West Side Loop Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Last Updated on March 29, 2021

West Side Loop is a delightful moderate-length hike through dense groves of Joshua trees and pinyon pines in Joshua Tree National Park. Tucked away in the park’s remote northwest corner, this 4.9-mile trail is often overlooked – yet it remains of my favorites in the Black Rock Canyon area. West Side Loop Trail has a gentle rolling elevation profile, gaining 820 feet over 4.9 miles with some fabulous views of Mount San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountain in the middle of the hike.

I liked this trail so much that I hiked it twice. On the second time around, the area experienced snowfall in the high desert and was transformed into a magical winter wonderland. This is a somewhat rare occurrence and I felt lucky to have experienced it. This hiking guide includes photos from both hikes to show the difference that a little bit of snow makes.

Hiking the West Side Loop Trail in Joshua Tree National Park on a snowy day

Black Rock Canyon Campground and Trailhead

The trailhead for West Side Loop 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 several options for starting the trail, the hike described in this post begins at the West Side Loop Trailhead which is just to the west of the visitor center.

West Side Loop Trailhead
West Side Loop Trailhead covered in snow
The same photo taken a couple of weeks later after some snowfall

Hiking the West Side 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 first mile of the West Side Loop

I chose to hike the West Side Loop in a clockwise direction, so I took a right at the first junction and headed west. The trail heads gradually uphill in its first mile, gaining about 200 feet of elevation as it passes through a striking forest of Joshua trees. At about .7 miles, the path intersects with the High Point Nature Loop Trail twice – I simply continued straight to stay on the trail.

Bear right to hike West Side Loop in a clockwise direction
Intersection with High View Nature Trail
The intersection with High View Nature Trail looks even prettier with some snow on the ground
West Side Loop this way!
Cholla cactus in the snow

First views of San Gorgonio Mountain

After about a mile, the trail crests a ridge and reveals a mountain range in the distance that had previously been hidden from sight. During my first visit, the area had been in such a severe drought that the mountains were almost completely devoid of snow. It was a very different experience the second time through.

From this point, the trail heads downhill for about half a mile until it reaches an intersection with some trails that lead out of the park’s northern boundary. I took a left here and started hiking south.

First views of the mountains in the distance after cresting a ridge
The mountains look completely different after a snowfall
Trail junction at the bottom of the hill
Taking a selfie at the same trail junction a few weeks later

The midpoint

The trail flattens out a bit as it heads south, but not for long. Around 2.4 miles, the West Side Loop Trail climbs steeply up the side of the ridge. The relatively short climb rewards hikers with even better views of the mountain range to the west as it follows the ridge for about half a mile.

Hiking up a snowy hill to the trail’s highest point
Panorama from the trail’s high point
Snow-capped mountains majesty

Completing the loop

After reaching its highest point of 4550 feet, the trail spends the next mile or so climbing up and down some ridges as it heads east. Eventually, the path loops northeast and descends gradually as it returns to the West Side Loop Trailhead.

Crossing a sandy wash at the bottom of one of the ridges
The same photo taken after some snowfall
Heading back to the West Side Loop Trailhead
Heading back to the West Side Loop Trailhead in the snow
Snowy feet!

West Side Loop Trail Information and Map

  • Distance – 4.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain – 820 feet
  • Starting Elevation – 4035 feet
  • Highest Elevation Point – 4550 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. Enter the campground and park next to the Black Rock Nature Center. Alternatively, head west a couple of hundred feet on the road from the from the Nature Center to the trailhead – there is room for a few cars to park here too.

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.

Entrance to Black Rock Canyon Campground.

More Resources

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this trail guide, be sure to check out my other articles about Joshua Tree National Park!

You may also enjoy these other Joshua Tree trail guides:

Have you hiked the West Side Loop Trail? I’d love to hear from you! Share your experience in the comments below.

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