- Location: Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62, about six miles past the junction with Highway 247 and 26 miles northeast of I-10, take Park Boulevard (signed for the park) south (turn right if you’re coming from the west, left if from the east). The trail head is an unsigned but obvious dirt lot on the left side of the road, 1.8 miles past the entrance booth (the first trailhead of any kind you will see after entering the par0. Admission to Joshua Tree National Park is $30 per vehicle for a week. The inter-agency America the Beautiful pass ($80 per year) is also accepted here.
- Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
- Distance: 6.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 4 hours
- Best season: October – April
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: Good at the trail head and on the first and last miles;
- Water: Sinks in the restrooms at the park entrance
- Restrooms: Full restrooms at the park entrance
- Camping: The nearest campgrounds are Ryan, Sheep Pass and Hidden Valley. Most campsites in Joshua Tree National Park fill up well in advance, especially on weekends during the fall, winter and spring, so plan accordingly.
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here; AllTrails report here
- Rating: 8
Updated November 2018
This loop, using the North View, Maze and Window Rock Trails, offers outstanding desert and mountain vistas, up-close looks at some of Joshua Tree’s unusual geology and a variety of flora, including mesquite, Pinyon pines, cholla and barrel cacti and, well, Joshua trees. In short, it is one of the best non-summit hikes in the park. Even its relative proximity to civilization works to its advantage – from the North View Trail, you can see the distant roads and buildings of 29 Palms and the town of Joshua Tree and they provide a sense of scale for the surrounding area.
Trail signage has improved over the years, making navigation easier. Additionally, footprints will usually lead you in the right direction if you are in doubt. There are multiple variations, both longer and shorter, that are possible with this route, but the loop described below is a popular half-day hike and a good workout that samples some excellent scenery.
From the parking area, head northeast on an unsigned trail and almost immediately come to a junction. The short North Side Trail (not to be confused with the North View Trail of this loop) branches to the left. Stay right and soon arrive at another junction with the North Side Trail (left) and the Maze Loop (center and right). By hiking clockwise, as described here, you can get most of the climbing out of the way first – advantageous on warm days. Follow the center fork (the right is your return) and quickly arrive at yet another junction. Your route, the North View Trail, heads left; the right fork is signed as both part of the Maze Loop and the Big Pine Trail and is a possible return for a shorter hike.
The North View Trail climbs up and down jumbles of boulders, eventually making its way to a junction 1.4 miles from the start. A short spur on the left leads north to a vista point with memorable views of the valley, with San Gorgonio towering far to the west. After returning to the North View Trail, continue to another spur leading to the Western Hills view point. This spot offers commanding views of both San Gorgonio and San Jacinto.
East of this view point, the trail meanders along the plateau before dropping into a wash, where the wide views from before are traded for quiet and isolation. Outside the wash, you pass by the first significant Joshua trees of the route and then reach a junction (about 3 miles from the start.) Head right; the left fork is the Big Pine Trail which eventually hooks up with the Boy scout Trail. Continuing south, you reach another junction in 0.2 mile where the Big Pine Trail heads right, returning to the parking lot. This route continues south (left).
You continue your jaunt across the desert, taking in views of Wonderland of Rocks on the left and your first look at Window Rock, high on a ledge to the southwest. In a mile, below Window Rock, you reach a junction with the Window Rock Trail, an option if you want to extend the hike. However, that route ends up getting close to Park Boulevard and as such suffers from traffic noise, so the most popular option is to head right and follow the Maze Loop west for 0.8 mile. This route follows a wide, sandy wash and takes in some good views of Window Rock’s north face before arriving at a junction with the other end of the Window Rock loop. The wash continues west, but at this point you head northwest on the Maze Loop, making it back to the parking area in an easy 1.5 miles and enjoying some last views of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto on the way.
Text and photography copyright 2018 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.