Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park is such a unique experience. The desert landscape, rock formations, and wildlife make for a great adventure! Joshua Tree National Park is incredibly popular and known worldwide for its unique trees and stunning rock formations. In this post, we’re sharing the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park plus some tips for visiting.
Planning a trip to Joshua Tree? Make sure to check out our guide for the area which includes: things to do outside the park, the best places to eat, and more!
Introduction to Joshua Tree National Park
Where is Joshua Tree National Park?
Joshua Tree National Park is located in the high desert of Southern California where the Colorado and Mojave deserts meet. Two of the park entrances, 29 Palms and Joshua Tree, are located on Highway 62, while the third, Cottonwood Drive, is located off Interstate 8.
The national park is located roughly 1 hour east of Palm Springs and 3 hours west of Las Vegas. There are 3 towns right outside of Joshua Tree National Park: 29 Palms, Joshua Tree, and Yucca Valley.
What’s is special about Joshua Tree National Park?
Visiting Joshua Tree National Park is an incredible experience because of the unique trees, towering rock formations, and the glowing night sky.
Whether you visit during the day to explore the trails or come after dark to watch the stars, you will be amazed at what Joshua Tree National Park has to offer.
The hikes in Joshua Tree range from easy and flat to challenging and intense. Each trail takes you on a journey through the otherworldly desert landscape. There’s something for everyone at the park.
What time does Joshua Tree National Park open?
The national park is open 24 hours a day and is a popular destination for viewing the night sky. If you arrive before the entrance station is open, you will have to purchase your pass on the way out.
Want to learn more about the Joshua Tree Night Sky? Visit the Sky View Observatory. It’s one of our top things to do outside hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
How much does it cost to enter Joshua Tree National Park?
To enter the park, you must purchase a National Park Pass that costs $35 and is valid for 7 days (entering and exiting as many times as you please).
If you are active-duty military or a veteran you can enter the park for free but must have a valid military/veteran ID. You will be given a military park pass that allows you free entrance into all of the national parks.
What is the best time of year to go to Joshua Tree National Park?
The desert is not always hot but is almost always sunny. Autumn, winter, and spring are the best seasons to visit the park due to the escape from the hot summer.
In the summer, park temperatures can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius. These temperatures keep the huge crowds away but can be dangerous for hiking all day. The summers are hot and dry with the possibility of large storms and flash floods.
Spring is a wonderful time in Joshua Tree National Park because the high temperatures are still bearable and the floral bloom is stunning. The desert comes to life with color when the flowers bloom. Hopefully, there was plenty of rain in the previous year to make for a better bloom.
In Autumn, the park’s temperatures are more comfortable, like the spring. This is a great time for hiking and camping because the temperatures don’t drop too much at night but the day temperatures are nice for being outside.
Winter is a unique season in Joshua Tree National Park because, although rarely, you may be able to see snow! It only snowed a handful of times while we lived here but it changes the whole look of the park.
If you hear it’s snowing in Joshua Tree, get there fast because most of the time, the snow only lasts a couple of days before melting away.
Even when the park isn’t covered in snow, the temperatures of the winter time are great for longer hikes and days on the trail.
How much time do I need for Joshua Tree National Park?
We lived nearby for over 2 years and still left with so much to explore. However, you can see the highlights and hike some great trails with only a couple of days in the national park.
We recommend at least 2 days in Joshua Tree National Park. This will give you time to hike longer trails and also visit the short viewpoints throughout the park.
What kind of wildlife will I find hiking in Joshua Tree?
Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding area are home to many plant and animal species. Obviously, it is home to the Joshua Tree, but the region is also home to a variety of cacti, Ocotillos, Creosote Bushes, and over 800 more.
Animals found in Joshua Tree National Park include Big Horned Sheep, jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, and coyotes. It is also home to over 250 bird species including Golden Eagles, California Quails, and the Greater Roadrunner.
Depending on the season, different bird species may be migrating through the park and the surrounding area. Our favorite one to see in spring was the Western Tanager because of its bright colors.
Interested in birdwatching? Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is even better than Joshua Tree National Park when it comes to rare bird sightings!
Where are the Visitor Centers?
Joshua Tree National Park has 4 visitor centers. The Joshua Tree Visitor Center is located in Joshua Tree Village on Park Boulevard as you drive to the entrance of the park. Inside the center, there is information about the park, as well as, the history of the area. It is open from 7:30 am to 5 pm.
The Oasis Visitor Center, open from 8:30 am to 5 pm, is located near the 29 Palms entrance. On top of park information and gift shop, this visitor center also has a short flat walking path. This trail is great for all abilities and in the evenings is great for bird sightings.
Tip: Head to the Oasis Visitor Center and 29 Palms Entrance to avoid the crowds at the entrance in Joshua Tree
The other visitor centers include Cottonwood Spring on the south side and Black Rock Campground Nature Center in Yucca Valley.
