Joshua Tree National Park is a jewel of the desert in South California. It’s famous for its namesake Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia, less catchy in Latin) and for being a wonderful place of retreat.
It’s only an official national park since 1994, and over half of its almost 800,000 acres is considered designated wilderness. It comprises two deserts — the higher altitude Mojave and the lower Colorado Desert, and each has its unique magic.
It’s the variety of flora and fauna that makes Joshua Tree so special. An amazing natural wonderland that’s ripe for exploring — and the best way is obviously on foot!
If you have no idea how to go about hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, or you’ve just never considered it before, you’ve found yourself in the right place.
Our guide has everything you need to know: safety, what to pack, and all the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.
Get ready, your Joshua Tree adventure starts here!
You’ll find Joshua Tree National Park east of Los Angeles and north of San Diego. It’s way out in the desert, and it’s definitely a mandatory stop if you’re out exploring California.
There is a whole lot of plant life that (amazingly, in this arid landscape) doesn’t just survive — it thrives. Junipers and pinyon pines add their twisted trunks and needled branches to the shrubland that makes up much of the park.
Spring is a good time to visit Joshua Tree. The season brings its colorful palettes and gives a new life to the arid landscape. In lower elevations, wildflowers can spring up as early as late February; in higher elevations, this tends to be around March to April.
Summers out here are hot. While there are fewer visitors, for obvious reasons, temperatures really can soar. October to November is also a good time to visit; winters can be on the chilly side.
Trails aren’t always flat, and there are often rocky scrambles involved in some of the tougher hikes. On many trails, there’s the opportunity to climb boulders and rock formations to clap your eyes on good views — at Hidden Valley, for example.
But now, given how harsh this park can be, let us run you through some safety tips real quick; the best hikes in Joshua Tree come right after.
Joshua Tree National Park Trail Safety
Joshua Tree is one of the best US National Parks to go on a hike. Trails criss-cross the Californian desert landscape, ducking down into remote canyons, and revealing hidden oases.
But the park is huge. And hiking in this type of landscape, out in the wilderness, can get tricky.
There are varying types of trails to attempt. You don’t have to worry about most of the more well-trodden routes, but if you plan to go off the beaten track, you will need some extra precautions.
Knowing how to keep yourself safe when out hiking in the park means you can spend your trip to this wonderland enjoying yourself. And with that in mind, here are some helpful tips to get your head off of that:
- Check the weather – Before you start a hike, you should always check the weather; in the desert, sudden weather changes are not unusual. Be prepared just in case, and bring the right clothing.
- Bring plenty of water – Even on cooler days, you’re going to need access to drinking water. The NPS recommends bringing along two gallons (8 liters) of water per person, per day. Be wise!
- Know what to expect – Take some time to read up about the details of the hike you’re attempting before you go. If you are not sure about it, you can get more info at the ranger station — they know it all. You will also need to register if you plan on doing a little backcountry camping as well as pack your own hiking tent.
- Know your limits – The desert is not the place to push yourself beyond your limits. If you realize you have taken on something that is too much for you, don’t be afraid to turn around and go back. We recommend going with a buddy, but if you go solo make sure you let somebody know!
- Watch out for the wildlife – Look before you sit down and watch where you place your hands and feet. Bees might be an issue: keep away if you hear buzzing and keep any food or drinks well sealed. Do not swat them!
- Leave plenty of time – In the summer, starting a hike earlier will allow you to avoid the highest temperatures; during winter, shorter days mean less daylight. Make sure you have enough time to complete it before 4 p.m.
- Go old-school – You can’t trust your phone with everything. We recommend carrying a physical map and a compass — and brush up on how to use them. A GPS device or even a Satellite phone can also be useful on more remote routes, and a headlamp might save your life in the dark.
- Think about getting travel insurance – Consider getting insured for your trip so you can spend it enjoying Joshua Tree instead of worrying.
