If you’ve been following me for some time, you’ve probably seen a few of my posts on hiking and national parks. I first became introduced to exploring national parks for hours on end when my brother and sister-in-law invited me to Zion National Park a few years back. To be clear, I was in way over my head. I’ve rarely said no to a travel opportunity and I simply envisioned some light hiking and lots of drinking and board games. To my embarrassment, I vastly underestimated my brother and his wife’s ability to knock out 10+ miles a day.

Shockingly, I fondly remember this trip as one of the most transformative and I’ve loved national parks ever since. So when they invited me to Joshua National Park in early December – note, the best time to go to Joshua Tree National Park is in early spring or late fall – I jumped at the chance.

While I love a spontaneous adventure, it’s always best to be prepared and do some research. Disclaimer: for this trek, I did very little as I was more along for the ride. That said, I thought it could be helpful for any interested readers to guide them on the best hiking trails in Joshua National Park, in my experience along with some overall tips when visiting a national park!

Tip #1: Always grab a map from the entrance as cell service is very spotty in national parks so you’ll need to brush up on those map-reading skills to make sure you know where you’re going! 

Hidden Valley Nature Trail: When we first arrived in Joshua Tree after flying into Ontario, California we didn’t have much time until the sunset at 4:30 pm. We decided to knock out our first hike with a fairly easy 1-mile loop with views of the rock formations and the Joshua trees which gave way to the parks name because they are native to the land. It’s a great introductory hike to get you started before diving into the more strenuous one’s! 

Tip #2: Look up when the sun rises and sets before planning your day at a national park so you know when to begin and end as it can vary.

Mastodon Loop Trail: On our second morning we wanted to a trail a little more challenging than Hidden Valley but not too difficult. This 2.6-mile loop was perfect and had some great views and sand patches that made for an interesting terrain. It’s really easy to test your rock climbing skills but be careful and know your limits. As much as I wish I was on the same level as my brother, I knew there were some climbing attempts that I should pass on.

Skull Rock  – You know how people sometimes look at a cloud and say they see a dragon or something or other and you’re just not getting it? Well, with skull rock it’s not far off to literally see a skull. Near the .68-mile Discovery Trail, it’s a park favorite and, if you’re feeling extra ambitious, try climbing into the eye socket for a fun photo. 

Arch Rock Trail – This short .3 mile loop offers a crowd favorite view of the Arch Rock. it’s a fun formation that you’re able to get up and personal with.  We ended up grabbing some food outside of the park (as you won’t find any inside!) and brought it with us on this trail. We enjoyed some delicious sandwiches right next to Arch Rock for lunch.

Tip #3: Bring a speaker so you can play some tunes while you hike – it helps make the time go faster and keeps you motivated! I’ve crafted my own “Nature Playlist” that I love listening to when I hike. 

Ryan Mountain – Easily the most strenuous hike I did was the was the Ryan Mountain trail. Ascending 1,050 feet in 1.5 miles your legs will feel the burn. But if you time it out right, seeing the senset on top of the mountain is breathtaking. Just don’t stay up too late after the sun sets as I wouldn’t recommend hiking down in the dark.

Barker Dam Loop – This 1.5 mile hike offers something you don’t see too often in the desert – a beautiful view of the water. You can easily get distracted by going off trail and climbing some rocks but be sure to make it to the picturesque lake behind the dam! Note, the amount of water does depend on the precipitation the area has seen but unless there’s a drought going on you should see some water. 

Cholla Cactus Garden – This isn’t so much of a trail, although there is a quarter-mile loop, it’s a great scenic stop to grab some photos of the eclectic cholla cacti in this lush garden. Just be careful where you step – it’s easy to find a cactus spine in your shoe! 

Lost Horse Mine Loop: The second most challenging hike was the Lost Horse Mine loop simply because of the distance. It’s a whooping 6.5 miles but takes you to one of the best preserved mines found in the park. We completed this one on our final day and then left the park for a much deserved Big Mac. 

Tip #4: It costs about $25 per vehicle to enter into Joshua Tree National Park (this is good for 7 days!) but if you buy the annual pass it covers all national parks for one year for $80!

I hope you found this post helpful. Drop me a comment below with your thoughts or any other questions you might have! Happy hiking!