Skull Rock & Jumbo Rocks Loop
Date Hiked: February 18, 2013
Best Season: Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Joshua Tree NP Park HQ 760-367-5502
Notes: Dogs are not permitted on park trails.
- Distance: 1.7 miles roundtrip (2.0 miles if you follow our route to explore the campground)
- Elevation Gain: 108 feet
- Route Type: Loop
- Trail Type: Mostly dirt, some asphalt
- Difficulty: Moderate
Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks are two more highly popular scenic attractions in Joshua Tree National Park. Jeff and I picked this short hike for the final day of our long President’s Day weekend in the park (sandwiched between the Split Rock hike, and the Ryan Ranch hike) since the three hikes together would give us some decent daily mileage. This super short 1.7 mile hike (2 miles if you wander through the campground like we did), is another must-do hike for anyone wanting to soak in the majesty of Joshua Tree. It’s easily reachable from the park’s northern Loop Road, and is engaging enough even for young kids — particularly with all the cool rocks to climb.
We parked right on the shoulder of Long Road (also called Park Road), just across from Skull Rock. And we opted to start the loop on the Skull Rock side, just because Skull Rock and the surrounding rocks are so darn cool. Skull Rock is accessible from the roadside — it was immediately apparent that a lot of people park solely to visit and climb up this rock. Prepare to wait a few minutes if you want to actually climb Skull Rock, because there was a steady stream of people. But it’s not a hard climb at all; you’ll see that kids especially like to climb up into the skull’s eye sockets to get their picture take.
Once you’re done exploring Skull Rock, hop on back down to the roadside trail marker and follow the well-marked dirt trail that parallels Long Road. This section is approximately one-half a mile long to the Jumbo Rocks Campground. It quickly veers away from the park road, leading you across some of the prettiest rock formations in the park. This half-mile stretch of trail is definitely the most crowded part of the loop. You’ll see people climbing and chilling on big rocks the entire way to the campground.
After a half mile, you make short descent down to the campground. There are no trail signs here. You simply hit the asphalt campground road. The trail officially heads to your right, up to the park entrance just off Long Road (Park Road). However, we decided to veer left and explore through the campground a little bit (my brother raves about this campground).
Although I would never camp here unless in an RV (vault toilets…I don’t do those), I had to agree that the campground is beautiful. Some spots are a bit too crowded and afford no privacy — unless you can pull an RV in long-side and create your own privacy wall, which many campers did — but we found a number of spots that are very roomy, with enough flat room for a massive tent (like we have) or several smaller tents, and offer a good amount of privacy from the camp road. And every camp spot is nestled right along the base of its own collection of jumbo rocks.
When you hit the camp entrance, simply cross Long Road/Park Road to reconnect with the official dirt trail (the trail is well-signed again) that meanders 0.7 miles back to the Skull Rock start of the loop. This stretch of trail on the north side of Long Road is far less crowded than the first half of the trail, but it is equally beautiful. You again wander through spectacular surreal rock formations, and get to soak in beautiful views of the park. Like the whole stretch of trail (except through the campground), the hiking trail is very well marked and hard to miss.
As the northern part of the loop reconnects with the main Skull Rock trailhead, take advantage of the easily climbable big boulders right alongside the road. This is an excellent spot to enjoy a picnic or snack, stretch out for a spell, and watch the crowds scamper up and down Skull Rock right across the road. Hop on down and proceed the rest of the way to the road to complete the full loop.
View Skull Rock/Jumbo Rocks Loop in a larger map