Joshua tree and boulders in Joshua Tree National Park

8 Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park That Anyone Can Do

Southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park is a hiking wonderland of thousands of Joshua trees and massive rock formations scattered throughout the park. Because of its desert location and, at times a harsh climate, hiking can be challenging, especially for those who aren’t well-prepared or experienced in desert hiking.

So then, you’ll be happy to know that Joshua Tree offers a selection of easy trails well-suited for all levels of hikers of experience. From leisurely strolls through alien-looking landscapes to short walks and hidden spots, there’s something everyone can enjoy. Lace up your boots and come along on these hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.

Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

As someone who enjoys road tripping the southwest and wandering around southern California, I’ve been lucky to visit Joshua Tree National Park several times, mostly in the late spring and summer months. One August, on a solo trip, the temperature was 116F! Not very fun for camping.

No matter when you choose to visit Joshua Tree, good planning is key. Knowing what to expect and being prepared for the park’s challenges can help you safely enjoy these hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. To help you get started, here’s a few things you can do, and prepare for, before you attempt hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.

  • Hike early or late to avoid the heat as much as possible especially if you’re visiting in late spring and summer.
  • Water is not available in the park, so bring plenty with you. The National Park Service recommends having at least a gallon a day for each person in your party. These water cubes make storage easier.
  • Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as well as knowing how to treat it or where to get help in case of an emergency.
  • Hikers and especially solo hikers should have a hiking plan and let someone know that plan and the expected return time. That way, if you don’t check in as planned, someone will know and can alert authorities if needed.
  • Stick to well-marked trails to reduce the risk of getting lost. Going off-trail can make navigation even more challenging
  • Phone service is limited to non-existent in the park so come prepared for that. Have a National Park Service map or another map of the park on hand and know how to use it. Consider upgrading to a satellite phone or personal locator beacon that can send distress signals in emergencies.

1. Cap Rock: One of the Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

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 – looks like defies gravity with small rock balanced on top of a larger boulder creating the appearance of a cap.

This .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 run around and play. It’s an ideal short hike any time of the year and offers parking for cars and RVs, picnic tables and pit toilets.

Cap Rock trail in Joshua Tree National Park

2. 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. Hidden Valley is surrounded by huge boulders and massive rocks that would have been a fitting place to hide cows.

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 my favorite picnic areas of all the national parks I’ve visited.

Hidden Valley trail Joshua Tree National Park
Hidden Valley Nature Trail

3. Keys View

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 and when it’s not hazy, you can see the 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 one of the most dense areas of Joshua trees that I’ve ever seen.

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.

4. Skull Rock

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.

The face of Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park
Can you see the face?

5. 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.

6. Maze Loop Trail is One of the Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

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.

Joshua Trees and other flora on Maze Loop Trail, one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Maze Loop trailhead

7. 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.

8. 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. It gets its name from what looks like halls, or slots, in the close set walls of rocks. Similar to a Utah slot canyon.

The official trail to Hall of Horrors is a flat .6 mile trail but this entire area of the park is easily walkable with plenty of trails through the desert scrub. It’s a unique spot and has of some of the most picturesque Joshua trees in the entire park.

On this visit, my daughter and I timed our visit just right and showed up to Hall of Horrors 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 also pit toilets available.

sunset a Hall of Horror one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Sunset at Hall of Horrors

When is the Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree National Park?

Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year but that doesn’t mean every month is suitable for hiking. The optimal time to hike in Joshua Tree National park is October through April.

Spring (March to May) is one of the most popular times to visit Joshua Tree. The weather is generally mild, with pleasant daytime temperatures, making it ideal for hiking and enjoying wildflower blooms. Although, it is the peak season, so expect more visitors.

Summer (June to August) is the hottest time in Joshua Tree, with scorching daytime temperatures exceeding 100°F (37°C). While it’s not the best time for strenuous outdoor activities, it’s a quieter season, and you can still enjoy early morning or evening hikes.

Fall (September to November) is another great time to visit, with cooler temperatures than in the summer. The park is less crowded than in spring and you can expect to see fall colors on plants that add to the landscape’s beauty.

Winter (December to February) daytime temperatures are usually pretty mild with cold nights. This is an excellent time for stargazing, since the park is an International Dark Sky Park. Crowds are smaller in the winter, and it’s a good time for hiking, especially in the low desert areas.

More Joshua Tree National Park Resources

  • For more information about the park and to learn more about the different park 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.
  • Or 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 how to implement the 7 Leave No Trace principles when visiting public lands.
  • James Kaiser is a writer and national park expert with several national park guide books. His guide book about Joshua Tree National Park is a must for anyone visiting the park and surrounding area.

Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

With good planning and prep, these easy hikes in Joshua Tree National Park are there for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a veteran hiker or a family looking for an awesome adventure, these trails in Joshua Tree let you soak in the cool views, unique rocks and desert plants.

So take your time and enjoy the beauty of the Joshua trees while making fun memories in this fantastic national park. It’s a great place for everyone.

See you on the road!

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  1. John Quinn says:

    Great selection of hikes Lori for those not looking to push themselves. I think it’s all I could manage in that desert heat.
    The cholla cactus is a deceptive one. It looks almost cute. Definitely not one to hug when social distancing is over though.

    1. Thanks John! And the cactus is definitely cute but I’m happy to say I haven’t had a run in with one yet 🙂

  2. Hi Lori. Joshua Tree is high on our list of National Parks to visit. We like how you include easy trails and mention the paved ADA accessible walkway. It’s important for us to show how everyone can get out to see beautiful places.

    1. I think so too! Hope you get to visit soon. I loved it!

    1. Thank you. The park is gorgeous and very different from other national parks. I hope you get to see it someday.

  3. I can literally see the aridity in the pictures. It is dry DRY! Lol. Hall of Horrors sounds like a plot from American horror story lol. I love the cactus garden because it almost seems so unreal and skull rock…wow! I love easy hikes that don’t leave me panting for breath.

  4. I do love Joshua tree and I’ve been on one or two of these hikes! Great Choices and now I have a good guide to refer back to for next time!

    1. Glad to see you’ve enjoyed a few of these hikes. I can’t wait to go back and try some more. There’s definitely a lot to do in the park.

  5. The flowers on the cholla cacti are so cute! These easy hikes would make a great start to the morning or sunset walk in the evening. I love all the rounded boulders in contrast to the prickly cacti.

    1. Yes I was surprised by the boulders because I’ve never been anywhere else with rocks that look like that. Definitely unique. And I was very happy that we caught the cholla with some blooms still. They are very cute! 🙂

  6. Joshua Tree is on my list but I’ve always been a little intimidated by the heat! These easy hikes would be perfect! Great piece!

    1. Thank you so much! I hope you have a chance to visit soon and try some of them. 🙂

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