Looking for fun, scenic hikes to try in Joshua Tree National Park? Check out these 5 easy, family-friendly hikes that not only offer stunning views, but also endless opportunities to climb and explore.
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There are many great things to do and see in and around Joshua Tree National Park, including an abundance of wildlife! After reading this post, you will be more prepared and excited about your trip.
In this post you will find:
- Information for your visit to Joshua Tree National Park
- Things to do/see in the area
- Distance, difficulty, and detailed information about 5 family-friendly hikes in JTNP
- Arch Rock Trail
- Barker Dam
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- Hall of Horrors
- Skull Rock Trail
Planning Your Visit
Getting to Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is in southern California. You will need a car to navigate through and around the park.
Airports Near Joshua Tree National Park:
- Palm Springs Airport (PSP) – 45 miles (45 minutes – 1 hour)
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – 145 miles (2.5-4 hours depending on traffic)
- San Diego International Airport (SAN) – 160 miles (3.5-4hours)
- Las Vegas McCarran Airport (LAS) – 182 miles (3-3.5 hours)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) – 227 miles (3.5-4 hours)
San Diego and Phoenix are closest to the South entrance near Cottonwood Spring.
Los Angeles and Las Vegas are closest to the West Entrance near the town of Joshua Tree.
Palm Springs is about the same distance to either the South or the West entrance.
Where to Stay
The communities of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms are right on the edge of the north park boundary. These charming little towns are great options if you want to stay in a hotel or Airbnb close to the park.
We often use Hotwire or Priceline to book hotels for our trips. We have found that you can typically tell which hotel you might be getting, and we have scored some really nice hotels for great prices.
If we want to know for sure what hotel we are getting and the exact location, we use Booking.com to book our stay.
When we visited Joshua Tree in March 2020 (right before the world shut down), we booked our stay through Hotwire and stayed at the Best Western in Yucca Valley. The rooms were a little bit older but very spacious. There was a free continental breakfast, a pool, and a hot tub, and the location worked well for us.
In February 2022, we stayed at the Oasis Inn & Suites in Twentynine Palms. It was not the nicest hotel, but it was inexpensive and had a good pool/hot tub area.
There are so many amazing, unique Airbnb stays near JTNP! These can be very competitive and pricey, so try to book in advance.
There are 9 campgrounds within the park as well as more camping areas outside of the park boundaries.
We have not camped at the park before, so I do not know which campgrounds are the best. However, we did drive through and do a little hike in Indian Cove Campground, and it was absolutely stunning. If I was going to camp in the park I would probably choose Indian Cove.
I do know that campsites can be very hard to come by during peak season, so book a site as far in advance as possible. If you are not able to plan your stay far in advance, there are some sites that are first-come, first-served!
Best Time to Visit
Spring and fall are the best times of year to go if you want ideal temperatures. During these seasons, the average high is around 85°F (29°C), and the average lows are around 50°F (10°C).
Summers are very hot, often over 100°F (38°C). Although not as comfortable, summer is still doable if you plan accordingly (adequate water, sun protection, etc.), especially if you don’t plan anything too strenuous and get an early start.
If you don’t mind cooler weather, winter brings average high temperatures of around 60°F (15°C). This is ideal hiking weather for us! Evenings and nights often drop below freezing during the winter season.
Overall, any season is doable if you plan on sightseeing and hiking. If you are camping, spring or fall would likely be most comfortable.
Cloudy Spring Day at JTNP
Admission to the Park
The entrance fee for Joshua Tree National Park is $30. This gets you admission for 7 days. You can purchase admission at any of the park entrances.
We always get the America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80, is valid for one year and gets you into all of the U.S. National Parks and over 2,000 federal recreation areas in the United States. If you plan on visiting multiple parks within the year, this is definitely the most bang for your buck!
You can buy the pass at any visitor center or ranger station, from the USGS Website, or from a federal recreation site in your area.
Essentials for Your Joshua Tree National Park Hikes
Even when you are heading out on a short hike, it is always a good idea to bring a backpack with water and snacks… more than you think you will need. Click here for the hiking bag we always take on short hikes. It is lightweight and packs down into a small pouch for travel. The last thing you want to do is get lost or stranded in the desert without water or food.
Make sure to bring adequate sun protection – hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc.
Bring a park map (you can get these at any visitor center or entrance station in the park).
I also like to have a trail map. I downloaded the AllTrails app on my phone. AllTrails has excellent directions to trailheads, trail maps, trail descriptions, and trail reviews.
If possible, pack some bandaids or a mini first-aid kit. You never know when you might need it.
5 Easy Joshua Tree National Park Hikes
1. Arch Rock Trail
Distance: 1.6 miles (~1 hour)
Elevation Gain: 100 ft
Trailhead Location: Twin Tanks Parking Lot
We did this hike early in the morning. It was AMAZING because the moon was big in the morning sky, and the sunrise was stunning.
