Joshua Tree National Park is named for the amazing tree-like yucca palms that grow throughout much of the park. However, the park has much more to offer, and you can see all kinds of environments and features by hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.
Did you know you can see abandoned antique cars, fan palm trees, a dam and water reservoir, golden cacti, expansive desert mountain views, incredible rock formations, and more? You won’t want to miss these incredible Joshua Tree National Park hikes.
With the help of some other travel experts, I have compiled a list of the 10 best Joshua Tree hikes. Many of them are easy, but there are a few moderate-difficulty hikes thrown in for those looking for more of a challenge.
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There is no cell service in much of the park, so it is worth taking a map with you (or downloading trail maps on to your phone before you go). If you want a Joshua Tree hiking map to take with you, you can buy a National Geographic topographical map of Joshua Tree hiking trails here.
Essential Hiking Gear
Before setting out on these Joshua Tree day hikes, make sure you have everything you need – and take more water than you think you’ll need – this is the desert.
- Day Hike Essentials (Packing List)
- Best Hiking Shoes / Boots (Reviews and Recommendations)
- Best Hiking Sandals (Reviews and Recommendations)
- Best Winter Hiking Boots for Men (Reviews and Recommendations)
- Best Winter Hiking Boots for Women (Reviews and Recommendations)
- Best Baby Hiking Backpack Carrier (Reviews and Recommendations)
- Best Backpack Carrier to Take Your Dog Hiking (Reviews and Recommendations)
- Best Handheld GPS for Hiking (Reviews and Recommendations)
The Best Hikes In Joshua Tree National Park
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Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
#1 Wall Street Mill
Length: 2.3 miles | 3.7 km
Difficulty: Easy (just 88 feet elevation gain)
Trailhead: The trailhead can begin from one of 2 parking lots. The first parking lot is the Barker Dam Trailhead parking lot. The second option is a parking lot just down the road from the Barker Dam parking lot.
Wall Street Mill is arguably the most fun Joshua Tree National Park trail! It is flat and easy and passes some fantastic historical sites!
The Wall Street Mill hike passes through so much history and is also a great way to see numerous Joshua Trees and boulders that make this park so unique. There are snakes and lizards of course, but there are also so many birds and jackrabbits to see on the way!
Along the hike, you will pass abandoned cars, a windmill, and the site of a famous gunfight! The 2 ranch owners that inhabited this area before it was a park were in a boundary battle, one of them shot the other. The marker of this site is located along the trail. The original was destroyed by visitors, so this is a replica, but it is still fun to see!
When you arrive at the actual Mill site there are a few more cars to see, and also the very well-preserved mill. You can spend a lot of time here walking around and viewing the old mill. There are also some great boulders to stop and have lunch.
The most difficult part is staying on the trail. Because it is sand, it is sometimes difficult to find the path. It is not well marked. The best way to stay on the path is to keep looking ahead and then you can see where you are supposed to be.
My suggestion is to start from the Barker Dam lot. By doing this you can veer left and add a short side trip to your hike. This added spur takes you to the ruins of Wonderland Ranch and is a great photo opportunity!
- Abandoned antique vehicles, rusted but well preserved
- Wall Street Mill
- Gravesite marker from a gunfight
Recommended by Chantelle from Flannels or FlipFlops
#2 Wonderland Wash
Length: 2.1 miles | 3.4 km
Difficulty: Moderate. Mostly wash and level trail but some bouldering. 75 feet of elevation gain.
Trailhead: The same trailheads that are used for the Wall Street Mill trail. In fact, the hike into Wonderland Wash begins on Wall Street Mill Trail. The turnoff for the Wall Street Mill trailheads is located on Park Boulevard 12 miles west of the intersection with Pinto Basin Road (and 1.6 miles north of the intersection with Keys View Road).
Wonderland Wash is a valley that offers an infinite opportunity to scramble over and amongst boulders and bump into few, if any, other hikers.
The trail starts along the Wall Street Mill Trail, where here are a lot of Joshua trees. A short way along, take the trail to the left to the pink ruins of Wonderland Ranch.
