One of the best activities you can do that can help boost your mental health, keep you fit and healthy and provide you with beautiful sights is hiking. Hiking has long been a favorite among people, and it’s easy to understand why.
However, America is a huge country, so when it comes to hiking, there’s so many potential options out there for you, it can be a little tricky to hone in on one specific area. There is one awesome option though – The Joshua Tree National Park.
There’s plenty of hiking options for you around this area and luckily, we’ve found ten of the best hikes that you can take part in! Of course though, it’s not just important to know where the hikes are, you’re going to need to know much more.
So we’ve written this handy guide which looks at everything you need to know. We’ll look at the best hikes, how you get there, what you need to remember and other top tips to give you a fantastic hiking experience.
Ready to know a lot more? Then read on and discover the wonders at your feet!
The Top 10 Best Hikes In Joshua Tree National Park
We’ll kick off our guide with giving you an overview of the top 10 best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. These hikes have been tried and tested by numerous hikers in the past and are among the favorites!
1. Barker Dam
One of the best things about hiking is the ability to wander areas that are full of history and look upon them with reflection. Barker Dam is among the most historically important sites in this area.
As Joshua Tree was home to some of the earliest settlers of the United States, hiking around some areas can help you envisage this history. Barker Dam is perhaps the best example of this in the area.
It was designed and built by some of the earliest cattle ranchers and settlers and it acted as a water tank for their livestock, along with being helpful in the beaming Californian sun.
Nowadays, it simply acts as a resting space for hydration within the vast desert, which is rare in this area. Due to this, it’s sometimes possible to see some of the habitual wildlife like the bighorn sheep, that stop to rehydrate and rest for a moment.
This hike is perfect for sunrise or sunset, providing a glorious scene – ideal for photograph opportunities, especially when you see the reflection of the landscape in the water.
It should only take you around an hour to start and complete this hike, so it’s a great choice for beginners or experienced hikers alike!
2. Cholla Cactus Gardens
One of the things that Joshua Tree National Park is known for is its trees. However, in the more southern areas, you will find Cholla cacti instead, normally in large cluster groups.
It’s quite a dirty and dry hike but it’s not especially long, so you won’t be stuck out in problematic settings for an extended period of time. However, what makes this hike trail unique is the view during the sunrise.
As the sun begins to rise over the cacti, a magnificent orange glow which is really difficult to describe unless you have seen it, will cover the area – and this is something you absolutely have to see.
Just be careful around the cacti of course, they are razor sharp and can be very painful to come into contact with! However, for around a 30 minute hike, you shouldn’t run into many problems.
3. Cap Rock
Are you the adventurous type? Then you’ll absolutely need to head to the Cap Rock hiking trail. Heading through winding boulders and deep groves, you’ll likely discover some magnificent sights and become at one with the area.
This particular trail is one of the best ones for investigating and discovering the local wildlife and plantlife. It is covered with unique wildflowers and these often lead to animals that you may not have seen before.
It’s only around a 30 minute hike, but it’s a great choice for families. Just be careful of some of the cacti and indeed some of the bugs that are attracted to the wildflowers!
4. Key’s View
Key’s View is one of the highest points in the Joshua Tree National Park, and as its name suggests, it’s one of the best places to go if you’re the sort of hiker that wants to take in an amazing view!
The vantage point allows you to view the huge Coachella Valley and the adjoining mountain ranges – and sometimes, you can even catch a glimpse of Mexico depending on how clear the day is.
If that’s something you’re interested in, the best time to do this is in the morning, just as the sun rises. Not only this, but the colors and overall appearance of the area is something that is inexplicably beautiful – perfect for photographs and videos.
However, perhaps even better than that is sundown. The only thing to know about this though is that due to the magnificence of it, the parking lot gets really crowded and you’ll find it difficult to find a spot for both parking and to see the sunset.
Therefore, if you’re planning to catch a glimpse of the sunset views, it’s suggested that you arrive around an hour before the sun goes down and get yourself the perfect spot. In fact, you could finish the hike there as it’s only a short 20-30 minute round trip.
5. Hidden Valley
One of the most intriguing parts of this hiking trail is the fact that it used to be entirely inaccessible due to huge rock piles which completely cut off the valley. However, cattle ranchers moved all of this and uncovered a glorious, hidden valley (hence the name!).
This hike takes around an hour or so to complete and requires some serious movement around rocks and boulder formations. However, this makes it one of the best if you’re going to take your kids because they have something to play on and discover.
Take a look around the area while you’re hiking here and you will see some of Joshua Tree’s native plantlife and wildlife. This is best to do whilst you’re sitting on one of the many boulder formations and enjoying a mid-hike picnic!
6. Skull Rock
If you’re looking for something unique to the area, then you’ll adore this. There is a rock formation that looks exactly like a skull. The overall shape resembles a head, but due to many years of water pooling – two gaps now resemble eyes.
It’s actually really easy to find this. You can either see it from Park Boulevard or by using the Jumbo Rocks campground trail – which is a very popular camping spot in the National Park.
Of course, this rock is a favorite among adults and children alike and is a very popular formation for photography. So, if you’re looking for a new family portrait or social media profile picture – this is the spot for you!
