Lost Horse Loop (Joshua Tree National Park)
The Lost Horse Mine, one of the more successful gold mines in the area, is a popular Joshua Tree attraction. It can be reached with a moderate 4 mile out and back hike, but it’s worth allowing extra time and energy to hike the entire loop trail, adding challenge and scenic variety. Keep in mind however that this area is only open from sunrise to sunset. The trail head sign indicates the distance is 6.2 miles, but it is closer to seven if you make the extra trip to the mine.
The loop can be hike in either direction, but you might want to consider hiking clockwise, which will bring you to the mine more quickly, allowing you to shorten the hike if necessary. From the parking area, follow the signed trail uphill. As you ascend you get good views of San Gorgonio to the west. A mile of moderate climbing brings you to a saddle with a view of Ryan Mountain and it’s surrounding plains. The trail dips briefly, makes a wide semi-circular curve and the mine comes into view on the opposite ridge.
A short spur heads left, leading up a switchback to the Lost Horse Mine. Unfortunately the stamp mill is fenced off but you can still enjoy a panoramic view of the desert and read about the history of the mine, including how it got its name.
From the mine, retrace your steps back down to the loop trail. Continue climbing to a saddle where you can enjoy an excellent view to the east. Malapai Hill stands above the wide expanse.
Here, the trail drops steeply and dramatically into a wash. Even as you appreciate the panorama, make sure you respect the steep and sometimes loose trail. You pass by two filled in shafts that mark the site of Lang Mine and then the trail reaches a saddle. A brief descent brings you to a tall cairn with abandoned metal equipment strewn beneath it. This is the former site of Optimist Mine; it is the approximate halfway point (although if you are hiking clockwise you will already have done the majority of the climbing by now).
Continue your moderate ascent to the top of a ridge where you can see the Santa Rosas, San Jacintos and San Bernardinos (about 4 miles from the start). The remainder of the hike is a gradual descent in and out of various washes, passing Joshua trees of many shapes and sizes. The trail is never difficult to follow; the few places where it becomes at all ambiguous are well signed. At about 6.2 miles, keep an eye out for something that may seem like a contradiction of terms: a shade Joshua Tree, whose branches spread out enough to actually provide some shelter.
At 6.7 miles, just before the dirt road, a side trail branches off to the right. Take it 0.2 miles to the parking lot, completing the loop. If you got off to an early start don’t be surprised if the lot is considerably more packed; on busy days, latecomers may likely have to park farther down on the dirt road.
Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.