For more information, specific details, and park updates head to the Park Website here!
The Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Let us preface this section by saying that every hiker is different. Depending on your ability, interest, and stamina, you might enjoy other hikes more than our recommended list below. However, based on our experience, these are our favorite hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.
1. 49 Palms Trail
An oasis in the desert
Our absolute favorite hike in Joshua Tree National Park is the 49 Palms Trail. We may have even done it 49 times since we lived right by the trailhead. This moderate trail is roughly 3 miles out and back. The trail goes up and down in elevation until reaching an oasis at the end.
This natural spring is surrounded by palm trees and makes for a perfect snack break before heading back. We have seen some neat birds at the oasis and Sam even saw big horned sheep on the trail one time.
This hike is perfect for warm weekend mornings or weekday evenings to beat the heat and the crowds.
Don’t have time for the whole trail? Hike up to the top of the first hill for views of 29 Palms and the open desert. This is a great spot to watch the sunset too!
2. Black Rock Canyon to Panorama Loop
A great day hike with some of the best views in the park
This hike is one of the first that we both did in Joshua Tree National Park when moving to the area. The trail is 6.7 miles long according to AllTrails. It’s a loop trail that starts in Blackrock Campground and has a changing landscape, keeping you on your toes. Some sections are flat paths swerving around Joshua Trees, while the middle section involves a lot of climbing up and down.
There are many other great hikes that lead from this campground as well, like the West Side Loop!
3. Ryan Mountain Trail
A steep climb for amazing views
This 3-mile out-and-back hiking trail in Joshua Tree is a workout. It may be challenging for some because of the many steps and elevation gain. With an elevation gain of just over 1,000 feet, the 360-degree views at the end are breathtaking. It can be windy at the top, so depending on the season you’re hiking, you may want to bring an extra layer.
4. Split Rock Trail
Short hike with neat rock formations and boulders to scramble.
Although this trail is a popular one, it can be hard to follow. Many of the washes look like the trail and you can easily end up lost and far off (speaking from experience). The trail itself is relatively easy being mostly flat and surrounded by many boulders. It’s a loop hike that is just under 2 miles.
5. Boy Scout Trail
Spend a night in the wilderness backpacking Boy Scout Trail
Although some experienced hikers will tackle this trail in one long day, it is perfect for an overnight backpacking trip. The hike in Joshua Tree National Park can be done as a one-way, 8-mile trip from Park Boulevard to Indian Cove (or vice versa), or it can be done as a 16-mile out and back trail. Be mindful of your hiking abilities before tackling a long hike in the desert!
If you looking to escape the tourists during the busy season, this trail is a great hike for that!
6. Indian Cove
Easy access to some of the coolest rock formations in JTNP
This location is on our list mainly for the interesting rock formations. It’s not exactly a hike but a cool stop! You can walk around or scramble up some of the rocks, as well as, hike some shorter trails around the campground without even entering the park.
Many of the trails on Alltrails from the campground are hard to follow and include some boulder scrambling but may be worth checking out! The campground is stunning too!
Traces of Mining in the Joshua Tree Area
Desert Queen Mine Trail and Eagle Cliff Mine Trail are a couple more hikes we really enjoyed in the park! Each of these hikes are are a few miles a piece with remnants of the mines, tools, and even living quarters from the miners that used to be active in the Joshua Tree area.
Trails We Didn’t Really Enjoy
Okay, this is actually tough because we love hiking and this desert so much. As we said above, every hiker is different. However, there were a couple of hikes we wouldn’t care to do again. These include the 5 Tanks Trail (mainly because the trail is not well marked and it’s way too easy to get lost) and the Contact Mine Trail right inside 29 Palms Entrance.
There’s nothing “wrong” with these hikes, we just recommend others more if you’re limited on time!
Which hike interests you the most?
Read our guide to visiting Joshua Tree, California for a detailed list of our favorite things to do outside the park, the best local places to eat, and more.
Popular Hikes and Sights You Should NOT Miss Inside Joshua Tree National Park
If you’re heading to Joshua Tree, you have probably heard of many items on this list. We avoided some of these for a while because we were worried they were overrated. BUT, we were wrong.
Sometimes things are popular for a reason and these viewpoints and hikes in Joshua Tree are worth the stop while visiting the park.
7. Skull Rock
Short “hike” with large boulders for scrambling
Although this is listed as a hike in many places, it is really just a quick climb or stop along the road. You can make this a quick stop while driving through the park, HOWEVER, make sure to park in the designated areas. The desert ecosystem is fragile, if the parking spaces are full, try again at another time.
Skull Rock was formed as a magma plume under the Earth’s surface. Then, through chemical weathering due to the acidic soils, the face took shape as parts of the rock broke down and eroded away.
