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.
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.
And if you keep you eyes and ears open, you might catch a glimpse of some climbers scrambling up boulders.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The cairn marking this junction is small and easy to lose in the surrounding landscape.
Finding the initial trail can be difficult, but the North View Trail is very well marked and easy to follow. One the trail starts getting into washes, it can be a bit disorienting, and easy to get lost. There are not many trail signs past the North View section, and cairns and footprints can be tough to spot or misleading. Remember the landmarks I've mentioned, and take a good map with you.
Hidden Valley is your closest campground but it's small and often fills up. A better bet may be Indian Rocks Campground. Although it's further away and requires a drive to this trailhead, it takes reservations - and you can hike into the northern section of the Maze right from the campground!
From the West Entrance, travel about 1.7 miles east until Marker 24 on the east side of the road. There is a small, unmarked parking lot at the trailhead.