Barker Dam Trail | Joshua Tree

Our favorite hike in Joshua Tree National Park was Barker Dam. This was likely influenced by the fact that it was the first hike we did in the morning and there was almost nobody out on the trail. There was plenty of wildlife, and it was nice and cool just after breakfast. Barker Dam Trail in Joshua Tree is an awesome family-friendly trail.

The Barker Dam

Barker Dam is a one mile loop that leads to an old reservoir dam that early occupants used to preserve the water. Though the dam isn’t terribly impressive, the terrain is. No water was behind the dam when we visited, and we’d be surprised if there ever is, but the vegetation was more lush, and there were more birds singing in this area than in most of Joshua Tree National Park.

The trail has lots of rocks and lots of plants.

The Barker Dam Trail

The loop starts out like a lollipop. After walking a short distance down the trail, it splits, and you can go left or right around the loop. We chose to walk counter-clockwise because there is a spur trail to the left that we thought might be confusing since there isn’t a very clear sign. The first part of this trail walks through the rocks which is fun.

The Barker Dam Trail in Joshua Tree behinds in the sand.
There are a few signs along the way about the different plants.
Our boys loved exploring on the rocks as we hiked in Joshua Tree.
There are a few areas through the rocks, or up the stairs.

In the early morning, there was a small amount of shade, but the rocks and trail were still cool from the desert night. We saw more mammals along the route than any other hike in the park. These included a massive squirrel, a half-dozen small blackish chipmunks, and a cottontail rabbit. There were plenty of birds along the trail, too. Our favorite was a ladder-backed woodpecker, which we’d never seen before.

The rabbit we spotted.
Pinyon Jay enjoying the sunshine.
Ladderback Woodpecker was a new birding spot for our family.

The Barker Dam trail in Joshua Tree runs slightly downhill to the empty reservoir. It’s easy to tell where this is, because the area is wide and flat and much more verdant than the rocky areas surrounding it. This part of the trail walks over the slick rock. As you continue around, you come to a small dam. There are some other abandoned structures below it, but we stayed up on the trail away from them.

The trail comes to a more open valley area after the rocks.
Follow the signs over to the Barker Dam.
As you get closer to the dam, you walk along the rocks.
This is the Barker Dam.


From the dam, the trail loops back toward the parking lot. Now the hike is through the Joshua Trees. We enjoyed all of the different terrains in one hike. There is just one trail junction. This is notable because there are some petroglyphs almost exactly at the junction. A sign points to the left, and that’s the way you want to turn to get back to the car, but first, walk about 30 meters down the other trail. There are few petroglyphs, though they have been heavily damaged by vandals. Still, it’s worth a look (and maybe a lesson for the kids) if you come to this point. From there, it is a short walk back to the beginning of the loop.

After the dam, the trail heads into the Joshua Trees.
There are lots of trees and the trail is more sandy.
We recommend the quick side trip to the petroglyphs.
The petroglyphs have been vandalized, but we enjoyed looking at them.
Then it’s a quick walk back to the car.

The Barker Dam Trail in Joshua Tree is flat and easy. There is a little bit of hiking through sand and over slickrock, but nothing that most kids can’t easily handle. We loved this trail and recommend hiking early in the morning, or closer to sunset for better wildlife viewing and to avoid crowded parking lots. For some of our other favorite Family Hikes in Joshua Tree, visit this post for all the details.

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