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9 Awesome Joshua Tree Hikes (+ Tips!)

Looking for the best Joshua Tree hikes? Hiking is undoubtedly one of the most popular things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. The Southern California desert park is home to a wide variety of hiking trails, and hiking is a great way to explore its unique landscape.

Whether you are looking for a short and scenic family-friendly Joshua Tree hiking trail, or you want a strenuous challenge, you will find a trail to suit! We haven’t included super short trails in this article, but if you are visiting for the first time, don’t miss the stroll through the Cholla Cactus Garden, or the short trail to Arch Rock.

The best Joshua Tree hikes are diverse in their beauty and the rewards they offer. From summits with epic views to washes and canyons that lead down into otherworldly oases, you can really appreciate the uniqueness and diversity of Joshua Tree National Park on foot, hiking its many trails.

Hiking is popular in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National park is a hikers’ paradise

Enjoy local history? You can hike to the remnants of old mines from the Gold Rush era. Love checking out local flora? Many Joshua Tree trails let you get close to the plants and trees in the park, from California fan palms to cholla cacti and the Joshua trees for which the park is named.

If you are planning a hiking trip to the park, read on to learn about the top Joshua Tree hikes, plus some tips for hiking in Joshua Tree National Park!

Hidden Valley Trail

Difficulty: Easy to easy-moderate
Length: About 1 mile, loop
Elevation gain: About 100 feet
Time: 30 minutes to 2 hours
Trailhead: Hidden Valley Campground on park Boulevard, see map.

Arguably the most popular hiking trail in Joshua Tree National Park, Hidden Valley Trail is a beautiful nature walk through scenic masses of boulders and lots of local vegetation, from pinyon pines to Joshua trees.

A field of Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park Southern California
Beautiful view of boulders and Joshua trees!

We’ve walked this trail every time we’ve visited Joshua Tree National Park, because in a short, easy trail, you get to see a great representation of the park’s signature features. It is a must-do on your first visit to the park!

Hidden Canyon was reportedly a hideout for cattle rustlers in days past. With its ring of tall boulder formations, it is easy to see why! Have fun scrambling up and down the boulders you see along the trail, and look for wildlife as you walk.

Parking is available at the trailhead, but may get full during the day in season, so arrive early.

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Barker Dam Nature Trail:

Difficulty: Easy to easy-moderate
Length: About 1.1 miles, loop
Elevation gain: About 50 feet
Time: 30 minutes to 2 hours
Trailhead: Barker Dam Parking Area along Park Boulevard, see map.

Barker Dam, in our opinion, is one of the best trails in Joshua Tree: it combines a bit of history and culture with the opportunity for bouldering and spotting birds and wildlife, and it is a short flat trail.

Barker Dam Joshua Tree National Park California
Barker Dam in winter

Barker Dam was built as a reservoir to hold drinking water for cattle during the early days of ranching in the area. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The dam is one of the places in the park where you are most likely to see birds and bighorn sheep.

The trail also has quite a bit of flora: creosote, cacti, pinyons, oaks, and Joshua trees. Along the route, you will also see a little cave with old petroglyphs!

The parking area is quite large, but it is shared with the Wall Street Mill Trail.

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Wall Street Mill Trail

Difficulty: Easy
Length: About 1.5 miles, out and back
Elevation gain: About 100 feet
Time: About 1 to 2 hours
Trailhead: Off Queen Valley Road. See map. You can also access this trail from the Wonderland of Rocks Trailhead, which offers access to Barker Dam (2.15 miles round trip).

Wall Street Mill is a well-preserved gold mill listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is a cool place to visit if you enjoy local history. But the trail is also known for another colorful incident: it was the scene of a Wild West duel, with a stone marking the demise of the unfortunate loser of the gunfight.

Wall Street Mill Joshua Tree National Park California
Wall Street Mill Remnants PC: Julie

During the Depression, Bill Keys, prominent rancher in the region, bought the site and assembled the Wall Street Mill. He charged miners a fee to process their ore and remove the gold. He ran the mill off and on all the way until 1966!

Keys got into a dispute with his neighbor, Worth Bagley, over the road leading to the mill. A showdown led to a gun fight, and Bagley was killed. Keys was put into prison, but released five years later. A monument marks the spot where Bagley was killed: look for it as you walk the trail.

