Explore Joshua Tree: Uncover the Best Hikes & Trails!

Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll, a challenging switchback, or something in-between--  Joshua Tree National Park has a trail to meet your needs. 

Each of them scenic and featuring flora and fauna unique to the area, you’ll spot yucca trees and cholla cactus and end up at sweeping views of surrounding mountains. Our guide breaks down some of our favorite hikes for adventurers of all skill levels. Read on to discover popular local favorites and a few hidden gems you won’t want to miss.


Experience Level: Beginner

Distance: 1 Mile Loop

Estimated Time to Complete: 30 minutes or less

Elevation Gain: 118ft

Hidden Valley Trail is a great way to get acquainted with Joshua Tree National Park. This meandering 1-mile loop provides an opportunity to explore a hidden valley of gargantuan rocks and peculiar Joshua Trees, making it ideal for family outings or those seeking a leisurely stroll. In addition to the Joshua Trees, you'll find an abundance of wildlife and vegetation like lizards, birds, cacti, and wildflowers blooming throughout certain seasons.

If you’re “not into hiking” but want to experience part of the park during your stay, Hidden Valley is a great beginner stroll and because it’s on the easier side is also great for groups with members unable to do longer or more strenuous hikes. There are many picturesque moments and an excellent sampling of local terrain and wildlife. Enjoy!


Experience Level: Beginner 

Distance: 1.1 Miles, Loop 

Estimated Time to Complete: 25 minutes or less

Elevation Gain: 59 ft

The Barker Dam Trail is a lovely route for the whole family. And just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth your time. Even advanced hikers will enjoy the sights along this route. As you start, take time to admire the wildlife that calls this area home – from cottontail rabbits to desert tortoises and even bighorn sheep if you’re lucky. You’ll also get an up close look at some of Joshua Tree’s unique geological features like towering rock formations and sandy washes that make it such an iconic landscape.

The highlight of the Barker Dam Trail is definitely its namesake – a historic water reservoir built by cattlemen in 1900 which still stands today as one of the oldest manmade structures in the park. During the driest parts of the season the Dam is usually empty but during years with substantial rainfall you can find water that summons wildlife like Bighorn Sheep and birds to the area. Don’t sleep on park signage- there are lots of great notes about the history of landmarks along this trail and you’ll get more out of the experience by reading them!


At Diamond Sky Retreat


Experience Level: Intermediate

Distance: 2.9 miles, Out and Back

Estimated Time to Complete: 2 hours

Elevation Gain: 1,062 ft

Ryan Mountain Trail is a popular moderate hike for good reason. Expect to see rock formations, panoramic views, and to traverse a 1k foot elevation gain. This route is popular and it’s recommended you get there early to secure parking and have a not-so-crowded trail experience. Others recommend catching the sunset from the summit—just be aware of how to navigate back afterwards in the dark. As with most areas of Joshua Tree National park, there is little to no cell service on Ryan Mountain Trail.

If you’re up for a medium-sized challenge and feel able footed to navigate some steep slopes, Ryan Mountain Trail is a great pick for an adventurous exploration of Joshua Tree National Park.

**photo from nobodyhikesinla.com


Experience Level: Intermediate

Distance: 6.1 Miles, Out and Back

Estimated time to complete: 2.5 hours

Elevation Gain: 482 ft

If you’re looking for a moderate challenge without the super steep incline of Ryan Mountain Trail—head to Ryan Ranch and Big Trees Loop Trail. A longer distance but shorter incline means you’ll be able to cover ground more quickly and see many sights along the way. This trail will lead you through several big groves of Joshua Trees. Because of the lack of shade and distance—this trail is best hiked in the winter months but you may find it’s pleasant early in the morning during the hotter months as well.

Don’t forget to download your map ahead of time since there won’t be service in the park. While the trail is popular, it’s likely you’ll still have plenty of space to yourself at Ryan Ranch to soak in nature and enjoy solitude.

