With 800,000 acres of land, there’s a wide variety of hikes in Joshua Tree National Park that practically anyone can enjoy. Kids, non-hikers and even those that might not get around so well anymore will find Joshua Tree to be the most welcoming of national parks. Here’s a few of my favorites trails.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Believe it or not, the area that became Joshua Tree National Park was once used for ranching and cattle rustling. Hidden Valley was one of the rustler’s hideouts. Once you see it in person, you’ll understand why. The valley is surrounded by huge boulders and massive rocks and feels like a secret hideaway.
The trail is a 1 mile loop hike that’s listed as easy – and it is – but there are several series of stone steps that take you up and then lead you back down into the “valley”. Mature hikers might do better with a walking stick to steady themselves. There are interpretive signs with interesting facts about the area and the wildlife that you might see.
Another bonus about many of the hikes in Joshua Tree National Park is the rock climbers in the area. Hidden Valley Nature Trail has some huge boulders that make it perfect for climbing. It’s a lot of fun to watch the climbers maneuver the rocks.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail also has a nice, shady picnic area with barbecue grills and a bunch of fat squirrels.
Cap Rock Trail
Walking the short well maintained trail of Cap Rock is a perfect introduction to Joshua Tree National Park. This outcropping of monzogranite rock – yes monzogranite – features a large rock that has a smaller rock balanced on top so it looks like a cap.
It’s an easy feature to get to and see. Simply turn off Park Boulevard on the road to Keys View, Cap Rock trail is an easy .4 mile loop hike that’s dotted with desert scrub, junipers and Joshua trees.
Keys View is one of my favorite “hikes” in Joshua Tree National Park isn’t really a hike. It’s more of an easy walk or stroll.
This area at 5000 feet above sea level has stunning views and an enormous amount of Joshua trees. On a good day – when it’s not hazy or cloudy – you can see the Coachella Valley and possibly, as far as Mexico. It was hazy when we were there but we had no trouble seeing the Little San Bernardino Mountains and two of California’s highest peaks – Mount San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. We also were able to spot the Salton Sea that’s south of the park.
Keys View has its own parking lot with a paved ADA accessible walkway. Interpretive signs lead the way to more viewing decks and benches. If you want to hike further, you could include Inspiration Point trail from here.
Probably one of the most recognizable – and popular attractions – at Joshua Tree National Park is Skull Rock. This huge boulder, etched by time and water, looks just like a skull and what appears to be two eye sockets. It’s fascinating.
Besides the main rock, this entire surrounding area is perfect for exploring for anyone but especially for kids. There are well marked trails to run around on and like most places in Joshua Tree National Park, plenty of rocks to climb around on.
Southerner Says: if Skull Rock is crowded during the day, save it for the late evening. Campers staying in Jumbo Rocks campground, can access Skull Rock from the campground as well.
Split Rock Loop Trail | One of the Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Split Rock Loop Trail is a 2 mile nature trail that passes through a variety of desert scenes. Interesting boulders, cactus, yuccas and a few split rocks, are just a few of the things you will encounter on this hike in Joshua Tree National Park. If you are really lucky, you might even spot a big horn sheep or two.
The trail’s elevation gain is easy. The highest part of this hike is called Isles in the Sky. This section of the trail is a flat rocky area perfect for a taking a break and just sitting back to admire the views in the park. Enjoy the breeze and quiet before winding your way back down to the parking lot.
Cholla Cactus Garden
If you love cactus, then the Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the easy hikes in Joshua Tree National Park that you can’t miss. Since this area of the park is at an lower elevation it looks a little different from the rest of the park. There aren’t many Joshua trees because it’s just hundreds and hundreds of teddy bear cholla cactus. In fact, it’s approximately ten acres of cactus.
The .25 mile trail is a maintained path the weaves through cactus grove so you can get an up-close look. Just don’t touch or you’ll spend the day picking cactus out of whatever it touched. The cholla cactus likes to latch on to anything or anyone that gets too close.
If you are only passing quickly through Joshua Tree and only have time for one thing in the park, the Cholla Cactus Garden would be my pick.
Hall of Horrors
A place called Hall of Horrors probably doesn’t sound like somewhere you would want to go but contrary to its name it’s one of the most peaceful spots in Joshua Tree National Park. Hall of Horrors gets its name from what looks like halls or slots in the closely set walls of rocks. They look very similar to a slot canyon.
The official trail to the Hall of Horrors is a flat .6 mile trail but this entire area of the park is easily walkable. It’s really unique and has of some of the most picturesque Joshua trees in the entire park.
We timed our visit just right and showed up in the evening as the sun was going down. Even though the sunset wasn’t the vibrant sunset I had hoped for, the colors of the desert sky and the light breeze made it a perfect place to end the day. It was just us and the jack rabbits watching the sun go down. In fact, we spent so much time looking for the perfect Joshua Tree, we never made it to the actual hall.
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More Joshua Tree National Park Tips
- Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- If you visit in late spring and summer, hike early or late to avoid the heat.
- The National Park Service states there’s no phone service in the park. I have Verizon and had absolutely no service. My daughter has AT&T and occasionally had a enough that her phone would update.
- Have a travel plan and let someone know your plans, especially if you travel solo.
- There’s no water available in the park so carry plenty with you. You can fill bottles at the Oasis Visitor Center at Twentynine Palms.
- Dogs aren’t allowed on the trails in Joshua Tree National Park.
- Drone use is prohibited as well.
- For more information about the park and to read about the different entrances, check out my Joshua Tree National Park Guide.
- Download a Joshua Tree National Park map from the National Park Service website before you go.
- Download the National Park Trust’s – who support and help fund our national parks – ParkPassport Mobile App to use for a better experience in the park.
- Learn more about Leave No Trace principles for visiting public lands.
Packing List for Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is near Twentynine Palms and the town of Joshua Tree. If you forget something on your Joshua Tree National Park trip, you should be able to buy it locally.
Twentynine Palms is smaller than Joshua Tree but it does have a Dollar General. Here’s a few suggestions of things to pack for Joshua Tree National Park. Especially if you plan on camping in the park.
- Water, water and more water – did I mention there’s no water in the park? In fact, it’s a good idea to invest in a refillable water cube that you can use over again instead of lots of small bottles.
- For small drinking bottles, I like this refillable water bottle and this Hydro Flask one too.
- a first aid kit
- lip balm
- good shoes for hiking in dusty conditions
- a hat
- a bandana to keep you cool
- If you don’t want a full size day pack, how about a fanny pack? REI has one that works well for short day hikes.