These family-friendly Joshua Tree hikes traverse spectacular boulder formations and gorgeous desert landscape in Joshua Tree National Park. Forget the giant theme park, this is definitely the happiest place on earth!
It’s hard to believe this desert paradise is a few hours from bustling Los Angeles. Similar to Arches and Canyonlands, these Joshua Tree hikes provide access to spectacular boulder formations and gorgeous desert landscape. These are my top family-friendly Joshua Tree hikes.
There’s nothing hidden about this popular hike in Joshua Tree National Park. The Hidden Valley Nature Trail meanders through a beautiful meadow surrounded by towering rock formations and offers spectacular views. Virtually everything in this area can be climbed, depending on your risk tolerance, but everybody will enjoy squeezing through narrow rock passages and climbing giant boulders along the trail. There are also plenty of opportunities to leave the hiking trail and explore Joshua Tree. When you’re done, check out the day-use area. There are picnic tables tucked into the rocks offering great privacy and wonderful views. If you’ve packed a lunch, this is a great place to eat or take a break.
Arch Rock might be a little off-the-beaten-path, but it delivers some of the most spectacular Joshua Tree hikes. Access the Arch Rock Nature Trail Loop from inside the White Tank campground near Campsite Nine. Beware that parking is extremely limited. It’s usually best to park outside the campground and walk the road to the trailhead. The trail leads through some fantastic desert landscape and interpretive signs provide details about the desert vegetation. You’ll reach Arch Rock and be surrounded by spectacular boulder formations. From here, spend an hour or two climbing around the rocks and get rewarded with some of the best views in the Joshua Tree. There is some exposure in this area so use caution when traveling off-trail with the family.
Skull Rock (Nature Trail Loop)
I can’t tell you how many people get out of their car, hike to Skull Rock, snap a few pictures, then return to their car and leave. Don’t get me wrong, the hike to Skull Rock is cool, but the real magic of this area are the granite rocks that blanket the hillside. Everyone in the family will enjoy hiking around these rocks and finding new areas to explore. When your face hurts from smiling so much, return to Skull Rock and follow the nature trail to Jumbo Rocks Campground. This is a great Joshua Tree hike through gorgeous desert landscape. If you’re looking to camp in the Park, you would be hard pressed to find anywhere cooler than this campground. The sites are tucked into the rocks and offer good privacy. From here, hike the road through Jumbo Rocks campground and cross Park Blvd where you’ll rejoin the trail.
Cap Rock is a great family Joshua Tree hike through some of the most recognizable rock features in the Joshua Tree National Park. Take your time to explore every nook and cranny–there’s some really beautiful landscape in this area. Joshua trees line the trail and there are plenty of opportunities for off-trail exploration or bouldering. This is a popular area for climbers so keep an eye out for people clinging to the side of Cap Rock. There are also a few picnic tables where you can take a break soak and up the views.
The Barker Dam loop is an easy hike through some of the most diverse desert habitat in Joshua Tree National Park. It also offers one of the best areas in Joshua Tree to bird watch, especially in the early morning near Barker Reservoir. Photographers from around the world flock here to capture wildlife shots in this desert oasis framed by impressive rock formations. From here, continue along the trail through open landscape to view the petroglyphs, which are etched into a small cave. This area is popular with climbers so watch for the spur trails that allow for greater exploration.
Other Notable Hikes
If you’ve got a little extra time, these bonus Joshua Tree hikes are worth adding to your itinerary.
Rattlesnake Canyon isn’t really a hike, it’s more of a scramble through an immense boulder field leading to some of the most interesting sections of the Park–The Wonderland of Rocks. This is not a cake-walk, it’s tough and you’ll likely come away with a few scrapes and bruises. But, the experience is second to none. You choose the route but there are some footprints along the way if prefer a path. The route becomes more technical the higher you climb, so be prepared with proper gear and know how to use it. The canyon was named rattlesnake for a reason so be vigilant and always look where you’re putting your hands.
Tip! If you’re traveling with young kids, try the short Indian Cove nature trail loop. This hike offers great views and a self-guided educational program describing desert plants and animals. The kids will love it!
The trail to Ryan Mountain is a steady climb offering panoramic views over Joshua Tree National Park and beyond. It’s one of the few Joshua Tree hikes offering elevation gain inside the Park, which is great for some exercise. Make sure to pack water because there is no shade and it can be a scorcher. If you have extra time, it’s worth tackling Ryan Mountain to gain a different perspective of the desert landscape. However, for most families, I’d opt for one of the other trails that provide a more intimate experience from within the unique boulder formations.
Other Great Resources
Make sure to check out the official website for Joshua Tree National Park.
Did you enjoy this post?
Please rate this Family Basecamp post and comment below. I’d love to hear from you! Don’t forget to click those social media icons and share this post with your family and friends.