**photo from the National Park Service


Experience Level: Advanced

Distance: 8 miles, Point to Point

Estimated time to complete: 3.5 hours

Elevation gain: 226 ft

If you’re an experienced hiker looking to get lost in the Wonderland of Rocks, the Boy Scout Trail is the one for you. Popular among backpackers and for camping—this trail has a few options on how to navigate. Some hikers prefer to start at the south trailhead for a mostly downhill trip. All agree that it’s best to avoid this trail between May-October because of the lack of shade and high temperatures.

If you want to stay overnight- parking permits to park overnight at the trailhead and camping sites are available if you plan ahead. You’ll need to carry your own water into the park and don’t forget the temperatures can dip below freezing once the sun goes down. This trail can be pretty secluded and doesn’t have cell service so factor that into your gameplan. Difficult? Perhaps—but you if you came looking for a challenge Boy Scout Trail is ready for you.

**photo from redwoodhikes.com


Experience Level: Very Advanced

Distance: 3.2 Miles, Loop

Estimated Time to Complete: 4 hours

Elevation Gain: 987 ft

This is not a casual hike. Annually, the Sierra Club conducts a 10-week course focusing on wilderness travel skill-building and this route serves as the culminating challenge. This route includes off-trail navigation and Class 3 scrambling sections. It’s an incredibly technical bouldering course and it’s not recommended you attempt this route unless you’re an expert. Gloves are recommended and you’ll need to pack your own water and snacks.

For those who are able to navigate- the trail yields beautiful views of wildflowers (when in season) cacti, and vistas that overlook the park. If you’re an experienced boulderer/scrambler/expert hiker—you’ll have a lot of fun on the Sierra Club Route!

**photo by Rik Leishman

Other Trails Worth Exploring

This list is far from exhaustive as there are tons more fantastic trails to explore within Joshua Tree National Park. Here’s a few more bonus trails to look into:

Lost Horse Mine Loop 

A great 4-mile hike for those looking for an adventure. The trail winds through some beautiful terrain and offers spectacular views of the desert landscape. Meandering through the arid terrain, one can observe remnants of mining activity from the 19th century.

**photo by modernhiker.com

Fortynine Palms Oasis 

Another great 3-mile trail that takes hikers past palm trees and pools of water - perfect for taking a dip on hot days. The breathtaking views of the mountains and desert landscape make this trek an absolute must for any outdoor enthusiast.

**photo by americansouthwest.net

Cholla Cactus Garden 

A short 0.25 mile walk through an amazing array of cacti species which are sure to amaze any nature enthusiast or casual observer alike.

**photo by thatadventurelife.com

Safety & Planning

When planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Follow these tips to stay safe out there:

  • Pack the right gear and be prepared for whatever conditions you may encounter
  • Consider the temperatures—can vary from sub-zero to over 100 degrees in a single day
  • Pack layers of clothing to adjust as needed
  • Bring a sunhat and sunglasses and plenty of spf to protect yourself
  • Bring water (at least a gallon per person)

And remember to be mindful of the terrain when selecting your shoes and pants. Some trails have rocky or sandy paths that require hiking shoes with good tread. Some paths require navigating prickly cacti where long-pants are recommended. It’s always recommended that you bring a buddy and don’t hike alone.

Be on the lookout for a variety of animals, such as bighorn sheep, coyotes, roadrunners, lizards, snakes (both venomous and nonvenomous), tarantulas, scorpions and jackrabbits. While most wildlife will flee when they sense humans nearby-- it pays off to stay alert just in case something unexpected happens – especially since some creatures come out only after dark. It might also be helpful to brush up on snake identification before heading out into the park - just remember that all rattlesnakes found in California are poisonous.

No matter how experienced a hiker or camper you are, always check local weather forecasts ahead of time before setting off into nature's wild places. Be mindful of where you go by researching potential hazards such as steep drop-offs or hidden dangers like poison oak along your path; knowledge is power when it comes to staying safe outdoors. Lastly, make sure someone knows where you're going beforehand so they can raise alarm bells should anything happen while away from home base camping.

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