The 10 Best Hikes In Joshua Tree National Park

Jumbo Rocks at Joshua Tree National Park

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When a national park is bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island, it's safe to assume that any visit will include plenty of opportunities to go hiking. This train of thought proves very true in the case of Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park. The meeting point of two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado, this park includes roughly 300 miles of trails dotted with its namesake Dr. Seussian vegetation, piles of massive boulders, arches, craggy canyons, old gold mines, spiky cactuses, and views of faultlines and snow-capped mountains, which come in a variety of lengths and difficulty levels. Some feature spectacular wildflower displays seasonally while others attract four-legged, eight-legged, and flying friends like roadrunners, tarantulas, bushtits, desert bighorn sheep, long-tailed weasels, and common chuckwallas.

If you're ready to strap on your hiking boots and explore all Joshua Tree National Park has to offer, these are the trails you shouldn't miss.

01 of 10

Cholla Cactus Garden

Wooden walkway through cacti in the Cholla Cactus Garden

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Assuming you remember to wear closed-toe shoes and don’t lose your balance, this is the easiest stroll you can take in the park other than the short Cottonwood Spring walk to a fan palm oasis, a fantastic spot for birding. Twenty miles north of the Cottonwood Visitor Center, the “garden” loop features thousands of naturally growing prickly cholla cacti in a concentrated area. It only takes 15-30 minutes to complete.

02 of 10

Arch Rock Trail

Arch Rock in Joshua Tree NP

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Almost a mile-and-a-half long, this easy lollipop-shaped ramble through sandy and rocky terrain is good for beginners or groups looking to knock out several hikes in a day as it only takes an hour. The namesake rock formation is in the middle of the looped section. Make sure to park in the Twin Tanks lot.

03 of 10

Barker Dam

Barker Dam area in JTNP

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This one-mile loop trail on the north side of the park ventures around the trail’s namesake watering hole (usually dry unless the state has been blessed with lots of rainfall) and historic dam. It's best for families, inexperienced hikers, and people who want a good overview of the features and vegetation the park is most known for. Barker Dam only takes an hour, gains 50 feet in elevation, can include light bouldering (which kids go crazy for), and is a hot spot for bighorn sheep. There are remnants of the desert’s cattle-ranching history including a water tank and a spiral-shaped trough. A turnoff leads to a cave adorned with petroglyphs (to preserve the ancient art, enjoy it from a distance!) and the whole scene is littered with Joshua trees, Mojave yucca, pinion pines, and creosote.

04 of 10

Fortynine Palms

Fortynine Palms Oasis in JTNP

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Accessed off of Highway 62, this three-mile out-and-back jaunt takes about two to three hours to complete. Hiking up and over a ridge specked with barrel cactus translates to a 300-foot elevation gain in both directions (that’s just cruel!). Making it past that point means you’ll be treated to a craggy canyon with an oasis of fan palms in its depths. Another trip to avoid when it’s scorching out.

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05 of 10

Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain Trail in JTNP

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Ten minutes south of Barker Dam, between Sheep Pass and Ryan Campground, sits the start of one of the most popular trails in the park, the three-mile out-and-back hike to the summit of Ryan Mountain. It provides fantastic views of the western half of the park and the giant piles of boulders that make up Joshua Tree's most photographed feature, the Wonderland of Rocks. 

06 of 10

Warren Peak

Juniper atop a mountain in JTNP

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As it is more than twice as long as the Ryan Mountain hike and climbs 1,110 feet in elevation, the challenging journey from the Black Rock Campground to the summit of Warren Peak is usually far less crowded and is not recommended in the heat. Those who persevere to the top will be rewarded with panoramas that encompass San Gorgonio Mountain and the oft-snowcapped Mount San Jacinto.

07 of 10

Black Rock Panorama Loop

Black Rock lizard in Yicca Valley

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Near Yucca Valley, California, Black Rock Canyon is famous for having some of the densest stands of Joshua trees, and this lollipop loop will see a few of them as well as a juniper forest along its six and a half (technically a little longer) miles. It starts with hikers trudging through a sandy wash, then follows the ridgeline of the Little San Bernardino Mountains to epic panoramas. Folks who take this on should not have a fear of heights or horses. There's also a good chance that it'll have some color in the early spring thanks to wildflowers.

08 of 10

Lost Horse Mine and Loop

Lost Horse Mine

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Like many other places in California, Joshua Tree has a golden history. About 300 mines were established within the current park boundaries in the 1800s and early 1900s. Most weren’t good producers, but Lost Horse Mine was the exception, having produced more than 10,000 ounces of gold and silver (worth $5 million today). It is considered one of the best-preserved mills of its kind and the remnants of the business can be seen on several routes: a four-mile out-and-back and a more challenging six-and-a-half miler that follow the road the former owners built to haul ore and supplies. Both start off Keys View Road. 

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09 of 10

Skull Rock

Skull Rock in JTNP

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This mostly flat easy almost two-mile loop pads through desert washes and past gnarled trees, but the real star here are the otherworldly boulder piles that, like its titular rock, take on anthropomorphic features. Plan for a couple of hours and expect lots of company as this is an extremely popular section of the park. The trailhead's parking is just east of Jumbo Rocks Campground, but you can easily access the beginning from the campground if that's where you've pitched your tent.

10 of 10

Boy Scout Trail

Desert Bighorn sheep in JTNP

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You won’t get a badge for finishing this challenging eight-mile point-to-point trip, but be prepared to work up a good sweat and be wowed by its scenery as it goes deep into the Wonderland of Rocks. Most people prefer to start at the south end off Park Boulevard (Boy Scout Trailhead) and work their way to the end of the line at the Indian Cove Backcountry Board, where they’ve prearranged a shuttle ride or pre-dropped a car. Alternatively, many visitors choose to camp out along the way and turn it into a multi-day hike. (Before you go all in on 16 miles, remember there is no water along the route, so everything must be carried on your person.) The high degree of difficulty and long length often means you or your group will be strolling solo. The solitude also means this trail is a good place for spotting shy sheep and desert tortoises.