barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

Barker Dam Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is one of the many easy hikes in Joshua Tree National Park that is worth doing for anyone visiting.  This short, relatively flat hike has an amazing array of colors that is quite unexpected to see in the desert.  The trail leads you through landscape that is dotted with Joshua Trees ono the way to a gorgeous dam and small reservoir.  If you happen to get to the dam on sunny day (which is not rare in the park!), then you are guaranteed to get some amazing views and breathtaking photos!  You can even take off for a small diversion to see some petroglyphs nearby if you want.

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

While this hike is not challenging to navigate, you do have a few decisions that you’ll have to make when you head out on the trail.  We hope this guide will give you some insight into how best to enjoy your time on this incredible trail!

BARKER DAM NATURE TRAIL DETAILS

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1.3 miles (round-trip)
  • Trail: Loop
  • Elevation gain: 75 feet
  • Peak elevation reached: 4,295 feet
  • Best time of year to hike: Fall through spring, due to the cooler temperatures
  • To beat the crowds: Arrive before 9:30 am or after 4:00 pm
  • Footwear: Sneakers
  • Watch out for: Sun exposure
  • Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
  • Pets: Not allowed
  • Time needed: 45-60 minutes

 

Joshua Tree National Park itinerary

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is one of many hikes that is covered in our downloadable itinerary for Joshua Tree National Park.  We also cover where to stay, how best to visit the park, what to see in the area, what to pack and much more!

 

PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE BARKER DAM NATURE TRAIL

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

Barker Dam Nature Trail parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service

The trailhead for the Barker Dam Nature Trail is easy to find and is pretty much in the middle of the area of the park accessed by traveling on Park Boulevard.  What that means is that you are likely going to want to take this trail after visiting other spots in the park on the way to this spot rather than making it your first stop in the park.  No matter what entrance you come in, you’ll want to make your way to Park Boulevard.  You’ll then drive to the Hidden Valley Area and head north at the junction onto Barker Dam Road and follow signs to Barker Dam.  The trailhead is about one-mile east of the intersection of Park Boulevard and heading on Park Boulevard, you’ll head north on Barker Dam Road.  The parking area is on the left.  You can also take the Bighorn Pass Road or Queen Valley Road (both dirt) if coming from the east.

The parking lot for the Barker Dam Nature Trail is actually quite roomy, with enough spaces for about 60 vehicles (including some for oversized RVs).  Since the hike is relatively short and takes only about an hour at most, spots will open up frequently (about 1 per minute on average).  If you are patient, then a spot will open up quickly. 

Pit toilets are available at the parking area, but there aren’t any restrooms on the short trail.

BARKER DAM NATURE TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY

  • Trail surface. The trail surface is packed dirt with some loose sand and transitions to small granite boulders to step over.  This doesn’t make it difficult, but you should realize that it’s not completely flat, though this is one of the easier trails in the park.
  • Accessibility. The trail is not wheelchair accessible.  If you have the ability to walk on small rocks / boulders, then you’ll be fine on this trail.  However, use your best judgement, of course!

PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE BARKER DAM NATURE TRAIL

This hike is short, but no matter how short the hikes are here in the desert, you need to head out prepared.  And even if it’s cool when you start your hike, the sun gets hot here quite fast, even in the winter.  Here are a few of the things we recommend you bring with you on your hike:

  • Water.  Above all, bring water.  Even if you are fine walking for an hour in heat without it, bring it.  If you get injured or see someone else injured, you’re going to want it.
  • Sun protection. It’s more common than not out here to have perfectly clear skies.  That means that shade is going to be hard to find.  You’ll want to bring sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses by all means.

HIKING THE BARKER DAM NATURE TRAIL

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

Barker Dam Nature Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service

After leaving the parking area, the trail heads north.  You’ll get to a fork at the 0.2-mile point.  You can of course go either way, but we recommend heading straight (rather than to the left) as we wanted to get to the dam early in the hike in case we had a reason to turn back early and not finish the entire loop.  The hike heads through a short wash.  When we were there, there was even water on the trail from recent rains and a bit of shade as we headed between rocks (both rare sites in the desert!).  The trail continues straight and eventually hits an opening as you approach the dam.

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

Barker Dam was constructed in the early 1900’s to create a watering hole for cattle.  The dam is on the western side of the watering hole.  We loved sitting and taking in the view of the area.  There is plenty of lush vegetation around the water, and this is a popular spot for wildlife to gather.

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

After visiting the dam, the trail turns southwest as it heads across a small ridge and through the Joshua Tree forest.  After about 0.4-miles additional hiking, you’ll get to a junction.  Head south for only about a hundred yards and on the left (east) side of the trail you will be able to see ancient petroglyphs carved in the rock!  Our kids were especially surprised by this, but we all enjoyed looking at the incredible art that was left from inhabitants so long ago.

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

Retrace your steps back to the last fork (about 100 yards earlier) and head to the right (east) to finish this part of the loop and head back to the parking area. 

 

BARKER DAM NATURE TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES

Likes:

  • Unexpected colors. When visiting Joshua Tree National Park, we expected to see lots of brown and maybe the occasional green.  Mixing the deep blue of the water with the green vegetation surrounding the dam area was so beautiful.
  • Easy.  We had hiked Ryan Mountain earlier in the day, which was a bit challenging.  This hike was a nice break for us with good payoff!

Dislikes:

  • Crowds. There is no such thing as a “secret” trail in most parks, and this one is no exception.  It’s well known, promoted by the park as one of the best “easy” hikes here, and you can expect to have plenty of company on this hike, particularly near the dam.  However, we found that many people turn back when they get to the dam, so the western side of the loop is a bit less busy.

THINGS TO DO NEAR THE BARKER DAM NATURE TRAIL

As we mentioned earlier, there is a ton to see and do along the way to the Barker Dam Nature Trail, on both the east and west.  Here are a few recommendations:

  • Another easy hike just to the south of the intersection (about 1.5 miles away) is the Hidden Valley Trail. This short hike is only about 1-mile long (total, round-trip) with an elevation gain of 120 feet.  It heads through boulders on the way to an area of Joshua Trees, hidden by the surrounding rock. 
  • Jut to the south of the Hidden Valley Tail is the Ryan Mountain Trail. This is one of the most challenging hikes at the park, but heads to some amazing views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Another recommendation is to check out Keys View. This is a viewpoint with a very short walk and is especially amazing at sunset.

FURTHER INFORMATION ON JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS

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barker dam nature trail in joshua tree national park

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About Just Go Travel Studios

We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

As much as we enjoy traveling, we also love sharing our knowledge and helping others create everlasting memories through our custom-made travel posters, downloadable travel itineraries and detailed blog articles.

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