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10 Epic Hikes in Joshua Tree With the Best Scenic Views

10 Epic Hikes in Joshua Tree With the Best Scenic Views

Joshua Tree is one of California’s most loved national parks, famous for its desert landscape and iconic rock formations. However, Joshua Tree stands out from other US national parks because the area merges two distinct ecosystems, the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. This mix creates a fascinating variety of plants and wildlife.

There are many hiking trails in Joshua Tree of varying lengths and difficulties and below are the details for 10 hikes in Joshua Tree that are best for exploring the national park’s unique trees, rocks, and vistas. And don’t forget about the other incredible Joshua Tree activities that don’t involve hiking, they’re worthy of doing too.

Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

The following trails range from easy to moderate and from one to six hours. Take your pick and use this list to create your ideal Joshua Tree adventure!

But first: Here are some need-to-read resources when planning a trip to Joshua Tree and more California hiking guides!

Barker Dam Trail

  • Length: 1.8 km (1 mile)
  • Duration: 30 – 45 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 50ft (15.2 m)

Starting with one of the most leisurely hikes in Joshua Tree, the Barker Dam Trail is a gentle 1.8 km loop with minimal elevation gain. It takes less than an hour to complete, but the trail covers many of the Mojave Desert’s highlights. 

You’ll get a close-up look at some of the unique plant life of the national park, as well as seeing many cool boulders. Another highlight is the impressive rock art you’ll notice along the trail, which reveals the history of the desert. This is a route that you’ll want to take your time completing.

Although the trail is straightforward, you will be walking on rocky and sandy surfaces, so make sure you wear proper hiking boots. The Barker Dam Trail parking lot gets pretty packed during peak season from September to May, so if visiting at this time, start early.

Cottonwood Spring Nature Trail

  • Length: 2.4 km (1.5 miles)
  • Duration: 1 – 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 180ft (55 m)

The Cottonwood Spring Oasis is a beautiful yet less popular part of Joshua Tree National Park. The nature trail here is a short loop with not much elevation gain, so it will feel like a gentle stroll for most hikers. You’ll likely spot some interesting birds and reptiles on this trail as this area has an abundance of desert wildlife. 

I recommended coming here for sunset as there are some nice spots to watch the sun go down. However, avoid hiking here in the middle of the day as the whole route is exposed to the sun. Furthermore, this is not a well-marked trail, so it’s best to follow a map.

Skull Rock Nature Trail

  • Length: 2.7 km (1.7 miles)
  • Duration: 1 – 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 160ft (49 m)

Skull Rock is perhaps the most famous sandstone formation in Joshua Tree, and this short, gentle hike will take you up close to it. As you can guess, this giant rock resembles a human skull with ‘eye sockets’ formed from erosion. 

It’s a trendy spot with tourists and is busiest around sunset, which can ruin the experience. However, it’s close to the north entrance, so if you’re coming for the day, Skull Rock is a nice hike to do early in the morning before the crowds arrive.

Split Rock Loop Trail

  • Length: 3.1 km (1.9 miles)
  • Duration: 1 – 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 250ft (77 m)

This 3km loop trail is full of beauty and free from crowds, making it one of the most enjoyable Joshua Tree National Park hikes. You’ll find the best views about halfway up the trail, where I recommend sitting on a boulder and enjoying a few moments of tranquillity. Or, if you’re a bit of a daredevil, you’ll love the number of climbing opportunities here. 

What’s more, as it’s a short trail, you could easily take a picnic with you to enjoy lunch with a view. However, if you decide to do that, make it an early lunch because this area gets hot quickly, and you won’t find any shade here. The trail is a 7-mile drive from the North entrance and has a well-signposted parking lot next to the trailhead.

