The Barker Dam Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park
Barker Dam is a small dam located in Joshua Tree National Park. It is a man-made structure built in the early 1900s to provide water for cattle ranching. During the spring months it is filled with water, however, it quickly dries up in the hot summer months.
It is also an extremely popular spot for hiking, photography, and wildlife viewing. The Barker Dam Loop Nature Trail, a 1.3-mile loop trail, provides access to the dam and offers scenic views of the surrounding desert landscapes.
|Hiking Distance||1.3 miles (2.1 km), round trip|
|Hiking Duration||1-2 hours|
|Dogs||No, pets are not allowed in Joshua Tree NP|
|Fees||No parking fee, just the National Park’s entrance fee.|
Getting to the Barker Dam Trail
The trailhead for the Barker Dam Nature Trail is located just past the Hidden Valley Campground in Joshua Tree National Park’s northern area.
The closest park entrance to the Barker Dam trail is the Joshua Tree Visitor’s Center. To get to the trailhead, take the paved Park Boulevard from Joshua Tree to the Hidden Valley campground (about 15 miles). Once you turn left onto barker Dam Road, you’ll pass the campground. From there you can find the trailhead pretty easily about 1.5 miles away.
Parking at the Trailhead
The Barker Dam parking lot for the trailhead generally has plenty of spaces, but it can get a little crowded during peak visitation times. The parking lot is located about 1.5 miles past the Hidden Valley Campground, and has a large paved lot that can accommodate a couple of dozen vehicles.
The GPS Coordinates of the parking lot are 34.025073, -116.141973 (Google Maps link).
There is no fee to park at the Barker Dam trailhead, but there is a fee to enter Joshua Tree National Park. Usually less than $30 for a 7-day pass, this pass allows you to go in and out of the park whenever you’d like for a total of 7 days after purchasing it.
What to Expect on the Barker Dam Trail
The Barker Dam Nature Trail provides great views of the park. Expect to see extensive hardscapes with huge boulders and stacked rock formations, along with Joshua Trees dotting the landscape. Rock climbers flock to this area due to the size of the boulders here.
The sandy trail is generally flat, and about 0.15 miles in, you’ll come to a junction. This is where the loop starts. Take either way, and you’ll reach the dam; however, we prefer going clockwise (left). Going left at the junction allows you to see the petroglyphs next.
From the junction, after about 0.25 miles, you’ll reach a short stem trail towards a small cave that has the ancient Cahuilla petroglyphs and pictographs. Most of these petroglyphs are of geometric shapes and stick figures on the rock walls that are fairly easy to see from the trail. They are easy to see because they were unfortunately painted over in a sort of vandalism from a movie shoot back in the 1960s to make them easier to see.
This ancient rock art site, which tells a story of the desert’s human history, should not be disturbed. Climbing on or touching the petroglyphs is not allowed by the Park service.
Less than half a mile later, you finally get to see the historic Barker Dam. The depression in the ground started out as a natural water catch basin fed by a small stream, but the early earthen fill dam was built by early settlers in the early 1900s to provide water for cattle ranching. The dam is now made of rock and concrete (thanks to the NPS) and is approximately 12 feet tall and 150 feet long.
During the spring, expect to see water in the reservoir. In the summer months, the hot and dry air evaporates the lake, and it becomes a dry lake bed instead.
The Best Time to Visit Barker Dam
During the wetter months, usually between November and April, the reservoir tends to be filled with water. These months see fewer crowds, and the temperature tops out in the 60s or 70s, which is extremely comfortable.
During the much hotter summer months (with highs reaching into the 90s and 100s), the water level in the reservoir can drop significantly due to evaporation and increased water usage by the surrounding vegetation. During the dry months, the water level can drop to the point where the lake is completely dry.
The water at Barker Dam is not safe for drinking or swimming, so please stay on the trail when visiting the dam.
Other Trails Nearby Barker Dam
There are several other trails within the vicinity of the Barker Dam Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park.
- Wall Street Mill Trail: This is a 2.5-mile round-trip trail that leads to an abandoned gold mine and mill site.
- Hidden Valley Nature Trail: This is an easy 1-mile loop trail that provides a great introduction to the Joshua Tree desert ecosystem.
- Ryan Mountain Trail: This is a 3-mile round-trip trail that takes you to the summit of Ryan Mountain. The trail is considered moderate to strenuous.
- Lost Horse Mine Trail: This is a 4-mile round-trip trail that leads to an abandoned gold mine. The trail is considered moderate.