The Best of Joshua Tree National Park Hiking with Kids

Family Friendly Hikes in Joshua TreeJoshua Tree has become one of our favorite go-to trips – either as a day trip or for a last minute weekend getaway. Through our many visits, we have found a few trails that we return to again and again. Below are our best of Joshua Tree National Park hiking trails with kids or for first timers. These hikes can be completed by people of almost all fitness levels and are especially great for families as the interpretive trails provide great learning opportunities. Although the trails are family friendly, they are not stroller friendly. Much of the trails throughout Joshua Tree tend to be loose sand, which can be quite deep in areas making it difficult for a stroller to roll.

Barker Dam

Barker Dam - Joshua Tree National Park HikingThis is your rare chance to see water in the desert! However, due to the drought there is often not much water in the dam, but it’s still a fun little hike, especially for beginners. A relatively easy 1.5 mile hike that can be done as a loop or as an in/out trail to make it shorter.  To make this an in/out trail – once you reach the dam, return the way your came. Otherwise, continue on the loop trail back to the start.

The trail leads you to the dam and then through some of the old Keys Ranch land. The trails are not always well marked, however it is easy to find your way as there are usually plenty of people on the trail. This interpretive trail is great for families in that you learn more about the history, plant and animal life in the area and throughout Joshua Tree. Don’t miss the petroglyphs on the rocks on the back end of the loop. You will see the crowds!

If you haven’t picked up your Junior Ranger Booklet at the Visitor’s Center, do it! These are for kids and grown-ups, providing a fun way to learn more about the park and go home with a free souvenir!

Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley - Joshua Tree National Park HikingHidden Valley is a moderate 1 mile walk around varying terrain. There are flat areas and areas to scramble over rocks. It is a kid friendly hike, but not stroller friendly. At times you might feel you have lost the trail, no fear, you will meet up with it again fairly easily.

Take the path from the parking lot that leads between rock walls into Hidden Valley. Once you have climbed through this gap in the rocks, you will reach the sandy desert floor and a T-junction. Pick a direction and start along the loop. We tend to go left as there are more rock climbing opportunities earlier before the little legs get tired. The fun of this hike are the off trail rock scrambling opportunities that little kids cannot resist! Scramble up some rocks, take detours and return to the trail as you wish.

Hidden Valley - Joshua Tree National Park HikingAll around the circle drive are picnic tables (often in the shade), making this an ideal location to stop for lunch. Behind the picnic tables also provides more places for kids to run around, climb on and explore the rock formations.

Skull Rock & Jumbo Rocks Loop

Skull Rock - Joshua Tree National Park HikingMost people do not even bother with an actual hike here. Exploring Skull Rock and the crevices and rock formations behind it are more than enough for many adventurers. Kids, big and small, can wile away a good deal of time scrambling up and down the rough granite rocks. However, if you do want a little more milage, this 1.7 mile loop will get you away from the crowds, into the campground and provide a pleasant view back over the road towards Skull Rock.

Follow the well marked trail from Skull Rock, parallel to the road towards the campground. After passing through the campground, the camp road is the trail for a short while before re-connecting with the dirt trail leading back to where you started.

Ryan Ranch

Ryan Ranch - Joshua Tree National Park HikingRyan Ranch Trail is a flat, easy 1 mile out and back hike that leads to the remains of Ryan Ranch. Families will enjoy spending time to explore the old adobe brick buildings and looking for the broken windmill, old fencing, ‘trash’ left behind by the settlers and so much more.

The trail is flat with little to no elevation gain and well marked until you reach the remains of the ranch. The is little to no shade on this trail, so it’s best to avoid during the height of the day’s heat.

Indian Cove

Indian Cove - Joshua Tree National Park HikingIf you want a little something different and to see a different side of the park, this is a good place to head for a quick hike. This nature walk is a short .6 loop trail with interpretive signs along the way. Be on the lookout for the elusive desert tortoise and road runners as they are known to be in this area! Have lunch or a snack on the nearby picnic tables.

This trail is not a commonly traversed trail except for people camping at the nearby campsite as it’s only accessible from the Twentynine palms Highway, not from any other roads inside the park. If you are short on time, this is a great short hike if you don’t want to head all the way into Joshua Tree

Palm Oasis

Palm Oasis - Joshua Tree National Park HikingIf you are entering Joshua Tree from the Cottonwood entrance, stop in at the ranger station here for your maps and Junior Ranger books before heading off on this 1 mile hike near Palm Oasis. The scenery here is very different to what you will see in the rest of Joshua Tree and is worth a quick look before venturing further into the park to the more popular areas. It is interesting hiking this area as you won’t see any Joshua Trees, instead you will Palm trees which need water – most often you won’t see standing water, but seeing the oasis, you know it’s there somewhere! This trail has little to no shade, so best to avoid during the hottest part of the day.

Silver Bell Mine

Silver Bell Mine - Joshua Tree National Park HikingOur son was super into learning more about the old mines in Joshua Tree on our last visit. A ranger at the Cottonwood Visitor Center told us about a short hike up to an abandoned mine just off the main road. It is the second exhibit sign past Cholla Cactus Garden (coming FROM Cottonwood Spring). Look up on the left and you will see the remains of the mine.

