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Panoramic view of the desert, Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Looking east from the Skull Rock Trail

Skull Rock Trail (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62 in Twentynine Palms (43 miles east of I-10; 21 miles east of Yucca Valley) take Utah Trail south into the park. Drive 8.6 miles, past the park’s north entrance and bear right at the junction with Pinto Basin Road. Go an additional 3.4 miles to the Jumbo Rocks Campground, on the left. If you’re coming from the west entrance station, follow Park Blvd. for a total of 17.3 miles; the campground will be on your right. Park admission is $20 per vehicle for a 7-day pass. The inter-agency America the Beautiful Pass ($80 per year) is accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 45 minutes
  • Best season:  October – April
  • USGS topo map: “Malapai Hill”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Best Easy Day Hikes Joshua Tree National Park
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
  • Rating: 7
Jumbo Rocks Campground near Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

0:00 – Start of the hike at Jumbo Rocks Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Skull Rock is one of Joshua Tree’s most famous geological landmarks, but those who just view it from the road are missing out on an enjoyable hike. In addition to Skull Rock this trail provides a lot of eye candy for very little effort.

Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:14 – Interpretive plaque on the Skull Rock Trail (times are approximate)

The loop can be hiked in either direction but by going counterclockwise from the Jumbo Rocks campground you can save the most interesting scenery for last. Start by hiking half a mile through the campground. Though you are on a paved road, the variety of geology makes the walk enjoyable. After half a mile, begin hiking on the signed Skull Rock Trail.

It meanders up a hillside, passing interpretive plaques that describe the vegetation, including juniper bushes, coffeeberry and cotton thorn. After dipping into a wash you encounter a rarity in Joshua Tree: shade, thanks to desert oaks that thrive in the relative moisture of the small canyon.

Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:18 – Desert oaks in the wash shortly before Skull Rock

Skull Rock is half a mile from the campground, just before the trail reaches Park Blvd. The intimidating formation gets it’s name from the two large caves that resemble eye sockets. Behind the skull many other boulders invite climbing.

Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:25 – Heading up the narrow wash

Continue across Park Blvd. and pick up the trail on the north side. This section of the trail offers more scenic variety, including an adventurous scramble around boulders in a narrow wash (no expertise or equipment required however) and a climb to a ridge with panoramic views to the south and east. You pass by another rock with a small cave carved inside, then make one last climb before descending back to Park Blvd. and the Jumbo Rock Campground.

Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:30 – Small cave on the Skull Rock Trail

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.

Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:35 – “Window” rock

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