Joshua Tree National Park in California 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 the best Joshua Tree hikes for first timers with or without kids. 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.
8 AWESOME JOSHUA TREE HIKES AT JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
#1 Barker Dam
This is your rare chance to see water in the desert! However, due to the ongoing 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 you 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 trail is 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. Don’t worry, 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!
#2 Hidden Valley
One of our favorite Joshua Tree hikes is at Hidden Valley. This is a moderate 1 mile walk around varying terrain. There are flat areas and places 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 Hidden Valley 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 many off trail rock scrambling opportunities that little kids cannot resist! Scramble up some rocks, take detours and return to the trail as you wish. This is always one of our top recommendations for things to do in Joshua Tree no matter how many times you have visited!
Additionally, around the circle drive parking area are picnic tables (often in the shade), making this an ideal location to stop for lunch. Behind the picnic tables there are even more places for kids to run around, climb and explore the rock formations without even going on an actual hike.
#3 Skull Rock & Jumbo Rocks Loop
Most people do not even bother with an actual hike here at Jumbo Rocks. Exploring Skull Rock and the crevices and rock formations behind it tend to provide more than enough for many adventurers. Kids, big and small, can spend a good deal of the day 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 reconnecting with the dirt trail leading back to where you started.
#4 Ryan Ranch
Ryan Ranch Trail is a flat, easy 1 mile out and back hike that leads to the remains of Ryan Ranch. Even for non-hikers, this is a fun and easy thing to do in Joshua Tree. 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.
#5 Indian Cove
For visitors to Joshua Tree that want a little something different and to see a different side of the park, Indian Cove is a good place to head for a quick hike. This Joshua Tree hike is actually just 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 for the day.
#6 Palm Oasis
If 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 on other Joshua Tree hikes 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.
#7 Silver Bell Mine
Our 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.
It 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.
#8 Other Joshua Tree Hikes That Are Stroller Friendly
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- 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 GlampingHub.com as well as more traditional, in the quirky Joshua Tree way on Booking.com.
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