12 Best Joshua Tree Hikes According to a Backpacking Guide

Looking for the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park? Who better to ask than an official hiking tour guide?
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Best Joshua Tree Hikes According to a Backpacking Guide

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Wind through sandy washes, scramble up granite boulders, or wander along a rocky trail and explore some of the wonders of Joshua Tree National Park.

With over 1,200 square miles of rugged terrain, jagged mountains, abundant wildlife, and unique desert flora, this surreal landscape makes Joshua Tree one of the most popular places to visit in Southern California.

With dozens of trails to choose from, use this guide so you don’t miss the best hikes in Joshua Tree! You’ll also learn some additional tips about what to pack, when to visit, and where to stay.

Best Joshua Tree Hiking Trails

Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its various hiking trails. Stroll among the park’s famous Joshua trees, wander through a cactus garden, hike among towering boulder fields, and enjoy the plant life and unique vegetation throughout this region.

With so many Joshua Tree hikes to choose from, there are plenty of options for any visitor. Some of the best hikes in Joshua Tree are as simple as an extended walk to viewpoints with informational signs while other hikes in Joshua Tree require a gain of over 1,000 feet for impressive vistas.

Other Joshua Tree hikes take you up close to local flora including cholla cacti, fan palms, and more. And with a variety of desert wildlife, be on the lookout for bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, lizards, snakes, and tarantulas.

Joshua Tree also has a fair range of moderate hiking options with minimal elevation gain while still offering incredible views of some of the most famous features the park is known for.

With so many options to choose from, here are some of the best Joshua Tree hikes you should explore. For maps and more detailed information about these trails stop by the Oasis Visitor Center to speak with a ranger to pick a hike that is best for you.

1. Ryan Mountain Trail

Ryan Mountain Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree and for a good reason. The 3-mile out and back trail has just over 1000 feet of elevation gain as it climbs up to the summit offering panoramic views of the park.

From the 5,456 foot summit of Ryan Mountain, enjoy views of the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains and San Jacinto Mountains. To make the hike even more special, hike up for sunrise or sunset.

Ryan Mountain Trail is rated moderate/difficult and is well worth the effort. Expect to spend 1.5-2.5 hours hiking this trail. Because the trail is very exposed, fall and spring are the best time to hike Ryan Mountain. If you visit during the summer, avoid the high temperatures of the day and start your hike before sunrise. In the winter bring warm layers because the summit gets very windy.

The trailhead for Ryan Mountain is located right off Park Boulevard about 2 miles east of the Keys View Road intersection.

2. Hidden Valley Nature Trail

The Hidden Valley Trail is considered an easy hike choice for Joshua Tree. Starting at the Hidden Valley Picnic Area, this 1-mile loop has 100 feet of elevation gain and is a great introduction to the desert plants, wildlife, and boulders in Joshua Tree National Park. Look out for bighorn sheep, desert flora, and giant rock formations.

While the Hidden Valley Trail is relatively flat, it’s tempting to wander off-trail. Visitors tempted by the large boulders can remain on durable surfaces while scrambling up rocks if they have good traction on their hiking boots.

For those who want to learn more about the park, the Hidden Valley Trail features many signposts with information about the local plants, animals, geology, and history, including rumors that this rock-enclosed valley was previously used by cattle rustlers.

To get to the trail from Park Boulevard, turn south into the Hidden Valley picnic area, campground, and trailhead. The Hidden Valley Trail turnout is 1.7 miles northeast of the Keys View Road junction.

3. Black Rock Canyon Trail to Warren Peak Trail

Black Rock Canyon Trail is one of the moderate Joshua Tree hikes. It’s 3 miles out and back with a 400-foot elevation gain. It starts at the Black Rock Campground where the trail leads down into a sandy wash crossing Black Rock Spring and leading hikers into Black Rock Canyon.

If you want to continue hiking, continue onto the Warren Peak Trail. If you combine the trails to the summit of Warren Peak, it’s about a 5.5-mile hike, gaining about 1,100 feet in elevation. The Warren Peak Trail is also rated moderate and has an elevation gain consistent with the first part of the trail.

From the summit of Warren Peak you’ll have spectacular views of two prominent Southern California Mountains; San Gorgonio Mountain and Mount San Jacinto. If you have the time, it’s worth completing the whole Warren Peak Trail for a full Joshua Tree hiking experience.

