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A glimpse into Joshua Tree National Park’s past via Barker Dam Trail

Hike Name: Barker Dam Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Name of area/general location:
Joshua Tree National Park, California

Land Acknowledgement:
This trail is located on the ancestral homelands and traditional territories of the Serrano, Western Shoshone, and Cahuilla People. To learn more about the original residents and stewards of the land, visit

Trail rating:

Trail mileage:
1.1-mile loop (1.8 km)

Permissible trail uses (dogs, horses, mountain bikes, others):
Pets are not allowed on the trail, but service animals are welcome. Service animals must always remain on a 6-foot (1.8 meter) leash.

Description of the area, sights, wildlife, and any key markers on the trail:

Before Joshua Tree National Park was designated a national park in 1994, the region was used for cattle ranching. Remnants, like Barker Dam, are evidence of this history and offer visitors a tangible look into the Park’s past. The dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be easily accessed by park visitors through the Barker Dam Trail, located near Barker Dam Road. The 1.1-mile loop, which peaks on a nice viewpoint, starts at a nearby parking lot and follows an interpretive exhibit that shares fascinating tidbits of human history and provides magnificent insight into the flora and fauna of the area. In addition, this scenic trail covers many of the highlights of the Mojave Desert, including a unique opportunity for travelers to explore the various monzogranite boulders on their journey. Which, if you’re looking for a more high intensity fun, these boulders are perfect for those who want to have some fun on rocks!

The trail, which begins on a flat surface, is an easy trail due to its short distance and less than 50 feet elevation gain. Overall, Barker Dam Trail is considered a family-friendly hike. However, temperatures in the desert can be extreme and the trail has minimal shade, so take extra precautions, like sun protection, to ensure yours and your family’s safety. About 2.8 million visitors flock to Joshua Tree National Park each year, so anticipate large crowds when visiting the park and plan your trip accordingly. During the months of May through about September, it’s recommended that visitors plan their hike before 10 a.m. to avoid the extreme heat and to secure parking.

Moreover, visitors may encounter wildlife on their journey, like the desert bighorn sheep, which are known to frequent the area for water. This path also extends to offer visitors an opportunity to visit a 2,000-year-old rock art site and view ancient petroglyphs that are carved into the desert varnish. If you follow the trail past Barker Dam, it will transition into a sandy wash that’s lush with vegetation. You will need to squeeze tightly between or around boulders and follow granite steps before circling back to the trail’s entrance. Don’t forget to visit one of the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Centers before you return home.

To note: 
There is an entrance fee to access Joshua Tree National Park. For more information on costs, please visit Basic Information – Joshua Tree National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (

Directions to the trailhead:
The Barker Dam trailhead and parking lot are located on Barker Dam Road. To access this area from the West Entrance to the Park, enter Joshua Tree National Park until reaching the Intersection Rock area (approximately 11.6 miles).  Turn left after the sign reading “Hidden Valley Campground, Key’s Ranch, Barker Dam, Ranch Tours.” Follow this road for approximately 1.5 miles to the parking lot where the trailhead and restrooms are located. (Please note that there is also a North Entrance and Cottonwood Entrance and that directions vary depending on which park entrance is used.

Places to camp nearby:
There are several campsites located in Joshua Tree National Park. The campsite that’s closest to the trailhead is Hidden Valley Campground. 

More information

AllTrails Hike Link

Hiker_iconCaution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials