Distance (round-trip)

6.5 mi

Time

4 hrs

Elevation Gain

400 ft

Season

Spring
Fall
Winter

Weather

This loop encompasses parts of the North View, Maze, and Window Rock trails. It’s a fantastic route that winds through large boulder formations, desert washes, slot canyons, and Joshua tree forests, this path encompasses just about everything people love about Joshua Tree in one lightly-traveled trail. Highly recommended.

There aren’t any signs pointing you toward the trailhead, which is why this trail isn’t very crowded. If you’re headed into the park from the West Entrance, you’ll see a small off-road dirt area near a barely-noticeable metal rod marked 24. It’s a little over 1.7 miles from the gate. There’s a chance you may see a few cars parked off the road here, too.

Much in the same way that it’s a bit challenging to find the trailhead, it can be just as challenging to find the trail itself. There are no visible markers and — let’s face it, you’re out in the desert. There is a worn trail going in a north – northwest direction from the parking area. If you take this path you’ll eventually get to a “Maze Loop” sign pointing you back in the direction you came from.

Instead, travel east past a small gravel pit on your right. Right after the pit, you’ll find yourself in a wash. Stay in the wash until you see a small grouping of rocks urging you to the north. You can continue in the wash if you like, but you’ll miss all of the great rock formations and vistas on the North View Trail.

The North View Trail turns abruptly north at about 0.2 mile, and leaves the flat, sandy wash to start winding its way through some of the most secluded rock formations in Joshua Tree. Immediately, you’ll be surrounded on all sides by enormous piles of rocks, and you’ll feel a world away from your car.

The trail scrambles across some sheer rock surface, rising and falling with the boulders it skips across. While you’re surrounded by stone from almost every angle, there are still a few places where you’ll be able to get a peek out at the vast Mojave to the north of the park.

As I zig-zagged through several large boulder formations, I couldn’t help but stop every once in awhile just to admire the bizarre scenery. Even though they’re all over Joshua Tree, I never get tired of this odd, otherworldly environment. This trail, in particular, highlights some of the weirder side of the landscape, including some lines of rock-wall that are so perfectly straight, you’d swear they’re man made.


And if you keep you eyes and ears open, you might catch a glimpse of some climbers scrambling up boulders.

After winding your way up and down among more rock formations, the trail levels out a bit and makes a gradual ascent to two spur trails — one offering views north of the park (Copper Mountain View) and another looking in on the rest of the park (West Hills View) at about the 1.7 mile mark.

The West Hills View is particularly impressive. On a clear day, you can see all the way to San Gorgonio Mountain to the west, and deep into the interior of the park. You’ll also probably be able to make out the cars at the trailhead – if not at least the road leading to the trailhead. 

From there, the trail leaves the barren rock formations, skirts along a wide ridge, and drops down into a gulch and several washes, where you’ll finally start to see those ever-present Joshua trees again.

Congratulations. Now you’ve reached the second confusing part of this loop trail.

Almost as soon as you drop down into the sandy wash at 2.7 miles, you’ll see a branch of the wash leading to your right. Skip this and continue east in the wider wash. You’ll circle around a small plateau, eventually turning south. Keep your eyes peeled for a small sign marking the intersection with the Big Pine Trail, and continue in another wide wash as it moves southwest.

Here, you’ll get up close and personal with some smaller Joshua trees, but keep scanning for landmarks — it’s easy to get lost here. Following footprints in washes only helps if the hiker before you didn’t get lost — and you can’t always count on that.

Continue hiking in a generally southwestern direction until you get to another fork in the wash at 3 miles. If you take a right and travel west, you’ll head down a long, flat wash back to the trailhead. But you don’t want that. You want to see some more of Joshua Tree, so bear straight instead and continue south.

This path will continue in wash and dirt until it gets to a section that cuts through some of the unpolished boulders. This other potentially confusing area is The Maze.

As the name would imply, it could be easy to get lost in this area. The trail is marked with cairns along the way, but the high walls, twisting canyons, and natural rock formations can make the area confusing. You’ll be tempted to do a little scrambling and explore the area — just make sure you keep your bearings.

For being called “The Maze Loop,” this trail actually doesn’t spend that much time in the Maze itself. It’s a bit of a misnomer, I’d say, but still, the terrain is definitely worth the trip.

Once you leave The Maze area and continue south along the flat desert floor, and keep an eye looking south — and up toward the prominent peak directly in front of you. Toward the top of this formation is Window Rock, which when viewed from certain locations has the appearance of an eagle with its head turned sideways.

Yes, you’ll have to use a bit of imagination, but you can see it. As you get closer to the formation, though, you’ll see that the actual space in the rocks doesn’t look like anything special — it’s only from the first moments that you can see the bird shape.

When you run into another broad wash at 4.2 miles, you can either cross it, continuing south and looping behind the Window Rock formation, or turn right and follow the wash westward as this GPS route does.

