December 10, 2022

Our Joshua Tree National Park adventures continued with a 7.2 mile roundtrip hike to Willow Hole. While this hike didn’t offer historical sites like our previous hikes, it was a gorgeous hike through a Joshua tree forest and into the stunning Wonderland of Rocks area. This trail is a great option for those looking for classic Joshua Tree scenery without the crowds. We hiked this trail on a relatively warm and sunny Saturday, but saw very few people (by national park standards).

The hike to Willow Hole starts at the Boy Scout Trailhead, 6.5 miles east of Joshua Tree’s west entrance located just southeast of the town of Joshua Tree. This is a popular trailhead for both hikers and rock climbers. It was over half full when we arrived at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday and was full when we returned from our hike around noon.

Willow Hole Trail shown in blue

Our hike began by following the same route as the Boy Scout Trail. Hiking was easy over flat trail of compacted sand. Here the trailed skirted to the west of Wonderland of Rocks through a lovely Joshua tree forest. Similar to our Southern Arizona hikes through miles of saguaro cactus, we loved seeing the unique shape of each Joshua tree.

We had lovely views to the northwest of snow-covered San Gorgonio Mountain

Young Joshua tree sprouts may grow quickly in the first five years, then slow down considerably thereafter. The tallest Joshua trees in the park loom a whopping forty-plus feet high, a grand presence in the desert. Judging the age of a Joshua tree is challenging: these “trees” do not have growth rings like you would find in an oak or pine. You can make a rough estimate based on height, as Joshua trees grow at rates of one-half inch to three inches per year. Some researchers think an average lifespan for a Joshua tree is about 150 years, but some of our largest trees may be much older than that.

Joshua Tree National Park website

After 1.2 miles, we departed the Boy Scout Trail and headed northeast (right) in the direction of Wonderland of Rocks. With each step, colorful monzogranite boulders got closer and closer. At 2.5 miles, the trail merged into a sandy wash and we found ourselves entering an area with a variety of high desert trees and cactus including pinyon and juniper trees as well as fishhook cactus.

Continuing up the wash, the side walls increased in height and we found ourselves in the Wonderland of Rocks. Hiking was now up a gorgeous canyon surrounded by massive boulders with interesting colors and shapes. We had no problem following the trail here, but there are several side canyons that could lead people astray.

At 3.3 miles, the wash widened and turned to the right. Hiking here was a bit of a slog through deep sand, but it was also my favorite stretch of the trail. We were surrounded by massive boulders in a broad amphitheater. At 3.6 miles we reached a thicket of willow and cottonwood trees known as Willow Hole, our destination. After periods of rainfall, Willow Hole can have a small pool of water that attracts wildlife. We saw neither water nor wildlife, but we did enjoy the gorgeous destination.

End of the trail at Willow Hole

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