Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful place filled with a huge variety of mesmerizing desert landscapes. It is best known for the unique and Dr. Suess-like Joshua Trees which are plentiful in many areas of the park. It is also well know for rock climbing and that is true even if you don’t have a rope! There are tons of rocks to scramble over which my kids enjoyed for hours. There are also lots of options for short and interesting trails for little hikers. Here are my recommendations for the top 5 hikes for kids at Joshua Tree National Park. Check out the park website for a map. Be sure to change it from “park tiles” to “brochure map” for easier reading. If you are looking for other great activities for kids at Joshua Tree, check out my post here.
If you can only do one trail than I recommend Hidden Valley as my top hike at Joshua Tree. It is a 1.0 mile loop trail. It starts by meadering over some rocks with lots of climbing and scrambling options. Then the trail loops around 55 acres of desert beauty surrounded by large rock formations. It brings you back to the trailhead which has a parking lot and pit toilets.
My kids had a blast scrambling over the rocks on this trail. Be sure to keep a close eye on them, some rocks are higher than others. We went clockwise (left at the trailhead) which was perfect for us because the last part of the trail had tons of scarmabling options. Though my kids were getting tired this piqued their interest and motivated them to keep going. Some people recommend going counter clockwise so as to avoid the uphill section at the very end of the trail.
If you can only do one hike and don’t think you can cover as much distance I would recommend Cap Rock. It is right in the middle of the park and offers amazing views of the famed Joshua Trees in every direction. The path is well marked and the loop is only 0.4 miles total. There are plenty of large rocks for climbing on but if you stay strictly on the trail it should be mangeable for even very small legs. There is a parking lot, pit toilets, and picnic tables at the trailhead.
The Discovery Trail was the top hike recommended for kids at Joshua Tree by the ranger we spoke with at the visitor center. It did not disapoint. This is a trail “for kids by kids” as it was constructed and planned by school children. There are interesting kid friendy features including some narrow rock alleys and plenty of rocks to scramble over. There is varied vegetation but not many Joshua Trees compared to Cap Rock. Perhaps half way through the trail there is a pair of binoculars to check out the sights.
Unfortaentely, this trailhead only has road parking and it is popular so it can fill up fast. The trailhead is directly across from the famous Skull Rock. This is cool as you can take a look but it does make finding parking a bit harder. There is not a toilet at this trailhead. You can of course use the great outdoors as a privy if needed. The general rule of thumb at Joshua Tree National Park is to make sure you pee on the sand not the vegetation.
We chose the Barker Damn hike as we were told it is one of the places that you may be able to see the wild big horn sheep and my youngest desperately wanted to see these. Sadly we didn’t find any but the hike was fun regardless. The best chance to see the sheep is early in the morning or just before sunset. While we were the first group on the trail that day, perhaps we still didn’t start quite early enough.
The trail is just over a mile loop and goes past remnants of a man made dam. It no longer holds water but seeing the history was interesting. The rocky views were beautiful as well. Towards one end of the loop there are petroglyphs which were cool to see as well. There is a parking lot and pit toilet at the trail head.
The Arch Rock trail is the longest hike on my list of top 5 hikes for kids at Joshua Tree. It is an out and back trail that is a total of 1.4 mile for the round trip. The beginning section is flat and then it leads to the namesake Arch rock and also the heart rock. This trail like many kid friendly ones has lots of rock climbing options but it also has some flat areas at the start.
Also consider the short 0.2 mile Chollo Cactus Garden but keep your kids close! The Chollo Catci are “jumping” cacti so if you brush up against them they will stick to you and they are sharp!
They Keys View is a very short trail, 0.25 miles, that gives some great views. The day we went it was too windy for the kids to really enjoy but I appreciated the view. It’s such a short trail you can’t go wrong.
If you are coming from the south, check out the Bajada Trail to learn about the Colorado Desert. There is lots of sand and it is a great place to get some energy out on your way into or out of the park. There are no Joshua Trees in this section of the park.
For more detailed information on each trail check out All Trails. Be sure to look at this ahead of time, the park doesn’t not have reliable cell service. Check out more activities to do with kids at Joshua Tree for young kids here or read about our experience rock climbing with young kids at Joshua Tree.
It is so nice to see so many options for shorter hikes in this beautiful National Park. What are your top favorite hikes with kids at Joshua Tree National park?