15 Places to Explore in Joshua Tree National Park

With over 750,000 acres to explore, Joshua Tree National Park can be a daunting park if you don’t know the best spot to see. In this post, I’m going to show you my 15 favorite places in the park. Let me know what I left off in the comments.

Video

If you want to see all of these spots in a video, check it out below.

1. Arch Rock

Arch Rock, located in the White Tank Campground, is one of my favorite places in the entire park. This short half-mile trail takes you to the arch so you can explore all around it, and it’s a great place for star photography as well.

2. Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden is a collection of Cholla cactus that spreads out as far as the eye can see in one specific area of the park. There’s a short trail that lets you get up close and personal with the Cholla cactus, but don’t get too close because they’re known as jumping cactus for a reason, and they will stick to you.

3. Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain is right in the center of the park and while it’s not the tallest mountain in Joshua Tree, Ryan Mountain is the most prominent with the beautiful 360-degree view from the summit. This hike is short but it’s incredibly steep and goes up the entire way, so don’t take it lightly. Once you get to the summit, you’ll be able to look out over the park and see the rock formations and all the Joshua trees dotting the landscape below you. It’s also a great place for sunset, but make sure you bring a flashlight for the way down.

4. Barker Dam

Barker Dam, which is the most popular trail in the park, is a short easy to access path. It’s one of the only trails in the park that has water you can see and it takes you to a historic dam from the early 1900’s. If you happen to go in the springtime when it’s filled with water, it’s awesome to see the reflections and the rocks behind it. If you only have a short amount of time in the park, this is a great trail as it lets you see some of Joshua Trees’ best features such as the Joshua Trees and all the crazy rock formations.

5. Wall Street Mill

Wall Street Mill is my fifth stop, and it’s accessed from the same parking lot as Barker Dam. The hike to Wall Street Mill is two miles round-trip; on the way, you’ll go by a few abandoned rusted old cars, which are cool for photography. Then when you get to the mill itself, you can walk all around it, and it’s actually pretty well-preserved. You can’t go in it, but you can get some great views walking around the historic structure, and it’s a fun short hike in Joshua Tree.

6. Key’s Ranch

Keys Desert Queen Ranch is an old homestead from the early 1900’s that’s only accessed by a volunteer led tour a few days a week. The tour is generally Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but check the website for details. This tour books up fast, and there’s only one each day. In order to get a ticket for it, you have to go to the visitor center in Twentynine Palms. I recommend getting there early if you really want to see it as the tickets do sell out fast. When you get to Keys Ranch, the guide will take you past the locked gate and then walk you around the property giving you tons of history over the course of about an hour and a half. It’s a great tour, and it’s well worth the $10 to see this well-preserved homestead in the middle of the park.

7. Rock Formations

Recommendation number seven is taking time to explore some of the parks awesome rock formations. Pretty much each one of these could be their own stop, but I’m bundling them all together so this is not a massive list, here are a few that I recommend you check out.

Skull Rock

Heart Rock

Cap Rock

Penguin Rock

 

8. Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley is also one of the most popular hikes in the park, but for good reason. It’s a beautiful place to explore, and it’s a short one and a half miles. Walking up from the parking lot takes you in to a large valley surrounded almost entirely by rocks. It’s one of those places that remind you of a smuggler’s campground from back in the cowboy days. It’s awesome to just walk through the valley, look at the different rocks, and even hang out and watch the sunset.

9. Lost Horse Mine

Lost Horse Mine is one of the longer hikes on this list, but it takes you to the best-preserved stamp mill in the park. At four miles round-trip and a gradual incline most of the way, this is not a hike you want to do in the summer, but it’s a great winter hike, and the payoff is fantastic. The Lost Horse Mine is completely enclosed in a gate so you can’t get too close to it, but you can still get great views of it from all around the different sides. Also, you can walk up the hill right behind the Lost Horse Mine and get a great view of the entire park.

10. Key’s View

Keys Viewpoint is a great vista that looks out over the Coachella Valley and down into Palm Springs. This is a really popular place that fills up fast for sunset as the sun sets right behind the mountain in front of you. There’s a short little path that takes you to a bench in an overlook, and it’s a great 15 to 20-minute stop in the park or longer if you’re there during sunset.

11. Geology Tour Road

Joshua Tree is one of those places that you can only access a small amount of from the main roads. Geology Tour Road requires you to have a four-wheel drive car, but the 18 miles is relatively easy for those not familiar with off-roading. Along the way, you get out into the backcountry of Joshua Tree National Park, away from all the people and can see a lot of unique interesting views plus the way the park looked back in the old days. At the nine mile mark, there’s a small dam that you can look at, and you can get a map from the visitor center to look at all the different points of interest along the way.

12. Mastodon Peak

Mastodon Peak, in the southern part of Joshua Tree National Park, is a four mile round trip hike that takes you to the top of a small hill, and gives you great view over the park. I like this hike because it’s not too long, and there’s a great payoff at the end of the peak. Plus on the way back, there’s also an old mine that you can see with the mineshaft and some of the remnants of the other structures that used to be there. If you’re coming from the Palm Springs area, this is a great first stop. If you’re coming from the northern part though, you might not want to go all the way down here just to do this hike down.

13. Desert Queen Mine

There are lots of mines in Joshua Tree that you can explore, especially if you have some of the other maps, but Desert Queen Mine is on the park map, and it’s a relatively easy one to find. From the dirt parking lot, it’s about a quarter mile walk to an overlook that lets you look down on the mine and all of the mine shafts that scatter the hill. Or you can add an extra half mile and walk down through the valley to go see the mine shafts and some of the old mining tools in person. While, it doesn’t have this stamp mill that Lost Horse Mine has; it’s still a cool place to explore in the park.

14. Samuelson Rocks

For my last two recommendations, I would consider checking out a book like “On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park” as it’s a great guide to a lot of the hidden spots that you might not see on the park map. The first of these is Samuelson Rocks. This hike has no signs and no official trail so you’re going to want to do some research if you want to find this spot. But once you get there, the small hill holds seven rocks with quotes that a man wrote on them in the 1920s. It’s a fun place to walk around, explore, and see all of the old quotes, some of which are pretty hilarious.

15. Eagle Cliff Mine

My last recommendation is the Eagle Cliff mine, and this is another one of those spots you’re going to have to do a lot of additional research in order to find. The Eagle Cliff Mine is one of the better preserved mines in the park, and it has an awesome old home that’s made of three boulders and bricks laid in between. The little home has been well preserved with some old jars and even a full window that’s still there. If you go, be respectful to the area so that others have a chance to explore as well. Make sure you have a map and a GPS track so that you do not get lost.

That’s it, my 15 recommendations for Joshua Tree National Park. Do remember that Joshua Tree is a desert park so you don’t want to do a lot of these hikes during the summertime. The best time to explore the park is in the winter and the spring because the weather is a lot better. If you do go in the summer, only do short hikes, take tons of water, make sure people know where you’re going, and all of the normal things for hiking in the desert. Let me know if there’s anything that I left off that you like doing in Joshua Tree National Park in the comments.

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