Joshua Tree National Park hiking 1-day itinerary

8 awesome day hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

With its characteristic grippy monzogranite and heaping rockpiles stretched in every direction, there’s no doubt that Joshua Tree National Park is a climber’s paradise— but there’s so much more to see of this 800,000 acre protected area just from the side of the trail. Thick orange rocks eroded into faces or arches, cholla cactus that seem to glow in the early light, jackrabbits hopping through the brush, blooming hedgehog cacti, and the namesake Joshua Tree twisting above it all… there’s magic in every kilometre of this park. 

Joshua Tree is one of my absolute favourite places, as much for the spectacular scenery as for the energy you’ll feel when you’re here. Get amongst it on these 8 incredible hikes, and make sure to check out my comprehensive guide to Joshua Tree National Park for heaps more information on where to camp, what to pack, and other can’t-miss sites off the hiking trail. 

Ryan Mountain Joshua Tree National Park
Ryan Mountain

1 | Ryan Mountain

Unlike most of the hikes in the park that wind through desert foliage and between Joshua Trees, Ryan Mountain is bit of a climb, getting you off the valley floor for expansive views of granite rockpiles and Joshua Tree forests as far as the eye can see. On clear days, you’ll even get a glimpse of San Jacinto’s snowy peak rising above the blue and brown hills of the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

It’s not an overly challenging hike to the summit of Ryan Mountain, but there’s absolutely no shade, so come prepared with a hat, sunscreen, and heaps of water— it’s seriously hot the entire climb, with breeze only offering relief once you reach the top. Despite the sun exposure, though, this is an incredibly popular hike that definitely shouldn’t be missed!

Trailhead: Ryan Mountain trailhead off Park Boulevard

Distance: 4.8km / 3mi return

Elevation gain: 320m / 1050ft

Trail time: 1.5hrs

Difficulty: Moderate

Highlights: Expansive views of the park and surrounding hills

Face Rock Joshua Tree National Park brooke around town
Face Rock

2 | Skull Rock & Split Rock loop

Officially, the NPS lists Skull Rock Loop (2.7km / 1.7mi), Split Rock Loop (4km / 2.5mi), and the Discovery Trail (1.1km / 0.7mi) as separate hikes, but it’s actually super easy to join all three together for a 4mi loop that takes in some of the park’s most popular features, including Face Rock, Skull Rock, and (the far less exciting) Split Rock.

You can park at either Skull Rock or Spit Rock to begin this flat, easy trail, but be warned that there’s usually a massive crowd of people at Skull Rock, making it difficult to find a park or do much scrambling around here.

Farther around the loop and away from these tourist hotspots, you’ll find that the people thin out, and that’s when this trail really shines. There are heaps of awesome scrambling spots as you pass through the rocks, as well as some really stellar scenery to be enjoyed from the top of any large rockpile.

Trailhead: Skull Rock OR Split Rock carpark off Park Boulevard

Distance: 6.4km / 4mi loop

Elevation gain: negligible

Trail time: 1.25hrs

Difficulty: Easy

Highlights: Excellent scrambling near some popular park features, including Face Rock and Skull Rock

Panorama Loop hike Joshua Tree National Park
A hot day on Panorama Loop

3 | Panorama Loop & Warren Peak

This is one of Joshua Tree’s toughest hikes in terms of length and elevation gain, but by any other standards, it’s a beautiful afternoon in a grossly underrated section of the park. And thanks to its remote location away from the main road (Panorama Loop isn’t even accessibly from any of the 3 park entrances, but rather via its own unique entrance in the far northwest), it’s also incredibly quiet.

Once again, the NPS lists Panorama Loop (10.6km / 6.6mi) and Warren Peak (10.1km / 6.3mi) as 2 separate “challenging” hikes, but it’s hardly more than 2mi to tack Warren Peak onto Panorama Loop, and therefore it makes the most sense to explore these two trails together.

The trail begins with a gentle walk through a wash, slowly climbing upwards through Joshua Trees and varied cacti to reach a few switchbacks that crest out along the ridgeline of the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

Continue clockwise around the loop, eventually turning off about 3/4ths of the way through to climb ~150m up Warren Peak. It’s not a massive ascent, but the complete absence of shade and (often) wind make this a real effort! From the peak, it’s a straight descent back to the car at Black Rock.

Trailhead: Black Rock Campground off Joshua Lane (not accessible from main park entrances)

Distance: 12.4km / 7.7mi loop

Elevation gain: 515m / 1690ft

Trail time: 3.5hrs

Difficulty: Slightly more challenging

Highlights: Incredible views of Mt San Jacinto & the Little San Bernardino Mountains

Fortynine Palms Oasis hike Joshua Tree National Park
Fortynine Palms Oasis

4 | Fortynine Palms Oasis

Also inside the park but with its own entrance is Fortynine Palms, a startlingly beautiful oasis hidden behind a rocky hill and protected by the shade of lush palms— it’s a sight immediately at odds with the arid surroundings, and one that equally justifies the uphill climb.

There are actually several oases within Joshua Tree, each formed at the junction of fault-lines where water is forced up to the surface to provide for more lush vegetation.

Fortynine Palms is an excellent place to experience these unlikely spots in the desert, as it’s more of an outing than the short Oasis of Mara, but still more convenient than the Lost Palms Oasis near Cottonwood. It also offers a great opportunity to explore the northern fringes of the national park, away from most of the crowds just by virtue of being inaccessible from the main entrances.

