The 5 Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

joshua tree

Joshua Tree National Park is a vast area which is located in southern California. It takes approximately 3 hours to drive from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree National Park. While it takes just 2 hours and 10 minutes, to drive from downtown LA to Joshua Tree National Park. Each year around 3 million people visit Joshua Tree National Park, due to its breathtaking landscapes. 

If you choose to explore the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park’s, you’ll come across massive oversized boulders, hidden valleys, and rugged mountain ranges. As well as the park’s distinctive trees, which feature unique twisted branches. It even boasts a real-life oasis and authentic rock carvings. 

What makes Joshua Tree National Park so special? It is particularly unique as it features not one but two different desert ecosystems, the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. 

In order to discover the 5 Best Hikes In Joshua Tree to complete, as well as a handy guide to hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, simply continue reading. Especially if you’re curious about learning about some of the park’s hidden gems.

What are the 5 best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park?
1. The Barker Dam Nature Trail
2. The Arch Rock Desert Loop Trail
3. The Lost Horse Mine Trail
4. The Lost Palms Oasis Trail
5. The Ryan Mountain Trail.

Related: A Complete US National Park List


If possible plan to visit Joshua Tree National Park in either spring or fall. As hiking the park’s trails in summer can be extremely uncomfortable. As most of the park’s trails offer little respite from the scorching hot sun. While you can hike most of the park’s trails in winter, some of the trail’s become icy, during the cold winter months. 

Don’t try to do the hikes in Joshua Tree during mid-day, when it’s summer. As it’s far too hot to hike from 11 am to 3 pm, during summer.

The Best Time to Visit 

If you’re flexible with your travel dates, also plan to visit Joshua Tree National Park during the middle of the week. As the trails are far more crowded during the weekends. 

If you want to catch a glimpse of the park’s wildlife, early morning is the best time to visit the park. Although, I also highly recommend exploring the park at sunrise at sunset. Especially if you want to take stunning photos of the park’s desert landscapes. 

Are Pets Allowed?

no pets allowed

Unfortunately, no. Pets such as dogs and horses are prohibited from the national park’s trails. So you’ll leave your dogs at home.


 best hikes in Joshua Tree

The earlier in the morning you visit Joshua Tree National Park, the easier you’ll find it, to find a car park. As by mid-morning, some trail’s carparks will begin to fill up pretty quickly.  

Safety Tips

As Joshua Tree National Park features desert terrain, it’s essential to carry more than one liter of water with you. No matter whether you plan to complete a short 30-minute hike or a challenging 2.5-hour hike. 

Also make sure to pack plenty of sunscreens, to avoid getting sunburnt.

The 5 Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

1. The Barker Dam Nature Trail

Barker Dam Nature Trail
Photo by Matthew Dillon

Trail Length: 1.9 Miles
Time: 45 Minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 66 feet
Directions: Click here

If you hope to see a wide variety of wildlife during your visit to Joshua Tree National Park, head straight to the Barker Dam Nature Trail. As if you visit the trail early in the morning, you may see a wild coyote or a couple of bighorn sheep. If the trail’s dam is full, there’s a big chance that you’ll see wildlife drinking from it.

One of the highlights of this particular hike is the petroglyphs or rock carvings, which you’ll come across. Which were etched into each rock, by Native Americans, hundreds of years ago.

Another reason why I recommend the Barker Dam Nature Trail to everyone is that it offers plenty of Joshua trees and cholla cacti. As well as a few impressive rock formations. 

So if you’re looking to complete a short but sweet trail, which features rock formations, flora, and fauna, it’s well worth completing the Barker Dam Nature Trail. Especially if you’d like to complete several trails in a single day. As it takes just 45 minutes to complete the whole loop. 

2. The Arch Rock Desert Loop Trail

Arch Rock Desert Loop Trail

Trail Length: 1.2 Miles
Time: 25 Minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 88 Feet
Directions: Click here

While it only takes 20 minutes to hike the Arch Rock Desert Loop Trail, you can easily spend an hour, exploring the trail’s impressive boulders. As well as the arch itself. Which is a naturally formed, granite arch that spans 30 meters in length. Some people believe that the arch resembles the neck of a brontosaurus.