A message from Will – The OG Broke Backpacker
A Story on the Necessity of Travel Insurance
“Once upon a time, I almost lost my leg in a sweltering jungle…
I battled a seriously nasty infection that snaked up past my knee and by the time I made it to a local hospital they wanted to amputate. I was delirious, unable to walk, and in a lot of pain but I managed to call my insurance provider – they moved me to a much better private hospital where the doctors were able to save my leg.
I wracked up $15,000 in hospital bills, but these were completely covered by my travel insurance. Luckily, I still have my leg today, and whilst it is permanently damaged, I’m grateful every day it’s still attached!
Moral of the story: consider getting travel insurance before you head out into the wilds, people!“
Now that you know what to expect in this sprawling desert land and how to keep yourself safe, you’re now ready for the main course: the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.
We’ve made sure to include something for everyone. Short hikes that even those hiking with children can tackle, all the way to the challenging mountain summits for intrepid hikers. There’s a lot in between, too.
Ready to go hiking in Joshua Tree?
- Lost Palms Oasis Trail – The Best Day Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
- Willow Hole Trail – Most Beautiful Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
- California Riding and Hiking Trail – The Best Multi-Day Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
- The Maze Loop – Must-Visit Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
- Hidden Valley Nature Trail – A Fun, Easy Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
- Quail Mountain – The Toughest Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
- Ryan Mountain Trail – Best Hike for Views in Joshua Tree National Park
- Queen Mountain – Best Off the Beaten Path Trek in Joshua Tree National Park
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This trail will let you experience some of the most quintessential landscapes in Joshua Tree and it’s a great place to start if you don’t know the park!
It will take you through varied terrain on a clearly marked path, with some pretty awesome mountain views on the way. A gentle undulating route with only one small scramble to get to the end — the Lost Palms Oasis itself.
Starting at the designated carpark, you’ll be winding through a desert garden strewn with boulders and rock formations, soaking up the scenery of this arid region.
You’ll then drop onto a plateau looking over Lost Palms Oasis, and this is where the killer views are at. Take it all in, then descend to the oasis itself (that’s the scramble, but it’s not too challenging).
This is one of the most popular destinations in the park, so don’t expect it to be just you and the trail. Come at the right time, however, and it’ll be relatively quiet (i.e. no weekends, and as early as possible).
- Length: 11.5km
- Duration: 3-4 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Pinto Basin Road (33°44’13.2″N 115°48’38.5″W)
Those looking for extra aesthetic feels should check out this hike in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s flat, it’s long, and it’s very scenic. You’ll be passing through all sorts of different vegetation as you trek through it all.
To get to the start of the Willow Hole Trail, you’ll first have to hike just over a mile along the Boy Scout Trail. After this, you’ll veer onto the Willow Hole Trail, trudging through sandy wash, past amazing rock formations, before you find yourself at Willow Hole.
The spot is full of willow trees in a beautiful canyon setting. You can’t get much more picturesque than this! And because of the trees, this location is mostly shaded, which means you can sit for a while and enjoy the scenery.
Clamber over boulders if you’re feeling adventurous, the views from the top are pretty spectacular. You’ll also come across a canyon at some point, and there’s a lot of sand underfoot — a proper desert odyssey.
- Length: 11 km
- Duration: 4 hour
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Boy Scout Trailhead (34°02’25.9″N 116°11’10.7″W)
This is an epic route for people who want to go extra on experiencing the wild beauty of Joshua Tree National Park. The trail leads you to some of its most remote parts, allowing you to really immerse yourself in the scenery.
The California Riding and Hiking Trail is a point-to-point hike that can take around two to three days to complete. From Black Rock Canyon all the way to the North Entrance of the park, it’s a real journey through the Mojave Desert!
But it’s not so strenuous. There aren’t too many uphill sections: the hard part is trying to work out the logistics along the way. There’s no water available along the trail; so you have to either carry all of it or prepare beforehand and cache it along the way.
