Along Boy Scout Trail, you'll see Joshua Tree National Park to the max: a vast array of rock formations, a Joshua tree forest, the yucca-dotted desert open and wide.
And, if the allure of this uncommon landscape is not sufficient motivation to take this hike, Boy Scout Trail has one more attraction--it's nearly all downhill.
Boy Scout Trail, one of the park's premiere footpaths, skirts the wild western edge of the Wonderland of Rocks, 12 square miles of massive jumbled granite. The path also offers hikers some engaging wash-walking along narrow, sandy canyons dotted with pinyon pine and juniper.
Although Boy Scout Trail can be hiked as a 16-mile out-and-back route, it's more commonly enjoyed as a one-way trek aided by a car shuttle. Usually hikers prefer the downhill walk from the Keys View trail head to the Indian Cove trail head; however, the elevation change is not that great, so hiking the reverse uphill route is definitely doable.
Directions to trail head: From California 62 in the town of Joshua Tree, turn south on Park Boulevard and drive five miles to the west entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. Continue another seven miles to Keys View Backcountry Board and the trail head, which is located on the left (north) side of the road.
For a car shuttle: From California 62, 10 miles east of the town of Joshua Tree and the Park Boulevard turnoff, turn south on Indian Cove Road and proceed 1.5 miles to the Indian Cove Backcountry Board and trail head on the right (west) side of the road.
The hike: Boy Scout Trail climbs gently past a Joshua tree forest. As it travels along the west side of the Wonderland of Rocks, views open up to the southwest of the sometimes snowcapped San Bernardino Mountains.
At a signed junction 1.25 miles from the trail head, the path forks. The left fork is the continuation of the Boy Scout Trail; the right branch leads to Willow Hole.
Willow Hole-bound hikers will join the sandy trail on a mellow 1.2-mile descent past granite towers to a wash, then follow the wash 0.8 mile to willow-lined seasonal pools tucked in a cliff-encircled rock bowl.
Boy Scout Trail traverses a fairly flat, Joshua tree- and yucca-dotted plateau. About three miles from the trail head, the path drops into a rocky canyon, where park service markers help you stay on the trail; at 3.5 miles, the trail follows a wash and at four miles, this hike's halfway point, you'll encounter a cement water tank.
After another quarter-mile of wash walking, concentrate on sticking with the trail, which exits the wash and bends sharply to the west. The now rocky trail dips and rises, then switchbacks down to another wash at the five-mile mark. After a mile in the wash, the path crosses over to a second, wider wash and follows the latter for 0.5 mile.
The trail climbs out of the wash and crosses a broad alluvial fan spiked with cholla and yucca. A final 1.5 miles of walking across the fan leads to the Indian Cove Backcountry Board.
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Boy Scout Trail
Where: Joshua Tree National Park
Distance: From Keys View Backcountry Board to Indian Cove. Backcountry Board is 8 miles one way with 1,300-foot elevation loss; optional 4-mile round-trip extension to Willow Hole.
Terrain: Rocky arroyos, sandy washes, open desert.
Highlights: Joshua tree woodland, Wonderland of Rocks.
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate.
For More Information: Joshua Tree National Park, 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277; tel. (760) 367-7511.