The Hidden Valley Trail in Joshua Tree National Park is an easy hike that passes through amazing boulder formations and is a terrific trail for both kids and adults alike. For those that are staying at the Hidden Valley Campground, it’s just a short walk. But even if you are not camping nearby, this hike is right off the main park road, and it’s very likely that you’ll be passing by as you tour the park.
The Hidden Valley Trail is an easy hike that includes the park’s famous Joshua Trees that are nestled in a protected landscape that provides a viewing area like none other in the park. It’s very accessible to the road, so you can expect it to be busy, but it’s very much worth it and there is plenty of room to spread out.
It really is a “must do” hike in Joshua Tree National Park, and a great hike to add to a visit to see the climbers at nearby Intersection Rock or a hike to Barker Dam.
HIDDEN VALLEY TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 1.0 mile (round-trip)
- Trail: Loop
- Elevation gain: 110 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 4,276 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Fall through early spring
- 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 minutes
The Hidden Valley Trail is one of many hikes and sites to see in Joshua Tree National Park. Be sure to download our itinerary for Joshua Tree National Park, which includes the best hikes in the park, what to pack, one and multi-day itineraries and plenty of other information!
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR HIDDEN VALLEY TRAIL
Hidden Valley Trail parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The trailhead for the Hidden Valley Trail is shared with the Hidden Valley picnic area, making it really convenient if you choose to stop here to eat before or after your hike. It is located on Park Boulevard, about 12.4 miles west of the intersection with Pinto Basin Road.
Since there are plenty of places to stop along Park Boulevard, and since this hike is relatively short, we recommend fitting this hike in whenever you are passing through the area, rather than making it a “priority destination” and heading here first.
- Directions from the Oasis Visitor Center to the Hidden Valley Trailhead (this will take about 30 minutes-aside from the traffic getting into the park, you won’t encounter much in the way of traffic).
- Directions from the East Entrance to the Hidden Valley Trailhead (this will take about 20 minutes, maximum).
The parking lot has spaces for about 70 cars, and includes spaces for RV’s as well. On a busy day, you can expect the parking lot to fill up, but spots will open up about every minute or so, so if you are patient then you will be able to find a spot fairly easily.
Restrooms are available near the Hidden Valley Picnic Area (on the southeast side of the parking lot).
HIDDEN VALLEY TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. The trail is very well maintained and is made of packed dirt. You really won’t have any obstacles, provided you stay on the trail. Always keep an eye on your kids on the park, though, as there is plenty of cactus in the area that can reach out and find you!
- Accessibility. The trail is not wheelchair accessible. If you are using a cane, the trail is doable, but take it slowly.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE HIDDEN VALLEY TRAIL
We’ve said it a few times, but this hike is a short hike. Since it is a loop, you are never more than about 0.5 miles from the parking area. However, you still need to be prepared as it can be very hot in Joshua Tree National Park! Don’t forget the following:
- Water. You should always have water with you, even if you are only going for a “short hike.” Even in the winter, the dryness of the desert can really dehydrate you quickly. We recommend a good water bottle or a hydration pack with you. There are no refill stations at the trailhead.
- Sun Protection. Be sure to bring sunscreen with you, or a hat to protect you. If you are here in the summer, you may even consider wearing a light long-sleeve layer.
- Shoes. This trail is flat and relatively easy, and any footwear will be fine. However, we do recommend closed-toed shoes (we love these hiking shoes, or you can wear hiking sandals, which are super popular and comfortable.
WHY IS IT CALLED HIDDEN VALLEY?
Legend has it that cattle rustlers used to hide their newly “liberated” cattle in this valley that is tucked in between rocks that provided protection from outsiders, including the law.
HIKING THE HIDDEN VALLEY TRAIL
Hidden Valley Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
After parking and hitting the nearby restroom at the picnic area, the trail heads to the northwest. There is a very slight climb to get into the canyon of just about 30 feet as you walk through a short “passageway” created by the surrounding rock.
After about 0.1-mile, you’ll reach a fork. Take either right or left. There is no real advantage either way, though if you head right you’ll have a slightly steeper downhill and a gradual uphill the entire way back. We chose to go to the left (counterclockwise).
As you pass through the valley, there are two major attractions that will keep your eyes busy! First of all, the rocks surrounding you are nothing short of amazing. We particularly liked looking at all the unique formations. If you look closely, you’ll likely see climbers on the north and south sides of the loop. Next, the number of Joshua Trees here is very impressive.
There are several interpretive signs on the trail to tell you about the area and the flora in the valley.
The trail can be a bit uneven at times, so while it Is easy, be sure to watch your step and keep a close eye on children that will undoubtedly want to do a bit of running around here!
The hike is quick, and you can expect to be in here for only about 30 minutes, even with stops. There is only slightly over 100 feet of elevation gain, and the entire loop is only about 1.0 mile long.
HIDDEN VALLEY TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Escape from the Heat. While not completely in the shade or particularly cool (on a hot day), this hike is short and quick, and if you are here in the morning or early evening, there is some hiking in the shade (which is very rare for Joshua Tree National Park).
- Quick. When it is hot, it’s hard to find something to do outside. The Hidden Valley Trail is good to do even in the heat of the day, as you’ll be on it for only about 30 minutes. And if that is too long, you can just step in and out of the valley and still get a good sense for the area without exposing yourself too much.
- Joshua Trees. It’s not like you’ll be hunting around for Joshua Trees in the park, but this is certainly a great area to see them!
- Picnic Area. The nearby Hidden Valley Picnic Area is a great spot to use before or after your hike to refuel, without having to move your vehicle at all!
- Crowds. If you head here when the park is busy, this is going to be one of the busiest trails you come across. You can avoid this by coming to the trail a bit earlier in the day or toward the end of the day (we did it right around dinnertime), the crowds are not that bad at all.
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE HIDDEN VALLEY TRAIL
As mentioned earlier, since this hike is just off Park Boulevard, so there is a ton of stuff to do in the way to or after the hike. However, just around the hike there are a few things that you need to check out:
- The Barker Dam Loop is just to the north of Park Boulevard and is worth checking out. It is 1.3 miles (total) and only climbs 75 feet. It heads to a beautiful lake that was created by damming up the area for watering cattle.
- About 4 miles to the east is the Ryan Mountain Trail. This is one of the more challenging hikes in the park (with significant elevation gain of over 1400 feet over a round trip distance of 3 miles), but also one of the best! It opens up to an amazing, 360-degree view that you’ll want to check out.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Be sure to check out our downloadable Joshua Tree National Park itinerary. Trust me, you’ll love it! We include what to pack, what to expect in the park, the best hiking trails and multi-day itineraries to be sure you hit the best spots in the park.
- We also cover all you need to know about the park in our blog on A Day of Hiking and Exploring in Joshua Tree National Park, as well as our blogs on the Ryan Mountain Trail, Keys View, the 49 Palms Oasis Trail, and the Cholla Cactus Garden. To figure out the best hikes, our blog on the Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park will help you out. Finally, check out our blog on Joshua Tree Campgrounds, as the choices on where to stay can be a bit overwhelming!
- When you get back, send us a few photos and we’ll create a vintage-style travel poster along with your own custom wording. If you love remembering your trips, this is a great way to do so forever!