Joshua Tree – Quail Mountain Loop

Location Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Distance 15.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain 3350 ft
Topographic Map


Joshua Tree doesn’t offer a lot in the way of actual, on-trail loops. However, there are plenty of pleasant off-trail options. I scoped out a nice weekend loop around the tallest point in the park and went in mid-April. The backcountry was empty, the weather was great, the route was a bit tough to follow, the snakes were scary but mostly harmless.

To make things more interesting, I plotted a scramble to the peak of Quail Mountain with a bypass option if I couldn’t find a route to the top. It turned out to be pretty simple and I even found an on-again-off-again use trail on the approach.

I camped on a nice ridge right before descending to the California Riding Trail–definitely the best choice if you’re making this a two day trip. There aren’t a lot of places to camp once you’ve hit the valley and up on the ridge you get beautiful views of the sun setting over the mountains.

While a good portion of this route is a bit scrambly and dry, the section through Smith Water Canyon was super nice!

  • There was no water or springs that I found along the route. You’re going to have to pack in all your precious water.
  • This was the first trip where I used a mapping GPS (Gaia GPS on my android device). I certainly would have gotten lost without it in, but probably would have been able to find my way back. The trail on the east side of the loop petered out about half-way down and then was incorrectly cairned away from Lang Mine. The way down from Quail Mountain was a bit tricky as well–I kept following washes too far in the wrong direction.
  • Right before making the ascent to Quail Mountain, check out nearby Lang Mine. It’s a closed off old borax mine that even still has the wooden hoist.

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