As the trail is almost completely flat, the Arch Rock Desert Loop Trail is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. You can even take children on this particular track.

If you’ve never been bouldering before, you should find it easy to climb on the trail’s boulders as they feature a grippy texture which is similar to the texture. sandpaper. So you shouldn’t have any issues, climbing onto a boulder, for a photo. One of the reasons why the park’s boulders are so special is that it took millions of years of erosion to create each round boulder.

If you’d like to avoid the crowds of tourists who walk the Arch Rock Desert Loop Trail during the day, the trail can also be accessed at night.

3. The Lost Horse Mine Trail

Lost Horse Mine Trail
Photo by Matt Kieffer

Trail Length: 4 Miles
Time: 1.5 – 2 Hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 846 Feet
Directions: Click here

If you were fascinated with the wild west as a kid, it’s well worth hiking the Lost Horse Mine Trail. As it will lead you to a part of the park, which featured a working gold and silver mine. Which was in operation from 1894 to 1931. During this time, approximately 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver were mined.

If you’re curious yes, much of the mine has been left intact and you’ll be able to take pictures of some of the remnants of the mine, as well as a tall mill. The mine itself is locked behind a chain-link fence, for safety reasons.

The Lost Horse Mine Trail is suitable for most fitness levels but offers a rocky, off-road path, which may prove difficult for children and elders. It’s also well worth noting that the track also features a few short steep inclines.

Also, make sure to carry plenty of drinking water and to wear a hat and sunglasses as this particular track offers little shade from the hot sun.

4. Lost Palms Oasis Trail

Trail Length: 7.2 Miles
Time: 2 Hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 620 Feet
Directions: Click here

The Lost Palms Oasis Trail is by far, my favorite hiking trail within Joshua Tree National Park. As it actually ends with a real-life oasis, which definitely isn’t a mirage. Yes, you can expect idyllic palm trees and pools of cold water. There are even smooth boulders, which surround the oasis, which you can relax on, before your hike back to your car.

However, in order to get to the trail’s breathtaking oasis, you’ll need to climb the side of a steep mountain. Before descending downhill, through a rocky canyon, to your very own oasis.

If you explore the Lost Palms Oasis Trail during springtime, you’ll also be treated to a view of thousands of delicate wildflowers. Which definitely stands out and provides a pop of color to the park’s dry, desert terrain.

In order to comfortably complete the Lost Palms Oasis Trail, you should have a reasonable level of fitness as the trail is a loop and you’ll need to climb 300 meters of elevation, two times. In a typical year, around 5 individuals are airlifted from the trail and 8 are carried to safety as a result of various medical issues. Such as asthma and heart-related issues.

5. Ryan Mountain Trail

Trail Length: 3 Miles
Time: 1.5 Hours
Difficulty: Difficult
Elevation Gain: 1,200 Feet
Directions: Click here

If you hike to the top of Ryan Mountain, you’ll have made it to the second-highest point in Joshua Tree National Park. The summit is actually 5,400 feet above ground level. However, the hike to the top of Ryan Mountain is well worth it as the summit offers 360 degrees views of Joshua Tree National Park. As well as nearby San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.

While Ryan Mountain Trail is only 3 miles in length. You’ll be climbing 1,200 feet of rocky, off-road terrain. So you’ll need a reasonable fitness level, in order to comfortably hike to the summit of Ryan Mountain.

While the highlight of this particular hike, maybe the summit, it’s well worth taking your time, climbing to the top of Ryan Mountain. Along the way, you’ll pass numerous different types of trees, desert flowers, and cactus.

By far the best time to hike to the summit of Ryan Mountain is just before sunset. Just be sure to wear a headlamp, in order to safely hike back to your car, after sunset.

Final Thoughts

So what are you waiting for?

Are you ready for a new adventure? If you’re looking to explore some of southern California’s most awe-inspiring hiking trails, make sure to visit the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. Especially if you love the idea of visiting a national park, which is home to two distinctive deserts. As well as rock formations, ancient rock carvings, wildflowers, cacti, and wild coyotes. 

If you’re looking for more hiking inspiration click here, to discover how you can find world-class hiking trails, anywhere in the world. 

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