December 7, 2022

One of our quietest hikes in Joshua Tree National Park was the Black Rock Canyon-Panorama Loop Trail out of Black Rock Campground. Tucked away in the northwest corner of the park, this area receives significantly less visitation than sites along Park Boulevard between the north and west entrance stations. Black Canyon offers hikers access to the higher elevations of Joshua Tree National Park where highlights include dense clusters of Joshua trees and commanding views Mount San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountain.

Black Rock in the northwest corner of Joshua Tree National Park
Our route highlighted in orange

The Black Rock Canyon-Panorama Loop Trail begins at the Black Rock Canyon Trailhead located just inside the park entrance from the town of Yucca Valley. There is a small parking area to the left as you enter the park. Alternatively, it can be started from near the visitor center inside the Black Rock Campground where there are some parking spots reserved for day-use.

We began the hike by heading south up Black Rock Canyon. This portion of the trail was a bit of a slog up a wash through loose sand. Pleasant views and abundant Joshua trees helped to provide a nice distraction through this stretch. After passing three well-signed trail junctions (keep to the right at each junction), the canyon narrowed and we began to leave the worst of the loose sand behind us.

At about 1.8 miles in, we came to the Panorama Loop Trail. You can hike the loop in either direction. The park map at the trailhead showed beginning the loop by taking the trail to the right. We did the opposite and turned left which I read would have us going up the steepest section of trail instead of down (easier on the knees). The trail narrowed and soon we found ourselves climbing a set of switchbacks. The switchbacks were well-graded, but the last section was pretty steep.

Views improved as we climbed higher and higher

From the trail’s high point, there are commanding views of Mount San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountain. Unfortunately for us, San Gorgonio was hiding in the clouds and San Jacinto was a bit obscured by the Los Angeles smog that funnels in through San Gorgonio Pass.

San Jacinto Peak through a thin layer of smog
San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest peak, hiding in the clouds

Continuing along the loop, we began to drop back down toward Black Rock Canyon. This stretch was our favorite of the hike. Here the Joshua trees were mixed with juniper, piñon pine, and oak trees. We also saw a nice variety of cactus and were kept constant company by beautiful California scrub jays.

Our favorite stretch of the hike
iBird Pro helped us identify the beautiful blue birds we saw

On our return hike down Black Rock Canyon, we took a side trail into the campground to check it out. It was nearly empty during this early December weekday. While not as scenic as some of the other Joshua Tree campgrounds, it was nice and seemed like a good option for those wanting a quieter camping experience inside the park.

Our hike measured 7.0 miles with 1,200 feet elevation gain. Those wanting a slightly longer trip could add on Warren Peak which adds 1.4 miles. We really enjoyed this quieter area of the park. We intended to come back and do another hike there, but never got around to it—there was just too much to see and do at Joshua Tree. My one regret is that we didn’t return after a storm blanketed Mount San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountain in a beautiful blanket of snow.

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The Adventure Continues

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