The Black Rock Canyon and Warren Peak Trails are accessible from the Black Rock Campground Road located in the northwest part of Joshua Tree. This area is not accessible from the main park entrances and roads.

4. Cholla Cactus Garden Loop

Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden Loop is one of the most unique and different hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. Of all the Joshua Tree hikes that gain elevation or follow along exposed ridges, this is one of the most dangerous Joshua Tree hikes if you end up off-trail.

The Cholla Cactus, also known as “jumping cactus” or “teddy bear cactus” are cute at first but even just slightly brushing against one will leave you with spines driven into your clothing, shoes, or even worse, your skin.

These thick, sharp spines help protect the cholla cacti from predators. The end of their spines have tiny barbs that are very sensitive to nearby movement and will “jump” out giving them the name “jumping cactus”. Therefore, it’s important to stay on the trail while exploring the cholla cactus garden.

The Cholla Cactus Garden Loop is only a quarter-mile and takes about 15-30 minutes to walk.

In addition to the cacti, this part of the park is very impressive because it’s where two different environments merge together in Joshua Tree National Park. The cooler upper Mojave Desert and lower Colorado Desert come together here creating a perfect climate for a high concentration of the cholla cacti.

Driving north or south from this point you’ll start to see significant changes in the park landscape, vegetation, and wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park.

To access the garden from the north on Park Boulevard, turn south on Pinto Basin Road for about 10 miles. Cholla Cactus Garden will be on your right. If you are coming from the south entrance of Joshua Tree, follow Pinto Basin Road for about 24 miles until you see the garden on your left.

5. Boy Scout Trail

Boy Scout Trail is an 8-mile point-to-point trail and is considered one of the best Joshua Tree hikes. It starts along Indian Cove Road and ends at Park Boulevard.

Known as the Wonderland of the Rocks, it’s important to stay on the Boy Scout Trail to avoid getting lost in the boulders. Most hikers start at the south trailhead along Park Boulevard and finish at Indian Cove Road inside the West Entrance. Because of the distance of the trail, it’s best to have a vehicle shuttle plan. There is no water along the route so you must carry everything you need.

Hiking one way on the Boy Scout Trail takes about 6 hours with an elevation gain of 1200 feet. If you are planning to backpack this route, visit the Indian Cove Backcountry Board prior to starting your trip for permit and trail information.

6. Barker Dam Nature Trail

Barker Dam Nature Trail

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is another one of the best Joshua Tree hikes. The trail is 1.3 miles long and only gains 60 feet of elevation. Along this trail, you can read about and explore the cultural history of the park. Along the Barker Dam Trail, there is an old stone horse trough by the dam. It collects water and today attracts many types of birds during the wetter times of the year.

The dam was built in 1900 and Bill Keys raised the wall in 1949 by 6 feet to hold more water. While there is no water along the Barker Dam Trail at certain times of the year, it’s still worth visiting. Look out for more sites of Joshua Trees as well as bighorn sheep which frequent the area.

The Barker Dam parking area fills up quickly so arrive here early to guarantee a spot. Otherwise, you’ll end up parking a bit down the road and have a longer walk to the trailhead.

7. Discovery Trail

The Discovery Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree showcasing impressive rock formations and informational signs about the Joshua Tree geology, flora, and fauna. The actual Discovery Trail is only 0.7 miles long with a 70 foot gain, however, visitors can easily combine their hike with nearby trails.

The Skull Rock Trail and Split Rock Loop Trails are on opposite sides of Park Boulevard. Skull Rock is a short walk out to one of the most iconic boulders in the park.

The Split Rock Loop Trail takes visitors a bit further. The trail totals 2.5 miles and gains 150 feet. It’s considered moderate and passes through desert washes and boulder piles.

8. Keys View

Keys View is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park for impressive views with minimal effort. It’s possible to drive up to this lookout but it’s worth spending some additional time here to enjoy the park. It’s the highest point in the park you can drive to and offers sweeping vistas of the desert landscape down below.

While the paved trail is only a quarter-mile long, it is steep but well worth the views. You’ll catch sites of Mount San Jacinto, Mount San Gorgonio, the Salton Sea, and the San Andres Fault.

