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A Guide to The Best Hikes in Joshua Tree

A Guide to The Best Hikes in Joshua Tree

By California.com
October 29, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

Joshua Tree National Park is where two distinct desert ecosystems meet—the Mojave and Colorado Deserts—resulting in incredible desert plants, bizarre rock formations, and historic sites. Captivating visitors with its namesake and other iconic flora, the park also has roughly 300 miles of hiking trails waiting to be explored. Hiking in Joshua Tree is one of the most gratifying activities you’ll ever engage in, so the next time you plan a Joshua Tree getaway, make sure you add hiking to your itinerary. 

Can't-miss Joshua tree hiking trails

Whether you choose to pitch your tent at one of the top national park campsites or to stay at one of the dreamy desert hotels nearby during your trip, you'll want to spend your days checking out the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. Here are 10 trails you shouldn't miss.

1. Hidden Valley Trail

Admire the Joshua tree scenery while hiking the easygoing Hidden Valley Trail.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1 mile

Time: 20–30 minutes

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

The Hidden Valley Trail is one of the easiest yet best hikes in Joshua Tree. You'll find this self-guiding loop trail in the center of the park. Providing brief introductions to the flora and fauna, the pathway leads you to a rock-enclosed valley that was once rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers. Surrounded by hills and smooth boulders, it’s also a popular rock climbing area. Suitable for hikers of all levels, the Hidden Valley Trail is accessible year-round and features a wide range of beautiful wildflowers.

2. Barker Dam Nature Trail

Hike the Baker Dam Natural Trail to view the water feature, which is most impressive at sunset.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.3 miles

Time: 20–30 minutes

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

If you’re looking for a water feature when hiking in Joshua Tree, Barker Dam Nature Trail is your starting point. The easy hike gives you an opportunity to explore the cultural history of the area and leads you to a water tank built by early cattle ranchers. Retaining rainwater for livestock, it attracts local wildlife such as bighorn sheep and coyotes. Along the Barker Dam Nature Trail, you’ll come across pictographs inside a small carved out rock. 

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3. Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 7 miles

Time: 2–3 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

One of the best things to do in this California desert is hiking the Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail. The trailhead is located on Keys View Road and takes you to one of the most successfully preserved gold mines in the park. As one of the best trails in Joshua Tree, it provides scenic views of the mine’s remnants and surroundings. Discover decaying equipment such as the ten-stamp mill, and take pictures of the deteriorating machinery

4. Willow Hole Trail

If you're a geology buff, don't miss the Willow Hole Trail, which leads to the Wonderland of ROcks.

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: About 7 miles 

Time: 2–3 hours

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: No

Willow Hole Trail is a mostly flat trail that takes you along the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. The hike begins at the Boy Scout Trailhead, situated at the south end of the park. Famed for its scenic vistas and vibrant wildflowers, the trail exposes you to Joshua tree forests, boulder landscapes, sandy washes, and green willow trees. With quintessential desert scenery surrounding you, this is a wonderful trail for immersing yourself in the park's bountiful beauty. 

5. Ryan Mountain Trail

Conquer the Ryan Mountain Trail and be rewarded with incredible vistas of the Joshua Tree landscape.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 3 miles 

Time: 1.5–2.5 hours

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: No

A must-hike trail in Joshua Tree is the Ryan Mountain Trail. This Joshua Tree National Park hiking trail takes you to the summit of Ryan Mountain, where incredible views of the landscape below await. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no shade on the trail and it gets very hot—if you want to hike in the summer, it’s best to do so early in the morning or the late evening. The vantage point at the top of Ryan Mountain is the most rewarding; with panoramas of Pinto Basin, Lost Horse Valley, Queen Valley, and Pleasant Valley possible on this pathway, hiking in Joshua Tree has never been better. 

6. Arch Rock Nature Trail

See a breathtaking natural arch in Joshua Tree by hiking the Arch Rock Nature Trail.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.2 miles

Time: 20–30 minutes

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: No

The Arch Rock Nature Trail begins at the White Tank Campground. The sandy trail guides you to an arch, which extends three feet wide. The best part about hiking this Joshua Tree trail is that you can stand right underneath the arch. This short hike offers sweeping views of desert plants and large rock formations, making it one of the most frequented ones during the summer season. Astrophotographers frequently hike up the Arch Rock Nature Trail to capture out-of-this-world images of the night sky, too.

7. Skull Rock Nature Trail

Lay your eyes upon the park's skull-shaped desert granite rock formation while trekking the Skull Rock Nature Trail.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.7 miles 

Time: 30 minutes–1 hour

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

It goes without saying that the Skull Rock Nature Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree. Many years ago, rain drops accumulated in tiny depressions, which began eroding the granite; as years passed by, the erosion created two hollowed-out eye sockets resembling a skull. The trailhead is located east of the Jumbo Rocks Campground entrance and is very easy to hike. There are giant, smooth boulders along the hike, so it's the perfect spot to show off your bouldering skills. You’ll also come across a wide variety of wildflowers and different types of cacti along the trail. Soak in the desert landscape and the impressive rock formations on the 1.7-mile hike. 

8. Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail

Walk along the tranquil Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail to view unique cacti.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.25 miles

Time: 10–15 minutes 

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail is more of a short walk than a hike. Situated on the park's east side, the flat loop takes you past acres of densely concentrated, naturally growing cholla cacti. This type of cactus is also referred to as “Jumping Cactus.” These cacti easily get on your clothes and can be a challenge to remove, so watch your step when hiking this Joshua Tree trail. (Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes, too.) With unique desert plants and one-of-a-kind features, it’s a fantastic spot for sunrise and sunset photography.

9. Mastodon Peak Loop Trail

Savor the stunning views of the Colorado Desert after summiting Mastodon Peak.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.6 miles

Time: 1.5–2.5 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

Offering incredible views of the Colorado Desert, the Mastodon Peak Trail is undoubtedly one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree. Although you won't find the park’s namesake tree here, the trail features a wide variety of gorgeous wildflowers that are just as breathtaking. Leave from the Cottonwood Spring parking area for this loop trail. The path takes you to the top of a craggy granite peak and then loops around an old gold mine. Once you reach the summit, you can see the Salton Sea to the south and Eagle Mountain to the east. 

10. High View Nature Loop Trail

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.3 miles from the parking area, 3 miles from the visitor center

Time: 30 minutes–1.5 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

Guiding you to a desert ridge with vistas of the Yucca Valley and San Gorgonio Mountain, the High View Nature Trail starts near Black Rock Campground on the west side of the park. This scenic path starts out level and eventually gives way to steps and a 400-foot climb to the top of a hill. Leading you to a world of Joshua tree forests, the trail has some steep sections and multiple benches to take breaks, but it's all worth it. As you approach the peak, rolling mountains come into sight, leaving you breathless.

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