Hiking Skull Rock Trail At Joshua Tree National Park

Skull Rock Trail

Unique rock formations, picturesque campsites, and endless wilderness as far as you can see are just a few of the things that you can expect along the scenic 1.7-mile-long Skull Rock Trail at Joshua Tree.

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, I share tips and my personal experience for hiking the Skull Rock Trail at Joshua Tree National Park!

Psst! If you’re looking for other great hikes to do at Joshua Tree, I also recommend checking out the nearby:

All of these trails are relatively short and only take a couple of hours to complete!

Table Of Contents:

Quick Trail Overview

Before I dive into the details, here are a few Skull Rock Trail stats 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
Joshua Tree’s famous ‘Skull Rock’

Trailhead 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 I camped overnight. To hike this trail, I left my car at the campsite and walked to the trailhead.
Skull Rock Trailhead from Jumbo Rocks Campground
  • If you’re not staying at the Jumbo Rocks Campground, you can also park at Skull Rock Trail 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 this famous rock formation 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 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.

Map of the Skull Rock Nature Trail from AllTrails:

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.

Beautiful slot canyon along the Discovery Trail

If you plan to venture into any side trails, I always recommend using a hiking app like AllTrails 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.

Despite being a hot, dry desert you can see many trees, plants, and shrubs growing at Joshua Tree.

Tips For Hiking At Joshua Tree

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 America the Beautiful 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 driving and hiking map 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 a lip balm.
  • Joshua Tree does not have any drinking water. You will need to bring enough water for your trip.
  • 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 plan to bring your dog to Joshua Tree. You can read more about Joshua Tree National Park’s 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.

My Experience Hiking The Skull Rock Trail

Here is the detailed breakdown of the Skull Rock Nature Trail & a few of the must-see stops along the hike.

I camped at the Jumbo Rocks campground overnight so it was very easy for me to wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, and head out on the Skull Rock Trail before it got crowded.

Skull Rock Nature Trail

From the campsite, I 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 that you can follow but other sections are more confusing and less obvious. I had to check the AllTrails hiking app several times to be sure I was still on the right track.

Skull Rock Trail

About 0.5 miles into the hike, I reached the Skull Rock formation. With two eye sockets and crevasses shaped like a nose, this rock does look like a skull. Skull Rock is made of granite rock that has eroded into these unique shapes over time.

I arrived early enough that I had the location to myself but it can get very crowded in the afternoon.

Skull Rock at Joshua Tree National Park.

After exploring Skull Rock, I crossed Park Blvd and continued along the trail.

Here the Skull Rock Trail intersects with the Face Rock Trail and the 0.7 miles long Discovery Trail Loop. I had extra time so I decided to check out both of these trails.

I highly recommend hiking the Discovery Trail as well!

First, I 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 signs about how Joshua Tree rocks and canyons were formed.

Interesting rock formations along the Discovery Loop Trail.

Towards the end of the Discovery Loop, you can also venture into the Face Rock Trail to see a rock shaped like a face.

Face Rock

After seeing the Face Rock, I 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 entire Skull Rock Nature Trail that I followed.

The next section of the trail is beautiful with gorgeous views of giant rock clusters so I recommend continuing. There was one part that was blocked by a large boulder and I had to squeeze through a narrow space to keep going.

Narrow section along the Skull Rock Trail.

Eventually, the trail crosses Park Blvd again and loops back with 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 along with the side trails.

End of the Skull Rock Trail

What To Bring On The Hike

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.

Hiking at Joshua Tree National Park in spring.

During my trip in April, it was raining and super windy one day, then extremely hot the next. For my trip, I brought a variety of clothing from leggings and jackets to t-shirts and shorts.

Here are some other items that I packed for hiking at Joshua Tree:

Joshua Tree Campsites

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. I stayed at the Jumbo Rocks Campground for one night and loved it.

Jumbo Rocks Campground

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.

Joshua Tree is one of the most beautiful National Parks in Southern California that is easy to access and hike at. I hope you’re ready to take on the Skull Rock Trail but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comment section below!

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.

Rock Hill Ranch Vacation House in Joshua Tree – click here to book it!

Looking for more Joshua Tree travel inspiration? Here are a few other popular Joshua Tree travel posts that you may like:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m the founder of the Fun Life Crisis travel blog and I’ve been traveling full-time for the past 7 years. Here I share my experiences and tips to help 100,000 people a month plan their adventures around the world! Read more about me here.

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!

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