If the main areas of Joshua Tree National Park are all starting to look the same, we recommend a family outing over to the Black Rock Canyon region. The landscape in Black Rock Canyon looks refreshingly different than the rest of Joshua Tree National Park. There’s quite a few kid-friendly hikes in the Black Rock Canyon region of Joshua Tree National Park, including the Panorama Loop Trail.
The Panorama Loop Trail begins in the Black Rock Campground. The first thing you’ll notice about Black Rock Canyon is that the Joshua Trees look so robust and healthy, they make the ones in the rest of Joshua Tree NP look weak and spindly by comparison. If for no other reason, you should take a quick trip to Back Rock Canyon just to see these magnificent Joshua Trees.
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Panorama Loop Trail Overview
We began our hike on the “Burnt Hill Trail” which begins at Black Rock Campground site # 30. In addition to all the healthy Joshua Trees, the terrain is also noticeably richer in plant life, giving the whole Black Rock Canyon area less of a desert-like vibe, a nice change from the rest of Joshua Tree National Park.
After 1 mile (1.6km) you’ll transition from the Burnt Hill Trail to the southward track of Black Rock Canyon Trail. This sandy trail is 2-4 people wide, making it an excellent trail for family walks. It’s so much better when family or friends can walk side-by-side on a hike.
After a short while, the Black Rock Canyon Trail leaves the open meadow and enters the hills, where the terrain becomes more attractive and rockier.
At the 2 mile mark (3.3km), you’ll leave the Black Rock Canyon Trail and enter the Panorama Loop Trail. The Joshua Tree National Park map recommends hiking the Panorama Loop trail in a counter-clockwise direction, so that is what we did. We passed tons of people hiking the Panorama Loop in the clockwise direction, so who’s to say which is best?
The valley becomes more intimate and narrow in the Panorama Loop Trail. It’s filled with very beautiful pinyon pines, juniper trees and oaks growing alongside patches of uniquely marbled rock with the sound of birdsong in the air completing the natural ambiance.
As you near the higher elevations of the Panorama Loop hike, you’ll enter large grassy meadows where blades of grass seem to glow in the bright California sun. The brilliant grass is only interrupted by Joshua Trees, which are scattered randomly about the hillsides. (If you are hiking Panorama Loop counter-clockwise, be sure to look back every now and then for amazing views of the nearby snow-capped mountains).
As you reach the southern leg of the Panorama Loop Trail, the panoramic views start to appear. On a clear day you’ll be able to see the Coachella Valley and the surrounding hills and snow-capped mountains.
It was wall-to-wall blue sky the day we visited Black Rock Canyon, but the Coachella Valley was obscured by low-lying cloud (or was it smog? It was white and looked like cloud, but it got browner as you followed it in the general direction of Los Angeles. I’m choosing to remember it as low-lying cloud…).
Even without clear views of Coachella Valley, the surrounding hills and mountains were quite beautiful and made the effort all worthwhile. The Panorama Loop hike provided a much-needed change of scenery after spending two full days experiencing the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park.
Panorama Loop Hike Stats
Distance: The Panorama Loop trail is a barbell shaped hike with a loop at the beginning (Burnt Hill Trail), a loop at the far end of the hike (Panorama Loop Trail), connected by a there-and-back in the middle (Black Rock Canyon Trail). The full round-trip distance of the Panorama Loop Trail is 6.6 miles / 10.6km.
Elevation Gain: The elevation gain on of the Panorama Loop hike is slow and steady for most of the distance. It’s barely noticeably until you reach the southern end of the Panorama Loop, and then it becomes steep for a short period.
The total elevation gain on this hike sounds scarier than it actually is at 1,100 feet / 336m. Spreading it over the 3.3 miles / 5.3km of ‘uphill’ hiking, it’s only 333 feet of elevation gain per mile (63m per km) which is hardly noticeable.
Difficulty: We’d rate Panorama Loop Trail as ‘moderate’, although the NPS rates this hike as ‘strenuous’. The distance of the Panorama Loop hike is likely to be harder for most than the elevation gain. To be honest, we felt this was one of the easiest ‘strenuous’ hikes we’ve ever done in a US National Park.
Duration: It took us 4.5 hours of hiking to complete the Panorama Loop hike with our kids (aged 4 & 6), and 5.25 hours including breaks. This is faster than our usual pace, likely because the elevation gain was so gradual for most of the hike. People without kids slowing them down can expect to complete the Panorama Loop trail in about half the time.
Panorama Loop Trail Map
The Panorama Loop Trail is actually three separate Black Rock Canyon hikes connected into a single hike. We recommend downloading the Panorama Loop Trail map to your phone using the AllTrails hiking app. We use AllTrails for all our family hikes around the world.
Panorama Loop Trail Location
How to Get There: The Panorama Loop Hike is found in the Black Rock Canyon of the Joshua Tree National Park near the Black Rock Campground.
The Black Rock Canyon area is tucked away in the northwest corner of Joshua Tree. It was a 30 minute drive from our Airbnb in Twentynine Palms.
You can park at the Black Rock Canyon Campground Ranger Station, or if that’s full, there’s parking spots near the entrance to the campground.
Key locations in Google Maps:
- Panorama Loop Trail Parking Lot (Black Rock Ranger Station)
- Panorama Loop Trail Parking Lot (Entrance to Black Rock Canyon Campground)
- Panorama Loop Trailhead Location (campsite 30)
Panorama Loop Hike Highlights
After spending two days exploring Joshua Tree National Park along Park Boulevard, seeing really healthy and robust Joshua Trees was a real treat.
This is not to slag the other Joshua Trees, they are really beautiful too, but I’m glad I saw the Black Rock Canyon Joshua Trees last as they were much nicer than the ones in the rest of the park.
The well-treed, rocky terrain of the Panorama Loop Trail was also very beautiful. And of course, the views of Coachella Valley at the summit of the trail are very nice.
Hiking Panorama Loop Trail with Kids
The NPS rates the Panorama Loop as ‘difficult’, and on paper it does look like a challenging hike, but if your family is reasonably active there is no reason you can’t enjoy this great kid-friendly Joshua Tree hike.
Here are a few considerations for hiking the Panorama Loop Trail with kids:
- There are washrooms in the Black Rock Campground. Be sure that everyone uses the facilities, but if needed, there is enough vegetation around the Panorama Loop trail that your kids can water the bushes.
- There is drinking water found within the Black Rock Canyon Campground. Fill up your water bladders and bring more water than you think you’ll need.
- Your biggest risk on this hike is sun exposure. Be sure your kids wear hats, have full sunscreen on and stop for frequent water breaks. If your kids are not asking to stop and pee, they haven’t had enough water.
- The Panorama Loop hiking trail is not stroller accessible, but it is common to see parents in California to carry their little ones on their backs in a carrier. Ospry child carriers were the most popular brand we saw within Joshua Tree National Park.
- Dogs are not permitted on any trails within the Joshua Tree National Park.
- There are several Chola Cactus plants near the side of the trail. Watch out for these cacti as their barbs are known to be especially painful.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There are quite a few places to stop for a snack or to have lunch along the Panorama Loop trail if you don’t mind sitting on a log or a rock. Of course, the best spot for a break is at the top of the Panorama Loop hike where you can stop, rest your legs and enjoy the 360-degree view.
What to Bring for Joshua Tree National Park Hikes
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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