With over 2 million visitors a year, Joshua Tree is one of the most popular National Parks in the US. Its close proximity to Los Angeles makes it a highly visited outdoors destination not only for California residents but out of state travelers alike.
As California locals, we have been to Joshua Tree National Park multiple times. Each time we go to Joshua Tree we discover something new and interesting to explore at this stunning park. This year we checked off a few hikes from our Joshua Tree bucket list, including the 1.3 miles long Barker Dam Nature Trail.
To help you plan and make the most of your visit to Joshua Tree, here is our detailed guide covering all you need to know for hiking the Barker Dam Nature Trail.
Quick Trail Facts
Before we dive into the details, here are a few Barker Dam Nature Trail facts to give you an overall idea of the hike:
- Length: 1.3 miles round trip
- Time needed: 1-2 hours
- Trail difficulty: Easy
- Elevation gain: 55 feet (this trail is very flat)
- Dogs allowed?: No
Location & Parking
Barker Dam is located at the center of Joshua Tree National Park near other popular attractions and campsites.
Visitors can park at the designated Barker Dam Parking Lot next to the trailhead. Once you park you will see the trail entrance to the left of the visitor restroom. At the trailhead, you can check out a map of the Barker Dam Nature Trail and some points of interest that you’ll want to see along it.
If you have extra time after your hike, I recommend also doing the nearby Wall Street Mill Trail that starts at the same location. This trail is 2.4 miles long and leads to old house ruins, multiple abandoned cars, and the historic Wall Street gold ore mining site.
Barker Dam Nature Trail Description
Barker Dam Nature Trail is one of the most visited trails at Joshua Tree National Park. If you plan to do this trail, I suggest hiking it early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
The Barker Dam Nature Trail is pretty straightforward and goes in a loop for 1.3 miles stopping at a few major attractions along the way.
If you’re not familiar with Joshua Tree I highly recommend using a hiking app like AllTrails or Maps.Me to stay on track with your route. This trail is very short but much of the landscape at Joshua Tree looks the same so it’s easy to get lost, even on short day hikes like this one. Unfortunately, it happens in the desert all the time so don’t underestimate the trails, no matter how short they are, and always go prepared.
Map Of The Barker Dam Nature Trail:
Barker Dam Nature Trail is one of the easiest hikes that you can do at Joshua Tree.
It’s perfect for casual hikers, families, or anyone looking for quick things to do at the park. I recommend setting aside 1-2 hours to explore this trail and some of its main attractions like the Barker Dam and Petroglyphs.
A couple of things to keep in mind before you head out on your hike:
- There is a fee to enter and hike at Joshua Tree, even if you’re just coming for the day. The current cost is $30 for a 7-day car pass or $25 for a 7-day motorcycle pass. Or you can purchase an annual National Park pass for $80 which grants you unlimited entry into US National Parks for a year. This is what I have and it usually pays itself off within a couple of trips.
- Joshua Tree weather gets extremely hot past April which can be very dangerous, even for short day hikes. Before heading out on any trails be sure to bring enough water, wear a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and bring a lip balm. Try to hike early in the morning before it gets too hot and avoid hiking in the middle of the day during high heat times.
- Joshua Tree does not have any drinking water, even at campsites. You will need to purchase enough water for your visit ahead of time.
- There are no gas stations inside Joshua Tree National Park. Be sure to fill up on gas before entering the park so you don’t get stranded in the middle of nowhere.
- It’s always a great idea to tell someone where you’re heading because accidents and heat exhaustion can happen at Joshua Tree. Sadly, people have lost lives at Joshua Tree, even on short trails like this one.
- Dogs are not allowed on this trail so this is something to keep in mind if you brought your dog to Joshua Tree. You can read more about Joshua Tree National Park pet policy here.
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If you’re planning to camp at Joshua Tree overnight, there are multiple campsites to choose from. The closest campsite to Barker Dam Nature Trail is the Hidden Valley Campground less than a 5-minute drive from the trailhead. This is a beautiful campsite that offers 44 sites on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Hidden Valley Campground is a great place to stay if you like to wing it instead of reserving campgrounds ahead of time. But be sure to come and try to get a campsite early on because they do fill up quickly especially during the weekends and on busy holidays.
If you’d rather play it safe and book a campsite before your trip, you can browse Joshua Tree campgrounds and make reservations on the Recreation.gov website here.
What To Bring
While the weather at Joshua Tree is pretty hot most of the year, it does cool down significantly in the winter. Typically, the best months to visit the California desert are February, March, April, October, and November.