The parking area at Keys View is limited so during weekends and the busy season it’s best to arrive early or plan to walk a bit father for parking. Sunset at Keys View is also a breathtaking experience.

To access this viewpoint and trailhead turn onto Keys View Road from Park Boulevard and follow the road to the end.

9. 49 Palms Oasis Trail

49 Palms Oasis

This 3.1 mile trail is one of the most unique Joshua Tree hikes. Round trip it gains just over 600 feet and with the rocky terrain, it’s considered a hard trail.

As you hike along this trail, after about a mile, the trail will have impressive views of the desert oasis filled with lush palms fed by a natural spring. There’s only one more palm oasis like this in the park and it’s far less accessible.

This is the perfect trail to get a workout in and relax in the oasis. Unlike the other trails listed in Joshua Tree, the trailhead for the 49 Palms Oasis Trail is only accessible from Fortynine Palms Canyon Rd in the town of Twentynine Palms. Because of this, you can enjoy this part of the park without paying the park entrance fee.

10. Wall Street Mill Trail

Another trail great for history lovers, the Wall Street Mine trail, takes visitors through Wall Street Mill. Hikers can view artifacts remaining from the mine. The out and back trail is about 2.4 miles with 80 feet of elevation gain. In addition to mining artifacts, enjoy wildflowers in the spring.

To visit the Wall Street Mill, turn off of Park Blvd at the Wall Street Mine trail parking lot. When visiting this area make sure you leave all artifacts so future visitors can enjoy them too.

11. Lost Horse Mine Trail

The Lost Horse Mine is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree to learn about California’s gold rush history. As mining was dying in the mountains of California, miners headed to the desert hoping for good luck.

The desert was not the most ideal climate because of the hot summer temperatures, resorting in a short season for mining but Lone Horse Mine was a wonderful exception. According to the National Park Service, over 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver were mined from the late 1890s to early 1930s, right in Joshua Tree National Park.

This trail winds hikers through the famously mined areas of Joshua Tree and while you probably won’t find much gold today, enjoy the moderate trail famous for the park’s namesake trees as well as beautiful wildflowers during the spring months.

To hike the whole loop, it begins and ends at the end of Lost Horse Mine road located off of Keys View Road. The whole loop is 6.5 miles with 550 feet of gain. The complete hike loop is rated difficult but the trail is still enjoyable as a short out and back hike.

12. Desert Queen Mine Trail

Desert Queen Mine was one of the longest operating mines in Joshua Tree operating from the late 1890s to mid-1900s. This hiking trail is located almost in the center of the park located down a dirt road, Queen Valley Road, just south of the Barker Dam Trailhead.

The round trip trail to the mine is less than a mile but if you cross the canyon you can extend the hike to explore further. From above you’ll catch sites of the mine shafts while looking over desert washes and the desert landscape.

With impressive sites of both the desert landscape as well as the mining remains, this is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree for any history lovers.

When to Go Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is located in both the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. This region is known for its varying temperature range from daytime to nighttime, as well as throughout different seasons. Depending on when you visit will play a role in what hikes are safest and most enjoyable at that time of the year.

Summer

Summer is easily the hottest time of year to visit Joshua Tree National Park. Temperatures often reach above 100 degrees during the day and it might only drop down to the 70s at night. Therefore, it’s best to hike early in the day, starting before sunrise and exploring the rest of the park by vehicle during the hottest part of the day.

Heat exhaustion is a common problem out here in the desert. Choose easy to moderate trails at this time of year. In addition, mid-July to early September is monsoon season.

Fall

October and November are two of the best months to visit the park for Joshua Tree hikes. High temperatures average in the 70s-80s and nighttime lows are in the 40s-50s. This makes for great hiking weather at most times of the day.

Larger hikes, like Ryan Mountain Trail, are more commonly enjoyed in the fall and spring compared to the summer.

Winter

While Joshua Tree National Park is located in the desert it does get pretty cold in the wintertime and days are shorter with less sunlight. It’s not uncommon for the park to remain overcast throughout the winter and receive more rain and snow.

While it’s beautiful to see the Joshua Trees covered in a light blanket of snow, it’s best to prepare for the temperatures. High points in the park tend to get very windy. Most hiking trails remain accessible at this time of year but the granite rock is slippery following rain and snowstorms.

