Located about 2.5 hours from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is accessible as a day trip or a great stop during a long road trip of Southern California. It is also a hot-spot for advertisers and Instagrammers: many commercials have been filmed here, and the stark desert landscape can be found in numerous photo shoot backdrops. With it’s crazy-looking trees, interesting rock formations and expansive blue skies, it is a landscape that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
Hiking is a popular activity in Joshua Tree and there are many opportunities – from nature walks to strenuous treks. Make sure to be prepared with a ton of water as the desert conditions are extremely dehydrating. The following hikes are in order from the West Entrance Station and offer a good variety if you have limited time.
easy / one mile / trail map
We almost skipped this “hike” because it is just an easy one mile stroll, but this loop trail was one of our park highlights. This hike is more of a walk through a beautiful valley that was once rumored to have been a hideout for cattle rustlers. We entered the rock-enclosed valley at dusk, so the lighting was perfect. It was surprisingly serene and peaceful for one of the most popular trails in the park. Guided signs explain the valley’s history and plant life.
strenuous / 3 miles / trail map
Another popular hiking destination, this trail takes you to the summit of Ryan Mountain, which is centrally located within the park. The trailhead starts near the parking area between Sheep Pass and Ryan Campground. Make sure to get there early or you will have a tough time parking (it’s busy!) or hiking in the heat of the day. With an elevation gain of 1,000 feet in 1.5 miles, it’s a steep uphill climb. The summit offers a 360 degree view and is a great spot for pictures and snacks. This trail provides an opportunity to see desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife.
Split Rock Loop + Face Rock
moderate / 2.7 miles / more info
Many large stand-alone rocks in the park have become their own attraction and are named as they appear to most. This hike features Split Rock, which marks the trailhead (pictured below) and Face Rock, about two miles later. The loop trail leads through a valley that provides rugged boulders, unique rock formations and interesting desert flora. The trail is very well marked and is a worthwhile experience for hikers of all levels.
For planning tips and additional park highlights, read these companion posts:
- Road Trip: Death Valley, Joshua Tree and Channel Islands National Parks
- What Makes Joshua Tree National Park so Unique?
Looking for a complete list of hiking trails in Joshua Tree? Visit the National Park Service website.
The map below includes the trailheads mentioned above and other important landmarks. The blue icons are the park entrances and visitor centers. Click on the icons for more information about each point.