Breathtaking views, unique geological formations and a picturesque desert landscape – all these and more await the adventurer who hikes the Black Rock Canyon to Panorama Loop Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. Tucked away in the park’s remote northwest corner, this 6.4-mile trail tends to get ignored in favor of other more popular trails in the main part of the park. I have no idea why. The Panorama Loop Trail is a spectacular hiking experience and a contender for one of my favorite trails inside the entire park.
Black Rock Canyon Campground and Trailhead
The trailhead for the Black Rock Canyon to Panorama Loop Trail is located at the Black Rock Canyon Campground in the northwestern corner of the park. Nestled among one of the area’s thicker stands of Joshua Trees, the campground is a short drive away from the town of Yucca Valley. The Black Rock Nature Center is worth a visit before starting the hike and provides natural exhibits as well as park information and maps.
While there are many options for starting the trail, the hike described in this post begins just to the left of the campground entrance at the Black Rock Canyon backcountry registration board. If you’ve already driven into the campground, you can park at the Nature Center and start along the path next to campsite #30.
Hiking the Panorama Loop Trail
Note: before starting out on this or any desert hike, be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection, wear sturdy footwear, pack the 10 essentials, and leave no trace of your visit behind. I also recommend a broad sun hat.
The Sandy Beginning of Panorama Loop Trail
The hike begins on the Black Rock Canyon Trail along a sandy wash in a forest of Joshua Trees and Pinyon pines. The sand is very thick here and can be challenging to walk through (although I find heavy sand to be easier on my joints). You will pass the junctions for the California Riding & Hiking Trail and the Burnt Hill Trail in the first mile – stay straight to continue hiking up Black Rock Canyon.
Hiking through Black Rock Canyon
Around 1.8 miles, look for the Panorama Loop Trail marker and take a left. Note that some of the markers are wooden posts that simply read “PL”. This is where things start to get really interesting. Here, the trail goes through Black Rock Canyon where you can see some intriguing canyon rock formations.
The Final Push to the Top
After about half a mile, the trail climbs out of the canyon. This is where things start to get really steep as the trail makes a final climb up to its highest elevation point of 5168 feet.
Oh, Those Views!
After around 3 miles, the trail finally stops climbing and follows a ridgeline. The views are incredible and on a good day you can see the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, the San Jacinto Mountains to the southwest and the San Bernadino Mountains to the west. A spur to the right of the trail leads to Panorama Peak which is the 11th highest named peak in Joshua Tree National Park.
The Return Trip
After following the ridge for a bit, the trail turns west and heads downhill. I saw some really interesting Joshua Trees in this area (I mean, all Joshua Trees are interesting but these were *really* cool). At the 4.2 mile point, the trail reaches the junction with the Warren Peak Trail. You can extend your trip an additional 1.6 miles by hiking to the top of Warren Peak and back if you choose.
Take a right here and hike another .4 miles to reconnect with the Black Rock Canyon Trail. From here, it’s just a matter of retracing your steps to the trailhead or finding another route back to the parking area. I decided to follow the route in the All Trails app which starts along Black Rock Canyon Trail and then takes the Burnt Hill Trail back to the campground area.
Panorama Loop Trail Information and Map
- Distance – 6.4 miles
- Elevation Gain – 1,194 feet
Park and Parking Information
The fee to enter Joshua Tree National Park is $30 per vehicle which is good for seven days. I recommend buying the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass, however, which costs $80. This allows entry to all National Parks for an entire year, as well as most federal lands (including National Forests, Bureau of Land Management and more).
Driving directions from Highway 62: turn south onto Joshua Lane in the town of Yucca Valley (this is about 5 miles west of the park’s west entrance). Drive about 5 miles and take a right onto San Marino Drive which turns into Black Rock Road. This leads directly to Black Rock Canyon Campground.
If the parking lot is full, take a right on the dirt road just before the entrance and park in the group horse camp overflow area.
- Joshua Tree National Park – Official web site
- Best Easy Day Hikes Joshua Tree National Park by Bill and Polly Cunningham
- On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide by Patty Furbush
Have you hiked the Panorama Loop Trail? I’d love to hear from you! Share your experience in the comments below.
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