Joshua Tree NP – Barker Dam Nature Trail


What? : Barker Dam Nature Trail (easy 1.1 mile loop) covers many of the highlights of the Mojave Desert, large boulders piles of all shapes and sizes, desert plant ecosystems and Joshua trees. The dam itself is part of the park recent ranching history and after rainy season provide a unique oasis in the desert. If you are short on time you can hike to the dam and back in less than 30 min, I spend here more than 2 hours.


Related blogs:

Joshua Tree National Park – Visit planning

Joshua Tree NP – Keys View

Joshua Tree NP – Geology Road (4x4 drive)

Joshua Tree NP – Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Joshua Tree NP – Arch Rock Nature Trail

Joshua Tree NP – Cholla Cactus Garden Trail



Where? : From the West Entrance Station, drive 9 miles south until you see turn to the left into "Hidden Valley Campground, Key's Ranch, Barker Dam, Ranch Tours." Follow this road for 1.5-mile until its conclusion at the Barker Dam large parking lot.

From Twentynine Palms Park entrance, drive for 16.4 miles on Park Blvd Road, turn right at "Hidden Valley Campground, Key's Ranch, Barker Dam, Ranch Tours." And drive 1.5 mile to the parking lot.

Google Map Link


When ? : Late fall, winter and spring is the preferred time to visit the Mojave desert, summer is hot.


Due note 1: Water - Always take more than what you think you need, this is desert and temperature can be hot, in summer this is extremely hot environment. There is no water available in the park.


Due note 2: Pets are not permitted on any trails in the park, except for the paved Oasis of Mara Trail.


Due note 3: There is limited cell service in Joshua Tree National Park, so make sure to have a park map on hand.


Due note 4: No gas service in the park, there are many options near the north and west entrance to the park, make sure you have enough gas when driving into the park especially if you are driving down to Highway I-10.


Due note 5: Most of Joshua Tree trails have little to no cover from the sun, make sure you are coming prepared especially at the hot summer.


Due note 6: Please read the Safety Tips section in my main park and visit planning blog.


Due note 7: This is very popular hike, and it was impossible to find a parking spot here at mid-day and at early afternoon, I decided to visit here at night or early morning…


Due note 8: Joshua Tree National Park has 24 access; you can travel in the park at night or before sunrise.


Due note 9: At winter evenings and nights it can be windy and cold, come with the right clothing.


My thoughts: I visit this trail twice; the first time was at a full moon night … because I could not hike here during the day, no car entrance to the road due to overcrowded, I decide to hike at night. I saw this is a short, less than half a mile, hike from the parking lot to the dam. 

With the full moon light and a clear trail, it was easy to hike to the dam. I took few long-exposures rock reflection pictures and went back to the car, I decided to come back the following morning as early as I can, after my sunrise Cholla Cactus Garden visit, and enjoy this area. As expected, the day hike was fun.



The visit:


Explore the rocky desert landscape of Joshua Tree on the Barker Dam Trail, wander through the park iconic boulders, Joshua trees, and visit the historic Barker Dam and small lake.

This is an easy 1.1 flat loop trail that start in a bolder section and after the dam it wind through the open Mojave Desert landscape with Joshua trees, creosote, Mojave yucca, pinon pines, and more.

Although it is a short and easy trail I hiked here for 2 hours, I took many pictures and enjoy the open desert and bolder off-trail exploration. If you do not have a lot of time hike to the dam and back can take you only 30 min.


The dam itself is from the area early ranching efforts, a century ago, collecting winter rain to support the livestock.

The amount of water behind Barker Dam depends on the amount of winter precipitation. When I visit here, January 2022, the lake water level was low, not completely dry but most of the larger lake section was muddy or completely dry.


The hike:

From the parking lot, take the trail heading northwest toward Barker Dam, be sure you’re following the main path, marked with low wooden fence, that heads toward the large boulders from the restroom area.

Soon you’ll find yourself walking down a narrow section with high boulder walls on both sides.

Keep to your right and then suddenly, the trail emerges to a small open valley.

Turn left and follow the lake toward the dam itself.

After the dam the trail turns west, leaves the lake, and enters a flat desert.

The sandy trail winds through Joshua trees, follow the sandy track as it loops back toward the start. At the point where the trail turns to the left there is a large a rock covered in vivid petroglyphs. Unfortunately, these Native American drawings had their colors enhanced by a film crew working on an old Hollywood movie.

Continue along the trail and when it comes to a T, make a right to return to the parking lot.


I came here early morning (around 8am) with only few cars parked at the parking lot so it was not crowded but when I came back to my car after 2 hours it was already half full and with many people at the hike.


In summary:

I’m not surprise this is one of the park most popular trails, the 1.1-mile hike cover all the classical park elements as well as the uniqueness of a lake in the middle of the desert.



From here I decided to drive the unpaved Queen Valley Road and Bighorn Pass Road to the est. this is fun easy drive that can be done by any car. You will drive through open desert landscape with many large Joshua Trees.