7. Ryan Mountain
When you’re hiking, the likelihood is that you’re going to want to find somewhere that has an astonishing view. Ryan Mountain provides that as it is one of the only summits within the Joshua Tree National Park.
The panoramic view is something to behold and as a result of its wonder, it has become one of the most popular hiking trails, not just within the National Park, but in the country as a whole.
While the hike to get to this view isn’t especially long, it’s quite strenuous. Essentially you’re scaling the side of a mountain for around a mile and half and a 1,000 feet elevation – so it’s nothing to take lightly.
8. Lost Horse Mine
As we mentioned earlier, this National Park is bursting with history, and the Lost Horse Mine is one of the best examples of this. Along with cattle ranchers and early settlers, this area was home to thousands of miners during the gold rush.
In the early 20th Century, an estimated five million dollars worth of silver and gold was mined out of this area. Due to its popularity and importance for the transport of goods, the trail to get here became very established and has continued to be preserved.
The National Park Service has been a key figure in this preservation and they continue to keep the structure of the mine shaft intact. It’s important to note though that while it’s safe to hike here, you must stay away from the fenced off areas due to their instability.
The entire hike will take you around three hours to complete, so if you’re going to hike here, be sure you take plenty of provisions with you and an emergency kit with a cell phone just in case.
9. 49 Palms Oasis Trail
Wherever you are in the world, an oasis is among the most rare sights to encounter – and of course, in the desert where everything can look the same and you’re dealing with the incredible heat and climate, they’re even more difficult to spot.
This is one of the few hikes that does not begin at Park Boulevard and due to its intensity, it’s not a very populated route. However, this makes it one of the best hikes for people who are looking for peace and solitude.
As you can imagine though, this route can be packed with some dangers. There’s lots of cacti along the ridges, and due to the trail taking around three hours to complete, you’re going to need a lot of provisions.
Not only this, but as it isn’t as popular a trail as some of the others, you’re unlikely to encounter as many people – so don’t expect help to come along if you fall into trouble! Be sure to take lots of water, food and precautions.
10. Boy Scout Trail
We now come to the longest hiking trail on our list. It encompasses lots of different terrains like groves, ridges, rocks, Joshua trees and desert washes. Much like the previous inclusion in our list, this is a trail that sees far fewer hikers than other trails.
There are ways you can shorten this trail though, but it detracts from the whole point of choosing this one. This is a trail for hardened hikers who are looking for a challenge, and with a six hour trail time – there’s maybe no bigger challenge than this!
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ll now go through some very important information that you’ll need to know if you’re planning a hike around this area.
Joshua Tree National Park is located in the southeast corner of California and it’s only a couple of hours drive from some major cities including Los Angeles and even Las Vegas, Nevada.
It has around thirty hiking trails with unique geology, geography and localized wildlife. It’s well known for its Joshua Trees, which despite the name – are not actually trees at all, but succulents. This means they absorb and store water, which is important for the ecosystem.
It depends how you are planning to get to this area in terms of transport, and indeed where you are traveling from. Palm Springs International Airport is probably the closest and easiest way to get there, because it’s about an hour or so away.
Another option though is to fly into Las Vegas or Los Angeles and drive to the National Park. Other than this, you can drive a camper all the way from where you are located, if that’s your thing.
There’s nine major camping spots in the National Park and they are all regulated and maintained by the Park staff. You are told not to camp away from these areas as they are dangerous and you could get in trouble legally.
Jumbo Rocks is probably the best campground out of the nine choices, so that’s the recommendation. However, you might decide to get a hotel in Las Vegas or Los Angeles and simply go to the National Park for a day hike.
Unfortunately there is no shuttle service in the National Park, so you’re going to need to use a car, truck or motorcycle. An ATV is a great idea too because the terrain can become very difficult to travel over, however the main roads are fine and don’t need an ATV.
Head to Park Boulevard which is where the majority of the hiking trails begin and you will find some excellent parking spots. It also gives you a chance to make your plans and check that you have everything you need with you.
There’s many things you’ll need to remember to take with you. First, it’s critical that you have brought enough water with you. You’re going to be in a hot, desert climate and some of these trails can go on for hours.
You will also need to bring some food with you, because you won’t find anywhere to grab lunch until you get back from your hike!
It’s also recommended that you bring a first aid kit with you, any medications that you need including an inhaler, an emergency cell phone that can operate in remote areas, a map and appropriate clothing.
A good idea is to pack different clothes with you in a rucksack. When the sun goes down, the temperature drops significantly – so if you’re planning to have a sunset view hike, you will likely swap your shorts for longer trousers and put on a hooded sweatshirt.
It depends on how long you plan to stay and if you plan to return in a short period of time. You can pick up a seven day admission pass which is $35 per vehicle and this allows you a week with unlimited entries.
However, it’s great value if you plan to come back frequently or visit other National Parks to pick up an “America The Beautiful” pass, which allows you a year’s worth of access to every National Park in the United States for only $80.
Joshua Tree National Park is open 12 months of the year, but the climate changes vastly due to the seasons. Arguably the best time to go is between late October and early April when the day temperatures are more comfortable. Summer is too hot to hike!
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most glorious places in the United States and it’s perfect for hiking. We hope our guide has helped you choose an ideal trail!
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