California Hike Travel Tips

Little Nugget’s Guide to Exploring Joshua Tree National Park in One Full Day

Important Note: At first, I didn’t really enjoy Joshua Tree National Park, but spending a full day here (at my own pace, of course) made me appreciate this park more than before.

Named for its native plant (Yucca Brevifoila), Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect outdoor spot for hikers, climbers, and tourists alike.

From its scenery of the desert to camping under the starry night sky, this national park is a great place to spend a few nights to truly enjoy its beauty. However, if you’re like me and in a total time crunch, spending a full day is enough to appreciate the beauty of the desert too!

Here is my guide of things to do at Joshua Tree National Park for one, full day:

Hidden Valley

This interpretive hike takes you around the loop surrounded by stacks of boulder which was believed to be a cattle rustler’s hideout. This makes for a fun hike as you have the option to climb the big boulders along the trail. If you start this hike pretty early or late in the afternoon, the views of the sunset/sunrise are absolutely gorgeous.

Distance: 1 mile loop

Elevation Gain: 75 ft.

Hours: 1-1.5 hour

Barker Dam

Barker Dam is one of my favorite hikes at Joshua Tree since this hike not only has an actual water source, but a petroglyph too!

This hike has a fascinating history as this dam used to be a water reservoir for cattle ranchers. In the early 1900s, Barker & Shay Cattle Company constructed the dam in its natural basin. Rancher Bill Keys later made improvements to the dam.

Distance: 1.3 mile loop

Elevation Gain: 50 ft.

Time: 1-1.5 hours

Skull Rock

Ok I admit…Skull Rock is a really cool spot to take a quick photo since the rock looks like…well, a skull.

However, the crazy amount of tourists here are no joke!

But…if you really want to avoid the crowds, I suggest hiking from Skull Rock to Jumbo Rocks Campground. It’s a nice, short 2 mile hike where you can enjoy the solitude and climb on top of huge boulders.

Split Rock to Face Rock Loop

Popular spot for rock climbing, Split Rock is also an awesome hike if you want to see some cool rock formations. Just use your imagination and guess what those huge rocks in the distance looks like.

Ooohhh…looks like an alien.

I call this “Mitten Rock!”

Also, make sure to check out the huge split rock standing next to the picnic table before the hike. It’s a sight to behold and a fun place to explore especially behind the rock.

Also if you want to add more into your hike, check out Face Rock which does resemble a profile of a human face!

Distance: 3 mile loop

Elevation Gain: 170 ft.

Time: 2-3 hours

Cholla Cactus Garden

This short stroll takes you around the cholla cacti (aka Teddy Bear cactus). But this fluffy-looking cactus is not one you want to touch. The slightest touch and the cacti needles can penetrate the flesh which is excruciatingly painful. Make sure to grab a free brochure to read more information about the desert plants and the wildlife that dwell here.

Distance: 0.25 mile loop

Elevation: 10 ft.

Time: 10-20 minutes

Arch Rock

Just blending in with the tourists.

This is a really fascinating hike in Southern California since there’s rarely any natural arches at Joshua Tree National Park. The trail starts off at White Tank Campground next to site 9. From there, it’s a pretty easy walk to get to the natural arch. Just make sure to avoid the crowds and start early!

Distance: 0.5 mile loop

Elevation: 30 ft.

Time: 25-45 minutes

Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? What are your favorite places to explore there? Let me know by commenting down below.

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