Distance: 1.0 mile (1.6 km)
Elevation: 4,160-4,250 feet (1268 - 1295 m)
Time of Year: late October - early May
Hidden Valley is one of the most popular stops for visitors to Joshua Tree National Park. And for good reason. The hike is short and easy and the vegetation is stunning. Generally I have a policy to try and avoid the most popular stops and crowds. But, this hike is so beautiful that it is definitely worth it. If you can simply get here early to avoid the late arriving crowds from the campgrounds, then you can still have this place all to yourself, as we did.
Hidden Valley is a completely enclosed bowl surrounded by a wall of granite. The enclosed nature of the place allows it to have denser and richer vegetation than the surrounding area due to its funneling scant rainfall into the bowl, the protection of the bowl from strong winds, and the shade it provides keeping it cooler inside. It was not even barely known about to white pioneers until a rancher blew a hole into the rocks to allow his cattle to graze on the rich grasses contained within it. Many of the lush grasses are now gone, but you will still find clumps of native bunchgrasses in densities higher than the surrounding area.
Getting to this hike is easy. Take the main park road at the West Entrance from the town of Joshua Tree on CA-62 up toward the center of the park. The turnoff to Hidden Valley trail is obvious. You can also access it on the main park road from the South Entrance off of Interstate-10.
The trail starts by climbing up a slope and through the narrow notch blasted out of the rock by ranchers back in the day. The trail then meets the intersection of the loop. You can choose to go left or right. The trail will follow along the edges of the rock walls revealing incredible granite boulders. In the shadier spots, pinyon pines and evergreen turbinella oaks cling to the rocks. In the middle of the valley, lush growth of bunch-grasses, small shrubs, dwarf California junipers, Mojave yucca, and Joshua trees grow.
Toward the back of the valley, you climb up a little onto some rocky platforms, then curve back toward the beginning. There are a couple of rocky places again toward the entrance, but the kids will love climbing on the rock. In March, if there have been good winter rains, the wildflowers will be in full bloom.