Guidebook

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.

Jesse Weber

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.

Barker Dam Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Barker Dam Trail

0 - 1 hrs
2.0 km
25 m
25 m
Short nature loop to a lake among the boulders.
Easy
Private
Wall Street Mill Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Wall Street Mill Trail

0 - 1 hrs
3.7 km
28 m
28 m
A walk for history enthusiasts, with relics of mining, ranching, and a Wild West shootout.
Easy
Private
Arch Rock Nature Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Arch Rock Nature Trail

0 - 1 hrs
2.0 km
27 m
27 m
Quick hike to a natural arch and popular photography spot.
Easy
Private
Split Rock Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Split Rock Loop

0 - 1 hrs
3.1 km
68 m
68 m
Scenic stroll among the boulders, tucked out of the way near the busy Skull Rock area.
Moderate
Private
Mastodon Peak Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mastodon Peak Loop

1 - 2 hrs
3.9 km
133 m
133 m
Nicely varied loop with an oasis, a historic mine, and an optional scramble on the rocky peak.
Moderate
Private
Fortynine Palms Oasis
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Fortynine Palms Oasis

1 - 2 hrs
4.9 km
203 m
203 m
Gradual uphill and down through sunny foothills, to reach a hidden oasis with clear water and shade.
Moderate
Private
Ryan Mountain
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Ryan Mountain

1 - 2 hrs
4.6 km
318 m
318 m
Ultra-popular hike to a summit near the center of Joshua Tree National Park.
Difficult
Private
Panorama Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Panorama Loop

2 - 3 hrs
9.4 km
357 m
357 m
Hike through canyons and along a panoramic ridgeline, on this unique trail in an isolated corner of the national park.
Difficult
Private
Warren Peak
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Warren Peak

2 - 3 hrs
8.4 km
328 m
328 m
Climb out of Black Rock Canyon to an airy summit overlooking much of Joshua Tree National Park.
Difficult
Private