A recently-designated trail near the West Entrance, this loop encompasses parts of the North View, Maze, and Window Rock trails. 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.

I actually tried to find the Maze loop the last time I was at Joshua Tree. There are no signs at the trailhead, and the map I had was of less-than-stellar detail, so I gave up and hiked other trails instead.

There still 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 6 miles from the gate.

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, 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 a while 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).

The West Hills View is particularly impressive. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mt. San Gorgonio 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. That always gives me a nice sense of accomplishment.

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, 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. 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, you can either cross it, continuing south and looping behind the Window Rock formation, or turn right and follow the wash westward.

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

[qt:http://modernhiker.com/wp-content/videos/themaze.mov 480 380]

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditEmail this to someonePrint this page
Follow

Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, the REI Blog, Adventure Journal, and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub. He was in Columbia Sportswear's inaugural #OmniTen program and was featured prominently in their documentary "I Am #OmniTen."

His stories for Modern Hiker have brought regional and national attention, and have been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press.

Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer, and was Series Producer of pivot's TakePart Live and Head Writer of G4's Attack of the Show.
Follow

Latest posts by Casey Schreiner (see all)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categorised in: , , ,

This post was written by Casey Schreiner on February 1, 2008

7 Comments

  • Cetacean88 says:

    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.

  • Jimbo says:

    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!

  • Greg Mendoza says:

    The area just south/southwest of the parking area has some great trails too. The Bigfoot Loop, Panorama Trail and the Mary Trail. The Mary Trail and the eastern portion of the Bigfoot Loop have good signage. The trail crew is working to complete signage on the western portion. Currently the Panorama Trail has no signage but is shown on the Trails Illustrated map and once you locate the trail heat it is relatively easy to follow. Most of the trails near the west entrance are old horse trails.

  • Greg Mendoza says:

    Most of the trails in this section of the park have recently had excellent signage posted. Trails have been clarified and are easy to follow. The trail crew under the direction of Chris Rodriquez has been doing fantastic work.

    • Modern Hiker says:

      That’s great news! Thanks for the update, Greg. I’ll look forward to checking them out the next time I’m out in J-Tree — this area is really one of the nicest little corners of the park.

  • robert donahue says:

    very well composed intel!

  • SD Marc says:

    Great entry. I’ve been wanting to get up to JT. This looks like a great hike for a first visit. Thanks.

Join the Discussion