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The 8 Best Hikes In Joshua Tree National Park

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park is a unique experience in a desert that’s anything but barren. The trails in Joshua Tree have more variety than one expects in the desert. After visiting the park on multiple occasions I’ve narrowed down the 8 best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park you should take to get a taste of everything the park has on offer. 

Joshua Tree National Park provides a playground to admire the famous Joshua Tree Yuccas, scramble up some impressive boulders, and make your way down desert washes. You can hike to a lost oasis, abandoned mines, and several remarkable peaks. There’s plenty of shorter hikes for beginners, or experienced hikers can tackle several in a day. 

The Joshua Tree ecosystem is a new landscape for many hikers who have never hiked in a vast desert wilderness before. I found hiking in this park to be completely new, different and unique from forest hiking experiences. You too can explore this unique intersection of the Colorado and Mojave deserts and check out everything Joshua Tree has to offer.

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you click on one and purchase something, we make a small portion of the sale at no additional cost to you. It goes without saying that we would never recommend something we wouldn’t use or do ourselves.

Tips for Hiking in Joshua Tree 

 Joshua Tree is the desert, so all visitors should come prepared for arid conditions. 

  • There is very little water available in the park, and no shops or kiosks. Even campgrounds have limited water sources. You will need to pack in and pack out everything you need for your visit, including food, snacks, and plenty of water. 

  • Don’t underestimate the possibility of dehydration, especially in the summer months. The National Park Service recommends hikers and cyclists should carry two gallons per person per day. We love our Platypus water bottles, which are perfect for hiking and traveling.

  • Wear a sun hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen (we love Sun Bum!), as many trails have limited opportunities for shade. 

  • Many of the more straightforward and accessible routes are family-friendly and don’t need special hiking gear. Still, a pair of study hiking boots (we’re fans of the Keen Targhees) are handy if you plan to tackle moderate hikes or try out some light bouldering. 

  • Layers of clothing are helpful, even in the shoulder months, as the park is cooler in the early morning and evenings. 

  • There is no cell service or internet available in the park. You can download an offline map, use GPS, or get a free map from the visitor centers.

  • Several of the most popular and scenic hikes in the park are shorter, so they can get busy with less experienced hikers. Come early in the morning and stay for sunset hikes if you want to beat the crowds. 

  • The park is open 24 hours, so you can hit the trails early to catch the sunrise, watch the sunset, or even try a nighttime hike. 

Read more: What to Wear Hiking

Entry Passes for Joshua Tree National Park

You will also need to either buy an entry pass, even if the park entrance is closed when you pass through. There are three ways to do this.

  1. Buy it in-person at the park entrance ($30 for passenger vehicles, $25 for motorcycles). 

  2. Buy a digital entry pass (same prices) ahead of time, which you will show on your phone. 

  3. Buy an America the Beautiful Pass, which covers entrance to all National Parks and Forests for 12 months from the date of purchase. It pays for itself if you plan on visiting three or more parks in the next year.

The Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree has dozens of easy and moderate hikes that are well marked and signposted. There’s also backcountry backpacking opportunities and advanced day or multiple day hikes for experienced hikers.

With so many hiking trails to choose from in Joshua Tree National Park, it can be challenging to pick a route or two for a weekend or shorter trip.

In this list, I’ve rounded up eight of the park’s best and most popular hikes, which offer the best scope for awe inspiring scenery and variety. 

Hikes on the North Side of the Park

The northern end of the park, closest to the town of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, is the more visited area. There are a ton of great hikes nearby, with a range of options for your experience and fitness level. 

Ryan Mountain 

  • Length: 3.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,069 ft.
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location
  • Parking: Free at the parking lot or along the road

This hike is one of Joshua Trees’ few out and back trails that offers more elevation as you hike to Ryan Mountain’s summit. It will take you somewhere around 90 minutes hours round trip to reach panoramic views as far as the eye can see.

The Ryan Mountain trailhead is located right in the heart of Joshua Tree National Park on Park Blvd. There is a parking lot at the trailhead and restrooms with vault toilets, but nowhere to get water, so be sure to bring your own. The hike is a popular trail, so we recommend coming early. If the parking lot is full, you can find a spot on the side of the road.

The trail is well marked, and the trail is well maintained, with stairs for much of the way. Follow signs and take the steps to the trailhead. Once you reach around 0.2 miles, you’ll come to a junction with the Sheep Pass Campground trail, where you should make a right turn. 

