There are more than 190 miles of hiking trails in Joshua Tree, ranging from quarter-mile nature trails to 35-mile treks. Some connect with each other, so you can design your own desert maze. Remember that drinking water is hard to come by—you won't find water in the park except at the entrances. Bring along at least a gallon per person for all but the shortest hikes, more if the weather is hot. Before striking out on a hike or apparent nature trail, check out the signage. Roadside signage identifies hiking- and rock-climbing routes.
Bajada All Access. Learn all about what plants do to survive in the desert on this wheelchair-accessible ¼-mile loop. Easy. Trailhead south of Cottonwood Visitor Center, ½ mi from park entrance, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Cap Rock. This ½-mile wheelchair-accessible loop—named after a boulder that sits atop a huge rock formation like a cap—winds through fascinating rock formations and has signs that explain the geology of the Mojave Desert. Easy. Trailhead at junction of Park Blvd. and Keys View Rd., Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Hidden Valley. Crawl through the rocks surrounding Hidden Valley to see where cattle rustlers supposedly hung out on this 1-mile loop. Easy. Trailhead at Hidden Valley Picnic Area, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Indian Cove Trail. Look for lizards and roadrunners along this ½-mile loop that follows a desert wash. A walk along this well-signed trail reveals signs of Indian habitation, animals, and flora such as desert willow and yucca. Easy. Trailhead at west end of Indian Cove Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Oasis of Mara. A stroll along this short, wheelchair-accessible trail, located just outside the visitor center, reveals how early settlers took advantage of this oasis, which was first settled by the Serrano Indians. Mara means "place of little springs and much grass" in their language. The Serrano, who farmed the oasis until the mid-1850s, planted one palm tree for each male baby born during the first year of the settlement. Easy. Trailhead at Oasis Visitor Center, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Skull Rock Trail. The 1.7-mile loop guides hikers through boulder piles, desert washes, and a rocky alley. It's named for what is perhaps the park's most famous rock formation, which resembles a human head. Access is across the highway from Jumbo Rocks Campground. Easy. Trailhead at Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
California Riding and Hiking Trail. This well-traveled route stretches for 35 miles between the Black Rock Canyon Entrance and the North Entrance. You can access the trail for a short or long hike at several points. The visitor centers have trail maps. Moderate. Trailheads at Upper Covington Flats, Ryan Campground, Twin Tanks, south of north park entrance, and Black Rock Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Hi-View Nature Trail. This 1.3-mile loop climbs nearly to the top of 4,500-foot Summit Peak. The views of nearby Mt. San Gorgonio (snow-capped in winter) make the moderately steep journey worth the effort. You can pick up a pamphlet describing the vegetation you'll see along the way at any visitor center. Moderate. Trailhead ½ mi west of Black Rock Canyon Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Ryan Mountain Trail. The payoff for hiking to the top of 5,461-foot Ryan Mountain is one of the best panoramic views of Joshua Tree. From here you can see Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Gorgonio, Lost Horse Valley, and the Pinto Basin. You'll need two to three hours to complete the 3-mile round-trip with 1,000+ feet of elevation gain. Moderate. Trailhead at Ryan Mountain parking area, 16 miles southeast of park's west entrance, or Sheep Pass, 16 miles southwest of Oasis Visitor Center, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Boy Scout Trail. The moderately strenuous 8-mile trail, suitable for backpackers, extends from Indian Cove to Park Boulevard. It runs through the westernmost edge of the Wonderland of Rocks (where you're likely to see climbers on the outcroppings), passing through a forest of Joshua trees, past granite towers, and around willow-lined pools. Completing the round-trip journey requires camping along the way, so you may want to hike only part of the trail or have a car waiting at the other end. Difficult. Trailhead between Quail Springs Picnic Area and Indian Cove Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail. Allow three hours for this moderately strenuous 3-mile trek. There's no shade, and the trail makes a steep climb in both directions, eventually dropping down into a canyon where you'll find an oasis lined with fan palms. If you look carefully, you'll find evidence of American Indians in this area, from traces of cooking fires to rocks carved with petroglyphs. Difficult. Trailhead at end of Canyon Rd., 4 miles west of Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Lost Horse Mine Trail. This fairly strenuous 4-mile round-trip hike follows a former mining road to a well-preserved mill that was used in the 1890s to crush gold-encrusted rock mined from the nearby mountain. The operation was one of the area's most successful, and the mine's cyanide settling tanks and stone buildings are the area's best-preserved structures. From the mill area, a short but steep 10-minute side trip takes you to the top of a 5,278-foot peak with great views of the valley. Difficult. Trailhead 1¼ mile east of Keys View Rd., Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Lost Palms Oasis Trail. Allow four to six hours for the moderately strenuous, 7½-mile round-trip, which leads to the most impressive oasis in the park. You'll find more than 100 fan palms and an abundance of wildflowers here. Difficult. Trailhead at Cottonwood Spring Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.
Mastodon Peak Trail. Some boulder scrambling is required on this 3-mile hike that loops up to the 3,371-foot Mastodon Peak, but the journey rewards you with stunning views of the Salton Sea. The trail passes through a region where gold was mined from 1919 to 1932, so be on the lookout for open mines. The peak draws its name from a large rock formation that early miners believed looked like the head of a prehistoric behemoth. Difficult. Trailhead at Cottonwood Spring Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 92277.