Unique rock formations, picturesque campsites, and endless wilderness as far as you can see are just a few of the things that hikers can expect to experience along the 1.7-mile-long Skull Rock Trail.
The Skull Rock Nature Trail is the perfect place to escape our busy California lives, reconnect with nature and enjoy some magnificent scenery.
In this guide, we share tips and our personal experience for hiking the Skull Rock Trail at Joshua Tree National Park.
Psst! If you’re looking for other great hikes to do in the area, we also recommend checking out the nearby:
All of these trails are relatively short and only take a couple of hours to complete!
Quick Trail Facts
Before we dive into the details, here are a few Skull Rock Trail facts to give you an overall idea of the hike:
- Length: 1.7 miles round trip with an option to venture into side trails
- Time needed: 1-2 hours
- Trail difficulty: Easy
- Elevation gain: Around 150 feet
- Dogs allowed?: No
Location & Parking
If you’re planning to hike the Skull Rock Trail, you have a couple of options for parking:
- The main Skull Rock Trailhead starts at the Jumbo Rocks Campground which is where we happened to camp overnight. To hike this trail, we just left our car at the campsite and walked to the trailhead.
- If you’re not staying at the Jumbo Rocks Campground, you can also park along Park Blvd which is the main road that travels through Joshua Tree National Park. But parking spots along Park Blvd are limited and can fill up quickly especially on the weekends.
The Skull Rock itself is located right off Park Blvd so if you are short on time, you can park along the road and see it within a few minutes. But if you have the extra time, I highly recommend hiking the entire Skull Rock Nature Trail that passes other beautiful rock formations along it.
Skull Rock Address: Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
Skull Rock Trail Description
Skull Rock Nature Trail is one of the shortest and most popular hiking trails at Joshua Tree National Park.
Skull Rock Trail is less than 2 miles long and is relatively flat making it a great trail for families and kids.
From the Jumbo Rocks Campground, it goes in a short loop through the surrounding area crossing Park Blvd road twice.
If you’re looking for a challenge, you have the option to connect it with other hiking trails like the Face Rock, Split Rock, or Discovery Trail and extend the route by a couple of miles.
If you plan to venture into any side trails, I always recommend using a hiking app like AllTrails or Maps.Me to stay on track with your route. Much of the Joshua Tree landscape looks the same so it’s easy to get lost.
The Skull Rock Trail offers almost no shade so I suggest hiking it early in the morning or later towards the afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day. This trail can also get quite crowded especially by the Skull Rock formation itself.
Know Before You Go
If you plan on hiking the Skull Rock Trail, here are a couple of things to keep in mind before you head out on the trail:
- 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 visitor 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.
- There is limited reception in Joshua Tree so I recommend downloading an offline hiking app ahead of time.
- 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.
- Joshua Tree does not have any drinking water. You will need to purchase enough water for hiking and camping 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 desert with no gas.
- 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.
- 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.
If you are interested in camping at Joshua Tree overnight, the closest campsite to the Skull Rock Trail is the Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Jumbo Rocks is the biggest campground at Joshua Tree that offers 124 sites amongst scenic rock formations. We stayed at the Jumbo Rocks Campground for one night and really enjoyed it.
This campsite is conveniently located at the center of Joshua Tree National Park near popular trails and attractions so it gets booked up pretty quickly. You can see more information and make Jumbo Rock Campground reservations here.
If you’re heading on a last-minute trip and don’t have campsites booked, Hidden Valley Campground offers sites on a first-come-first-serve basis. But this campground fills up pretty quickly too so try to get a spot as soon as you arrive, especially on the weekends.
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 Joshua Tree are February, March, April, October, and November.
During our trip in April, it was raining and super 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 hikes at Joshua Tree:
- Hiking shoes with extra grip that are perfect for day hikes like this one
- 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 for longer day hikes
- 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 in case it gets cold or windy
- 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 Skull Rock Trail
Here is the detailed breakdown of the Skull Rock Nature Trail for those wondering what the hike is like & a few of the “must-see” stops along the trail.
We camped at the Jumbo Rocks campground overnight so it was very easy for us to wake up in the morning, eat breakfast and head out on the Skull Rock Trail before it got crowded.
From our campsite, we walked towards the front of the campground where the Skull Rock Trailhead is located.
The trail starts on a sandy path and travels away from the campsite towards Park Blvd. Parts of the trail are well marked with signs and have rocks laid out on the sides but then some sections are more confusing and less obvious. I had to check my hiking app several times to be sure we were still on the right track.
About 0.5 miles into the hike, we reached the Skull Rock formation. With two eye sockets and crevasses shaped like a nose, this rock really does look like a skull. Skull Rock is made of granite rock that has eroded into these unique shapes over time.
We arrived early enough that we were the first people here but this location can get very crowded in the afternoon.
After exploring Skull Rock, we crossed Park Blvd and continued on.
Here the Skull Rock Trail intersects with the Face Rock Trail and the 0.68 miles long Discovery Trail Loop. We had extra time so we decided to check out both of these trails.
First, we ventured into the Discovery Trail Loop that goes through a narrow slot canyon passing large rock formations. The Discover Loop is a newer addition that was built in 2012 through a collaboration between High School students and park rangers. Along this trail, you can stop by and read interesting signs about how Joshua Tree rocks and canyons were formed.
Towards the end of the Discovery Loop, you can also venture into the Face Rock Trail to see a rock shaped like a face.
Truthfully, I didn’t think it looked much like a face at the time but after returning home and looking it up, I realized that we were looking at it from the wrong angle.
After the Face Rock, we finished up the Discovery Trail and connected back with the Skull Rock Trail. If this sounds confusing, the AllTrails hiking app has a pretty good map outline of the Skull Rock Nature Trail.
The next section of the trail is beautiful with gorgeous views of giant rock clusters so I recommend continuing on. There was one part that was blocked by a large boulder and we had to squeeze through a narrow space to keep going.
Eventually, the trail crosses Park Blvd again and loops back into Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Depending on time, you can take anywhere from 10 minutes on this trail to just see Skull Rock itself or 1-3 hours to explore the entire loop with its side trails.
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 Skull Rock Trail but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comment section below and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Looking for a vacation rental around Joshua Tree National Park? Check out this post next that covers 10 Stunning VRBO Rentals In Joshua Tree, California!
RockHill Ranch Vacation House in Joshua Tree – click here to book it!
Looking for more Joshua Tree inspiration? Here are a few of our other popular Joshua Tree travel posts that you may like:
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- Hiking Wall Street Mill Trail At Joshua Tree National Park
- Guide To Hiking Barker Dam Nature Trail In Joshua Tree
- Hiking Ryan Mountain Trail At Joshua Tree National Park
- Guide To Hiking Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail At Joshua Tree
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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