Joshua Tree’s stunning rock-strewn landscape and distinctive high desert ecosystem should be on everyone’s bucket list. There are so many amazing things to see in Joshua Tree National Park, however, that it can be hard to know where to begin.
If you are short on time during your visit to the park, then be sure to prioritize the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This hike is an easy 1-mile interpretive trail that is appropriate for hikers of all skill levels and one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail loops through a gentle valley surrounded by tall granite boulders. These natural walls create a unique ecosystem inside where both Joshua Trees and pinyon-juniper woodlands co-exist together. The boulders act as giant water collectors which enables Pinyon Pines and California Junipers to thrive.
These rocky walls can also protect the valley from prying eyes – a feature which has contributed to the area’s colorful history. A group of cattle rustlers called the McHaney Gang supposedly used this valley to hide their stolen cattle in the 1870s.
This loop trail is one of the park’s most popular attractions…so plan accordingly. I recommend visiting on a weekday or in the late afternoon to avoid the crowds (or very early in the morning if you are a morning person).
Please note: the trail has a lot of steps and is not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers. Dogs are not allowed on this trail.
Trailhead for Hidden Valley Nature Trail
The trailhead for Hidden Valley Trail is located right off of Park Boulevard, which is the main road that runs through Joshua Tree National Park. The parking area is quite large as this is one of the most popular areas of the entire park. Parking can fill up quickly, in which case you can park across the street at the Intersection Rock parking area. Vault restrooms and picnic tables are also available at the parking lot.
Driving directions from Highway 62: turn south onto Park Boulevard in the town of Joshua Tree. The Joshua Tree Visitor Center is located one block ahead on the right if you’d like to stop and get a map or additional information. From there continue straight, past the West Entrance, and into the park for 13 miles. Turn right to enter the parking area for Hidden Valley Trail.
Preparing for a Hike in Joshua Tree
When planning your hike, remember that you are entering a desert environment and pack accordingly. There are no stores or restaurants once you enter the park, so you should come prepared with everything you need for your visit. Daytime temperatures can get really hot in Joshua Tree, especially in the summer months, so be prepared with adequate sun protection and plenty of water.
Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day if you can help it (or hike during the winter months when it is cooler). Be sure to leave no trace of your visit behind and learn how to pee outside in case the urge strikes away from a bathroom.
This list includes some of my favorite gear for day hiking. If you’d like to spend more time in the backcountry, consider backpacking in Joshua Tree.
- Hiking Shoes – Sturdy hiking or walking shoes are a must. Personally, I’m a big fan of Altra Lone Peak Trail Running Shoes. I pair them with Dirty Girl Gaiters to keep sand and rocks from getting into my shoes.
- Socks – Good thick socks are also important. I usually wear a pair of double-walled Wrightsock Coomesh II socks with my Altras. For longer hikes, I switch to Injinji Midweight socks to prevent toe blisters.
- Backpack – A backpack is essential so you can carry water, layers, and snacks. I love Ospreys and use the Osprey Manta pack which is technically a men’s pack (because I have a longer torso than most women). The women’s equivalent is the Osprey Mira pack.
- Hiking Poles – Hiking poles reduce pressure on your joints and help maintain your balance if you trip. My current favorites are the LEKI Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles because they are super lightweight and fold down to easily fit into my suitcase.
- Electronics – if you are using your phone for navigation, bring a portable battery such as the Anker portable battery charger. For longer hikes or backpacking trips, consider bringing a Garmin InReach Explorer. This is a Personal Locator Device (PLB) that enables you to trigger a SOS call to search and rescue and 2-way texting over satellite.
Hiking the Hidden Valley Trail
Part 1: Entrance into Hidden Valley
The trail begins with a short .1-mile climb up and over some boulders through a passageway to the valley hidden inside. Steps are carved into the rocks to make the climb easier. At the top of the ascent, be sure to turn around and catch the view southward towards the parking area before entering the valley.
Part 2: Beginning the Loop
Once inside the valley, the loop trail begins. Hikers should take a left at the junction and hike in a clockwise direction to stay with the flow of traffic. The path heads north as it encircles the valley, staying close to the tall granite boulders which are popular with rock climbers.
Part 3: The North End of Hidden Valley
After about .4 miles, the path heads west and skirts the north end of Hidden Valley. Here you are treated to an up close view of the towering granite rocks that form the valley walls.
Part 4: Ending the Loop
After another .2 miles, the trail heads south again on its way back to the entrance. The path climbs in elevation up some stairs to a great viewpoint of the valley near the end of the loop.
Hidden Valley Trail Information and Map
- Distance – 1 mile roundtrip
- Elevation Gain – 114 feet
- Starting Elevation – 4233 feet
- Highest Elevation Point – 4277 feet
Joshua Tree National Park Fee 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).
Be sure to check the Joshua Tree National Park web site for current conditions before heading to the park.
While you’re in the area, don’t forget to explore outside of the national park as well. There are lots of fun fun and quirky Things to Do Near Joshua Tree besides hiking and camping.
If you enjoyed this trail guide, be sure to check out my other articles about Joshua Tree National Park!
- Joshua Tree Day Trip: The Ultimate One-Day Itinerary
- Best Hikes in Joshua Tree: The Ultimate Hiking Guide
- Backpacking in Joshua Tree: Tips for Successful Wilderness Camping
- California Riding and Hiking Trail: An Epic Joshua Tree Backpacking Adventure
- 10 Fun and Quirky Things to Do Near Joshua Tree
Have you hiked the Hidden Valley Trail in Joshua Tree National Park? I’d love to hear from you! Share your experience in the comments below.
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