I highly recommend getting up early to hike at least one of your days at the park because it is so special to see the sunrise over the rocks and you can beat the crowds and have the trail to yourself!
The hike itself was flat and peaceful. The beginning of the trail is out in the open through the desert scrub and is very exposed to the sun.
The trail gets a lot more exciting once you get to the “loop” portion. It almost feels like you made it to a different planet.
You can choose to do the loop portion clockwise or counterclockwise. Some of the users on All Trails commented that the loop portion was confusing to follow, but we went counterclockwise and had no problem following the trail and signs along the loop.
We had the arch to ourselves and had fun taking photos, watching the sunrise, and climbing around on all of the rocks.
Arch Rock Trail is very family-friendly and super fun for kids and adults alike!
This hike was magical for us because we went early to beat the crowds and the heat, and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise.
2. Barker Dam Trail
Distance: 1.1 miles (~1 hour)
Elevation Gain: 50 ft
Trailhead Location: Barker Dam Parking Area
This is an easy trail that offers a lot, which makes it one of the most popular Joshua Tree National Park hikes. As you walk along the trail, you are treated to beautiful valley views, huge rocks and boulders, Joshua trees and other vegetation, petroglyphs, and wildlife. There are placards along the trail offering more information about the plants and animals in the park.
Barker Dam Trail is a loop trail, with the main attraction being the water tank that was created by the dam built by local cattleman C.O. Barker in 1900.
We hiked this trail in mid-March and there was a lot of water, but the water is often dried up during other months of the year. It really depends on recent rainfall and winter precipitation levels. Even if you are visiting the park during drought, I still think this trail is worth doing because of the other views along the hike and the potential for seeing wildlife.
Beautiful contrast between the rocks, water, and bright green plants at Barker Dam.
This trail is short with minimal elevation gain, making it great for anyone, including families with small children. Strollers are not permitted on the trail, so you may want to opt for a child carrier. This trail is also a good option for anyone who has limited time to visit the park.
Barker Dam trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, so try to beat the crowds and the heat by going early morning or late afternoon/evening.
3. Cholla Cactus Garden
Distance: .25 miles (~15-20 minutes)
Elevation Gain: 10 ft
Trailhead Location: 20 miles north of Cottonwood Visitor Center, south of the Jumbo Rocks area
We made the drive to the Cholla Cactus Garden after finishing our hike at Arch Rock Trail. This is hardly even a hike, but more of a quick stroll through a stunning garden.
We thought Cholla Cactus Garden was definitely worth a stop. It was beautiful and unique. Most reviewers on AllTrails say that it is most impressive at sunrise or sunset, but we went around 9 in the morning and still thought it was stunning.
During this hike, you will be walking through thousands of naturally growing cholla cacti. If you visit in the springtime, you may even be treated to wildflowers. This nature trail is also a common area to see wildlife.
This trail is good for families, but little ones might need to be in carriers or holding an adult’s hand. If you get too close to the cholla cactus, the spines will detach from the base of the cactus onto you. I do not have personal experience, but I have heard that removing the spines is very unpleasant. But not to worry – as long as you stay on the trail, you will be safe!
4. Hall of Horrors
Distance: .6 miles (20 minutes-1+ hours depending on explore time)
Elevation Gain: 25 ft
Trailhead Location: Hall of Horrors parking lot (just west of Ryan Mountain trailhead)
We started out on this trail and couldn’t find the “fun part” and almost turned back considering it a fail. Just when we were about to head back to the car we stumbled upon a slot canyon and realized we had found it. We spent at least an hour climbing, exploring, and squeezing through the “Hall of Horrors”. We seriously felt like kids at a playground, and we had a blast!
Click here for a great post on finding the Hall of Horrors
and more information on some of the fun features of this hike.
5. Skull Rock Trail
Distance: 1.7 miles (~1 hour)
Elevation Gain: 160 ft
Trailhead Location: Skull Rock Parking Area or Jumbo Rocks Campground
Skull Rock Trail is family-friendly and fun for all!
Skull Rock is a very popular viewpoint in the park. You can see it from the road, and many people take a quick stop for a photo op and keep going.
However, if you have time, leave the crowds and check out the jumbo rocks behind the famous skull rock. There are endless opportunities to explore and climb the boulders and rocks back there! The actual Skull Rock trail winds through the Jumbo Rocks campground and surrounding area.
This post was all about planning your visit to JTNP and what to expect on five easy Joshua Tree National Park hikes. I hope this post helps you to feel more prepared and eager to visit!
Traveling with kids? Check out these posts for tips on traveling with young children!