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6 Kid Friendly Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is one of America’s great places in Southern California. Just because the park is raw wilderness it doesn’t mean it is only for hardcore outdoorsy types; there are many kid friendly hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is a rugged, mountainous desert wilderness, yet it’s an easy drive car from Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs.

Your kids will think Split Rock Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

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Kid Friendly Joshua Tree National Park Hikes

We spent every minute our 4 days in Joshua Tree with kids outside and on the hiking trails. Here are our favorite six easy hikes in Joshua Tree:

1. Skull Rock Trail

Skull Rock is a pretty fun thing to do in Joshua Tree with kids. It’s an aptly named roadside attraction featuring, you guessed it – a rock which looks like a human skull!

Image of Skull Rock - Joshua Tree National Park, California

Skull Rock is actually a pretty cool illusion if viewed from the right angle. 95% of visitors to the Skull Rock roadside attraction simply park their car, spend 2 minutes taking pictures, then hop back into their cars. Which is a shame as one of best hikes in Joshua Tree is right there!

The 1.7 mile (2.7km) Skull Rock Trail hike literally begins right under the nose of Skull Rock and winds its way through a magical Joshua Tree National Park landscape.

Kids love playing and running around magical landscapes like this, climbing up and over boulders, allowing their little imaginations to go wild. Try playing a game where everyone tries to find boulders which look like things; our favorite was “butt rock” (see if you can find it!).

kid friendly hikes Joshua Tree National Park - Skull Rock hike

There’s plenty of interpretive signs along the Skull Rock trail with lots of interesting information about the Joshua Tree National Park flora and fauna.

Skull Rock Trail is a short, flat & easy Joshua Tree hike, so almost anyone can do it. There is one tight squeeze through a few boulders with a step down – you may need help if you are mobility challenged.

Is there easy hiking in Joshua Tree National Park? Try the Skull Rock hike

If you stop for the Skull Rock roadside attraction, don’t miss this great, yet easy hike – it’s one of the best Joshua Tree hikes for families.

Skull Rock Trail is one of the easy best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

Skull Rock Trail Facilities:

  • Highway parking.
  • No toilets.
  • No drinking water.

Skull Rock Trailhead

2. Split Rock Trail

We enjoyed Skull Rock Trail so much that we decided to hike the nearby Split Rock Trail too. At 2.5 miles (4km) long, the Split Rock Trail is a bit longer than Skull Rock trail, but it’s very flat and really not that hard. Split Rock Trail is a very enjoyable family hike in Joshua Tree National Park.

Even though it's easy, Split Rock Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

There’s a massive rock near the Split Rock trailhead which somehow has been split in two, thus the name Split Rock.

One of the best Joshua Tree hikes begins at Split Rock

The southern half of the Split Rock trail winds through a magical rocky wonderland, with plenty of opportunities for kids to climb and jump on the trailside boulders and rock formations.

Many of the best hikes in Joshua Tree are easy and kid-friendly

The northern half of the Split Rock hiking trail opens up a bit and is less rocky, allowing you to more fully appreciate the beauty of the Joshua Tree desert landscape.

If you are looking for some scenic, easy hiking in Joshua Tree, you will not go wrong with the Split Rock trail. It was one of our favorite Joshua Tree hikes!

Split Rock is one of the best family friendly hikes in joshua tree

Split Rock Trail Facilities:

  • There is a dedicated parking lot with picnic tables and toilets.
  • No drinking water.

Split Rock Trailhead

3. Keys View Lookout

Want to see some incredible Southern California views without much effort? The Keys View lookout is not far from the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park boundary. It’s location and elevation provide amazing views looking southwest at the Coachella Valley.

Coachella Valley as seen from Keys View Joshua Tree National Park

On a clear day at the Joshua Tree Keys View Lookout you can see Palm Springs, the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea and the towering mountains Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio.

The paved 0.25 mile (0.4km) Keys View Loop walking trail takes you to a few benches and an interpretive sign explaining what you are looking at.

things to do in Joshua Tree with kids - Keys View Scenic Lookout

We visited Keys Loop on a day with wall-to-wall blue sky, but the views in the lower Coachella Valley were a bit hazy, but the snow-capped mountains surrounding Joshua Tree National Park were impressive.

Joshua Tree National Park with kids - Keys View Lookout easy walk

The Keys View Lookout isn’t really Joshua Tree hiking, but this easy walk provides some of the best views in Joshua Tree National Park.

Keys View Lookout Facilities:

  • Large parking lot with a bathroom.
  • No drinking water.

Keys View Lookout Trailhead

4. Cholla Cactus Garden

Of all the cactus species found within the Joshua Tree National Park, the Cholla Cactus is the most showy. It’s impossible not to notice the Cholla Cacti as you drive or hike through the Joshua Tree National Park as the barbs on these cacti literally glow in the California sun. It’s quite an amazing sight to see a plant glow in the sunlight; I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it in my travels.

image of Cholla Cactus - Joshua Tree National Park CA

If you like these cacti (as we did), the Cholla Cactus Garden is a fun thing to do with kids in Joshua Tree. The Cholla Cactus Garden is an area within the Joshua Tree National Park where thousands of Cholla Cactus plants grow. On a sunny day, the effect is stunning.

