Escape to Nature: Top Hikes in Joshua Tree NP

Explore the best trails in this natural desert playground, a world apart from the cities of Southern California.

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Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park Photo: Christopher Michel

Description

Joshua Tree National Park is a haven of natural beauty which is not far from the metros of Southern California. Famous for its otherworldly landscape of crooked trees and jumbled boulders, this park draws all kinds of nature lovers and offers many ways to experience the outdoors––from roadside stops to backcountry treks.

The dramatic setting creates an outdoor studio for photographers and models. The nooks and crannies make a natural playground for children and their parents. The biggest formations make a mecca for rock climbers. The flora and fauna are a blend of what inhabits two major deserts, making quite the ecological display. The exposed geology recounts eons of time, and younger relics trace the history of human inhabitants. No matter which of these attractions you’re interested in, you can find them on a trail in Joshua Tree.

Avid hikers may notice that compared to many national parks, Joshua Tree does not have an extensive network of trails. It does not have any backcountry campgrounds. It does have many trailheads, however, each with a small cluster of trails. So, while options for long hikes are somewhat limited, this park has a bounty of concise loops and out-and-backs, perfect for exploring the park's highlights in a day trip. In addition to short walks among the boulders, you can enjoy treks through open desert, steep hikes to mountain summits, and pathways to hidden oases.

Any time of year is good for hiking in Joshua Tree, but you must prepare uniquely for each season. Summer is quite hot, so hiking early or late in the day is recommended, and carrying water is a must. In the winter, nights can dip below freezing, but days are typically sunny and comfortable for hiking. Spring and fall are most ideal, though temperature swings and chilly wind are always possible. In any of the cooler months, bring layers of clothing to prepare for changing conditions.

Another thing to keep in mind is the sheer popularity of this national park. On weekends and holidays, parking lots usually fill up. To guarantee parking at one of these top trails, try to arrive early or go on a less crowded day. Camping in the park overnight will ensure the best experience, because you’ll not only have 24-hour access to the trails, but you’ll also witness the full spectrum of the desert, from sunrise to sunset and the starry night sky.

These top ten trails provide a sampling of the best of Joshua Tree, from popular photo spots to truly hidden gems. These are all fairly popular hikes, but they all promise additional discoveries for those who seek them. You may find secrets like side trails to lesser-seen alcoves, scrambling routes to solitary summits, or subtleties that others miss if you simply look carefully.

However you choose to experience Joshua Tree National Park, be sure to minimize your impact and respect the environment. Stay on established trails as much as possible, or tread on solid rock. Avoid walking off-trail among the vegetation, because desert plants are harmed by trampling of the sand around them. And as with anywhere outdoors, always pack out your trash, and leave nature as you found it for others to enjoy.

Routes included

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