We are hikers. So distance doesn't faze us. But maybe you love the parks but aren't ready for a big hike. Maybe you only have one day in the park and want to spread your time across different places. Or maybe it's blazing hot while you're visiting Joshua Tree and you just can't get an early start. Here's a round-up of some short (<2 mile) hikes that are pretty darn easy. The bonus of short hikes is you don't need to carry much and you can limit exposure to sun and heat in the summer.
Pick and choose depending on your fitness level and time. String them all together and you'll cover a good bit of distance. I'm listing them here in general order from north to south in the park. You'll definitely want some sort of map (your park entrance map will work just fine for these hikes) to help you find trailheads, etc. These maps are helpful alternatives.
Barker Dam - 1.5 Miles: This hike is really lovely. It's the only place we've ever seen water in Joshua Tree. If you go early enough in the morning, light will brighten the rock face and it's simply dazzling. In fact, Kelly's favorite photo from Joshua Tree came about from just that experience.
Wall Street Mill Trail - 1.5 miles: This easy trail can be accessed from Barker Dam for a longer hike. It wanders through old mining equipment and the park's famous Joshua trees, ending at a variety of abandoned vehicles which the desert has been transforming.
Wonderland Wash - 2 miles: This hike shares a trailhead with the Wall Street Mill hike. After about 1/10th of a mile, veer off to the left toward an old pink house. The trail is hard to follow after the pink house but the brave of heart (and those familiar with navigating in wilderness) can bushwhack into the wash through some trees and bushes off a small footpath to the left of the house. It took awhile for us to be certain we had found the trail. Even in the wash, we really were just following a riverbed more than a trail and we frequently had to scramble over boulders to keep going. So if you're not used to navigating in wilderness, we suggest turning around at the pink house. In general, this is a hike your own hike sort of route. You can turn around whenever you want and there is no official end point. *I considered not including this hike in the list as it does require more navigating skill. But it was not physically demanding and we really enjoyed it so I had to add it to the list.*
Keys View - 0.2 miles: It's a long drive down Keys Road to get out to this lookout but it is a spectacular view. A short but steep paved road will give you broad views of the California valley. Rumor has it on clear days you can see all the way to Mexico. Perfect spot for a summer picnic or snack break.
Skull Rock - 1.7 miles: This well marked trail meanders through Joshua Tree's classic boulders. We hiked it early in the morning after a sunrise shoot and nobody else was out, even during the busy super bloom season. But mid-morning or afternoon, this trail will be teeming with tourists.
Cholla Cactus Garden - 0.25 Miles: We mentioned this hike in our first post about Joshua Tree. It's pretty far south but a nice leg stretcher to see an unusual species of cactus. Very easy to follow and hike. If you're headed out of the park, you can take the southern route back to San Diego after this hike. If you have more time in the park, head back north and find a cozy spot for a spectacular desert sunset.