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.
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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!
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!).
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.
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 Facilities:
- Highway parking.
- No toilets.
- No drinking water.
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.
There’s a massive rock near the Split Rock trailhead which somehow has been split in two, thus the name 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.
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 Trail Facilities:
- There is a dedicated parking lot with picnic tables and toilets.
- No drinking water.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
- Skull Rock Trail Map
- Split Rock Trail Map
- Keys View Lookout Trail Map
- Cholla Cactus Garden Trail Map
- Arch Rock Nature Trail Map
- Oasis of Mara Trail Map
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:
- Oasis Visitor Center
- Black Rock Canyon Campground
- Cottonwood Campground
- West Entrance
- Indian Cove Ranger Station
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.
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