Wall Street Mill Trail

  • Length: 3.9 km (2.4 miles)
  • Duration: 1.5 – 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 88ft (27 m)

Wall Street Mill is a must-see part of the park as it features ruins from Joshua Tree’s gold rush days. On this gentle trail, you’ll come across a well-preserved gold mine, an abandoned ranch, and a gravestone, making you feel like you have stepped back in time. Therefore, it makes for one of the most interesting Joshua Tree National Park trails, allowing you to learn more about the area’s rich history.

Along with the ruins, there’s lots of wildlife here, and you might spot some educational signs about the plant and wildlife in the area. Wall Street Mill is close to Barker Dam; therefore, many people walk this trail after visiting the Dam, combining two fantastic hikes into one morning. 

Black Rock Canyon Trail

  • Length: 4.8 km (3 miles)
  • Duration: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 400ft (122 m)

This 3-mile hike in Yucca Valley is a broad, sandy trail leading to Warren Peak with a gradual incline through Black Rock Canyon. You’ll find many rock formations, an abundance of Joshua Trees, and some lovely views of the surrounding mountains on the route. 

Black Rock Canyon is one of the less popular Joshua Tree trails, making for a pleasant evening stroll through the northern part of the park. You can access the trailhead from the Black Rock Canyon Trail parking area just off Canyon Road.

Ryan Mountain Trail

  • Length: 4.8 km (3 miles)
  • Duration: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 1070ft (326 m)

Ryan Mountain is one of the most prominent peaks in the central part of Joshua Tree National Park. The beginning of the trail is relatively flat, but it gets steep quickly with an elevation gain of 1070ft. Give yourself 2 to 3 hours to complete the loop with plenty of breaks along the way. 

Even though it may be a little challenging, it is totally worth the climb. From Ryan Mountain, you’ll experience some of the most expansive views of the park and surrounding valleys. Because of this, the Ryan Mountain trail has become one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree. Moreover, like most trails here, there is very little shade, so bring plenty of water. 

Willow Hole Trail

  • Length: 10.9 km (6.8 miles)
  • Duration: 3.5 – 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 245ft (75 m)

Willow Hole makes for a very unique Joshua Tree day hike as it takes you deep into the Wonderland of Rocks to a hidden oasis of lush willow trees. Despite being a long trek, the Willow Hole trail isn’t too steep, so it never feels too strenuous. 

Around the halfway point, you’ll reach a seasonal waterhole, which, if there’s water in, you’ll surely spot some wildlife coming here to quench their thirst. Then, towards the end, the trail gets very sandy, almost like you are walking on a beach. Furthermore, Willow Hole offers significantly more shade than most other trails in the park. Therefore, you can take respite from the sun by the waterhole and enjoy your lunch as you watch the birds.

Lost Palms Oasis Trail

  • Length: 11.6 km (7.2 miles)
  • Duration: 3.5 – 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 1026ft (313 m)

The Lost Palms Oasis Trail is an extended version of the Cottonwood Spring Nature Trail. Its length, along with various elevation changes, makes it a moderate Joshua Tree day hike. I wouldn’t recommend this trail for complete beginners as you do have to scramble and climb over some giant boulders. However, if you’ve done a few of the more accessible hikes on this list, you shouldn’t find it too challenging.

The route offers some beautiful sights along the way as you head down to the palms. Once you reach the oasis, you’ll be pleased to find some shade to take a much-needed rest. The trail is well marked, and it’s best to go early in the morning so that you’re not climbing back up in intense heat.

Boy Scout Trail

  • Length: 12.9 km (8 miles)
  • Duration: 4.5 – 6 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 220ft (67 m)

Another popular trail close to Wall Street Mill and Willow Hole is the 8 mile Boy Scout Trail. You’ll need pretty much the whole day for this one, but as there’s no vast elevation gain, this route is not too difficult. 

This long trail transitions from the Mojave to the Sonoran. It starts with a trek across the open desert full of Joshua Trees before a rocky descent through the Wonderland of Rocks, with some incredible panoramic viewpoints along the way. You’ll likely spot some remarkable wildlife along this route, such as various lizards and desert tortoises!

Enjoy your time in Joshua Tree National Park!

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