To reach the mine, start off from the exhibit sign, where you will wander through the open desert and shrubs for almost a mile. It looks so much closer, but as you walk, you realize the hill in the distance isn’t getting close very quickly! There is no real path here but you will see where others have tread to not destroy the landscape. As you continue towards the mountain you will see a narrow path up the side of the hill that leads to the mine. This path is well-worn, marked by rocks on the edges and easy to see.

Silver Bell Mine Rocks - Joshua Tree National Park HikingIt looks like a steep incline, but it’s actually not too bad. Note however, there is almost no shade, which can make it more difficult in the height of the day’s sun. Once you make it to the top, spend some time at the top exploring remnants of the old mine, including plenty of copper ore scattered and other colorful mineral rocks left by the abandoned mine.

There are no facilities here on the road and the trail is not signposted. It would be rare to see anyone else on this trail to be honest, but it is a well worn path and easy to navigate. About 2 miles round trip with approximately 400 feet of elevation.

Stroller Friendly Walks in Joshua Tree

Cholla Cactus Garden - Joshua Tree National Park HikingIf you can’t handle carrying the little one far and they just won’t (or can’t) walk, there are five loop trails that are each half a mile or less.

  • Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Bajada
  • Cap Rock
  • Oasis of Mara
  • Keys View

These four walks are all stroller friendly or easy for kids to maneuver. They are good alternatives to the above hikes if you are doing a quick drive through the park, but need something small to stretch the legs a bit, while also taking in some of the beauty of this spellbinding national park.

Don’t forget to get off the beaten path during your visit. Take a walk most anywhere you want. This is the beauty of Joshua Tree, you are free to roam any of the trails or non-trails you choose. It’s a beautiful park with so much to spark the imaginations of little minds.

For more detailed information about visiting Joshua Tree, see our recommendations for getting the most out of Joshua Tree on a one day visit.

Looking for a place to stay? There are some super cool glamping sites listed on Airbnb (see our post on glamping for our top picks) and as well as more traditional, in the quirky Joshua Tree way on

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Family Friendly Hikes at Joshua Tree

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11 Responses to “The Best of Joshua Tree National Park Hiking with Kids”

  1. Abigail Morgan Says:

    What a great article. we are considering taking a long weekend trip to Joshua Tree for new year’s…hopefully some camping! I’ll take this post with me for sure. Thanks as always for your wonderful tips, Karilyn!


  2. melody pittman Says:

    Nice! I always hear people talk and write about Joshua Tree but never have I seen the actual areas broken down and explained. Thanks so much. I found this very helpful and will hold on to it for my next trip our west.
    melody pittman recently posted…The Lady’s Cheesy Mac by Paula DeenMy Profile


  3. Dave from Daves Travel Pages Says:

    It seems like a good area to take hikes in with kids of all ages. I especially like how you included the stroller friendly hikes as well.
    Dave from Daves Travel Pages recently posted…Cycling The Danube Cycle Path – Travel InspirationMy Profile


  4. Traveling Rockhopper Says:

    It’s an amazing place! During our long trip to USA, unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to go there, I hope next time, because these tress are so great!
    Traveling Rockhopper recently posted…Madeira – Hiking Paul da SerraMy Profile


  5. Kathrin Says:

    I have to admit that I’m not a big hiker, but after reading your article, I think I have to start! Amazing landscape 🙂
    Kathrin recently posted…A Beginner’s Guide to Europe #3: BudapestMy Profile


  6. Mar Says:

    Fascinating landscapes it like watching a western movie for those not living in the area


  7. Lesley Says:

    Joshua Tree is only a short drive from us in Aliso Viejo yet we haven’t visited yet. I’m certain 2016 will be the year. We love hiking and there are some good family trails here for us.
    Lesley recently posted…Renaissance Phuket Resort ReviewMy Profile


  8. Nancy Says:

    Fantastic post about one of our favourite hiking destinations. We used to climb at J-Tree before kids and now we enjoy hiking there. The Barker Dam is such an accessible hike – love it for hikers young and old.
    Nancy recently posted…Special Places in LondonMy Profile


  9. Geert Says:

    I remember Joshua Tree from my first US trip after I graduated. We didn’t stop to go out on a hike then since it was like 50 degrees Celsius or something. Perhaps I should revisit it sometime, when the temperature is a bit lower 😉
    Geert recently posted…Rome Where You Want To: 4 Essential Tips for Living AbroadMy Profile


  10. Himanshu Says:

    It looks like an interesting place to visit and do so many things. Would certainly visit it some Day. Loved the very first pic.
    Himanshu recently posted…Quick View: A Road Trip To Chhattisgarh Via Bhedaghat In Madhya PradeshMy Profile


  11. Oliwia | The Ollie Says:

    It is cool if the areas allows you to pick hikes for everyone no meter if young or old. Area looks really interesting and also looks like it’s really hot there 😉 No idea why o haven’t heard about Joshua Tree before.


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