Spring

Like the fall, the spring has some of the best temperatures in Joshua Tree. February is in the 60’s and March and April are typically in the 70’s to low 80’s. By May the temperatures average in the 90’s so late February to April are the most comfortable times to visit.

Spring is an extra special time to visit because of the wildflowers blooming. Even the Joshua Trees bloom every few years. While this occurrence is rare, it’s a spectacular, can’t miss opportunity in the park.

If you’re lucky enough to see the Joshua Trees in bloom, they typically bloom in the higher elevations of the park in February and in the lower elevations of the park in March and April.

Joshua Tree National Park

What to Pack for Joshua Tree Hikes

When visiting Joshua Tree it’s important to pack properly before entering the park. There is no cell service in the park and services are minimal out there. For the best experience, here are some of the most important items to carry with you.

  • Water – A least one gallon per person per day when visiting the desert park; if you are camping in Joshua Tree bring additional water for washing, cooking, etc. as most campgrounds do not have water sources.
  • Hiking Daypack – Osprey makes great daypacks. Men should check out the Talon 22 and women the Tempest 20 for a comfortable size and fit for a backpack. If neither one of those appeals to you, check out these other daypacks.
  • Hiking Boots – Sturdy footwear, that is already broken in, is essential. Some people prefer hiking boots for ankle support, others prefer trail runners. As long as they are comfortable and have good traction they should work well.
  • Food – Bring enough food for your day hike, as well as high-calorie snacks, such as bars, dried fruit, and nuts. Inside Joshua Tree, there is nowhere to purchase food. All restaurants and stores (including visitor centers and gift shops) are located outside of Joshua Tree.
  • Sunscreen – This is essential out in the hot desert sun. Even in the winter and on cloudy days.
  • Hat – In the summer bring a baseball cap, in the winter, a warm hat.
  • Sunglasses – Eye protection is always important, especially with how bright the sun reflects off the white granite in Joshua Tree.
  • First aid kit – Check out MyMedic first aid kits for a variety of supplies in varying kit sizes depending on the length and intensity of your trip.
  • Layers – Check the weather before you head out to Joshua Tree, especially if you’re not sure what to wear hiking. Day and night temperatures vary, as well as throughout the different seasons. Carrying layers will help you adapt best to the varying climates.
  • Sun Hoodies – Synthetic materials are best for quick drying. Even in the heat of summer, a thin long sleeve shirt that offers UPF sun protection is important. Many sun shirts have hoods that also protect your ears and the back of your neck.
  • Merino Wool Long Sleeve – This is best in the cooler months and is a quick-drying material.
  • Hiking PantsHiking pants provide greater protection from skin rubbing on vegetation and sharp rocks.
  • Rain Jacket – Precipitation is more common in the winter as well as during the summer monsoons. Bring a reliable rain jacket.
  • Puffy Coat – If you’re visiting in the late fall to early spring it gets cold in the evenings, even when out on trail hiking. A synthetic or down coat is an important layer to have and generally packs down small.
  • Download a Topographic MapAllTrails allows you to download trails ahead of time so you can follow along without cell service. If you end up off-trail in boulder fields or sandy washes, this app is very helpful for finding your way and most of the best Joshua Tree hikes are listed here.
  • Headlamp – Whether you planned a sunset hike or your trail took longer than expected it’s important to have a light source after dark.

Where to Stay in Joshua Tree

Whether you enjoy camping under the clear night sky looking up at thousands of stars or you prefer a comfortable bed in a cute town, there are plenty of accommodation options around Joshua Tree. Many quaint hotels are located in tows close to park entrances and the park is home to hundreds of campsites for visitors to enjoy too.

Hotels Near Joshua Tree

There are plenty of hotel options located near Joshua Tree National Park. The town Joshua Tree itself, located near the west entrance, and Twentynine Palms, located near the north entrance have the most hotel accommodations. If you plan to stay near the south entrance, camping is the best option as it is very remote.

Joshua Tree Inn

The historically famous Joshua Tree Inn, built in 1949, is a stylish, Spanish Colonial Inn located just 5 miles from the park’s west entrance. The charming, rustic lodge is a favorite by many visitors to Joshua Tree National Park.

