Thursday 21 November 2019

Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 2.7 km (1.7 mi), terrain: several small rises, gain 29 meters

Joshua Tree National Park in the Southern California desert is one of my favorite discoveries. When I first heard about it, I imagined viewing the unique joshua trees, tree-like relatives of agave (yucca) plants. What I didn't imagine was the amazing landscape where these trees grow.
Joshua Tree runner on the Skull Rock Trail
The national park includes several areas of jumbled sandstone boulders and slickrock, perfect places for scrambling around on the rocks. There are fun and easy climbs, great views and an impressive variety of plants and animals like you can only find in the desert. And this little trail goes through one of the nicest of these areas, Jumbo Rocks.
Blooming Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree lies in the transition country where the Mohave and the Sonoran Deserts come together, with plants and animals from both regions.

NOTE: To get there, take the main park road, Park Boulevard to a kilometer east of the Jumbo Rocks Campground turnoff. There is a line of parking spaces along each side of the road at the trailhead. Go to the south side of the road to find Skull Rock and the start of the run.
This short Skull Rock Trail takes you through some of the nicest scenery, without any real climbs.

It's a short run, but the rocks give you a lot of chances to climb, scramble and explore. This is some of the most fun rock-scrambling terrain that you'll ever see.
Skull Rock: looks like Halloween!
Skull Rock itself is right next to the road, at the trailhead. Just walk a few meters towards the big boulders right there at the parking strip. There are usually other people there, taking pictures, but if you just go a few meters further into the rocks, you'll be by yourself, surrounded by walls of rocks. It's very worthwhile to take some time here before starting the run.

OK, so now that you've taken a look around, we're ready to get going. So turn southwest, with the road on your right, and follow the trail. There are occasional way-markers with direction-arrows.
Desert beauty
At first, the trail stays close to the road, but then starts curving away to the left as it skirts the big rock formations to the south.

When you see the campground down below you on the right side, take the trail down there towards the wooden message board and the outhouse.
The campground
You now turn right and run westwards along the paved campground road for the 0.5 miles through the beautiful campground. This is the life! Almost every site has its own private cliffs and rocks, and often its own joshua tree. I actually stayed at this campground, and the opportunity for further hiking/running/exploring is amazing.

When the campground road reaches the main road, cross it and turn right to follow the other half of the trail back to the trailhead.

The second half of the trail is quiet and natural, with very few people. It's my favorite part of the run.

On this half, it too follows the road at the beginning, but then turns off to the north and then follows ridges and canyons full of sand back to the start.
Along the ridge
You'll first head up and over two little ridges, then descend into the little canyon, lined by boulders and cliffs.
Great rock formations along the trail
There are signs at the end to take you back to the Skull Rock trailhead to the right side, and to combine the run with nearby Split Rock Loop Trail, which heads off to the left.

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