Depending on how long you want to hike, you can do it in around three days. But if you take longer, don’t worry; there are some epic places for dispersed camping along the way. Unobstructed Milky Way viewsss!
- Length: 61.2 km
- Duration: 3 Days
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Black Rock Canyon trailhead (34°04’24.6″N 116°23’26.7″W)
Located close to Twentynine Palms, this hike packs just about everything that’s good about Joshua Tree. Wind through slot canyons, across desert washes, and through forests of the iconic Joshua trees themselves.
Don’t worry; the Maze Loop isn’t actually a maze. But it’s not the easiest trail to follow either — even the trailhead might be a little hard to find. Despite all that, however, once you’re on the trail itself, you can keep your eyes peeled for the trail markers, as well as the piles of rocks (cairns) left by helpful hikers.
The “Maze” part of the hike comes after a few miles on the trail. There’s a trail marker close by if you do start to feel a little bit lost. It’s pretty fun, especially if you like a dash of adventure when you hike!
There’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way, and, depending on the season, you’ll get to see wildflowers in bloom — quite the sight in the stark desert terrain.
- Length: 7.4 km
- Duration: 3 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Maze Loop Trailhead (34°04’51.4″N 116°14’31.7″W)
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A perfect introduction to the wildlife and plants inside Joshua Tree National Park. This trail is popular amongst those looking for a fun, easy way to explore the park on foot.
It’s great if you’re not up for the more challenging hikes, or if you are coming with children.
You’ll get to see some of the famous Joshua Tree landscape without having to sweat too much (though it is still a desert, eh).
The Hidden Valley Trail leads you through Hidden Valley itself, surrounded by big boulders and Joshua trees. Signs here not only mark the way but also teach you about the flora and fauna all around.
Give yourself plenty of time for this one. It may only be a mile long, but it still packs a picturesque punch. You can spend time scrambling up the rocks and marveling at the landscape from different vantage points.
- Length: 1.6 km
- Duration: 1 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Park Boulevard (34°00’44.5″N 116°10’04.8″W)
If “man, fuck that last hike” is on your mind and you’re looking for something a little more challenging, hear us out. Firstly, watch your mouth! And secondly, we’re going on the Quail Mountain Trail!
This one is a challenge and a half. Quail Mountain is the highest point in Joshua Tree: 5,816 feet above sea level, to be exact. And clambering to its summit is an epic undertaking.
You’ll first hike along an easy but drawn out stretch of the California Riding and Hiking Trail, before turning off into desert wash.
Then comes a steep ascent to the peak. It can be difficult, not only to climb but also to follow the route, since it disappears at some points and there are un-signed junctions — best to bring a GPS or even a physical map.
It’s a toughie, alright — even experienced hikers will feel like they’ve had a work-out after this trail, but conquering Joshua Tree’s highest peak is definitely an achievement.
- Length: 18.6 km
- Duration: 7 hours
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Juniper Flats Parking Area (33°58’36.3″N 116°09’54.1″W)
The Ryan Mountain Trail is an out-and-back Joshua Tree hike that’ll have you summiting Ryan Mountain (5,456 ft). There’s a 1,050-feet ascent involved on this route, with many stairways and rock formations to climb over to get there. But hey, the views are great!
The climb starts with a mile and a half ascent, but the route itself is easy to follow and well-laid-out. As you make your way up, you’ll be gifted with Joshua Tree’s epic scenery, including the Wonderland of Rocks and the Little San Bernardino Mountains.
Further up there is a striking rock formation, which signals that you’re not too far off from the summit. Press on, and eventually, you’ll emerge at the peak itself.
Good job! Now enjoy the panoramic views — you deserve them.
- Length: 4.8km
- Duration: 2 Hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Park Boulevard Ryan Mountain Trail Head (34°00’09.3″N 116°08’09.4″W)
Keen to avoid the most popular trails in Joshua Tree National Park? Then head over to Queen Mountain.
