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8 Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

8 Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
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Joshua Tree National Park has rapidly become more and more popular over the past several years. Most of this fame is due to the national park’s uniquely shaped Joshua trees, which can only be found in the Mojave Desert. And the most effective way to see these one-of-a-kind trees is by hiking some of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.

That said, the lovely Joshua trees aren’t the only things you’ll get to see on these Joshua Tree National Park hikes. There are also prickly cacti, historic gold mines, and towering boulders. Simply put, the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park have something for everyone.

*Pro Tip: Like all national parks in the United States, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to visit Joshua Tree National Park. If you plan on visiting a few different national parks during your trip, you may want to consider buying the America the Beautiful Annual National Park Pass instead.

Barker Dam Nature Trail

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is one of the most unique hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. While the majority of the other hikes on this list focus on the national park’s famous trees, the Barker Dam Nature Trail has so much more to show off.

Over the course of the 2.3-kilometre trail, you’ll get to see the picture-perfect Barker Dam, a yucca tree-filled valley, and even a few Native American petroglyphs. In other words, it’s definitely one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.

Elevation gain: 15 m (50 ft)

Distance (same for one-way and roundtrip, since it is a loop trail): 1.8 km (1.1 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour

Getting there:

Getting to this hike is very easy. Just plug “Barker Dam Nature Trail” into any GPS, and it should take you there!

Wall Street Mill Trail

If you are both a history buff and a nature lover, the Wall Street Mill Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park for you!

From 1930 to 1966, the Wall Street Mine (which is on the Wall Street Mill Trail) was used to process gold ore. The miners actually had to cart the gold ore up the trail to the mine before they could begin to separate the gold from the gravel.

Today, you can follow a similar path to those miners. You’ll even be able to see a couple of other historic markers, including Wonderland Ranch and an old windmill.

When you reach the end, you’ll get to the Wall Street Mine. While you can’t enter this historic site, you can still admire it from afar.

Elevation gain: 35 m (115 ft)

One-way distance: 1.9 km (1.2 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 3.9 km (2.4 mi)

Estimated time: 2 hours

Getting there:

The Wall Street Mill Trail uses the same parking lot as the Barker Dam Nature Trail. So you can route yourself to either of the two trails.

Split Rock Loop Trail

No list of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park would be complete without Split Rock Loop Trail.

The coolest thing about Split Rock Loop Trail is that it has something for everyone. Of course, hikers and nature will simply love tackling the trail. But there are also loads of birds for animal lovers and towering boulders for rock climbers.

*Pro Tip: You can easily combine the Split Rock Loop Trail with the Skull Rock Trail to see another amazing skull-shaped rock formation.

Elevation gain: 77 m (252 ft)

Distance (same for one-way and roundtrip, since it is a loop trail): 3.1 km (1.9 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour and fifteen minutes

Getting there:

The Split Rock Loop Trail is right off the main road of Park Boulevard. While you should be able to see it when you drive by, you can also map yourself to “Split Rock Loop Trail.”

Skull Rock Trail

Speaking of Skull Rock Trail, this hike definitely deserves to be featured all on its own, rather than just as a side note. Skull Rock Trail is known for one thing: the natural skull-shaped rock formation. It’s definitely a cool sight to see.

While the skull-shaped rock alone is enough to tackle this trail, it also has blooming wildflowers, smooth boulders, and the famed Joshua trees.

Elevation gain: 49 m (160 ft)

Distance (same for one-way and roundtrip, since it is a loop trail): 2.7 km (1.7 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour and fifteen minutes

Getting there:

Just plug “Skull Rock Trail” into your GPS of choice!

Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Loop

The Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Loop is short and sweet. At only 0.4 kilometres and nearly no elevation, it’s arguably the easiest hike in the park.

This particular hike is firmly in the Colorado Desert, whereas most of the other hikes on this list are in the transition area between the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. For that reason, Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Loop has loads of cacti that aren’t commonly found around the rest of the park. But don’t get too close! The cacti are sharper than they look!

*Pro Tip: Hike the Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Loop during sunset or sunrise. The golden glow makes the landscape even more magical.

Elevation gain: 3 m (10 ft)

Distance (same for one-way and roundtrip, since it is a loop trail): 0.4 km (0.25 mi)

Estimated time: 20 minutes

Getting there:

The Cholla Cactus Garden Loop is quite a ways away from the other trails on this list. That said, it’s still very easy to navigate your way there. Just plug “Cholla Cactus Garden Trail” into your GPS of choice.

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Hidden Valley has quite an appropriate name. For a while, this valley remained a secret, due to a bunch of giant rock piles. But after a bunch of cattle ranchers removed all of the large rocks, a new beautiful landscape was uncovered.

Today, you can explore this once-hidden valley via the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. The main highlight of this trail are the many boulders that were moved to make way for the pathway. Now, they create unique landscapes and exciting bouldering opportunities.

Elevation gain: 30 m (100 ft)

Distance (same for one-way and roundtrip, since it is a loop trail): 1.6 km (1 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour

Getting there:

The journey to Hidden Valley Nature Trail is simple. Once you reach the West Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll continue on the main road until you reach the first four-way intersection. Then, you’ll turn right to reach your destination. Or you could always just put “Hidden Valley Nature Trail” into your GPS.

Ryan Mountain Trail

So far on this list of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, we’ve included relatively easy hikes. But the Ryan Mountain Trail gets a tad bit harder.

Most people would classify the Ryan Mountain Trail as a moderate trail, since it’s a summit hike. This means that the distance and elevation make for quite a workout. Along the way, you’ll get to see the famous Joshua trees and even some wildlife, like bighorn sheep! And when you reach the end, you’ll be rewarded with views of the entire park.

Elevation gain: 320 m (1,050 ft)

One-way distance: 2.4 km (1.5 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 4.8 km (3 mi)

Estimated time: 2 hours

Getting there:

To reach the start of the Ryan Mountain Trail, you’ll simply want to route yourself to “Ryan Mountain Trail.”

Boy Scout Trail

If you’re looking for a hike that’s even more difficult than the Ryan Mountain Trail, you’ll definitely want to check out the Boy Scout Trail.

The Boy Scout Trail is a whopping 12.9 kilometres long and has quite a bit of elevation gain. It’s definitely the sort of hike you want to tackle when you want to get a lot of exercise in. To make sure you have enough time, you can either make this hike a long day hike or an overnight backpacking trip.

That said, a healthier lifestyle certainly isn’t the only perk of the Boy Scout Trail. There’s also so much to see. Joshua trees and giant boulders are just the start of the beauty of this hike. There’s a good chance that you’ll get to see bighorn sheep and desert tortoises along the way too!

*Pro Tip: If your hiking group has two cars, park one car at the start of the hike and the other at the end of the hike. This way, you can make the trail a one-way hike, rather than an out-and-back one.

Elevation gain: 363 m (1,190 ft)

One-way distance: 12.9 km (8 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 25.8 km (16 mi)

Estimated time: 12 hours (or 6 hours if you make it a one-way hike)

Getting there:

Use your GPS to guide you to “Boy Scout Trail.”

Well there you have it! A list of the best hikes in Joshua Tree! Are there any other trails that you think should have made it onto this list? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for other parks to visit on the west coast? Check out our guide to 9 Epic Places to Road Trip to on the West Coast This Summer

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