After the ruins, the trail continues into Wonderland Wash. You’ll find yourself amongst all the boulders that give this area its name Wonderland of Rocks. The monzogranite mounds are a popular playground for rock climbers and bouldering enthusiasts.
You will pass a ridge that loops left to Barker Dam. The wash trail also has a lot of interesting fauna and flora, especially in spring when the wildflowers burst into bloom.
There is no defined end to the trail, but a hike to the prominent rock formation known as the Astro Dome creates a nice 2.1-mile round trip hike.
Wear coated gloves to make climbing the rocks easier as they can be rough.
This trail is an extension of the Wall Street Mill trail and is between that trail and the Barker Dam trail, so it makes sense to combine all three, if you have the energy.
The trail can be hard to follow at times. Stick to the bottom of the wash to follow the trail.
Bring a picnic to enjoy in blissful peace and quiet.
- The incredible monzogranite rock formations make this one of the best short hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
- Ruins of Wonderland Ranch
Recommended by Alexa from 52 Perfect Days
#3 Arch Rock Nature Trail
Length: 1.2 miles | 1.9 km
Trailhead: Inside Joshua Tree National Park, closest to the Twentynine Palms entrance
Arch Rock Nature Trail is a very easy and short hike but the rewards are huge. It’s mostly flat with only about 88 feet elevation gain.
Once you’re on the rocks it gets a lot fun. The rocks are well weathered and easy to climb. The arch is pretty and serves as a window into the desert views.
This is an easy trail to include in a one or two itinerary of Joshua Tree National park. The best time to hike Arch Rock Natural Trail is in the early morning or evening. The lighting and the weather are the best at that time. The trail has no covers or shade so be prepared for the heat and direct sun.
If you’re staying at the campsite, the rocks are much closer and a fun playground for the entire family.
Most of the trail goes through the flat desert and the markings are easy to miss so best to pay attention or follow the route on a map.
Be sure to wear good walking shoes with a grip because the trail goes over huge rocks. (Find the best hiking shoes with my guide if you need to buy some ~ James)
Wear pants that cover your legs. The trail in through the desert vegetation and it’s easy to brush against thorny plants and seeds.
This is one of the Joshua Tree best hikes, but it is best to plan a trip for the cooler months if possible, as the park gets very hot in summer.
- Desert views
- Arch rock
- Fun on the rocks
Recommended by Jyoti Baid from Story At Every Corner
#4 Cottonwood Springs Oasis
Length: 0.1 mile | 160 m
Difficulty: Very Easy
Trailhead: One mile east of Cottonwood Visitor Center (near south entrance)
One of the most unique features at Joshua Tree National Park is its California fan palm oases, and this short and easy trail leads to one of the two easily-accessed fan palm oases in the park, making it one of the most popular Joshua Tree easy hikes.
This nature trail is a short walk that provides the chance to appreciate the flora and fauna in Joshua Tree. Because it is so short, it is one of the most common Joshua Tree kid friendly hikes and one that even young kids will enjoy.
The shaded, pleasant nature walk leads down from the trailhead into a lush desert fan palm oasis, which also features cottonwood trees. You may find wildflowers here in season as well.
Located near the south entrance to the park, this trail is also enjoyable because you will find fewer people here than in the north of the park, especially if you visit outside of the highest traffic times.
This trail is also fabulous for birdwatching, so bring your binoculars. (If you need to buy some binoculars, be sure to read my Guide to Buying the Best Binoculars For the Money ~ James). You may see raptors such as turkey vultures, or the brightly-colored hooded oriole, or Gambel’s quail.
If you do this hike early or late in the day, you may also see wildlife such as bighorn sheep and coyotes, so bring a camera with a zoom lens if you enjoy wildlife photography. (If you often travel with just your Smartphone, check out these lenses you can use with your phone for better wildlife photos ~ James)
Stay on the trail, though, so as not to damage the fragile oasis.
- The beautiful fan palm trees
- Chances to see wildlife and birds
Recommended by Dhara from Roadtripping California
#5 Skull Rock Nature Trail
Length: 1.7 miles | 2.7 km
Trailhead: From Highway 62 in Twenty Nine Palms, CA, drive south on Park Boulevard to the trailhead for 11.5 miles. There is roadside parking on both sides of Park Boulevard. The trailhead is near the Jumbo Rocks Campground.