The trail is flat and easy, and makes its way through sandy desert, dotted with desert plants. At the end of the trail, you can walk around and view the remains of the mill, which have stood the test of time remarkably well. To return to the trailhead, simply retrace your steps.

Looking for accommodations in Joshua Tree? Check out our curated list of the best Joshua Tree Airbnb stays or our overview on where to stay when you visit Joshua Tree National Park!

Lost Horse Mine Trail

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: About 4 miles, out and back
Elevation gain: About 550 feet
Time: About 2 to 3 hours
Trailhead: Dirt road off Keys View Road, about 2.4 miles from Park Boulevard. See map.

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Joshua Tree National Park has a rich history, with mining and ranching operations flourishing in the area in the days of the early settlers. On hikes, you can get close to the relics of the park’s past.

Lost Horse Mine Joshua Tree NP
Equipment at Lost Horse Mine PC: That Meanderthal Life

Lost Horse Mine was one of the richest producers in the region, yielding about 10,000 ounces of gold and more than that in silver over its run. The millsite is quite well preserved, so it’s worth making the trek to view the mill and the mine. In the spring, the area is flush with wildflowers.

From the trailhead, the trail ambles its way gradually upward, with views of Joshua trees and yucca, and boulders. Eventually the trail winds around a slope, at which point you can see the site of the mine. You can walk around to see the site and take photos, but stay outside the fenced area.

Before you turn back, you may want to climb up a little more beyond the mine, for a panoramic view from the ridge. To make this a challenging hike, you can continue on and complete the Lost Horse Loop trail, about 6.5 miles total.

Parking can get full quickly, so arrive early in the day to snag a spot.

Mastodon Peak Hike

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: About 3 miles, loop
Elevation gain: About 375 feet
Time: About 1.5 to 3 hours
Trailhead: Cottonwood Spring parking area. See map.

Mastodon Peak Loop Trail is a beautiful hike in the Colorado Desert, in the southern part of the park. From the peak, you get panoramic views of Joshua Tree National Park. On this loop, you will also see the remains of the Mastodon Mine. The trail is particularly beautiful in the spring, with lots of wildflowers.

Mastodon Peak is one of the best Joshua Tree hikes you can do!
Wildflowers on Mastodon Peak PC: Barbara

At the start of the hike, you will pass through Cottonwood Springs Oasis, a lush landscape with tall California fan palms. The park is one of the few native habitats of this palm. Beyond the oasis, the trail (which is also the trail to Lost Palms Oasis) starts a gradual ascent, with views of yucca and ocotillo.

Take the left for Mastodon Peak at the sign. After this the climb becomes somewhat steeper, with steps to help you in places, as you make you way towards the peak. The final bit is the steepest, and there is some scrambling required if you want to actually stand atop the peak.

You don’t have to scramble to the top, you can just continue following the trail. The views from the highest point in the trail are superb. From the peak, you can see all the way to Salton Sea in the south and Eagle Mountain in the east. In the west you may even be able to see Mount San Jacinto.

The trail then leads down to the remains of the Mastodon Mine, which you can view from outside the fenced area. Then follow the trail through several sandy washes back to the trailhead. Signs with arrows and rock markers help you stay on the trail as you make your way back. The desert landscape is beautiful. Keep your eyes open for wildlife!

Parking can get full during the day, especially on weekends and in the spring. Arrive early or later in the day to secure a spot.

Ryan Mountain Trail

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
Length: About 3 miles, out and back
Elevation gain: About 1,050 feet
Time: About 1.5 to 3 hours
Trailhead: Parking area off Park Boulevard between Sheep Pass and Ryan Campground. See map.

The Ryan Mountain hike leads to a high-up point that offers superb panoramic views of the landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park. The trail to the top is mainly dirt, and there are stone steps to help you with the climb. If you are up for a challenge, the Ryan Mountain hike is super rewarding on a bright clear day.

Sunset from Ryan Mountain Trail Joshua Tree NP
Sunset captured from the Ryan Mountain Trail PC: J.T. Shiner

You will start climbing almost immediately, and the ascent is fairly steep. Enjoy beautiful views all along the ascent, first of nearby masses of boulders and Joshua trees, and as you climb, a more expansive view of the surrounding landscape. Keep climbing until you get to the sign that marks the top of the 5,457-foot Ryan Mountain.

From the summit, you will see Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio towards the southwest, and Lost Horse Mountain to the south. You can walk around the summit to take in the views from every angle. The mountain is in the middle of the park, so the views extend in every direction. They really are breathtaking!

