The trail will guide you deep into the Wonderland of Rocks. This is a great spot to for a snack and where you'll want to soak in the landscape. However, as it is easy to get lost it is not recommended to explore the boulders.

Most hikers who undertake this trail tend to start at the Boy Scout Trailhead. That way, it's a largely downhill trip.

But if you're seeking a more challenging hike or want to backpack and stay overnight, you can register and leave your vehicle at the Indian Cove backcountry board by the north trailhead.

Trail Length: 6.6 miles

Elevation Difference: 1100 feet

Trail Type: Loop

Trailhead: Yucca Valley

Showcasing spectacular views, stunning geological formations and a spectacularly arid desert landscape, the Black Rock Canyon Panorama Loop is a rugged steep hike that will take you around the more remote northwest corner of the park.

You'll head high into the Mojave Desert, where scores of Joshua Tree flats and gaping valleys eventually lead to mountainous woodlands of Pinyon-Juniper.

This route often gets ignored in favor of other more popular hikes, making it a good choice if you like solitude and getting away from the crowds.

Be sure to bring extra water.

Aside from hiking the Joshua Tree Trails, several other activities are well worth doing.

One of the best of them is stargazing.

Joshua Tree has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park. It offers incredible views it offers of the Milky Way Galaxy and constellations like Orion's Belt and the Big Dipper. If you get a chance, we highly recommend you check it out. Travel tip: Try to arrive in time for sunset for a special treat.

You should also drive up to the lookout point at Keys View. From there, you can take in the magnificent, panoramic views of the Coachella Valley at an elevation of 5,000 feet. On a clear day, you can see Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, the San Andreas fault line and even Mexico!

In addition, nature lovers should visit the Cholla Cactus Garden. You'll see the arresting sight of over a thousand densely packed chollas sprawling out across the desert floor.

If you're visiting Joshua Tree in spring, don't miss the chance to see carpets of gorgeous wildflowers in bloom. You'll find them near Cottonwood Spring.

Speaking of Cottonwood Spring, this permanent spring is worth a visit too. Its flow often hits 500 gallons per day. That makes it one of the best areas in the park for bird watching. Some of the species you may see here include kestrels, hummingbirds, cactus wrens and red-tailed hawks.

As most of the park is pure wilderness, it is ideal for horseback riding. Some 250 miles of equestrian trails meander through the Joshua Tree. Some will take you to the 8000 climbing and bouldering routes dotted around its landscape.

History buffs will want to do a tour of the remains of Keys Ranch. It's a former ranch and homestead that belonged to William F. Keys around the 1910s. The tour of this National Historic Register Site provides a fascinating insight into what life was like in the park during that time.

Before hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, you should do a few things.For a start, you should pop into the Visitors Center. Here you'll get the most up-to-date information available on trail conditions and closures.

They can also confirm for you if any of the campgrounds have been closed. They'll also advise if there have been any major wildlife sightings in the area in which you intend to hike. They'll also update you on the potential risks of bushfires or dangerous weather conditions.

It is also worth double-checking the weather forecast with the National Weather Service too.

Before setting off, obtaining a physical map of the Joshua Tree Trails is a very good idea. Don't rely solely on your phone. You may not have reception, your battery dies, or you lose your phone. A physical map is a great backup.

To stay safe, tell a friend, loved one, or the Visitor Center which trail you are planning to hike. Then ensure you stick to that route. Also, arrange to contact them later in the day to let them know you made it back safely.

Ensure you have eaten a good meal and are fully hydrated before you start your walk. Bring more water than you think you'll need.

In addition, always wear a hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. And be sure to give yourself a lot more time to complete the hike than the guidebooks say you'll need.

Plan to stay near Joshua Tree National Park for a few days? Well, there are plenty of options available to you.

Camping in Joshua Tree

The Indian Cove Campground and Black Rock Campground are great choices for self-sufficient campers.

The Indian Cove Campground offers 101 rustic, unpowered sites with vault toilets but no water. It's located just off Hwy-62, ~13 miles east of the Joshua Tree Village.

The Black Rock Campground has 99 rustic, unpowered sites. It has toilets, drinking water, a fire ring and a picnic table. It can accommodate both tents and RVs. It's located in the northwest corner of Joshua Tree. It's also just five miles from the town of Yucca Valley, where you'll find plenty of shops.

Other very good camping options include Ryan, Cottonwood and Hidden Valley.

Motel Accommodations in Joshua Tree

If you would prefer to stay in motel-style accommodation, consider High Desert Motel Joshua Tree National Park, Joshua Tree Ranch House or the Safari Motor Inn.

All offer comfortable accommodation within a couple of miles of the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center.

Each of these properties features a private bathroom, seasonal outdoor swimming pool and Cable TV.

Private Accommodations in Joshua Tree

If you'd prefer to rent an entire house, then consider these VRBOs.

This fabulous 1940s High Desert Cabin, was originally built in the 1940's and has been restored to its former glory. It's your chance to experience a bit of Pioneertown history personally. It's located a short drive to the Black Rock entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.

The Joshua Tree Forest Bungalow has a hot tub to take in the magnificent stars. It's also in a great location.

FAQs people ask about visiting and hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.

So there you have it! Our guide to the 12 best hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park.

We hope this guide has inspired you to visit this wonderful destination and explore, first-hand, its outstanding natural beauty through these trails.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog