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Joshua Tree National Park For First-Time Visitors 2023

Established in 1976, the Joshua Tree Wilderness Park covers nearly 800,00 acres of California desert. So what are the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park for first-time visitors?

A small dome tent with light with a starry night sky in the background.

Named after the twisted tree-like succulents that dominate the park’s desert landscape – early Mormon settlers believed the trees resembled the outstretched arms of biblical Joshua. Considered one of the best national parks in the US, the Joshua Tree National Park offers one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes for hiking.

Discover More Incredible Hiking Destinations in the United States

The proximity of Joshua Tree National Park to LA, only a few hours (approx 130 miles) or an hour from Palm Springs, makes it a very attractive escape from the city.
You can find our guide to making a day trip to Joshua Tree from Los Angeles here.

Joshua trees in the desert with stormy skies.
Barker Dam Nature Trail Joshua Tree
(Public Domain | Flickr

A drive through Joshua Tree National Park will astound with the vastness of the desert and intriguing vistas, flora, and fauna. However, the unique nature of the area is best appreciated on one of the many hikes through the park.

We have partnered with to bring you some of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park for first-time visitors.

Where to Stay in Joshua Tree 

While a national park conjures images of camping under an endless desert sky, thankfully for some, camping is not the only accommodation available in Joshua Tree. Although a night camping in Joshua Tree is a magical experience.

Want more great hiking vacations in California? Try these 5 Beautiful Lake Tahoe Hikes For Nature Lovers and these Yosemite Day Hikes & Activities to Beat The Crowds.

Accommodation varies from rustic self contained rooms like this one in Rockbound Oasis Retreat to luxury desert spa resorts.
Rockbound Oasis Retreat Joshua Tree

From tastefully restored roadside inns, (think roadside retro-chic) to small refurbed 50’s hotels oozing modern eco minimalist decor with a back to nature, desert retreat vibe to luxurious desert spa hotels. 

And of course, you’ll find all the tried and trusted hotel chains. You’ll have no problem finding the perfect base for your Joshua Tree getaway. 

Lady sitting on the edge of a pool overlooking the desert.
Whisper Rock Ranch in Joshua Tree

Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree in the Spring & Fall

The shoulder seasons of March – April and October – November are the best time to visit Joshua Tree. The weather is pleasant, and spring is particularly beautiful when the desert is blooming with wildflowers.  

Wild flowers with rocks in the background.
Joshua Tree National Park, Hidden Valley Nature Trail
(Public Domain | Flickr)

Joshua Tree in the Winter

Winter can also be a great time to visit Joshua Tree as there are fewer crowds and daytime temperatures are still pleasant. Nights will be very cold, but crisp, chilly evenings are perfect for beautiful night skies. After all, Joshua Tree is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. 

Silhouette of a man hiking through rocks in Joshua Tree National Park
Remember to dress accordingly for the time of year and time of day you will be hiking. Summer can be extremely hot in Joshua Tree and winter surprisingly cold.

Joshua Tree in the Summer

Summer is probably the least desirable time to visit Joshua Tree. Daytime temperatures can be in the high 100s (38℃) dropping to as low as 50℉ (10℃) at night. From June through August, severe lightning storms are not uncommon so you should always check the forecast before heading out on a hike. 

Wondering what to pack for a Joshua Tree hike? See our complete hiking and walking holiday packing list.

Stay Safe When Hiking in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is a unique and beautiful place but it is also a wild and unforgiving desert wilderness. It is important to remember a few simple safety precautions even when setting off on a short hike. Here are some essential tips for navigating Joshua Tree National Park for first-time visitors.

  • Take more water than you need. In summer the temperatures are extreme and in the winter the dry, arid air can cause dehydration. Always turn around when you have consumed half your water no matter what. 
  • Bring enough food or snacks to keep you going for the expected duration of your hike. Especially on challenging hikes.
  • Make sure you have adequate sun protection. Not all hikes will offer shade. 
  • The same goes for winter – make sure you have adequate layers to stay warm. Freezing temperatures and even snow are not uncommon in winter. 
  • The park has a variety of wild animals. Do not approach or provoke any animals encountered on your hike. Visit the Joshua Tree Visitor Centre for information about wildlife encounters in the park.
  • Check the forecast before heading out. Lightning storms and flash floods are not uncommon. If you get caught out, move to a safe area and wait it out. 
Backpack, hat, sunglasses and water bottles lying on rocks among cacti.
Always remember to carry plenty of water with you no matter how short the hike.
(Image public domain | Flickr)

Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

The beauty of Joshua Tree National Park is its accessibility. There are so many different hiking trails for all hiking abilities.

From short, circular walks and nature trails that can be done at any time of year (some are even wheelchair accessible) to challenging hikes and multi-day treks that should only be considered at certain times of the year, Joshua Tree is an incredible place to be.

Here is a selection of hikes that will appeal to the first-time visitor of all hiking abilities. All are perfect for day adventures from your accommodation in Joshua Tree. 

Hidden Valley camp site
Joshua Tree National Park, Hidden Valley Campground
(Public Domain | Flickr)

Hidden Valley

  • Distance: 1 mile (1.6km) – Loop
  • Time: 1 hr
  • Terrain: Flat
  • Difficulty: Easy
Looking doen on the rock formations in Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, Hidden Valley Nature Trail
(Public Domain | Flickr)

A short, flat, one-mile loop walk, perfect for a relaxed first-time hike in Joshua Tree. Hidden Valley, one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree National park, is a classic hike offering quintessential Joshua Tree landscapes of massive rock formations and Joshua trees.

The rock-enclosed valley was once rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers. The best time for this hike is early in the morning to catch the sunrise and avoid the midmorning crowds. You can also aim for late afternoon when dusk gives the area an almost film-set worthy lunar landscape ambiance. 

The trail leaves from next to the Hidden Valley picnic area. 

Barker Dam

  • Distance: 1.1 mile (1.8km) – Loop
  • Time: 1 hr
  • Terrain: Flat – minimal elevation
  • Difficulty: Easy
Panoramic of rock formations and the dam at Barkers Dam Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, Barker Dam
(Public Domain | Flickr)

An easy, circular hike, Barker Dam Trail is excellent for wildlife, especially after the rains when the area transforms into a desert oasis.

The signed trail offers insight into the cultural history of the area and the cowboys who built the dam to water their cattle in the early 1900s.  

Fog settling on Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, Barkers Dam Nature Trail
(Public Domain | Flickr)

Look out for bighorn sheep in the area as well as jackrabbits and a myriad of birdlife. The dam offers a wonderful photo opportunity with spectacular reflections of the rocky outcrops and Joshua trees. 

The Barker Dam parking area is only two miles from Hidden Valley. There is also a trail that connects the two if you wish to join the two hikes. 

Arch Rock

  • Distance: 0.5 mile (0,8km) – Loop
  • Time: 0.5 hr
  • Terrain: Flat
  • Difficulty: Easy
Lady seen from behind walking down the sandy Arch Rock hiking track through boulders in Joshua Tree National Park
Arch Rock Nature Trail is one of the most popular night hikes, especially for Astrophotographers

Arch Rock is a short trail within the White Tank Campground that leads to a spectacular rock arch spanning roughly 30 feet in length.

The joy of this hike is exploring and scrambling over the rock formations in the area. Climb to the top of the arch for some incredible views over the desert.

Arch Rock against a dark sky with moon. Arch Rock trail is one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park, Arch Rock
(Public Domain | Flickr)

Understandably, this hike is very popular so can become quite crowded during the day. Head there at night for a completely different experience, and you’ll see why the location is very popular with Astro Photographers

Ryan Mountain

  • Distance: 3 miles (4.8km) – Out and back
  • Time: 1.5-2.5 hrs
  • Terrain: Steep
  • Difficulty: Moderate

One of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree, this short but steep hike pays off with the most beautiful 360° views of the park from the summit.

The climb starts right from the get-go on this hike, but the trail gradient eases off as you near the top.

Two people sitting at the top of Ryan Mountain Summit, one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, Ryan Mountain Summit
(Public Domain | Flickr)

The well-maintained track is steep and exposed to the sun and wind. But the views are worth the small effort and provide a great excuse to stop and catch your breath.

In summer, this hike should not be attempted after 11 AM as the temperatures are simply too hot for such a climb. 

The trail starts from the parking area between Sheep Pass and Ryan Campground. The Ryan Mountain Trail map is here.

Lost Horse Mine

  • Distance: 4 miles (6.4 km) Out and back ( or 6.6 miles (10 km) if you choose the full Lost Horse Loop hike). 
  • Time: 2-3 hrs
  • Terrain: Mostly flat. Full Lost Horse loop is slightly elevated.
  • Difficulty: Moderate – Hard

One of the most successful gold mines in Joshua Tree, this popular hike offers hikers varied sights and a fascinating insight into the Lost Horse mining history.

Along the trail, you are treated to landscapes of California wildflowers, large Joshua trees and the remains of the Lost Horse Gold Mine. 

Joshua Trees and boulders against a pink sunset sky. Lost Horse Valley hike in Joshua tree National Park is fascinating for the nature and history of mining in the area.
Joshua Tree National Park, Lost Horse Valley
(Public Domain | Flickr)

Follow the old winding trail once used by miners to transport mining supplies by horse and wagon.

Once you arrive at the mine site, be careful to stay outside of the fenced area as the ground around the old mine shafts is unstable. Keep an eye out on the trail and around the mine for discarded rusty treasures from the mine operations. 

Take the extra walk to Lost Horse Mountain from the mine site for spectacular views.

Depending on the season, you can extend the hike by doing the full Lost Horse Loop Hike which is approx. 6.6 miles round trip and slightly more elevated. A hike not recommended in the peak of summer after mid-morning. 

The Lost Horse Mine Hike starts from a well-maintained dirt road off Keys View Road. You Can find the Lost Horse Trail map here

Relics left in the desert from the Lost Horse Mine site. This is one of the most interesting and popular hikes in Joshua Tree National park
Joshua Tree National Park, Lost Horse Mine
(Public Domain | Flickr)

Split Rock Loop 

  • Distance: 2.5 miles (4 km) – Loop (Includes trip to Face Rock)
  • Time: 1.5-2 hrs
  • Terrain: Flat 
  • Difficulty: Easy

Close to Skull Rock, the Split Rock hike doesn’t attract as much attention which makes it even more appealing. While the name may be less exciting, the rocky landscape and unique scenery are just as appealing, and the lack of people offers a much more peaceful experience. 

Split Rock in Joshua Tree National Park. One of the best hikes in Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park, Split Rock
(Public Domain | Flickr)

The Split Rock Loop is excellent for all skill levels and even families with young children. Roughly halfway along the loop, you will find a short marked detour to Face Rock as a bonus side trip. 

If you want to extend your hike, a little distance down the road is the Jumbo Rocks / Skull Rock Loop trail. 

Face Rock in Joshua Tree National Park is a great detour on the Split Rock Loop Trail
Joshua Tree National Park, Face Rock
(Public Domain | Flickr)

Willow Hole & The Wonderland of Rocks

  • Distance: 7.2 miles (11.5 km) – Out and back
  • Time: 4 hrs
  • Terrain: Flat 
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

The Willow Hole Trail has a reputation with serious hikers as being one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. The trail takes you over the mostly flat sandy desert and rocky valley’s following the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. 

Beautiful pink cactus flowers in bloom in the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua tree NP
Joshua Tree National Park, Wonderland of Rocks
(Public Domain | Flickr)

You’ll be treated to Joshua tree forests, a variety of desert wildlife, stunning views and wildflowers on this hike. After the rains, the creek along the trail will also attract bighorn sheep.

The trail ends at Willow Hole, a beautiful oasis of lush willow trees, and naturally forming springs that attract wildlife and create a microhabitat for water-loving flora. 

The Willow Trail starts 1.2 miles into the Boy Scout Trail. 

The lush vegetation against the desert creates an oasis at Willow Hole Hike in Joshua Tree National Park

These are just a few of the many hikes in Joshua Tree National Park for first-time visitors that are perfect for those planning a short visit. There is so much to see in Joshua Tree, especially for avid hikers, Joshua Tree is a destination that can easily be visited again and again.

Looking for the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park? Here are some of the best hikes for first time visitors as well as loads of tips on visiting Joshua Tree. 

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