The trail is an easy hike that will take you through the heart of Joshua Tree National Park. There are lots of opportunities to explore off the trail and climb on the boulders.
Following a short walk through a boulder field, the trail turns into a gravel and sand wash. In the spring, keep out an eye out for the beautiful wildflowers. Eventually the trail crosses Park Blvd and the trail follows the road into the Jumbo Rocks Campground. Just after the amphitheater, follow the signs to the left to Skull Rock. The trail is mostly sandy but there are a few rock faces. It is lined with the Mojave yucca cacti, desert pine trees and small wildflowers.
At the end is a rock that looks exactly like a skull. Creepy, but also kind of cool!
The opportunities for bouldering make this one of the most fun Joshua Tree National Park hiking trails, but if you plan to do any climbing on the rocks, you may want to bring some gloves.
Take time to read the educational signs about the different plant and vegetation species in the area.
Download the trail map on your phone before heading out on the trail or take a paper map with you, as there is no cell service.
- Skull Rock
- Beautiful wildflowers and flora
- Interesting rock formations for climbing
Recommended by Candice Wood from CS Ginger
#6 Barker Dam Nature Trail
Length: 1.3 miles | 2.1km
Trailhead: Barker Dam Trail Parking Lot on Park Boulevard
This loop trail is a relaxed one-hour walk that’s easy to complete – even if you’re visiting Joshua Tree with kids in tow. The main attraction is Barker Dam itself, which is a remarkable sight in the otherwise dry desert conditions. Birds and other wildlife take advantage of this water source, so it’s also a great place to observe the local fauna.
Once you’re past the dam, the trail continues and takes in an old water trough built in 1939, the iconic Joshua Trees, large stone boulders, and caves that host original petroglyphs and pictographs. Unfortunately, in the mid-20th century, many of these ancient markings were painted over by an over-enthusiastic Disney film crew to make them ‘stand out’ more in the background of the movie scenes, but they’re still an interesting discovery.
During the dry season, the dam can completely vanish, or be hard to find. If the dam isn’t immediately obvious when you arrive at the marked area (i.e. the water levels are low), climb up over the boulders to the left side of the trail and you may be able to see the water congregating around the stone dam.
This is a great option if you plan to hike Joshua Tree National Park with kids, and can be done alone, but if you (and they) have enough energy, if it easily combined with the nearby Wall Street Mill and Wonderland Wash trails.
- Barker Dam
- Petroglyphs Cave
- Old water trough
Recommended by Nadine Maffre from Le Long Weekend
#7 Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail
Length: 0.25 miles | 400 m
Difficulty: Very Easy
Trailhead: Cholla Cactus Garden Parking Lot
A hike through the Cholla Cactus Garden is an essential part of any Joshua Tree itinerary and this is one of the most popular hiking trails Joshua Tree National Park has. Wooden boardwalks take you on a loop through the cactus-filled garden.
The Cholla Cactus only grows in the southern area of the park due to differing climates. In this area of the park, you’ll see the Cholla scattered across the desert instead of the park’s famous Joshua Trees. At only 0.25 miles, this trail is perfect for families and those looking to take their time on a leisurely stroll.
The best time to explore the Cholla Cactus Garden is at sunrise. As the sun comes over the mountains, the cactus catch the morning light. Some mornings, it even looks like they are glowing! If you plan to hike through the Cholla Cactus Garden for sunrise, be sure to arrive at least 45 minutes early. The first light is something you don’t want to miss!
Don’t get off the path or too close to the cactus though as they are sharper than they appear! Being stuck by the cactus can be quite painful.
- Seeing the Cholla Cactus glow at sunrise
- Strolling along the wooden boardwalk to find your favorite cactus
- Getting close to the cacti without having to leave the path; perfect for nature photographers
Recommended by Julia Jennings from Well Planned Journey
#8 Hidden Valley
Length: 1 mile | 1.6 km loop
Trailhead: Head to the Hidden Valley picnic area off Park Boulevard, about nine miles southeast of Joshua Tree’s west entrance.
