In our opinion, the hike to Willow Hole, which is located in the Wonderland of Rocks region of Joshua Tree National Park, is one of the most rewarding hikes in the park. The trail passes through all of the scenery that Joshua Tree National Park is known for, not only the famous yucca that the park is named after, but all of those beautifully sculptured granite boulders and long desert vistas that has captivated visitors to this park for decades.
We’ve gone on many hikes all over the park in search of that perfect trail that leads into the heart of the Wonderland of Rocks. In all our travels through the deserts of Southern California, granite rock outcroppings are a photographer’s dream because of the endless formations created by Mother Nature. There are numerous outcroppings in the Mojave National Preserve, as well as historic Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, but nothing beats the granites of Joshua Tree. We thought that the trail into Rattlesnake Canyon from Indian Cove would give us good access. But after going on a hike with an experienced guide, we learned it took lots of rock climbing and trail finding skills to find your way. Perhaps a hike into Rattlesnake Canyon will be a future post in this blog. But we found that the Willow Hole Trail is much easier.
Willow Hole is an oasis in the middle of the Wonderland of Rocks. When one hears of the word oasis, they envision dozens of palm trees around a remote spring. Willow Hole is almost the same. Replace the vision of palm trees with several dozen desert willows and other assorted trees nestled in a big hole between large granite boulder outcroppings and you’ll see Willow Hole.
One nice aspect of the Willow Hole Trail is that it is very “user friendly”. Although the total length of the trial is about 6.5 miles (roundtrip), which might scare some people away, it is easy to follow and relatively flat.
An interesting fact about this hike is that it isn’t documented in any of the Park publications or any of the hiking books that we’ve looked at. We simply discovered it by reading one of the many kiosk signs along Park Boulevard, which is the main road through the park. One would think that, because it isn’t advertised, not many people would be out using the trail. However, we found quite a few hikers on the day we visited, but this was also during a good weather day between Christmas and New Years.
The hike to Willow Hole starts at the southern end of the well advertised Boy Scout Trail. From the town of Joshua Tree (the intersection of Hwy 62 and Park Blvd), head south on Park Blvd. Be sure to stop in at the visitor center which is one block south of Hwy 62 on Park Blvd in downtown Joshua Tree.
From the visitor center, continue on Park Blvd and past the entrance station (the fee for a 7-day pass is $15) for 11.5 miles. As the road makes a sweeping 90 degree right turn, you’ll see a parking area for the Boy Scout Trail on the left. Turn into this parking area.
Although there are about 20 spaces to park here, when we took our hike, we took the last parking space. There are no other areas to park nearby as all of the streets have curbs and the rangers are always on the spot to write parking tickets. Hopefully you will be lucky as we were when we visited!
Below are some pictures of what you will see along the way.
Panoramic view of Wonderland of Rocks near Willow Hole
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The trail begins next to the rest rooms and trail kiosk. Be sure to look at the kiosk as it shows a map of the area (see virtual tour), including Willow Hole, and also lists other relevant information about the hike.
The trail heads north by northeast as it passes through what botanists call Joshua Tree Woodland. Here you will find many of the typical plants found at this altitude of the Mojave Desert. The scenery you will see along this portion of the trail is classic Joshua Tree National Park scenery – dense Joshua Trees with outcroppings of boulders in the distance.
After about a mile, the trail gets close to one of those granite outcroppings and a trail junction is encountered. The Boy Scout Trail goes to the left on its long route to Indian Cove near Hwy 62. Our trail goes to the right and it is another 2.2 miles to Willow Hole a this point.
After the junction, the trail trends northeast and continues passing through Joshua Tree woodland habitat. Right about here, people that are not real desert lovers, might find the hike becoming increasingly boring. Don’t fret, as we’ll promise you that the hike becomes very interesting and scenic a mile later!
Also along this section of the trail, you will see some trails that go off to the right and left. These trails lead to lesser known rock climbing areas, so you may hear voices and see rock climbers in the distance.
About a mile after the junction, the trail drops down into a wash and turns 90 degrees to the right. From this point on, there is no more maintained trail and the rest of the way to Willow Hole is in this sandy wash. This turn also marks the point where the trail becomes a lot more interesting. Because of the increased availability of water along the wash, you will notice that there is more vegetation. If you don’t think there is, just take a short walk away from the wash and you will discover some. The trail also begins to enter the Wonderland of Rocks.
Along the route, the Park Service placed signs in various other (side) washes pointing the way to Willow Hole, which directs you to stay in the main wash. Several of those side washes we passed by looked very inviting as they seemed to head into tiny little corners inside the Wonderland of Rocks.
During the last half mile walk before reaching Willow Hole, you will realize why someone called this place a “Wonderland of Rocks”. The large granite outcroppings close in on both sides as you walk through a maze of rocks. The wash reaches a straight section and, in the distance, you will see a large collection of trees. This is Willow Hole.
Our hike ended here. We returned to our vehicle following the same trail we came in on. However, we found a well maintained trail that continued past Willow Hole. It is located on the southeast side of the oasis and goes into a narrow canyon surrounded by granite. The trail most likely continues to Rattlesnake Canyon. If you plan on exploring this trail or the various side canyons, be sure you have a map and are familiar with the area. Being deep inside these huge granite rock outcroppings makes it difficult to locate any point of reference to help you find your way.
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