Travel | February 19, 2020 6:44 pm

The 5 Best Hikes at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees, wildflowers, boulder piles, and more

joshua tree

Joshua Tree National Park has some of the most captivating natural features in the country — chief among them, the Mojave Desert’s singular trees, also known as Yucca brevifolia.

Joshua Tree can be tricky to make the most of: Sky-high temperatures make a summer trip less than ideal, while the park’s popularity means its most appealing sites can feel crowded (even though it’s the 15th-biggest national park, one spot above Yosemite). These are the five best trails at Joshua Tree, offering something for everyone — whether you’re looking for a quick nature trail (around staggering boulder piles) or a three-day trek across the park’s farthest reaches.

1. Ryan Mountain Trail

In brief: This is one of the park’s most popular hikes, so you won’t find much solitude among the Joshua trees (your correspondent took photos for no fewer than three separate parties at the peak’s summit) — but it’s popular for a reason. The main trouble here is overcrowding, as the elevation gain is slow and steady — appropriate for nearly all levels of hikers. And those views!
Elevation: 1050 feet
Distance: 3 miles

2. Panorama Loop

In brief: It’s worth asking rangers if the cacti will be blooming along this route that passes through Black Rock Canyon and up Warren Peak. The views of the surrounding desert are fantastic. This is a great choice slightly later in the season — the higher elevations take the sting out of the heat, and treasures await those who get lucky with the wildflower blooms.
Elevation: 1100 feet
Distance: 6.6 miles

3. Cap Rock Nature Trail

In brief: A fantastic option for hikers who can’t handle serious mileage, the trail at Cap Rock winds around the titular rock foundation, one of the park’s more unusual attractions. Along the way, they’ll get an up-close look at boulder piles, Joshua trees, and wildflowers, if you get the timing right.
Elevation: 20 feet
Distance: .5 mil

4. California Riding and Hiking Trail

In brief: The absolute best way to experience Joshua Tree, this three-day hike tours a huge portion of the park. Consider the cut-off point for this hike March or April, depending on the season — go much later and the daytime temps will making hiking an often-dangerous misery. Even in the cooler season, you’ll need to carefully work out resupplies/water drops. Come in February or March for wildflowers.
Elevation: 3175 feet
Distance: 37.6 miles

5. Willow Hole Trail

In brief: This is a superior pick if you want some distance but (very) little elevation. Along the way, you’ll pass Joshua trees, rock formations, wildflowers, and wildlife — including the occasional bighorn sheep.
Elevation: 246 feet
Distance: 7.2 miles