This is one of the first trailheads you’ll hit if you enter the park from the western entrance, which seems fitting, given that this hike is one of the best trails in Joshua Tree. It’s the perfect introduction to the Mojave Desert portion of the park.
This easy and flat trail leads around a valley, where you’ll spot the eponymous Seuss-like Joshua trees, along with yucca, small cacti, and even some desert wildlife. Perhaps the most striking part of the trail, though, is the interesting rock formations scattered around the desert- these monzogranite boulders are perfect for climbing on! While there are rocks that anyone can scramble up, this trail is also an excellent place to catch serious rock climbers in action.
If you walk the loop clockwise, there are some stairs at the very end that you will need to walk up. If ascending stairs is a challenge for you, you can conversely tackle this trail counter-clockwise.
Before heading to the national park, pick up lunch in the neighboring Palm Springs or Joshua Tree and enjoy it at the picnic area close to the trailhead, which has some (at times) much needed midday shade!
With a trail boasting Joshua trees, beavertail cacti, pinyon pines, and California juniper, amongst countless other desert fauna, this is a fantastic place to closely examine the desert ecosystem. Interpretive signs along the way will provide interesting backgrounds of the plant life sprawling across the Mojave Desert before your eyes.
Recommended by Jessica Schmidt from Uprooted Traveler
#9 49 Palms Oasis
Length: 3 miles | 4.8 km
Difficulty: Moderate. It will take two to three hours to complete.
Trailhead: 49 Palms Oasis trailhead on Canyon Road off Highway 62. The parking lot is small, so plan to arrive early to grab a spot.
Hiking Joshua Tree National Park isn’t always an easy stroll. If you’re looking to combine a challenging hike with some rock scrambling, 49 Palms Oasis is perfect. The trail immediately heads uphill to a ridge punctuated by barrel cacti. Take some time at the top to appreciate the views of the high desert and surrounding towns of Joshua Tree and 29 Palms.
Next, the trail descends into the canyon filled with giant palm trees. If it’s a hot day you’ll enjoy the cooler temperatures in this shaded canyon. Consider bringing a picnic lunch and relax in this peaceful setting.
Due to the large number of rocks and boulders along the trail, hiking boots and poles are definitely recommended. (If you need to get some new hiking boots, check out my Guide to Buying the Best Hiking Shoes/ Boots. If you are looking for some hiking poles, I love the Foxelli collapsible trekking poles – they are lightweight, shock absorbent and collapsible with cork grip handles. Check them out on Amazon here. ~ James)
While the palm canyon is cool and shaded, the rest of the trail is not. This is the desert, so come prepared with more water than you think you’ll need and sunscreen.
If you’re planning a day trip to Joshua Tree, 49 Palms Oasis is the ideal trail. Arrive early to avoid the heat and crowds, reach the palm canyon in time for an early lunch, and then hike back out. You’ll still have time to enjoy the local shops and funky sites in town.
- Expansive views of the high desert
- Hidden oasis of palm trees
- It’s a great workout
Recommended by Wendy Lee from Empty Nesters Hit the Road
#10 Warren Peak
Length: 5.5 miles | 8.9 km
Trailhead: Black Rock Campground near site 30
This is one of the Joshua Tree National Park trails in the northwest corner of the park, away from the main section. The hike up to the top of Warren Peak will reward you with wonderful views of the surrounding Little San Bernardino Mountains.
About 0.2 miles in, go left at the water tank and then right. You will go along a wash in Black Rock Canyon and follow the signs for Warren Peak. The first three quarters of the trail is pretty easy, but when you get to the spur trail to Warren View, go right and start a steep climb up to Warren Peak. This section ascends the ridge and is a fairly steep ascent, which gives the trail its ‘moderate’ rating.
From the peak, you can see the Mojave Desert and Coachella Valley.
Link this and the Panorama Loop trail (an extra 2.4 miles) for more amazing views
- Amazing mountain and desert views
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Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
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About the Author
James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.
He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.
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