Difficulty G Distance 2.1 to 5 miles Rating: 7-8 San Jacinto/Santa Rosa Mountains & Joshua Tree Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

Split Rock and Face Rock (Joshua Tree National Park)


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  • Location: Joshua Tree National Park. The turnoff for the Split Rock Picnic Area and the Split Rock Loop Trail is on Park Blvd., 8 miles east of the junction at Keys View and 2.2 miles west of the junction with Pinto Basin Road. Head north on the dirt road (all vehicles OK) for half a mile to its ending at the Split Rock Picnic Area. Admission to Joshua Tree National Park is $25 per vehicle for a week. Annual passes are $40. The Interagency Pass ($80 annually) is also accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – April
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: None
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: Vault toilets at trail head
  • Camping: The nearest campgrounds are Jumbo Rocks and Sheep Pass. Campsites at Joshua Tree National Park tend to fill up well in advance during weekends in the cooler months, so plan accordingly.
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
  • Rating: 7

Even if you’ve already sampled some of Joshua Tree National Park’s unique geology on short trails such as Skull Rock and Arch Rock, this loop is well worth a visit. The highlight isn’t so much Split Rock itself as the wide variety of bizarre rock formations that can be found on the loop. A short detour brings you to Face Rock, another Joshua Tree landmark. For a trail mainly known for geology, the Split Rock Loop also features some interesting plant life, including pinyon pines, creosote, yuccas and cholla cacti. There are a few Joshua trees, but not as many as in other areas of the park.

The two ends of the trail depart from the parking lot. The loop is equally enjoyable in either direction, although the eastern trail head (located just under Split Rock itself) is more obvious. The trail meanders among the formations, passing so called “Tulip Rock” and a pointy, hollowed out boulder that looks as if it could be a smaller cousin of Skull Rock. At about 1.3 miles (if you are hiking counter-clockwise; 0.7 if clockwise) you reach the turnoff for the 0.2 mile spur to Face Rock. This tall formation is similar to Skull Rock with a long cornice, resembling a nose when viewed from certain angles.

The trail continues past Face Rock to the Discovery Trail, but by this point you will likely be hearing noise from Park Blvd., so the most enjoyable option is to retrace your steps back to the Split Rock Trail.

Split Rock, Joshua Tree National Park
Split Rock
Split Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Jumble of boulders on the Split Rock Loop Trail
Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree
Pointy boulder on the Split Rock Loop Trail
Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Veins in a boulder
Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree
Pinyon pine, Split Rock Loop Trail
Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree, CA
Shade on the Split Rock Loop Trail
Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree, CA
“Tulip Rock”
Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree
Joshua tree on the Split Rock Loop Trail

Text and photography copyright 2017 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.

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4 comments

    1. Agreed…it’s unfortunate, but I guess it’s because of the snakes, cacti and other hazards. (That said, I saw a LOT of dogs when I climbed Ryan Mountain, so I’m sure I could have gotten away with bringing mine…but as bloggers, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard!) There are some other good dog friendly hikes in the desert such as Afton Canyon, which I posted recently, and Amboy Crater, which will be posted later this week.

      1. Agreed.. l’ve done Ryan Maintain but without Xena. I don’t like to bluntly ignore rules for the sake of my personal enjoyment. I will have to bookmark those you mentioned and check them out! Thanks!

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