During our trip in April, it was raining and windy one day, then extremely hot the next. For our trip, we brought a variety of clothing items from leggings and jackets to t-shirts and shorts.
Here are some other items that we packed for our day hikes at Joshua Tree:
- Merrell Mix Master Trail Running Shoes that are perfect for day hikes like this
- Nike One Luxe leggings that are made from sustainable materials and can be worn for a few days straight when hiking and camping
- Comfortable t-shirts & flannels – great for hiking and camping outdoors
- Polarized Sunglasses to help with harsh sunlight
- Sunscreen & lip balm which is essential for hiking at Joshua Tree
- Reusable water bottle with a filter, plus extra water if needed
- Headlamp and a first aid kit for emergencies
- Portable phone charger in case your phone runs out of battery or you get lost
- A light jacket & cozy beanie if it starts raining or the wind picks up
- A small day pack. I use the REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack which fits everything I need for a day hike and comes with a breathable back & mesh straps for extra comfort.
Our Experience Hiking The Barker Dam Nature Trail
Here is the detailed breakdown of the Barker Dam Nature Trail for those wondering what the hike is like & a few of the “must-see” stops along the trail.
When we arrived at the Barker Dam Trailhead, it was very crowded. We decided to check out and hike the nearby Wall Street Mill Trail and wait until the crowds thin out a bit. Surprisingly we were one of the few people hiking the Wall Street Mill Trail despite all of the interesting stops that it offers as well.
After finishing up the Wall Street Mill Trail we ventured into the Barker Dam Nature Trail. Both of these trails are very short so you can easily hike them both within a few hours.
The Barker Dam Trail starts on a wide, flat path that is easy to follow. Along this trail, you will experience unique rock formations and pass many interesting plants and shrubs.
There are detailed information plaques throughout the trail describing many of the local desert plants and trees and how they have adapted to the desert life especially during low rainfall years.
About 0.4 miles into the trail, you will reach Barker Dam. To get closer to the dam you will need to scramble over some giant boulders and rocks. Visitors are not allowed to walk on top of the dam so you can only see it from the side.
Barker Dam was built in 1900 and further improved in the 1950s by William F. Keys, a local rancher, and miner who operated in Joshua Tree.
William F. Keys also owned the nearby Wall Street Mill, the Keys Ranch, and is still a well-recognized name from early Joshua Tree settlement days. He even spent 5 years in prison after having an altercation with another miner over a land dispute which ended in a deadly shootout between the two.
Joshua Tree landscape is very dry so the dam was built to capture and store some of the rainwater for farming purposes. Now the dam attracts a variety of desert animals and birds that are trying to adapt and survive in an otherwise dry landscape.
While in the 1800s and 1900s Joshua Tree used to get a significant amount of rain, nowadays Joshua Tree does not get enough rainfall to support cattle ranching anymore. We visited Barker Dam in late April after a very dry winter and there was no water in it at all.
Many of the desert plants, like Manzanita and Joshua Trees have adapted to the dry desert life and extreme water shortages. Manzanita trees drop their leaves and die back during drought while Joshua Trees spread their roots in a shallow network to collect rainfall.
Once you’re done exploring the dam, you can keep heading forward. The next stop along this trail is a giant rock formation with Native American Petroglyphs that can be found carved into it.
Some of the drawings to me looked like a snake, fish, and bighorn sheep that reside at Joshua Tree. While you can see a few of the drawings in their natural stone-carved state, many have been vandalized and painted over with modern colors.
After the Petroglyphs the trail loops back to the starting point, but if you want to extend the hike, you can also keep heading on the Echo T Trail for another 0.7 miles.
It was about to start raining during our visit so we just finished up the hike and returned to our car before the storm arrived.
Overall it took us around 2 hours to hike this trail with frequent breaks and stops for photos.
Joshua Tree is one of the most beautiful National Park in Southern California that is easy to access and hike. We hope you’re ready to take on the Barker Dam Nature Trail but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below!
Looking for a rental around Joshua Tree National Park? Check out this super helpful post next that covers 10 Stunning VRBO Vacation Rentals In Joshua Tree, California!
Planning more trips in California? Here are a few other California travel posts that you may like:
- Hiking Wall Street Mill Trail At Joshua Tree National Park
- 6 Easy Death Valley Hikes That You Shouldn’t Miss
- 9 Wonderful Activities To Do In Big Bear Lake In Fall
- Visiting Alabama Hills? Here’s All You Need To Know!
- 18 Amazing Things To Do In Yosemite For First Time Visitors
Interested in stepping up your photography skills? Here is the camera gear that I use and recommend to create amazing travel photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Sony Camera Charger Set
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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