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Getting back down is simply a matter of retracing your steps. You can stop along the way to take photos you missed on your way up! Layers are a good idea, because it can be cooler (and windy) at the top in the colder months of the year.

Also, the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree is one of the most popular trails in the park, so the parking lot gets full during the day and the trail gets crowded. Arrive early for a more enjoyable hike!

49 Palms Oasis Trail

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: About 3 miles, out and back
Elevation gain: About 300 feet each way
Time: About 2 to 3 hours
Trailhead: Fortynine Palms parking area, off Highway 62. Take Canyon Road to Fortynine Palms Canyon Road. See map.

An oasis, with its lush palms, is a magical sight in a desert. Joshua Tree National Park contains several California palm oases. Cottonwood Spring Oasis is a super short walk by the south entrance to the park, and Oasis of Mara a short walk by the north entrance. You have to hike to the others.

California Fan Palms in Joshua Tree National Park California
California fan palms in Joshua Tree

The 49 Palms Oasis Trail is the shorter of two epic fan palm oasis hikes in Joshua Tree. It leads to arguably the most beautiful oasis in the park, with lush palms fed by a natural spring. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and birds.

From the start point, the 49 Palms Oasis trail leads up the hill, gradually at the beginning, and more sharply, via a few switchbacks towards to the top. Once you crest the ridge, you will be able to see the tallest of the palms in the oasis!

The trail gradually slopes down the other side of the hill, and eventually arrives at the oasis. Walk past the first stand of palms to the heart of the oasis, where you can relax for a bit and admire the beautiful palms. Stay on designated trails: there are signs asking you not to go into the area where the palms are, to protect the oasis.

49 Palms Oasis Joshua Tree NP California
4 Palms Oasis PC: Laura

To return, retrace your steps over the ridge. The ridge has lots of barrel cactus, which look pretty when in bloom, some time in April or May. You will also see other wildflowers here in the spring.

Warren Peak Trail

Difficulty: Challenging
Length: About 6.3 miles, out and back
Elevation gain: About 1,110 feet
Time: About 3 to 5 hours
Trailhead: Black Rock Campground. See map.

If you want a trail with great views but without the crowds, try the Warren Peak trail, which is tucked away in the quiet western part of the park. The elevation is somewhat less than Ryan Mountain, but the trail is still challenging.

The trail starts at Black Rock Campground and descends into a sandy wash. Once you are across the wash, you will walk through open desert for a bit before starting to climb via a number of switchbacks to the top of the 5,103-foot Warren Peak. The top stretch is pretty steep.

Warren Peak Trail is unique because it straddles the Colorado and Mojave desert environments. So while you will see lots of Joshua Trees towards the start of the trail, the later stretches are notable for pinyon pines, oak, and juniper.

View from Warren Peak in Joshua Tree California
View from Warren Peak PC: Sarah

You will also get beautiful panoramas of both the Mojave Desert and Coachella Valley from the summit. Look for Mount San Jacinto in the south, Mount San Gorgonio (the tallest peak in Southern California) in the west, and Eureka Peak in the east. The summit is a quiet place to relax for a bit, take a few photos, and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding landscape.

To return, retrace your steps to Black Rock Campground. If you have the time, you can hike Panorama Loop as well, on your way up to the peak.

Lost Palms Oasis Hike

Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Length: About 7.5 miles, out and back
Elevation gain: About 500 feet each way
Time: About 5 to 6 hours
Trailhead: Cottonwood Spring parking area. See map.

Located in the Colorado Desert in the southern part of Joshua Tree National Park, Lost Palms Oasis Trail is a long out and back trail to the largest concentration of fan palms in the park. There aren’t any super steep climbs, but the trail is long and exposed.

The trail makes its way to the oasis through a series of undulating sandy washes dotted with desert flora. There are signs along the trail to keep you on the correct path. Plus, rocks and stones mark off spurs. Be watchful and stay on the main trail.

A view from the Lost Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park California
A view from the trail PC: Megan

Start at Cottonwood Spring and walk through the oasis into the desert beyond. Later in the route you will hike through a cool mini slot before weaving up and down through sandy washes. Stone steps have been placed to help you over climbs. There are beautiful views of the landscape to admire as you walk. Soon you will descend into the final canyon to reach the overlook for the oasis.

