Boy Scout Trail

Boy Scout Trail (Joshua Tree) Hike

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn By Turn Directions for the Boy Scout Trail
  • How to Get to the Boy Scout Trail in Joshua Tree
  • Everything You Need to Know to Prepare for the Hike
Distance16 miles (25.8 km)
Other Options 9.6 Miles to Viewpoint and Back
Hike Time6-8 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)1,850 feet (564m)
Highest Elevation4,240 feet (1292m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entry Fee
Dog FriendlyNo
Park Website (?)Joshua Tree National Park
Park Phone760-367-5500
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As one of the longer recommended day hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, the Boy Scout Trail is a popular hike. Starting at the Keys West Trailhead, you’ll hike across an open desert full of Joshua Trees, then transition into a rocky descent through the Wonderland of Rocks that offers panoramic viewpoints. And then, 1,000 feet lower, the trail makes its way through washes and canyons to Indian Cove. The hike is unusual in that you get a taste of the upper Mojave desert with it’s Joshua Trees, and then lower Mojave desert, with cactus and yucca. Do the out-and-back hike for 16 miles, or just hike to the viewpoint for a respectable 9.5-miler.

Where Is the Boy Scout Trail in Joshua Tree?

The Boy Scout Trail has two ends, and this guide starts at the east terminus of Keys West, just off of Park Blvd, relatively close to the West Entrance of the park. There are signs off the main Park Blvd for Boy Scout Trail parking. Use this trailhead address:
Boy Scout Trail, 64568 Park Blvd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

Boy Scout Trail Directions 2
The lot at Keys West is one of the biggest for any trailhead in the park, but it does fill up at popular times. Get here early to beat the crowds.
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There’s a primitive toilet at the trailhead and some trash cans, but no water.

Gear for the Hike

This is a long desert hike that’s entirely exposed, so you need to prepare accordingly. I bring at least 3L of water, wear good hiking boots, and have trekking poles for the climbs. If you need to top up your water, you can walk an extra mile (0.5 there, 0.5 back) to the Indian Cove Entrance Station and refill when you’re at the half-way point. Otherwise, there’s no water on the hike for a refill. Having small snacks will keep your energy up for the distance.

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La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated March 2020.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Boy Scout Trail Maps

Click To View Map

Boy Scout Trail (Joshua Tree) Hike Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy (prices on REI and Amazon) and does a lot of the same things.

Elevation Profile

This out-and-back hike is similar to the Grand Canyon in that you start with a descent and then hike back up. What this means in practical terms is that you need to save energy for the trip back. And while the climb out is only about 1,300 feet, the first half of it is done in loose sand, which is hard to hike through. Doing the full hike is always a little tougher than you’d think.

Boy Scout Trail Elevation
Here’s the one way (west to east) profile of the hike. It’s flat for about halfway, then you descend. On the way back, you have to climb back out.

Hike Landmarks

Willow Hole Trail Junction 1.34130
Big Pine Junction44030
Viewpoint 4.8 3900
Wash Begins5.43560
Indian Cove82860

3d Map

Boy Scout Trail 3d Map
In this view you can clearly see the 3 sections of the hike: upper Mojave, Wonderland of Rocks, and then lower Mojave. When you do the hike it helps to mentally chunk the trip into these blocks too.

Boy Scout Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

Boy Scout Trail Directions 4
The hike starts at the main Keys West trail board by the toilet.
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Whoa! Today I saw a coyote right at the start!
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Soon after the start you’ll see this mileage sign. We’re heading to Indian Cove.
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Jackrabbit! Mornings are the best time to spot wildlife.
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The beginning of the hike has several side trails to climbing areas. Stay straight on the main Boy Scout Trail.
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Here’s a closeup of the marker at that last junction. The climbing area access trails have posts with this little icon on it so that you don’t get confused.
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Look left as you hike for nice views of San Gorgonio mountain, the highest point in Southern California.
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At the junction with the Willow Hole Trail, hike left to stay on the Boy Scout Trail.
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Right after the junction a sign confirms that you are in the right place.
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The next few miles are mellow and pretty flat, with lots of great Joshua Trees.
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As you approach the Wonderland of Rocks, the trail gets less sandy and rockier. More plants grow here because they can access water that pools in cracks in the rocks. An arrow trail marker helps you along. These arrow trail markers are scattered throughout the hike.
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The trail starts sloping downward and enters a wash.
Boy Scout Trail Directions 1
And soon you arrive at the junction with the Big Pine Trail off to your left. Continue right down the wash.
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Here’s a closeup of the sign at the last trail junction.
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Keep hiking down the wash. You’ll have to hop down boulders at some points, but it’s not any time of a major rock scramble.
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You’ll pass this water basin from an old mine that was here many years ago.
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Arrow markers lead you in and out of the wash.
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You’ll start getting some glimpses down into Twentynine Palms.
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And now the trail starts descending through loose boulders.
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And there’s more great views.
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And after about 4.5 miles you’ll reach an epic viewpoint. If you’re doing the shorter hike, you can turn around here. Otherwise enjoy the view and continue.
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The trail continues to wind down through the canyons.
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And there’s one last section of steep switchbacks dropping you a few hundred feet through the rocks.
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At the end of the steep rocky descent, make the right into the wash. The spot is marked with an arrow.
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Keep hiking down the wash. Your path is confirmed by arrow markers.
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At points the wash gets fairly wide.
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And then narrows into slot canyons.
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And eventually you’ll see this marker pointing you out of the wash and up to the right.
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The trail climbs for a second and then starts back down along the side of the hill.
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And soon you’re back in the big, wide wash. Look for stones on the side of the trail like these to mark the way.
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Soon the trail in the wash transitions to just a regular trail again and you have a small climb.
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And then you have a long, gradual downhill to the Indian Cove trailhead. The trail is well-worn and easy to follow.
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Toward the end you’ll see this sign for the campground and entrance station. If you need to refill your water, make a left at the road and walk down to the ranger station. The campground has no water FYI.
Boy Scout Trail Directions 36
And here you are at the Indian Cove Trailhead, the end of the hike. From here, turn around and go back the way you came to finish the hike.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.