Much of the trail is narrow, there is not much space for passing or resting without blocking the path for other hikers. It can take closer to 2 hours to reach the summit and back due to congestion on the narrow trail in peak times. 

Your reward for the climb is incredible 360-degree views of Joshua Tree National Park once you reach the peak of Ryan Mountain. Views from the peak include San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto, while the vistas on the way down are equally spectacular. 

Joshua Tree is very hot for much of the year, but this hike can get cold as you gain elevation. It is usually windy once you get higher up. You should bring layers of clothing to put on when you reach the top.

Ryan Mountain is a stunning spot for sunrise or sunset, with views over most of the national park. Don’t forget to check out the Native American rock shelter before leaving; you can find it just one minute away from the parking lot.

Arch Rock

  • Length: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 88 ft.
  • Trail Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location
  • Parking: Free at the campground parking lot or a turnout along the Pinto Basin Rd

Arch Rock Nature Trail is a popular short hike to see the striking naturally occurring arch. You can also detour to the incredibly Instagramable Heart Rock. The Arch Rock Trail can feature beautiful wildflowers in spring and is an easy trail that’s good for all skill levels. 

There is a short 0.3-mile loop starting at the White Tank Campground, but this is usually only available to visitors staying at that campground. Most hikers will need to take the 1.2-mile lollipop loop hike that begins from a trailhead along Pinto Basin Road. 

The nature trail takes you within the surrounding granite formations to a 30ft naturally occurring arch. This arch is one of Joshua Tree’s most photogenic locations, so expect a small wait during peak times to get your perfect picture. Informative placards along the trail give insight into the geological history that created the arch.

This walk is an easy trail that still feels adventurous and makes you feel like you are far into the desert without going too far from the road. This path is an excellent trail for all visitors and especially popular with families traveling with children.

While the Arch Rock is a significant draw on its own, many hikers come to this trail searching for the elusive Heart Rock. Heart Rock is a 10ft high heart-shaped rock formation located close to the Arch Rock but not on an official route. 

Hikers will need to detour off the Arch Rock Trail to find Heart Rock. Detours aren’t recommended unless you have a good map and are a seasoned hiker. Heart Rock is a 30-minute round trip detour off the Arch Rock Trail. It’s possible to get lost, so we recommend using GPS.

Barker Dam

  • Length: 1.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 62 ft.
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location
  • Parking: Free at the small parking lot

Barker Dam is a 10-mile drive from the west entrance and one of the most varied hikes in Joshua Tree. This easy loop offers various sights, including boulders, an abandoned dam, and ancient petroglyphs.

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is a 1.3-mile loop trail that is great for all skill levels making it a popular spot. There is a parking lot with vault toilets and some picnic tables at the trailhead. If the Barker Dam parking lot is full, you can park on the street and take one of the connector trails from the Wall Street Mill Trail or Hidden Valley Trail. 

Start at the well-marked trailhead from the parking lot, going counterclockwise around the loop. Two trails start from this point, so be sure to choose the trail heading northwest. The other trail heading northeast is the Wall Street Mill Trail; there is an easy connector path if you do go astray. 

The first half of the trail follows a reasonably well-marked path through stunning boulders up to the Barker Dam. Depending on when you visit, you may be lucky enough to see a small water reservoir here, although the area is dry for much of the year. The dam is a particularly good spot for wildlife spotting when there is water in the reservoir, especially if you are here early in the morning.

Some visitors may turn back once they reach the dam view, missing the path that goes around and past the dam itself. It’s okay to turn back, but you will miss the views on the second half of the loop, which include beautiful desert plants such as the Mojave Mound Cactus and a small cave with ancient petroglyphs. Handy signs provide historical and geographic information throughout the walk.

Hidden Valley

  • Length: 1.0 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 114 ft.
  • Trail Type: Loop 
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location
  • Parking: Free at the parking lot, which fills up very early, or free along the road

Hidden Valley is perfect if you’re looking for an easy hike in Joshua Tree, but it’s also one of the park’s prettiest trails. Stunning rock formations and seasonal wildflowers dot this trail making it popular with families. There are restrooms with vault toilets at the trailhead and picnic tables in the picnic area. 

The turnout for Hidden Valley is located 1.7 miles northeast of the junction with Keys View Road. It’s just across the road or a short walk from the nearby Barker Dam. Hidden Valley has one of the larger parking lots in Joshua Tree, but it can still get busy as the Hidden Valley Picnic Area also uses this parking. You may wish to use the connector trails from Barker Dam or the Wall Street Mill parking lots at peak times rather than wait for a parking space.

