Determining the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park is a weighty task. It is a task I do not undertake lightly, friends. To make these claims, I used not only my own experience and research, but various websites and sources too many to list here. There were spreadsheets involved.
Honestly, the idea of a “best hike” is laughably subjective. Your favorite hike in Joshua Tree National Park, as far as I’m concerned, is your best hike in Joshua Tree National Park! There are so many intangibles at play here, which is exactly why any experience in nature is so great.
I organized the best hikes in Joshua Tree into three sections…
We’ve got the best short hikes, best day hikes, and best long hikes.
Short hikes are all 2 miles or less and shouldn’t take very long at all (unless you stop a bunch, which I definitely do… one time I saw a lizard in Canyonlands and stopped for like, a half hour). These hikes are typically fairly easy, great for kids, and some are wheelchair accessible.
Day hikes are between 2 and 5 miles long, and take a few hours depending on your pace and the trail difficulty. While these hikes aren’t actually going to take you a whole day, they are long enough to—at least somewhat—plan your day around. They’ll take up the better part of the morning or afternoon, to be sure.
Long hikes are longer than 5 miles and excellent for getting out in the park. Especially in busy parks like Joshua Tree, these are places you’ll find total solitude.
If you’re planning on heading off trail or hiking one of the park’s more rugged trails, rangers recommend some basics… Plenty of water, trail snacks, planning, and a great map. My absolute favorite is the NatGeo map (I own one for every park I hike in), which is linked below. The National Geographic park maps are widely-respected and reliable. I basically collect these at this point (they make rad wall decorations when not in use)!
Without further ado, here is the list I’ve compiled of best hikes in Joshua Tree. Those in bold are the ones I’m most psyched to recommend. That’s either because I personally adored it, or it gets absolutely amazing reviews on every site I’ve researched. Enjoy!
Best Short Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
- Cholla Cactus Garden (0.25 miles, easy, loop): this is a SUPER short walk, but one of the best spots to see the fascinating and oddly adorable Cholla cacti. Besides the Joshua Trees, the Cholla are the park’s most iconic plant! Since this walk takes virtually no time, there’s no excuse not to do it 😉
- Arch Rock Nature Trail (0.3 miles, easy, out-and-back): this trail is located in the White Tank Campground, so if you’re staying there you should for sure do this one. It’s an out-and-back hike to a cool natural arch rock formation. There are a lot of fun rocks to climb on along the way.
- Hidden Valley Nature Trail (1 mile, easy, loop): though Hidden Valley Nature Trail is often pretty crowded, it’s a very cute, educational trail that is worth your while. Just try to get there early! It’s a loop around the iconic Joshua Tree rock formations, full of interpretive signs that teach you all about the area! As per usual, there are also plenty of rocks to climb on around the hike.
- Barker Dam Trail (1.1 miles, easy, loop): there is only water in the dam seasonally, so ask at the ranger station first. If there is water, the Barker Dam Trail provides a unique opportunity to change up your typical Joshua Tree views. The appearance of the classic Joshua Tree rock formations reflecting in the water is surreal and beautiful. Also, the Barker Dam Trail is great for sunset!
- Skull Rock Nature Trail (1.7 miles, easy, loop): Skull Rock is so cool. Don’t get me wrong, the entire trail is worth it, but Skull Rock itself is so unique it’s worth the hike on its own. Note that a portion of this trail is in the Jumbo Rocks campground. If you’re staying at Jumbo Rocks, therefor, this nature trail is a must-hike experience.
Best Day Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
- Split Rock Lake Loop (2 miles, easy, loop): this hike is easy to combine with Skull Rock, as they’re connected to one another. This is a great hike to get an impression of Joshua Tree topography, slightly more in-depth than the shorter trails. The hike isn’t super challenging, but there’s a TON of fun bouldering along the way if you so choose!
- Wall Street Mill Hike (2.8 miles, easy, out-and-back): the Wall Street Mill Hike is a fun one for those archaeology buffs out there. You’ll see an old mill and some abandoned vehicles. Because of its location, the Wall Street Mill Hike is easy to combine with the Barker Dam Hike. Some people find it easy to get lost on this trail, so just bring your map if in doubt.
- Ryan Mountain Hike (3 miles, moderate, out-and-back): MARK MY WORDS, if you have time for just one solid hike in Joshua Tree, make it Ryan Mountain. This hike is a workout, but not ridiculously strenuous, and your reward will be BONKERS views of the surrounding desert. There’s something so special about the kind of scenic desert views you get on this hike, where you can see for miles, maybe see a storm in the distance, and the shadow of single clouds over Joshua Tree-filled valleys…
- Desert Queen Mine (4.9 miles, easy, out-and-back): Even though Desert Queen Mine is longer than Ryan Mountain, it’s easier because of the lack of elevation gain. It’s another great hike for history lovers; you’ll pass a lot of old structures, mining equipment, and abandoned mine shafts. It’s a great choice if you want to see this kind of stuff on a longer hike.
Best Long Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
- Black Rock Canyon/Warren Peak Trail (5.5 miles, moderate-to-difficult, out-and-back): this is a great trail for bird’s eye views of the desert. You can see for literal miles—the Salten Sea in the distance, stunning views of Yucca Valley, the Palm Springs area, etc… The only reason this trail is “moderate-to-difficult” is the last section, which takes you up to the peak. I will say this portion is physically demanding but so worth it! You really feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere on parts of this hike, which I always appreciate!
- Lost Horse Mine Loop (6.6 miles, hard, loop): according to the NPS, Lost Horse Mine is one of the “best preserved mills of its kind” in the NPS. I’m not clear on the length of this hike; different sources cite anywhere from 4 miles to 6.6. miles, so take that with a grain of salt. I wish with all my heart I was at Joshua Tree so I could go hike it myself this very moment. Anyway, people seem to love the combination of archeology/history, panoramic views, and Joshua Trees on the Lost Horse Mine Loop!
- Willow Hole Trail (6.9 miles, moderate, out-and-back): oh, man, Willow Hole is great. It has everything you might want from high desert camping. As a biology major, I found the biodiversity so fascinating on this hike. It helps you’re never far from a water source, as least by Joshua Tree standards! You’ll see the famous rock formations (plenty of bouldering opportunities), Joshua Trees everywhere, and various species of cacti. Lots of folks see the bighorn sheep on this hike, too.
- Lost Palms Oasis Trail (7.4 miles, moderate, out-and-back): okay, disclaimer, you will not see any Joshua Trees on this hike. You will however, see palm trees at the finale destination—a pristine desert oasis! Hence the name. The cacti along this hike are also super interesting. You’ll hike through the desert, alongside the jumbo rocks, and reach a canyon. You can choose to descend or not (my thoughts on this: you’ve come this far, might as well! Many others say it’s not particularly worth it, and didn’t add much to their hike). The Lost Palms Oasis Trail allows for a lot of privacy, peace, and quiet. Desert solitude at its finest.
What do you think is the best hike in Joshua Tree?
Sound off in the comments! Like I said above, choosing between so many world-class trails is freakin’ hard. If I have a trail listed you think should be in bold, let me know! If I’m missing your favorite hike altogether, let me know! And finally, if you choose to hike any of these trails because of this guide… yep, you get it… let me know!
P.S. I am putting my park ranger hat on now to say, as always, never hike alone! Bouldering injuries are not uncommon in Joshua Tree, neither are dehydration scares even among experienced hikers. Also: rattlesnakes. Need I say more?
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