Tucked into southern California where the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet, Joshua Tree National Park is a rugged yet somehow delicate national park that everyone should visit.
Getting there is fairly easy and the park is comfortably explored with the help of plenty of hiking trails. Start your desert visit with these fun hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.
Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is made up of approximately 800,000 acres of stunning desert scenery. All that terrain means there’s a hiking trail for everyone.
Reluctant hikers, children, and even those that don’t get around so well anymore will find Joshua Tree National Park be the most welcoming of national parks.
I’ve visited Joshua Tree National Park twice. Once in late May with my daughter and solo one August when the temp hovered around 112 degrees Fahrenheit. I can tell you, May was much better for hiking and camping.
The optimal time to hike in Joshua Tree National park is October through April but that doesn’t mean that with preparation and common sense you can’t enjoy it other times of the year.
There’s no water in the park, so remember to pack plenty, leave no trace and take nothing but photographs. Let’s go!
Cap Rock Trail
Cap Rock is the perfect introduction to Joshua Tree National Park. This outcropping of monzogranite – or the molten rock that’s found throughout the park – seemingly defies gravity with small rock balanced on top of a larger boulder creating the appearance of a cap.
The .4 mile loop is a flat well marked path through the desert scrub, junipers and Joshua trees is perfect for anyone and gives kids the chance to scamper around and play. It’s an ideal short hike any time of the year.
There’s parking for cars and RVs. Picnic tables and pit toilets are also available at Cap Rock.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Believe it or not, the area now known as Joshua Tree National Park was once used for ranching and cattle rustling. The Hidden Valley area is surrounded by huge boulders and massive rocks that would have been a fitting place to hide cows. Once you see it in person, you’ll totally get why it’s the ideal secret spot.
There are no cows now but you will find a 1 mile loop trail that meanders through the valley. The hike is listed as easy but does have a series of stone steps that takes you up and then leads you down into the valley so walking poles might come in handy for some hikers.
The trail includes educational signage with interesting facts about the area and the desert wildlife you might encounter. You may also enjoy watching the rock climbers that frequent the area.
Hidden Valley has a parking area for cars and larger RVs, pit toilets and a large picnic area with grills. In fact, it’s one of our favorite picnic areas of all the parks we’ve visited.
Keys View is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. Even though it’s more of an easy walk or stroll than hike, the highlight is the 5000 feet elevation. The views are incredible.
On a clear day, when it’s not hazy or cloudy, you can see Coachella Valley and even as far as Mexico.
Unfortunately, it was really hazy the day I visited. Still, I had no trouble seeing the Little San Bernardino Mountains and two of California’s highest peaks – Mount San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. I was also were able to spot the Salton Sea just south of the park. However, it was a little too far for the camera to capture.
One of best things about Keys View is getting there. The drive out to the viewpoint passes through a very dense area of Joshua trees that are so pretty.
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. There’s also pit toilets onsite.
Skull Rock loop
One of the most recognizable and popular features in Joshua Tree National Park is Skull Rock. This huge boulder, that’s been etched by time and water, looks similar to a skull and has what appears to be two eye sockets. It’s pretty fascinating.
Besides the main featured rock, this entire surrounding area that includes a 1.7 mile loop trail is perfect for exploring. Especially for kids since there’s an abundance of well marked trails to run around on and like most places in Joshua Tree National Park, plenty of rocks to climb around on.
There is a small pull-off and parking area for parking cars and vans but no other facilities are available.
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
Split Rock Loop Trail is a favorite among hikers in Joshua Tree National Park. A 2 mile trail winds through a variety of beautiful desert scenery that includes cacti, yuccas, interesting rock formations and a few split rocks, If you are really lucky, you might even spot a big horn sheep or two.
The elevation gain on the trail is gentle. The highest section of the trail is called Isles in the Sky and is a ultimate flat rocky relaxation area to take a break and enjoy the breeze before winding your way back down to the parking lot.
Split Rock has a parking area for cars, larger vehicles and RVs plus pit toilets and picnic tables.
maze loop trail
Maze Loop Trail is near the west entrance – or the Joshua Tree entrance – on Park Boulevard so it’s convenient as a first thing in the morning trail.
It’s listed as a moderate since its 4.9 miles to hike entire trail but the beauty of this hike is you can do a little of it or a lot. Like the name says – it’s a loop but you can do ever how much you are in the mood for or adjust for warmer weather and then just go back the way you came.
The trail is fairly flat with plenty of large Joshua trees and is popular for birding. There’s a small parking area but no other facilities are available.
Cholla Cactus Garden
For desert lovers, the Cholla Cactus Garden has one of the best hikes strolls in Joshua Tree National Park. Since this area of the park is at a lower elevation it looks a little different from the rest of the park.
There aren’t many Joshua trees around but there are literally hundreds of teddy bear cholla cacti. In fact, it’s approximately ten acres of cacti.
The .25 mile trail is a well maintained path the weaves through cacti grove. Just be careful to not touch them or you’ll spend the day picking cactus out of whatever it came in contact with. A cholla cactus likes to latch on to anything or anyone that gets too close.
If you are only driving through Joshua Tree National Park and only have time for one thing in the park, then the Cholla Cactus Garden would be my pick.
The cactus garden has plenty of parking for cars and larger vehicles but no other facilities onsite.
Hall of Horrors
A place called Hall of Horrors may not sound like somewhere you’d 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. 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.
Hall of Horrors has plenty of parking for cars and large vehicles and there are pit toilets available.
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Hikes in 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. There’s no water available in the park so carry enough for everyone in your party.
- If you are traveling solo, have a travel and hiking plan and let someone know about those plans.
- Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails in Joshua Tree National Park.
- Joshua Trees are protected so hammocks or attaching anything to them is prohibited.
- Drone use is prohibited as well.
- 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.
- 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.
How to use the map: add this map to your own Google account by clicking on the star at the end of the title. The map has layers with all these hikes in Joshua Tree National Park as well as my favorite campgrounds and the visitor centers. Click on the icon on the upper left hand side to see the layers. You can remove the layer(s) by unchecking the one you aren’t using. For more details and directions about a site featured, simply click that icon on the map or from the layer.
Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park Packing List
Here’s a few other things I suggest you have on hand for hiking.
- water, water and more water – did I mention there’s no water in the park? A refillable water cube that you can use over again instead of lots of small bottles is a smart investment.
- an America the Beautiful Park Pass to enter the park. This pass saves money at over 2k interagency sites across the country
- Since most of the toilets in Joshua Tree National Park are pit toilets, I highly recommend having toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you.