8. Cholla Cactus Garden
An easy walk through a unique cluster of cholla cacti
To reach this stop in the park, you’ll have to go out of the way off the main road and head towards the Cottonwood Springs visitor center and entrance (just not all the way).
BE CAREFUL around the cholla cacti. They can be dangerous and easily break off once one of the thorns catches onto something. We have heard some not-so-great stories of how the thorns have gotten stuck in people. Although the cactus garden is neat to visit, do not risk touching the chollas!
9. Key’s View
A viewpoint with views for miles and miles of the Coachella Valley and more
During the busy season, this popular site is always full of people during sunset. This lookout only requires a short walk from the parking lot to get a gorgeous view of the desert landscape. On clear days you can see Palm Springs, Salton Sea, and even a mountain in Mexico! You can also see the San Andreas Fault Line from here! If you plan to watch the sunset from here, make sure to arrive early. When the parking lot is full, the park rangers will close it off.
10. Barker Dam
Easy day hike with an oasis and array of wildlife and cultural sites.
This well-maintained flat hike is a popular one and can be busy depending on the time you hit the trail. On the path, you can see petroglyphs, wildflowers (depending on the season) and if it’s rained recently, you can catch the dam filled with water.
Check with park rangers to see if there’s water on the trail.
It’s a beautiful hike and one of my friends even got engaged here!
11. Hall of Horrors
Easy walk around incredible rocks
This “trail” is more of a free-for-all walk around some magnificent rock formations with paths winding in and out. Because it’s easy and kid-friendly, it can get pretty busy. However, a visit to Joshua Tree isn’t complete without stopping to wander around many of the incredible rock formations. Take a quick walk-through before hitting one of the longer hikes on our list!
Important Tips for Hiking in Joshua Tree
GO EARLY (OR LATE)
Hit the trails early in the morning to beat the crowds and enjoy the wildlife in the park. By late morning, some of the trailhead parking lots can be full and you may even be waiting a while to ENTER the park.
The evenings are another great time to enter the park, however, some trails popular for sunset will be busy at this time too.
Another tip we mention in our guide to visiting Joshua Tree is that the 29 Palms Entrance is almost never crowded. Drive a bit further down Highway 62 and enter the park in 29 Palms!
Drinking enough water is super important to staying safe on the trail. Staying hydrated is important on any hike, but even more so in the dry air of the desert.
The trails in Joshua Tree National Park are well-maintained, but that doesn’t mean you should go out in flimsy sandals. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear for rocky and sandy trails.
We love hiking in our Teva Hiking Sandals but they aren’t the best for all trails. Closed-toed tennis shoes or hiking boots are the best options to stay protected on the trail.
SUNSCREEN + SUN COVERAGE
The trails in Joshua Tree National Park have little shade. For most of the day, you will be out in the sun so lathering up with sunscreen is important to protect your skin when hiking in Joshua Tree.
On top of sunscreen, wearing a large-brim hat is highly advised to keep the strong sun off your face, neck, and shoulders.
STAY ON TRAIL
This is for your own safety and the environment. Often, people step off the trail and easily end up lost in the desert. This can be very dangerous so it is so important that you do not wander off the marked trail.
It’s also important for the delicate ecosystem. Please do your best to disturb as little of the wildlife around you as you can!
It’s easy to accidentally wander off the trail, so we advise you to have a map or use a GPS app like AllTrails to make sure you stay on the path when hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.
PREPARE FOR THE WEATHER
Make sure to check the forecast because, in the summer, the storms can roll in quickly. Checking the forecast is also great so you are prepared with a light jacket, or even hats and gloves depending on the season. The mornings and evenings can feel drastically different than midday so it’s important to pack some layers for hikes in Joshua Tree depending on the season you visit.
FOLLOW “LEAVE NO TRACE” PRINCIPLES
It is so important to practice all of the Leave No Trace Principles when hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. Remember that while on the trail you are in a unique habitat full of plants and animals who call this place home. Do your part and take care of the environment around you.
Want more information on the “Leave No Trace” Principles? Click Here
Hiking Outside Joshua Tree National Park
Have more time to explore the area outside of the park boundaries? There’s still a ton to do AND many more hikes in the Joshua Tree area
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
This oasis is off the beaten track and only 30 minutes from Joshua Tree National Park. It is less crowded and much cooler during the warmer days. It’s free to visit and has trails for everyone. Check out Big Morongo Canyon Preserve here
Looking for more hikes in the Joshua Tree area? We wrote a post all about hiking near Palm Springs. This guide includes hikes right in the city and in the surrounding area. Head down the hill (as the locals say) and explore some of these awesome hikes!
Don’t forget to check out our visitor’s guide to the area for some great recommendations. We hope you enjoy your time in Joshua Tree National Park! What are you most excited for?