Best Joshua Tree Hikes for First-Time Visitors
A couple of years ago I had plans to spend Thanksgiving in Joshua Tree, but thanks to an unlikely spell of torrential rain, my plans got thwarted. Ever since I’ve been wanting to reignite my Joshua Tree mission and explore the best Joshua Tree hikes.
In this post written by Bearfoot guest contributor Ryan Moore, Ryan shares his list of the three best Joshua Tree hikes for first-time visitors. Guess it’s time to get those gears ticking and start planning for Spring! Enjoy! -Kristen-
The beauty of Joshua Tree National Park is in part its close proximity to LA. No matter where you are or what Google maps seems to say, people from LA will tell you that your destination is only about a half hour away… “depending on traffic”. Well, Joshua Tree isn’t a half hour drive but it is only 130 miles; 130 easy miles due east just outside of Palm Springs.
The park is made up of 794,000 acres that straddle the Mojave and Colorado deserts. The first time I drove through the western gate it felt like I was stepping into one of Dr. Suess’s books with the spiny Joshua Tree’s shaking their pom-poms across the valley floor. Legend has it that Mormon pioneers saw the outstretched arms of the trees and were reminded of the biblical character Joshua, who was to lead them to the promised land. The name stuck.
••• Joshua Tree Map •••
The West and North entrances off of Interstate 62 open up to the Mojave side of the park while the entrance off of Interstate 10 in the southeast quadrant opens up to the Colorado Desert. This is important to know because the scenery is dramatically different between the high and low deserts.
The west side of the park stands above 3,000 feet and is covered with expansive Joshua Tree groves that are speckled with gigantic piles of monzogranite boulders, while the east side of the park sits well below the Mojave covered in creosote bushes among the towering Cottonwood, Eagle, and Coxcomb mountains. Both sides are memorable, but if you’re limited on time make sure to hit the Mojave side first.
If you don’t have the time to scour every inch of Joshua Tree, here’s three of the best Joshua Tree hikes for first-time visitors that will highlight the best of what the national park has to offer. All three of these Joshua Tree hiking trails are easily accessible, moderate in length, and require little more than some water, a map, and your favorite sunglasses. I’ve also included some recommendations for accommodations if you’d rather stay in a bed as opposed to camping in the national park.
••• What to Bring for Joshua Tree Hikes •••
- Hiking boots or trail runners – since the terrain is fairly flat you don’t need any major hiking boots for this trail.
- Dress in layers – mornings and evenings might be cool but expect the days to be warm
- Hiking Bottoms
- Hat – a brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face, and a beanie to keep you warm for early morning hikes or post-sunset outings
- Trekking pole(s) – optional for this trail since the terrain is flat and not rocky.
- Gaiters – optional, but good for keeping sand and dirt out of your shoes.
- Sunscreen – the desert sun can be brutal even if it doesn’t seem super hot, protect your skin!
- Personal first-aid kit – for minor scrapes and blisters.
- Water – Carry plenty of extra water, especially if hiking during the summer months.
- A trail map from the Joshua Tree National Parks Visitor Center
- Other favorite Joshua Tree National Park Resources:
••• Best Joshua Tree Hikes: Warren Peak •••
— Warren Peak Trail Stats —
Distance: 6.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
Time: 3.0 hrs
Warren Peak is located in the northwest corner of the park adjacent to the Black Rock Campground. It’s a 6 mile round trip that is a great place to start, especially if you’re coming from the West, as it’s the first stop off of CA-62. (Don’t make the same mistake that I did and camp at the Black Rock Campground. The campground is nice and clean but is a bit removed from the park and is located much closer to civilization than most of your other options.)
The trail up to Warren Peak starts on the Black Rock Canyon Trail, which can be a bit of a pain to find. To find the trail, walk directly east of the Ranger station through all of the campsites and across a section of dense shrubs about the size of a football field. When you hit the trail you’ll know it. It’s wide, sandy and flanked by black brush. Take a right once you hit the trail and start heading up the hill. Along the way, you’ll pass a number of Joshua trees, the Mojave yucca and some huge blocks of black and grey gneiss.
Make sure to stay right as you work your way up. You are going to pass up a number of opportunities to turn left. If you have your eyes set on the peak, don’t.
Once you hit a post in the ground with a PL and a WP painted on it you are about 80% of the way there with the most difficult portion of the hike to go. The last 20% takes you up a fairly steep grade that will undoubtedly get your heart pumping. There may be one or two places where you have to scramble on all fours but for the most part you’ll remain on two feet. As you climb higher and higher the view of the surrounding mountains will get bigger and bigger. The payoff atop the 5,103-foot peak is a 360° view of Southern California’s tallest mountains.
**If you are looking for additional hiking trails near Black Rock Canyon, Eureka Peak is another nice option…but it’s a solid 6-hour trek, offers very similar views and doesn’t feel quite as remote with car access available from Covington flat.
Rules of the Road:
Hikers only. No dogs or mountain bikes.
From I-10, take CA-62 north 18.3 miles to the town of Yucca Valley. Turn right onto Kickapoo Trail and then take a left onto Onaga Trail. Drive on Onaga trail for 2.4 miles and turn right onto Joshua Lane. Joshua Lane dead ends into San Marino Drive. Take a right when you hit San Marino. San Marino quickly turns into Black Rock Canyon Road. The trail is directly east of the ranger station past the campgrounds and through 100 yards of brush.