The trailhead is marked and leaves from a path in the parking lot between rock walls. Cut through boulders to find the Hidden Valley. Once you’ve come through the gap, you will reach a sandy desert floor with a T-junction. You can go in either direction around the loop. Although the trail cuts through boulders, it is reasonably level and accessible. 

The trail and picnic area offer some shade throughout the day, which can be a rare find in Joshua Tree. The Hidden Valley Trail is a short hike that can get crowded, and with good reason. It is one of the most beautiful trails in the park to see plant life and, if you’re into it, do some light scrambling or bouldering. 

Split Rock

  • Length: 1.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 252 ft.
  • Trail Type: Loop 
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location
  • Parking: Free at the parking lot

The Split Rock Loop Trail is a moderate 1.9-mile loop trail located in one of the most popular parts of Joshua Tree National Park. The Split Rock Trail is near the busy Skull Rock area and is a great spot to see the impressive boulders in this area but on a quieter route. 

There are wildflowers in the spring and the summer, and occasionally some snow in the winter. This trial has some of the best rock viewings in Joshua Tree, including views of Face Rock.

After entering from the park’s north or west entrances, turn onto Split Rock from Park Blvd. There is a parking area here or park in a turnout. You will find the trailhead at the parking lot. This trail packs in a lot of scenery into a 1-2 hour hike. There’s some up and down, with options for light bouldering. 

The signs and travel hints are oriented for hikers to walk the trail counterclockwise. The path is well marked but does connect with other hiking trails, so it’s possible to get confused and get onto the wrong path – like I did! It’s crucial to carry a map or use GPS because there is very little shade on this trail, and getting lost on even a short hike in the heat of a desert day can be dangerous. 

A detour to Face Rock is well worth it and will add about 15 minutes to your journey. The detour is marked and has a clear path; follow signs to Face Rock when the option arises. Admire Face Rock, then turn back and continue the loop. 

The Split Rock Loop is full of other fun rock formations; see if you can spot the Mummy Rock earlier on the trail and The Sleeping Turtle near the end. 

Warren Peak Trail

  • Length: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1092 ft.
  • Trail Type: Out & Back 
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location
  • Parking: At the Black Rock Campground visitor center

Warren Peak can be found on a high point of the Little San Bernardino Mountains’ western edge in Joshua Tree National Park. This 5.5-mile trail is a peaceful and less trafficked route, located away from the crowds on Park Boulevard.

Parking is available at the Black Rock Campground visitor center, and the trailhead starts at the left of campsite 30 at Black Rock Campground. For the first part of the hike, you can take in the Joshua Tree Yuccas, which are particularly dense and plentiful here.

Once on the trail, you’ll quickly hit several junctions. When you reach a water tank 0.2 miles along, take a left then an immediate right on the single-track trail heading east. After walking another 0.4 miles, turn right up the wash. Take a right at the next junctions, following signs to Warren Peak, which will be labeled as “WP.”

Take in the Pinyon pine trees and sights of Black Rock Canyon and Black Rock Spring as you make your way along the trail. You will come to a fork where the Panorama Loop breaks off, take a right here, and a right again at a second fork where the Panorama Loop rejoins the trail. At the next fork, turn right again, following WP signs, and ascend the ridgeline east of the peak. The last climb to the peak is steep but well worth it for the spectacular views.

When you reach the peak, you’ll find panoramic views. Take in the Coachella Valley to the south, and the Mojave Desert to the north. On a good day, you may see snow on Mount San Jacinto’s top in the south, just behind Palm Springs.

After enjoying the scenery away from the crowds, you can head back down the trail the way you came, or add in the Panorama Loop detour to take in the views some more.

Hikes on the South Side of Joshua Tree

The southern side of the park is less visited than the northern part, but is equally worth visiting. The two hikes in this region are a little longer than the shorter strolls above. 

We’d recommend driving out the southern entrance at the end of your weekend in Joshua Tree, tackling one of these two hikes along the way.

Lost Palms

  • Length: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location
  • Parking: Park on the road at the small cul-de-sac

You will find Lost Palms Oasis on the Southern side of Joshua Tree, a part of the park many visitors miss. The Colorado desert south side features less of the park’s namesake Joshua Tree Yuccas, so visitors often skip it. But this side of the park is unique in its own special way. Don’t make a mistake and miss out. Hikers who venture to the south side can find the Lost Palms Oasis Trail, which is home to another beautiful tree, the native California Fan Palms – one of the park’s best-kept secrets.  