The Inn has both rooms and suites of varying sizes as well as a large swimming pool, a courtyard, fire pits, picnic tables, and shade structures.

Sacred Sands

Sacred Sands is an upscale bed and breakfast, straw bale home, located just over a mile from the west entrance into Joshua Tree National Park and only a few miles from the shops and restaurants in town.

The picturesque home is a popular place for luxury accommodation and weddings and special events.

Pioneertown Motel

The Pioneertown Motel is a quaint motel with a wild west desert theme. With a lounge, a desert garden, event space, beautiful rooms, and a cabin option it’s the perfect accommodation spot when visiting Joshua Tree. It’s also located just outside of the park’s west entrance.

Sunnyvale Garden Suites

The Sunnyvale Garden Suites located in Twentynine Palms, near the north entrance into Joshua Tree National Park is a great option for condo-like living. In addition to different bedding options, many suites include full kitchens making at-home meals a way to avoid spending money eating out every night.

The Castle House Estate

The Castle House Estate is the ultimate Joshua Tree National Pak glamping experience. This modern, trendy estate sits on 12 acres surrounded by the mountains and is the new idea of a trendy cowboy western theme.

With the option of a yurt, campsite, or guard tower suite with a pool, there are accommodations for any type of visitor.

Joshua Tree Campgrounds

Camping in Joshua Tree is a great way to start your day early in the park. Many campgrounds actually have trailheads in them!

There are over 500 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park and most are available by online reservation starting 6 months ahead of time.

For Joshua Tree Camping Reservations, visit Recreation.gov.

It is highly recommended to reserve a spot during peak visiting times such as holidays, weekends, or in the spring. February to May is the busy season. Reservations are open year-round however, a few sites close in the summer. There are some walk-in campgrounds but to get one you must arrive early, on a non-popular weekend.

Always come prepared when camping. Most campsites have little to no water access and limited facilities. Because there are no gift shops or visitor centers in the park, stock up in town before you enter.

Black Rock Campground

Black Rock Campground is located in the northwest corner of Joshua Tree National Park. The 99 sites are reservable online and they cost $25 a night. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table.

The campground has flushing toilets, drinking water, and a dump station. This campground accommodates both tents and RV’s.

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Jumbo Rocks is surrounded by impressive rock formations. It has 124 campsites for tents, cars, and RV’s. Reservations are required ahead of time during the busy season from September to May. Sites are $20 a night and include picnic tables, fire grates, and nearby pit toilets. There is no water.

Ryan Campground

Ryan Campground is located in the center of Joshua Tree features 31 reservation-only campsites. It is $20 a night and includes pit toilets, fire grates, and picnic tables. There is no water.

There are 3 additional bicycle sites available for $5 a night.

Hidden Valley Campground

Hidden Valley Campground is a first-come, first-served campground. It’s $15 a night and campers pre-pay at the entrance station by cash or check. There are 44 sites, with pit toilets but no water.

Campsites are very competitive during holidays, weekends, and in the spring. They typically fill up by Friday afternoon so most visitors arrive earlier in the week to secure a spot.

Final Thoughts on Hikes in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree offers a bit of something for all visitors. Take a casual stroll to enjoy desert flora and fauna. Visit a mine to learn about park history and culture. Hike up the rugged terrain to enjoy vistas from the summit of a mountain. With such a diverse environment featuring so many wonders, the Joshua Tree trails help make this national park incredibly enjoyable.

To assure a great visit to Joshua Tree it’s important to follow the Leave No Trace Principles; stay on the trail, don’t take anything from the park, pack out all your trash, and respect other visitors, wildlife, and the environment.

With a variety of ways to spend your time here, you’ll easily have a great time. Whether you choose to end your evenings camping under the stary desert skies or crashing in a chic hotel in a town nearby, it’s hard not to enjoy a trip to Joshua Tree.

Nicole Jordan
Nicole Jordan
Nicole Jordan is an adventure guide who leads backpacking, hiking, sea kayaking, and snowshoeing trips. She's on a lifelong pursuit to climb as many mountains as possible and sleep under the night sky in all of the National Parks. When she's not traveling internationally you can find her living out of her Subaru Forester, exploring the best of the United States.

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