Trailhead: Fortynine Palms trailhead off Canyon Road (not accessible from main park entrances)

Distance: 4.8km / 3mi return

Elevation gain: 194m / 636ft

Trail time: 1.5hrs

Difficulty: Moderate

Highlights: Lush palm oasis in the middle of the desert

Joshua Tree National Park best hikes
Joshua Trees near Willow Hole trail

5 | Willow Hole

Following a section of the park’s classic Boy Scout Trail (13km / 8mi one-way) before deviating off to explore a curious collection of willow trees hidden among the rocks, this is a flat but very rewarding hike that sees minimal foot traffic (and a great alternative if you don’t have an entire day to dedicate to Boy Scout).

Setting off from Keys West, you’ll hike through thick Joshua Trees and a dusty wash to come to the Wonderland of Rocks, an aptly named sea of boulders prime for climbing and scrambling.

Trailhead: Boy Scout trailhead at Keys West off Park Boulevard

Distance: 11.5km / 7.2mi return

Elevation gain: negligible

Trail time: 3hrs

Difficulty: Easy

Highlights: Scrambling at the Wonderland of Rocks in a lesser-seen part of the park

Arch Rock Joshua Tree National Park brooke around town
Arch Rock

6 | Arch Rock 

Although not shown at all on the official NPS map, Arch Rock is one of the most photographed spots in the park, and for good reason— this trail leads you out to a spectacular natural arch and some of my favourite scrambling in all of J Tree.

Begin this short loop from White Tank campground, walking only a few hundred metres through the rocks to reach the famed Arch Rock, and then continue onwards through mounds of monzogranite, stopping to climb anything that tickles your fancy.

Trailhead: White Tank Campground OR Twin Tanks off Park Boulevard

Distance: 1.9km / 1.2mi loop

Elevation gain: negligible

Trail time: 30min

Difficulty: Easy

Highlights: Stunning natural rock arch near heaps of good off-route scrambling

Hall of Horrors Joshua Tree National Park brooke around town
Scrambling at Hidden Valley

7 | Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley is an absolutely bustling spot full of hikers, picnickers, climbers, and boulderers, but there’s also a flat, leisurely loop around the rockpiles that showcases iconic Joshua Tree scenery.

Between flat beavertail cacti, fan-shaped yucca, strawberry hedgehog cacti, and, of course, the namesake Joshua Tree, there’s an incredible diversity of flora to experience in Hidden Valley, and that’s to say nothing of the desert jackrabbits, cactus wren, and dozens of lizard species you can also spot from the trail.

Trailhead: Hidden Valley trailhead off Park Boulevard

Distance: 1.6km / 1mi loop

Elevation gain: negligible

Trail time: 30min

Difficulty: Easy

Highlights: Classic Joshua Tree scenery with plenty of climbers to admire

Chasm of Doom hidden gem Hidden Valley Joshua Tree National Park
The secret Chasm of Doom

8 | Chasm of Doom

But before you leave Hidden Valley… tucked inconspicuously away just behind a picnic table at the end of the carpark is the entrance to one of Joshua Tree’s best-kept secrets, The Chasm of Doom.

This unmarked and incredibly claustrophobic route winding and squeezing through one of the park’s enormous rock piles isn’t on any map, and even with meticulous notes, it’s pretty easy to get lost— but for those who make it through, it’s a wild adventure and a real J Tree experience.

To find the hidden entrance to The Chasm of Doom, head to the end of the carpark and locate a picnic table situated just below a large rockpile. You’ll need to stay to the left of this table as you walk around the perimeter and scout for a scraggly tree in the rocks, passing under and then scrambling through a rock window above you.

The actual entrance is disguised behind a palm tree, and although it doesn’t look much like the entrance to anything, you’ll definitely know you’re in the right spot as there are no other palms in sight.

There are really excellent detailed instructions in this post, but I’d recommend just following directions to the entrance and then making your own way through from this point onwards without help— that’s the true adventure of The Chasm!

Trailhead: Hidden Valley carpark off Park Boulevard— the start of this trail is behind a palm tree up in the rocks at the far end of the carpark

Trail time: 30-60min

Difficulty: Challenging, with lots of wayfinding, tight squeezes, and scrambling

Highlights: Adrenaline-pumping route that most visitors to Joshua Tree don’t even know about!

Cholla Cactus Garden Joshua Tree National Park brooke around town
Cholla Cactus Garden

*Practical Information

  • The most direct way to reach Joshua Tree National Park is from Los Angeles, but highly variable traffic means the journey can take anywhere from 2-4.5hrs, so definitely try to avoid travelling during the weekday commute or peak times on the weekend. You can also access Joshua Tree in 3.5hrs from Phoenix, AZ, which will bring you to the very quiet Cottonwood entrance in the southern end of the park.
  • In order to enjoy the hikes on this list, you’ll need to purchase a 7-day access pass to Joshua Tree NP for $30USD at the Visitor Centre (Joshua Tree or Oasis near 29 Palms) or at the entrance station (North or West entrances). You can also get a digital entrance pass from, just make sure to save to your phone since there is no reception in the park.
  • Alternatively, grab an annual NPS pass for $80USD, which will get you into all 62 national parks and thousands of other national monuments and forests around the country! These can be purchased everywhere listed above (visitor centres, ranger stations &, as well as from outdoor retailers like REI.
  • Make sure to pick up a free map when you come through the entrance, as there is NO mobile reception within the park! Most viewpoints and hikes are extremely well signed, but it helps to have a paper map to plan your visit. If you miss grabbing a map (outside of staffed hours; typically 8am-5pm) or prefer to use your phone, there’s a downloadable version of the NPS map available here.

For information on camping in and around Joshua Tree, an essential packing list, COVID-safe practices within the park, and HEAPS more information on planning your visit, check out this post: THE ULTIMATE 1-DAY JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK ITINERARY: 9 BEST HIKES & SCRAMBLES (POST-COVID)

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