When following the wash, be sure to keep alert for a small path leaving the north side of the wash at around 4.7 miles. This trail will turn northwest and take you back toward the trailhead, while the wash will take you in a more southwestern direction. You’ll still end up at the road — you’ll just have a slightly farther walk back to your car.

The cairn marking this junction is small and easy to lose in the surrounding landscape.

From here, it’s mostly level, easy walking through a sparse forest of Joshua trees back to the trailhead. Take time to enjoy the scenery and the remote feeling of walking through a desert — even if you know there’s a road just a few miles ahead.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Camping

Solitude

Views / Vista

Trail Map

15 Comments

Chris Oct 23, 2017 02:10

I think the only section which is in wilderness (so you are allowed to camp) is on the North View trail section. I'm planning to go camping out there this weekend, so I'll let you know

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Alex Oct 20, 2017 16:10

If I want backpack this route are there good spots to stop and backcountry camp?

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Robert Anderson Sep 3, 2017 11:09

There are a lot more trails than shown on most maps, so It
s easy to take a wrong one. One route connects to the Boy Scout Trail. I made a loop a few years ago, with a map, but still ended up on an unintended trail. I was suprised but happy to come across my car before I expected.

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Casey Schreiner Aug 4, 2017 05:08In reply to: Greene Adventures

I've been following that story, too -- if they were trekking around the Maze and got lost, I'm not surprised. Even with a map it can be tough to keep track of where you're going and where you've been. I've only hiked this route in the winter, when at the very least if you get lost you're not in danger of melting in the sun.

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Greene Adventures Aug 3, 2017 09:08

Those two hikers lost in Joshua Tree for the past six days were likely at Maze Loop Trail. Reading the descriptions here, I can see how they may have gotten lost. Very prescient...

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LMC/Elle Aug 3, 2017 02:08

DON'T GO HIKING WITHOUT OTHERS, LOTS OF WATER, FULLY CHARGED CELL, TELLING OTHERS EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE GOING. AND "NEVER GO IN THE SUMMER." TAKE A POCKET KNIFE TO CUT INTO CACTUS TO EAT, DRINK INNER FLESH IF YOU MUST. NO MATTER HOW FIT OR EXPERIENCED YOU THINK YOU ARE, MOTHER NATURE WILL KICK YOUR ARSE ... YOU'LL BE DEAD IN HOURS. PUT IT THIS WAY: EVEN THE DESERT'S CRITTERS HAVE THE SMARTS TO STAY HIDDEN DURING THE HEAT OF DAY ... ONLY OUT IN AM AND EVES BC IT IS DEADLY HOT. DON'T RISK YOUR LIFE, NOR LIVES OF RESCUE SHOULD YOU REQUIRE SUCH SERVICES. JUST BC RESCUE LIVES OUT HERE, DOES NOT MEAN THEY CAN WITHSTAND HEAT ANY BETTER. IT IS DEADLY FOR ALL. TWO ARE MISSING HERE NOW. GOING ON DAY 7. Not the first, not the last bc no one thinks this can happen to them ... then they perish.

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Casey Schreiner Mar 15, 2015 12:03In reply to: Scotty Rew

Thanks, Scotty - we fixed the directions now. I think we must have been measuring from the turn-off to get to the National Park from the town of Joshua Tree!

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Scotty Rew Mar 14, 2015 23:03

Great article. One correction - the trailhead is 1.75 miles from the West Entrance, not 6.2 miles. Hiked the Maze Loop today with two of my kids, ages 13 and 11 and they handled it no problem. No bighorn sheep, but we did see a horned lizard... lol. All in all a very cool little hike, beautiful views and scenery. Took us about 4.5 hours to go about 7 miles with frequent stops to enjoy the surroundings.

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Cetacean88 Feb 19, 2012 18:02

Thanks for the great write-up of what turned out to be an eventful hike = no people but 2 bighorn sheep! (And this on President's Day weekend.) Just a note: the trailhead is 1.8 miles from the West gate, not 6. The 24 marker is the best way to find the trailhead coming from the East entrance or inside the park.

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Jimbo May 12, 2011 21:05

Just went up this way on May 8th. Since it was late in the day, we didn't have time to do the loop trail. So, we just went down one of the washes that was heading north and made our own north view trail. The hedgehog and prickly pear cacti are in bloom. Lots of mojave aster, apricot mallow and other desert shrubs were also in bloom. Plus a lot of belly flowers in the sand of the wash. On the way back we headed west-southwest-south on some god-awful sandy trail that had gotten pulverized by horses. After a mile of that we went cross-country to the road. Usually I hate walking along roads, but I figured we had at least another mile on that meandering sandy-ass trail before we got back to the trailhead. On the road we could really high-tail it back to the car. After two other hikes that day, this one was probably one hike too many. After you hit sixty, little things like soft sandy trails get to be more annoying than they used to be. Next spring we'll try the loop trail. Though I have to admit, following trail signs is a bit of a chore. I've got a built-in compass in my brain and the sun tells you what time it is. So, I leave the watch and the compass in the pack. Along with the headlamp that I hope I never get senile enough to be in a position to have to use. But, you never know. Shit happens!

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