The best Joshua Tree National Park offers some of the most spectacular and diverse hiking in the California desert. It has over 20 hiking trails scattered across its vast 790,000 acres. The unique landscapes, desert plants, rock formations, and expansive views make every hike an unforgettable adventure.
If you’re looking to lace up your boots and hit the trails on your next trip to Joshua Tree, here are four of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park has to offer.
List of Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Forest Waiting To Discover
1. Ryan Mountain Trail
The payoff? Panoramic views that stretch all the way to the Salton Sea. The Ryan Mountain Trail delivers the most epic views available in a fairly short, accessible hike.
At just 1.5 miles each way with an elevation gain of only 900 feet, it’s a path easily tackled by most.
However, be aware that as the best hikes in Joshua Tree, parking at the trailhead fills up fast in the high season. As you ascend the trail up Ryan Mountain, you’ll walk through stands of towering Joshua trees, massive boulder piles, and formations of weathered granite.
Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive bighorn sheep that inhabit the park. Once you reach the summit, the 360-degree vistas showcase the entirety of the park and beyond.
On clear days, you can even spot the peak of Mount San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California, rising in the distance. The Ryan Mountain Trail lets you take in all of the majesty of Joshua Tree without a grueling hike.
2. Mastodon Peak Loop Trail
The next in our list of best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park is this Mastodon Peak Loop trial. For a taste of the surreal, make your way to the Mastodon Peak Loop. This 3-mile hike, while short in length, does involve some steep sections of trail with an overall elevation change of around 600 feet.
However, navigating the switchbacks is worth it as you’ll be greeted by the alien landscape of Mastodon Peak.
Large granite boulders balance in improbable positions, Joshua trees stand like sentinels, and the remains of gold mines tower eerily on the hillsides. As you circle the Mastodon Loop counter-clockwise, highlight sights include Eagle Crag Peak and the Lost Horse Mine Ruins.
Keep your eye on the south as you complete the last mile, where glimpses of the Salton Sea shimmer in the distance. While named for elephant-like creatures that went extinct during the last ice age, the only wildlife you’ll spot is lizards, the occasional desert hare, or nearby rock climbers scaling the boulders.
For geology buffs and photography lovers, the Mastodon Peak Loop Trail offers something entirely unique with its stacks of precarious rocks and alien structures. So, don’t forget to visit one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree with your partner.
3. Lost Palms Oasis Trail
Looking to cool off after the hot and dry desert trails? Then make the 7.5-mile round trip trek to Lost Palms Oasis, one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree. Fed by natural desert springs, this true oasis stands in stark contrast to the arid badlands that surround it.
The payoff at the end features a postcard-perfect scene of around 100 California fan palms swaying above crystal-clear pools of water.
As you hike gradually downhill to the oasis through canyons dotted with desert plants, keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep or mule deer frequenting the area.
Once you reach Lost Palms Oasis and take in the sight of tall palms dotting a few verdant acres, you’ll feel you’ve discovered a secret paradise.
Relax alongside the natural spring before heading back out into the desert landscape. Since the oasis remains shaded most of the day, the Lost Palms trail provides the perfect respite from the heat.
And, as we said before, this is one of the epic and best hikes in Joshua Tree National Forest, so be sure to make it there earlier in the day before the high temperatures hit.
4. Boy Scout Trail
For those up for a challenging, full-day adventure that showcases epic vistas and curious desert landscapes, the Boy Scout Trail fits the bill at 16 miles round trip. It is one of the most popular, adventurous, and best hikes in Joshua Tree.
As you navigate your way around rock formations, through washes, and past spiky Joshua trees and cholla cactus gardens, you’ll feel far from civilization.
Highlights along the way before reaching the turnaround point of Indian Cove include a hike through Quail Mountain Pass and views of Ibex Peak looming large over the trail.
Built and maintained by area Boy Scouts starting in the 1930s, this historic hiking route features some areas of steep trail and rocky footing.
However, those who complete the full journey are rewarded with spectacular landscapes and scenery that few get a chance to admire. For a true desert experience and serious workout, claim a spot on the Boy Scout Trail.