This 7.2 mile, out-and-back hike is longer than many of the popular Joshua Tree hikes, so it’s less crowded with families and perfect for hikers who want a bit more challenge. This trail is excellent for bird watching in the morning, and you may even spot some big horned sheep. 

The Lost Palms Trail is best tackled in the spring when wildflowers are in full bloom. You will find the trailhead’s start just past the road to Cottonwood Campground, near the park’s southern entrance. Walk down into the Cottonwood Spring Oasis, where the trail starts before moving onto desert hills. After 0.7 miles, you’ll reach a junction with the option to detour to the Mastodon Peak Loop Trail. 

Stay on the Lost Palms Oasis Trail, which is well-marked and primarily moderate with a few strenuous points. Much of the path passes desert washes and boulders; at first, it may seem barren, but look closer, and you’ll spot rare cacti and plants only seen on the southern side of the park.

Backcountry camping is permitted in this area so that you could do this hike with an overnight camp. Be sure to register beforehand if you decide to camp.

At the end of the trail, your reward will be views of the Lost Springs Oasis and Dike Springs. If you’re comfortable scrambling, make your way down to the springs, or just enjoy the views from above. Return the way you came, and fit in a detour to Mastodon Peak if you still have some energy.

 Mastodon Peak 

  • Length: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 406 ft.
  • Trail Type: Loop 
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location
  • Parking: Park on the road at the small cul-de-sac

The Mastodon Peak Trail is another trail on the often overlooked southern side of the park. This 2.6-mile loop trail connects to the Lost Palms Trail, a longer 7.2-mile hike. If you’re heading to Lost Palms, it’s worth tacking on a little extra time to detour and make the hike up Mastodon Peak on the way.

The trailhead is located just past the road to Cottonwood Campground. Start on the paved trail at the Cottonwood Spring Oasis. After 0.7 miles, you’ll reach a junction where the Mastodon Peak Loop and Lost Palms trails split. If you’re heading to the peak, turn left and head on up. At 0.9 mile, keep right and follow the path. 

There’s plenty of elevation on this trail, which has stairs for some of the path. But parts of the trail are not always well marked, and there are some steep drop-offs. Look for and follow the worn path that curves around the eastern side of Mastodon Peak. 

Once at the peak, you’ll be met with stunning views of the San Bernardino and the San Jacinto Mountains. On a clear day, you may even spot the Salton Sea! Mastodon Peak is also one of the prime spots for bird watching in Joshua Tree.

Backtrack from the peak to the junction, then turn right to head northwest to see Mastodon Mine’s ruins. After checking out the mines (from a safe distance!), follow the path northwest. The trail then drops into a sandy wash for about 0.1 miles; keep your eyes peeled on the right-hand side of the wash to spot your turnoff. It’s easy to get lost here, so a map or GPS will come in handy. 

Once you leave the wash, the trail turns south and heads through rocky boulder fields until it reaches another wash. Here you will find a four-way junction. You can head straight and go to the Cottonwood Campground. Turning left (south) will complete the loop trail and return you to Cottonwood Springs Road. But first, you should take the right track and detour to the ruins of the Winona ghost town. 

From 1924 through the 1940s, Winona was home to the gold miners who worked in the nearby mines. By the 1960s, the park removed most of the buildings, leaving only the buildings’  remains. 

Alongside the ruins, you will spot some trees out here that don’t seem to fit in. Some exotic international plants and trees like Eucalyptus remain here, planted by past inhabitants – likely for some extra shade! When you’ve finished exploring, follow the trail southwest to return to Cottonwood Springs Road. 

When to Go Hiking in Joshua Tree 

 Joshua Tree is located in California’s high desert, and the area can reach scorching hot temperatures in the summer. Even experienced hikers can struggle in the heat, especially on trails with very little shade. 

The best times of the year to visit Joshua Tree are spring, fall, and winter from October through May. These seasons will still provide plenty of sunny California days but with more moderate hiking temperatures. Check the weather forecast before you go, I’ve visited twice in late December and encountered very different temperatures.

Ready, Set, Hike!

These are my favorite trails, but any hike you choose in Joshua Tree will offer you more exciting sights than you dreamed were possible in a desert. On any trail, there are interesting plants, rock formations, or views to enjoy. Joshua Tree offers so many opportunities to hike and explore the nature and history of this unique region.

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