Must-Do as You Drive Through Joshua Tree National Park

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park and wondering what you’ll see? This is the ultimate guide to the iconic sights and short hikes that are accessible off the main park road. Perfect for getting the most out of a day trip!

1. Hidden Valley Trail

Once you enter the park through the West entrance station, you’ll first reach Hidden Valley Picnic Area. Turn right, off the main road and into the parking area.

The Hidden Valley Trail starts near the bathroom. It’s a 1 mile loop, with about 100 feet of elevation gain, and a dirt trail. It’s a great introduction to Joshua Tree National Park as it takes you among the many boulders and unique rock formations. Keep your eyes peeled for rock climbers around the area!

2. Barker Dam

After Hidden Valley Picnic Area, an immediate left will take you to Barker Dam loop. This trail will bring you deeper into Joshua Tree’s beautiful landscape. It is a 1.5-mile loop, with 50 feet of elevation gain, and a sandy trail. It features a lake (at least when I went in winter) and of course the namesake Barker Dam, which was once used by ranchers.

Plus, petroglyphs are easily visible on a concave boulder just off the main trail. Don’t be fooled by what looks like an extra side-trail, you can find the petroglyphs immediately behind the sign, so go check them out.

3. Jumbo Rocks

Back on the main road, the next major campground you’ll want to visit is Jumbo Rocks Campground. Stop by campsite #19 to stand at the amphitheater and take pictures of this beautiful rock formation. (You can turn this stop into a hike if you want, as there is a 1.7-mile nature loop.)

4. Skull Rock

Continue along the main road, and you’ll see signs for Skull Rock almost immediately. On the right-hand side of the road, you’ll be able to see the famous rock from the car.

If you hop out of your ride to get a closer look, it’ll take you less than a minute to reach. So this one doesn’t count as a hike but on the other side of the road is Discovery Trail, which is a 0.7-mile loop worth checking out. It gives a view of Face Rock and takes you to fixed binoculars to peer around the amazing landscape with.

5. Arch Rock

Next, follow signs for White Tank Campground, which is where the famous arch rock resides. Here, you’ll need to drive to campsite #9 and cross your fingers that there’s an open parking spot in the dirt lot. From this trailhead, the hike to arch rock is an easy 0.3-miles (one way).

6. Cholla Cactus Garden

After you’ve enjoyed Arch Rock and are ready to get back on the road, drive deeper into the park to find a surprisingly dense field of Cholla Cactus. This is a 0.25-mile loop through dirt and some wooden bridges. Use caution here. These are called jumping cacti for a reason, so stay on the trail, and don’t encourage any wandering hands.

In Total

This is the furthest that this guide will take you into the park. So whether you decide to continue on, or turn around and exit the way you came is yours to decide. Adventure on.

If you visited each spot I’ve listed, you’ll explore 6 iconic spots with only about 4 miles of hiking! Sounds like the perfect day trip to me! As always, remember to bring lots of water and snacks. Plus, try to make the park cleaner and more beautiful with your visit.

Now that you’ve seen many of the main sights, you can take a leisurely exit drive feeling accomplished.

Comment Below:

Leave me a comment letting me know which sight was your favorite, I’d love to know!

Stay tuned for more Joshua Tree Blogs coming soon!

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