There’s an easy 0.25 mile (0.4km) Cholla Cactus Garden walking trail through the cacti patch. Don’t be fooled by the “teddy bear cactus” nickname of the Cholla Cactus, as their barbs are known to be very painful to remove. Do not let kids touch them!

For unique family friendly hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, try the Cholla Cactus Garden

The Joshua Tree National Park cactus garden is definitely worth a visit on a sunny day as it’s one of the most unique Joshua Tree hiking trails.

Cholla Cactus Garden Facilities:

  • Dedicated parking lot.
  • No restrooms.
  • No drinking water facilities.

Cholla Cactus Garden Trailhead

5. Arch Rock Nature Trail

Did you know there’s a tiny bit of Arches National Park within Joshua Tree National Park? You’ll find a a small, but attractive natural rock arch on the Arch Rock Nature Trail – one of most interesting easy Joshua Tree hikes in the national park.

kid-friendly hikes - Joshua Tree National Park - Arch Rock Trail

The Arch Rock Nature Trail is a short 1.2 mile (2km), flat walk through desert scrub to an outcrop of rocks. There’s a loop trail through these rocks similar in nature to the Skull Rock and Split Rock hiking trails, but what makes this Joshua Tree walk unique is the natural rock arch.

Arch Rock Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree for families

Watch for the trail sign which identifies where to leave the Arch Rock hiking trail to see the arch. It’s usually pretty easy to find as there’s lots of people lingering around Arch Rock, waiting for their turn to get their picture.

The area around Arch Rock is like a rocky little maze. The opportunity to climb and explore the unique rock formations in this area make it a fun thing to do with kids in Joshua Tree National Park.

fun activities in Joshua Tree National Park for kids - Arch Rock

Arch Rock Trail Facilities:

  • A dedicated parking lot.
  • No restrooms or toilets.
  • No drinking water.
  • The White Tank Campground is right next to Arch Rock.

Arch Rock Nature Hike Trailhead

6. Oasis of Mara Trail

On our way from our Joshua Tree Airbnb into the national park, we stopped at the Joshua Tree National Park Oasis Visitor Center to ask the rangers for tips to spot a Roadrunner in the wild. They told that one of the best locations to spot a Roadrunner in the Joshua Tree National Park was actually right at the Oasis Visitor Center.

On the east end of the Oasis Visitor Center is a short, paved interpretive trail called the Oasis of Mara.

National park rangers recommend the Oasis of Mara Trail to find roadrunners in Joshua Tree, CA

I’ll be honest with you – the Oasis of Mara is one of the least attractive hikes in Joshua Tree, I wouldn’t recommend it to you unless you want to see a Roadrunner in the wild. We trudged through an otherwise unappealing hike, keeping our eyes peeled on the desert landscape looking for roadrunners.

Try the Oasis of Mara hike to find Roadrunners in Joshua Tree
Roadrunner

We thought we saw a whole bunch of Roadrunners in the distance, darting from one shrub to another, but we later discovered that they were just Gambel’s Quail birds. I shouldn’t sound disappointed, the Gambel’s Quail are really nice-looking birds, but we were hoping for roadrunners.

We took our kids to the Oasis of Mara hiking trail to spot roadrunners, but only found Gambel's Quail
Gambel’s Quail

That’s just the way it goes with wildlife – sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. It’s always fun to try!

Oasis of Mara Trail Facilities:

  • A dedicated parking lot.
  • They have toilets.
  • They have drinking water.

Joshua Tree Oasis Visitor Center Parking Lot

Oasis of Mara Trailhead

Joshua Tree National Park Hiking Maps

The National Parks Service has a paper map available with many of the Joshua Tree National Park hikes on it. We found this paper map of Joshua Tree hiking trails to be useful for planning our outings, but it’s not super detailed.

You can also view an online Joshua Tree National Park map with many of the Joshua Tree hiking trails.

Split Rock Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree for kids

We always use the AllTrails hiking app when we go out with our kids as the downloaded map and your phone’s GPS help you find the trailhead and stay on the trail once hiking. AllTrails has all 6 of these Joshua Tree hiking maps (and many more) available online and for download on their app:

Split Rock Trail is a must see in Joshua Tree National Park

Drinking Water Locations in Joshua Tree National Park

Many of the trailheads in Joshua Tree National Park have no water stations, but there are several throughout the park. You’ll find drinking water in Joshua Tree National Park at these locations:

We recommend hiking the Split Rock Trail when you visit Joshua Tree with kids

The NPS recommends each person drink one gallon of water (4L) per day to replace fluid loss from sweat in the arid desert. A water bladder is an excellent way to bring a lot of water on these kid friendly hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.

What to Bring for a Walk in Joshua Tree National Park

We do a ton of hiking with our kids and know that bringing the right gear along is important. Equally important is not bringing too much unnecessary gear.

Specific to these easy Joshua Tree kid friendly hikes, we’d like to reiterate the importance of having hydration packs, sun hats, sunscreen and lots of water.

A sun hat is essential for safety while hiking Joshua Tree NP

We have an entire post full of all our best tips for hiking with kids and this one with all the best hiking gear for kids.

Joshua Tree National Park with Kids

Palm Springs with Kids

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