Barker Dam Trail: Joshua Tree National Park

During my recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I laid out a list of the things I wanted to do. On the top of that list was the hike to Barker Dam, one of the only areas of the park with water and the site of a good assortment of Indian petroglyphs as well. After hiking Ryan Mountain, the Cholla Cactus Gardens and Arch Rock we decided to try and fit in Barker Dam before we headed out of the park.

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  • 1.5 miles round trip
  • 50 feet of elevation
  • Parking lot near the trailhead with bathroom


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A little history on the dam is as follows:

“The dam was constructed by early cattlemen, including C.O. Barker in 1900. It was raised in 1949 by rancher William F. Keys. It is situated between Queen Valley and the Wonderland of Rocks near the Wall Street Mill. It is a gathering place for desert wildlife, including many species of birds and Desert Bighorn Sheep. 

Getting There & Parking

The start of the hike is well marked, and if you are driving in your car, there are signs around the park that will direct you to the area where the trailhead starts. There is also a large parking lot by the trailhead that was only half full when we were there. Given that it was the end of the day, I can see this area being busier if you come on a weekend, as it is one of the most well known and family-friendly hikes in the park.

The Trail

The trail itself is less than a mile and half round trip, and it is a loop so that you never see the same thing twice. As soon as you get out of your car and start the trail, you immediately enter into an area with large rocks surrounding you on both sides.

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This hike is perfect if you are into bouldering as there are hundreds of different places you can climb and explore at every turn. However, since the sun was starting to set, we opted to stick to the trail and just see as much as we could before it got dark. The trail winds around for a little bit before dropping you out in a wide open area that makes up Barker Dam.

The Dam

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This is when we were expecting to see a beautiful desert oasis of water but were greeted by nothing but a barren landscape. After talking to some others on the trail, we were told that there is not any water there right now as it is towards the end of summer and most of it has dried up. That was a bummer as I was looking forward to seeing it, but there were still a lot of sites to see even without the water. Update Dec 2015 – I went back and there was a little water as you can see in the above photo.

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The dam itself was really cool, primarily because it was so old and was still in working condition. I also enjoyed seeing the sign right at the top of the dam that was carved in the concrete from the brothers that helped build it.

There is an old horse trough right below this as well which is still in excellent condition.

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The Petroglyphs

From there the trail heads out of the basin and into the open desert. It is a great place to see the many different types of unique plant life found in this park and especially spend some time with the Joshua Trees. When we were there, the sun was just setting behind the hills, so I was able to get some nice pictures of the sun silhouetting the Joshua Trees.

At the end of this part of the trail, right before you head back to the parking lot, there is a sign for the petroglyphs, make sure you are on the lookout for it as you do not want to miss it. The main area of the petroglyphs is right behind the sign in a big rock that appears to have a part cut out of it.

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You can actually climb up in this rock and get some great shots of the unique art, but make sure to be careful and to help preserve these unique relics. From there simply follow the trail back out to the parking lot.

In Joshua Tree National Park this is one of the most accessible but most rewarding hikes you can go on. It is simple enough for the whole family but provides enough bouldering and other adventures that even the seasoned hiker will enjoy it. I would highly recommend you check it out.

Let me know if you go in the comments as well as what you think and check out my other posts on Joshua Tree if you are looking for more things to do.

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