••• Best Joshua Tree Hikes: Hidden Valley •••
— Hidden Valley Trail Stats —
Distance: 1.0 mile
Elevation Gain: flat
Time: 30 minutes to 3 hours
Hidden Valley is located off of Park Boulevard 12 miles southeast of the west entrance. It looks a bit like a real-life Bedrock from the Flinstones with huge piles of white tank monzogranite piled up in every direction. The trail is rumored to have been a famous hideout for cattle rustlers. You can see why as you work your way through the trail. The huge stacks of boulders are primed for climbing and create distracting acoustics that make it difficult to determine where anyone is.
While the loop is only 1.0 mile long, you can easily spend hours exploring the rock formations, which are very easy to climb. The white tank monzogranite has a very solid and tacky surface, but be careful. It’s often easier to go up than come down, especially without climbing equipment
The trail is well groomed and much more populated than the trail to Warren Peak.
Rules of the Road: Hikers only. No dogs or mountain bikes.
From CA-62 take Park Boulevard (which turns into Quail Springs Road before changing back to Park Boulevard) for 14 miles until you see the Hidden Valley Campground on your left. The nature trail is just a bit further up the road on your right. Parking is available at the trailhead.
••• Best Joshua Tree Hikes: Ryan Mountain Trail •••
— Ryan Mountain Trail Stats —
Distance: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,075 feet
Time: 2 hrs
Ryan Mountain is located 3 miles south of the Hidden Valley trail off of Park Boulevard. There is no signage that points the way until you are right on top of the Ryan Campground so just keep following signs to Keys View. The 5,470 ft peak offers some of the best panoramic views of the park. San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Wonderland of the Rocks, Pleasant Valley…you name it, it’s there.
The march onward and upward gets going as soon as you leave the parking lot. The trail includes a 1,075-foot elevation gain that is moderately steep but very well maintained with great foot-holds. In fact, an impressive stone staircase winds up and around the vast majority of the mountain.
As you climb, the drama builds. Your views change from the expansive desert floors of the Queen and Lost Horse Valleys to the rich red and orange stone piles of Wonderland of Rocks. The payoff includes huge views of the San Gorgonio and the San Jacinto Mountains.
Photo:The Cabin On The Road
Rules of the Road: Hikers only. No dogs or mountain bikes.
From CA-62 take Park Boulevard (which turns into Quail Springs Road before changing back to Park Boulevard) for 16.7 miles until you see the Ryan Mountain Campground on your right. The trail is just a bit further up the road on the right hand side. Parking is available at the trailhead.
••• Where to Stay at Joshua Tree •••
There are no hotels inside of Joshua Tree National Park but there are a couple of nice B&B’s in the town of Joshua Tree, ample camping, and a ton of sweet Airbnb vacation rentals available within a short drive of each of these hiking trails.
The nine campgrounds inside the park are clean, well manicured and far enough from the big city to have some of the best views of the night sky that you will ever see. There are roughly 500 developed campsites within the park but they fill up quickly on the weekends between October and May, which is the most comfortable time of year to visit (avoid Joshua Tree in the summer). Most of the campsites are available on a first-come-first-served basis; however, Black Rock and Indian Cove do offer reservations up to 6 months in advance. Additional information on Joshua Tree camping can be found here.
Airbnb is also a great option with tons of vacation rentals available right near the entrance to Joshua Tree. Here are a few cool hideaways to check out with a lot of character and an affordable price tag.
- Three Bedroom Blue Rock Haven close to everything
- Art-deco Saguaro Hideaway Guesthouse on 5 acres
- Modern bohemian cabin in the village of Joshua Tree
- Restored hacienda with hot tub
- Rustic mid-century ranch house on 5 acres
- Vintage Airstream with Deck and Soaking Pool
••• Joshua Tree Town Guide •••
The town of Joshua Tree itself, is way cool, and I highly recommend you include a pre-trip final planning session or post-trip celebration in town in your itinerary!
Joshua Tree Coffee Company
On 29 Palms HWY, Joshua Tree Coffee Company, is a little hidden behind Pie for the People. They have the best vanilla latte I’ve ever had. Their nitro cold brew is also not to be missed.
Pie for the People
Arguably the most unique pizza joint I’ve ever been too. You have to check out their menu, which includes red sauce, white sauce and pesto sauce based pizzas and pizza names like “David Bowie”, “HWY 62 Revisited”, “The Chip”, and “Barry White.” And what better way to re-enter into society after 3 days hiking than pizza.
The Natural Sister’s Cafe
Vegetarian cafe open 7-7 daily with vegan options available, tons of great smoothies and juices too!
Local Gear Shop
And in case you forgot any gear or food for the trail, Nomad Ventures has you covered. It is by far one of the best gear shops I’ve ever been to outside of a large city and their prices are competitive. Honestly, I stop every time I am in town just to check out the sale racks.
I hope you have as much fun as I did on these Joshua Tree trails. If you have any pictures or stories to share, hit me up in the comments section or on Facebook!