A guide to the easiest hikes in Joshua Tree (with tips for beginners)
With over 70 trails, the famous Joshua Tree National Park is a hiker’s dream, but visitors should be aware that while there are several easy trails, most trails in the park are moderate or difficult, and in a harsh desert environment, trails should be selected with safety in mind.
About 2.8 million people a year visit the national park, located where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet in southeastern California, east of San Bernardino and north of Palm Springs. The harsh climate of this ancient desert must be respected. Visitors can experience high winds and flash floods, and summer temperatures reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more. But even in this environment, plant and animal life is found in abundance inside the park, which comprises approximately 790,000 acres.
Here’s everything visitors need to know about hiking Joshua Tree’s Easiest Trails.
Try These Short, Easy Trails Inside Joshua Tree National Park
The park is open 24 hours a day, year-round, and entrance fees apply. A seven-day vehicle fee is $30 and an individual entry is $15. The best time to hike inside the park is October through May, when lower temperatures are best for hiking.
A review of Joshua Tree National Park trail descriptions found these six trails to be among the easiest to hike:
- 0.25 miles, 20 minutes
- Access: south of the Cottonwood Visitor Center; 0.5 miles north of the south entrance
- Details: This is a loop trail where hikers can learn about desert plants.
Cape Rock Trail
- 0.4 miles, 30 minutes
- Access: From the Cap Rock parking lot at the junction of Park Boulevard and Keys View Road.
- Details: Along this loop, walkers will see piles of rocks, Joshua trees, and other desert plants.
- 0.7 thousand 45 minutes
- Access: At Skull Rock parking lot just east of Jumbo Rocks Campground.
- Details: A loop trail, it connects the Skull Rock and Split Rock Loop trails. Its easy terrain makes it suitable for children.
Mara Trail Oasis
- 0.5 mile, 35 minutes
- Access: At the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms.
- Details: Pets on a leash are allowed on this loop trail.
Ryan Ranch Trail
- 1 mile, 1 hour
- Access: At the Ryan Ranch trailhead, about 0.5 miles east of Ryan Campground.
- Details: This out and back trail is on an old ranch road and walkers will see an old adobe structure.
- 2.7 km, 1 to 2 hours
- Access: From Skull Rock parking lot east of Jumbo Rocks Campground.
- Details: This loop trail features rock piles and desert washes, and leads to Skull Rock.
Expect limited cell service in the park (and no gas stations)
In addition to its many hiking trails, the national park has picnic areas, campgrounds, and lookouts with interpretive information.
There are no hotels, restaurants, or gas stations, so tourists should ensure they have food, water, and fuel before entering the park. Toilets are located throughout the park.
It’s crucial that visitors stay hydrated in the dry desert environment, and water bottle refill stations can be found at the Black Rock Nature Center, West Entrance Station, and Joshua Tree Cultural Center.
Travelers should be aware that cell phone reception is unreliable inside the park, according to the National Park Service.
There are four visitor centers and one cultural center inside Joshua Tree National Park: the Joshua Tree Visitor Center is located in Joshua Tree at 6554 Park Boulevard, and the Joshua Tree Cultural Center is located in Twentynine Palms, at 6533 Freedom Way.
The Cottonwood Visitor Center is located near the south entrance to the park on Pinto Basin Road. The Black Rock Nature Center is located in the Black Rock Campground in the Yucca Valley at 9800 Black Rock Canyon Road.
Safety tips to follow inside Joshua Tree National Park
Hiking inside Joshua Tree National Park brings visitors closer to nature and offers breathtaking desert landscapes. Wildlife inside the park includes herds of desert bighorn sheep, as well as black-tailed hares, coyotes, and kangaroo rats.
Located on the flyway of Pacific migratory birds, the desert is a popular destination for birdwatching. The spiny-looking Joshua tree, the park’s namesake, is a yucca and a member of the agave family.
Despite its beauty and natural abundance, the park can also be a dangerous place for travelers who are not well prepared for the elements or an unexpected emergency.
The National Park Service offers these guidelines for those venturing into the desert oasis, even on short trails:
- Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
- Bring plenty of water, even on short hikes, including plain water and some with electrolyte replacement.
- Bring salty snacks, as they are essential to replace salt loss through sweating.
- Rest in the shade.
- Avoid hikes between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the summer
- Bring a first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic wrap and antiseptic.
- Bring a trail map.
- Bring a backpack with the necessary items as well as a flashlight and spare batteries.
- Wear sunscreen and a hat.
- Bring a whistle and/or signal mirror in case of an emergency.
- Wear waterproof clothing like a poncho or jacket.
With these tips in mind, visitors can safely enjoy some of the best hiking experiences in Joshua Tree.