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Getting down to the oasis requires a difficult scramble down rocks and gravel (and a difficult climb back up), but the oasis looks just as beautiful from the overlook. Scan the rocks for bighorn sheep, especially early or late in the day. You may also spot birds, so bring your binoculars! To return, retrace your steps, being watchful about staying on the main trail.

The parking lot can get full so arrive early to get a spot. Plus, this hike is best started early in the day, even in the cooler months, since it takes several hours.

Planning a trip to Joshua Tree and wondering where to stay? Read our detailed article on the best places to stay in and around Joshua Tree National Park.

Tips for Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

Get a National Parks Pass!

If you plan to visit 3 or 4 national parks (or other federally managed recreation areas) during the course of the year, get the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass: it will save you money. You can buy the annual pass online at REI.

Follow Park Safety Guidelines and Advice

The Joshua Tree National Park website has a page on safety. Read and follow the guidelines for a safe visit, because your safety is your responsibility!

Best Time of Year to Hike in Joshua Tree

Visit in the cooler months of the year, from October to April, if you want to do day hikes of reasonable length or difficulty. The heat of the desert can be unforgiving and dangerous. Heed park guidelines on when to avoid specific trails.

Summer daytime temperatures in the park get over 100 degrees on a routine basis. Definitely not a time to be hiking in the desert.

Check the weather forecast

Sudden thunderstorms can cause flash floods. A cold snap in winter can bring the occasional snowfall. Always check the forecast before you head out on a hike, no matter what the time of year.

Cholla cactus in Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus in Joshua Tree

Best Time of Day to Hike in Joshua Tree National Park

If you visit in the spring or fall, it may be more comfortable to start your hike earlier in the day. Shorter trails can also be done in the late afternoon. Not only is the sun less intense early or late, you will also have better light for photos, and a better shot at seeing birds or animals. Plus, a parking spot at the more popular trailheads is much easier to find early or late in the day.

During shorter winter months, return to your vehicle by 4 p.m., and hike during the day, when it is brighter and warmer. The winter months are the perfect time to be out and about in the desert park during the day.

Although the park is open 24 hours a day, some trails can only be walked between sunrise and sunset. Call the park to find about about any time restrictions on the trails you plan to hike.

Carry plenty of water

Even if you aren’t hiking, you need to drink lots of water when visiting a desert park like Joshua Tree. You need even more water if you hike. There is no food or water available for purchase inside Joshua Tree. Carry lots of drinking water in a cooler in your vehicle, and carry a filled hydration pack or filled water bottles with you on your hikes.

Carry food and snacks

Pack your cooler with plenty of food and carry non-perishable snacks on your hikes, along with a meal, if you plan to do a longer trail. Food and other supplies can be bought in the towns of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms north of the park before you enter. Invest in a light and easy-to-carry daypack to stow food and other supplies.

Download maps before you arrive

There is no cell reception in most parts of the park. Download any maps or directions you need to your phone before you arrive. Keep a printed map as backup: National Geographic has a handy trail guide for Joshua Tree National Park.

Get a GPS smartwatch, if you do not have one already. Check out this premium Garmin Fenix 6, or the more affordable Garmin Instinct. Also consider the InReach Mini as a backup resource for navigation if you plan on hiking longer trails, and to send SOS messages.

Dress in Layers

Always dress in layers to account for temperature differences during the course of the day, and at different elevations in the park. Wear loose, light colored clothing for sun protection. We generally wear clothing with SPF protection if we are going to be in the sun for several hours. Check REI for women’s SPF shirts here and men’s SPF shirts here.

Wear Appropriate Footwear

Sturdy, closed-toed footwear is a must. Sneakers or sturdy walking shoes with good grip are fine for short nature trails. Lightweight hiking shoes or boots are best for longer trails. We wear the La Sportiva brand cuffed hiking boots: they are not heavy, they are waterproof, and they are super comfy. Check women’s here and men’s here.

Use Sun Protection

Use a wide-brimmed hat with SPF protection, sunscreen, and sunglasses, when hiking in the desert. Most trails in the park are exposed.

Bring Essential Supplies

Pack these essentials in your daypack: a first-aid kit (add a pair of tweezers to pull out cholla cactus needles if you happen to be unlucky!), disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer, headlamp or flashlight, and a pocket knife. Bring your trekking poles if you anticipate needing them, your camera, and binoculars to view birds or wildlife.

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Discover the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, California, from easy Hidden Valley to challenging Warren Peak!

Dhara

Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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