This is a backcountry trail in Joshua Tree that’s not easy by any means. It’s hard to find the route and there’s a lot of rock scrambling in direct sunlight. It’s one for experienced hikers, for sure, but if that’s you, come right in.
Your efforts will be highly rewarded at the end of the hike. The views from the top of Queen Mountain are mesmerizing!
You’ll begin your journey hiking through sandy wash for around a mile, by which time you’ll be well and truly out in the wilderness. This is a place of seemingly endless desert landscape and cacti. Before long, you’ll trek over a rocky hill and arrive at the base of the mountain.
Here, the scene really changes. There’s no marked path, and scrambling is the name of the game. There are some cairns you can follow, however, which does help it a little bit.
Yucca and other plants in bloom along the way; the flowers are beautiful, especially on such a harsh backdrop of sand and massive boulders. After a hard slog, you’ll be at the top, with an epic vista to reward you.
- Length: 10 km
- Duration: 3.5 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: O’Dell Road (34°01’59.0″N 116°06’27.8″W)
Now that you’re clued up on all the hikes and how to go about them, there’s one crucial element left: figuring out where to stay in Joshua Tree.
This is something that can greatly affect your trip, so it’s best to choose somewhere that’s going to suit you and how you like to travel.
First and foremost, there’s the option to stay on the doorstep of it all. We’re talking Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, and Twentynine Palms. Each of them has lodgings of varying types and eateries aplenty. Set on the northern edge of Joshua Tree National Park, these are great spots if you plan on doing early missions to beat the crowds.
Then you’ve got Palm Springs. This is a well-known destination, so it’s got a lot of accommodation, though much of it tends to edge towards the high-end in terms of the price range. You’ll be around a 50-minute drive from either the North or South Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.
For big city living, basing yourself in LA or even San Diego puts you around a two hours’ drive from Joshua Tree. If you’re not fussed about crowds or the heat (or you’re visiting in winter), this might be a fun option.
Now, if you really want to be in it, here is what you do. You have plenty of campgrounds in Joshua Tree that make getting to trailheads a breeze. Some can be booked in advance, while others work on a first-come, first-served basis.
Quirky Cabin in Joshua Tree National Park – Stargazing Cabin
This is one for those looking for a unique experience in Joshua Tree National Park! Located just outside Twentynine Palms, it has an open-air design so you can gaze up at the night sky as you fall asleep. It’s also part of the Airbnb Plus range, so you know you will enjoy stylish interiors and above-and-beyond levels of service.
Secluded Hideaway in Joshua Tree National Park – Luna Vista
When you try to imagine desert living, chances are this is the kind of house that pops into your head! The traditional architecture gives it an authentic feel – and also helps keep the inside of the house cool during the hottest months. It’s a short drive from Joshua Tree, giving you a reclusive vibe in your own patch of desert.
Resort for Pampering Yourself in Joshua Tree National Park – Two Bunch Palms
Just need to relax? Head to this resort and let them cater to your every whim for a few days! It’s an adult-only resort, so we think it’s an excellent option for couples heading to the area. It was also the first carbon-neutral resort in the United States, so your conscience has plenty of time to relax too.
Joshua Tree National Park is an epic destination, so we can imagine you’re pretty eager to get going! But before you lace up your hiking boots and slap on that smelly sunscreen, let’s cover what to pack on your hiking trip.
Not every hike in Joshua Tree will require specialist equipment, but there is stuff you should think about, in order for everything to run smoother.
Wearing the right clothing is essential. In the summer, you should wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to protect yourself from the sun. A sun hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen will be your best friends on the trail.
In the winter months, the drop in temperatures means bringing layers and a windproof underlayer. Sturdy hiking footwear that has a good grip is also important for safety and comfort on the trail.
There are only a few locations in the park where you can get potable water, so you should come prepared: consider packing a filter water bottle; that way, you can save on plastic water and drink from ANYWHERE.
Get yourself a well-equipped first aid kit and pack everything in a comfortable daypack. Take notes, guys! And enjoy the hell out of it.
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