I’ve spent the better part of a year exploring Joshua Tree National Park, yet I am constantly surprised by how many hidden gems I keep coming across. Even in incredibly busy areas of the park, I am still finding new trails and historic sites. But I was totally taken aback when I stumbled across the Discovery Trail while on a loop hike of Skull Rock Nature Trail.
It makes sense that I hadn't seen this trail before, because it was only built in 2013. As an outdoor educator, I am always interested in finding ways to engage youth with the outdoors. So when I learned that the Discovery Trail was designed and built by a group of local students to highlight features that would interest kids, I couldn’t pass it up.
The Discovery Trail is a great stand-alone loop hike that I would actually recommend over Skull Rock Nature Trail. Over the course of its 0.8 miles, you’ll pass through a series of washes and canyons, take a peek at the surrounding landscape through fixed binoculars, and visit Face Rock. Or -- combine Discovery Trail with Skull Rock Nature Trail for a longer hike.
Park along Park Boulevard opposite of Skull Rock. Look for a well-signed trailhead heading north from the road. I’d recommend hiking this route clockwise.
Skull Rock Nature Trail breaks off from Discovery Trail after the 0.1 mile mark -- stay right to continue along Discovery Trail.
Skull Rock Nature Trail offers an easy extension to the Discovery Trail
A number of interpretive signs dot the route discussing the geologic processes which formed these canyons and rock piles.
Make sure to stop and read the interpretive signs
Cruise along the trail for another 0.3 miles as it passes through a short slot canyon while winding up to an overlook.
'cause who doesn't love a slot canyon
A set of fixed binoculars and an illustrated sign of the area allows you to get a more intimate look at the Skull Rock and Jumbo Rock formations to the south.
Fixed binoculars with an illustrated sign to guide what you can see
Continue east for another 0.1 miles, dipping into a large wash before reaching a signed trail junction.
Face Rock is an interesting geologic feature that is easily seen via a 0.1 mile spur trail. Take a left at the signed junction to visit Face Rock.
Face Rock is a worthwhile addition to the Discovery Trail loop
Return to the junction and complete the loop, passing through an even more impressive canyon along the way.
After hiking this trail, I feel pretty good about letting kids design all future hiking routes.