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Hike Indian Loop Trail At Pioneertown Mountains Preserve

Hike Indian Loop Trail at Pioneertown Mountains Preserve

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions
  • Parking for the Indian Loop Trail
  • Insider Tips & Recommendations
Total Distance (?)8 miles (12.9 km)
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,460 feet (445m)
Highest Elevation5,541 feet (1689m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Pioneertown Mountains Preserve
Park Phone760-369-7105
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions
Stay SafeCopy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.
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Pioneertown Mountains Preserve sits strategically between the high mountains and desert. It’s a unique and varied landscape, and the Indian Loop Trail takes you on a tour of everything it has to offer. You’ll climb to the 5,541-foot Chaparrosa Peak, wind through the foothills with views to the high peaks of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, and then descend through Pipes Canyon, along a critical watershed bringing life to the desert.

Where is the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve?

Pioneertown Mountains Preserve is just northwest of Joshua Tree National Park, and a few miles past the main drag of Pioneertown. Use this trailhead address:
51010 Pipes Canyon Road, Pioneertown, CA 92268

Pioneertown
Pioneertown is an “old west” town built in 1946 to be a set for movies and television. Hundreds of productions used the buildings here. Today it’s a tourist attraction and is still used as a set. On the day I created this guide, I saw a music video being shot here. Photo Wikipedia
Pioneertown Mountains Indian Loop Directions 3
Pipes Canyon Road is sand and doable by all vehicles.
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Stay on the sand road until you reach the main parking area for the preserve.

Entry is free and donations are appreciated.

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You can park in the first lot on the left.
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If you need restrooms or water, continue to the end of the parking lot where the main building is.
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There’s also a trail board at the end where you can pick up a map and make a donation.

You might see Pioneertown Mountains Preserve listed as Pipes Canyon Preserve. That was the original name here.

Gear For the Hike

This is a proper desert hike and you should be prepared accordingly. Bring enough water – 2L is smart for most conditions. In the summer it can get brutally hot here and you’ll probably want to time your hike for the cooler hours of the day.

Garmin Inreach Mini 2

Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI

Lone Peak 6 Yellow

Altra Lone Peak 6
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon 
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon 

Gregory Zulu 30

Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.

Women’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 2022.

My May 2022 Top Gear Picks

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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Indian Loop Trail Maps

Pioneertown Mountains Indian Loop Directions 2
The trail is well marked throughout the loop with markers like this.
Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
Here’s what I use. If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 7 or Epix. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

To access this guide when out of cell phone range on the trail, simply save the webpage on your phone ( iPhoneAndroid ).

Elevation Profile

Hike Indian Loop Trail At Pioneertown Mountains Preserve Elevation
There’s a gentle climb up to Chaparrosa Peak, then a rolling middle section, and then a nice long and gradual descent down Pipes Canyon.

3D Map

Hike Indian Loop Trail At Pioneertown Mountains Preserve 3d Map
We’ll tackle the Indian Loop Trail clockwise in this guide, first hiking up to Chaparrosa Peak, and then continuing back down to the start through Pipes Canyon.

Hike Brief

La Times Sawtooth Fire
Before the Sawtooth Complex Fire in 2006, the area you are hiking through looked much different, with Joshua Trees and pines.

XX Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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Go up the road and to the left from the first parking area. We’re going to start on the Chaparrosa Trail.
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Hike up to the upper parking lot after the turn.
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Go to the end of the parking lot on the left.
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And look for the trailhead through the fence.
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Sign the register before you head on the trail.
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And then you’ll see the big sign announcing the official start of the Chaparrosa Trail.
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The trail is easy to follow as it rolls in and out of washes, and there are a good amount of trail markers.
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Off to your left are the dramatic Sawtooths.
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The trail starts to follow the wash uphill.
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You’ll pass a blocked off junction, which was the older routing of this trail.
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Keep following the trail markers up the wash.
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And then you start climbing up switchbacks.
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You’ll start to get views into the San Gorgonio Wilderness’s lower peaks. The three peaks in the distance are the Three Sisters Peaks, about 7600 or so feet high.
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At around 1.5 miles you reach a ridge.
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To the south are the high peaks in Joshua Tree National Park.
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And you’ll pass the junction with the closed part of the trail we saw earlier.
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If you look back to the east as climb, you can see Flat Top Mesa.
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And in the distance beyond that is Granite Peak in Mojave National Preserve.
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And you get more great views of the Sawtooths as you climb.
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In front of you the higher mountains toward Big Bear come into view. The highest peak on the right is Onyx Peak, which you can hike up.
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Now the trail flattens out and you have a stretch through the desert scrub.
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And at about 2.3 miles in you hit the junction to the Chaparrosa Peak Spur. Make the left to continue up to the peak.
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The trail is a little more primitive, but is easy to follow, again going in and out of washes as it climbs.
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When you hit the ridge you’ll see Chaparrosa Peak in front of you.
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And here you are at the summit of Chaparrosa Peak, with the peaks around Big Bear in front of you.

Chaparro (Chapparal) is Spanish for “Scrub Oak” and the suffix of “osa” implies that the peak was dense with scrub.

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There’s a survey benchmark at the summit, placed here in 1939.
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And you can see south to San Jacinto.
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And east to Onyx Peak.
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When you’re done, head back down to the last junction, enjoying the views into the Sawtooths.
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And then make the left, back onto the loop.
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Now we’re on the Indian Springs Trail, which rolls up and down for the next mile or so, offering views along the way.
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And then at about 5 miles in, the trail turns east into a steep canyon.
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You’ll descend through the steep upper reaches of the canyon.
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And you’ll still have the trail markers to help along the way.
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When the narrow canyon joins the big wash, make the right to start the Pipes Canyon Trail.
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From here to the end we have a nice cruise down Pipes Canyon.
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As you approach the creek (Pipes Wash), the area becomes lush with vegetation, most of which has appeared since the Sawtooth Fire in 2006.
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It’s fun to walk through the tunnels when the vegetation gets dense.
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You’ll cross Pipes Wash several times on the way back.
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At around 6 miles in you’ll reach a short spur to the Olsen Ruins.
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You can explore the ruins of the Olsen ruins. The structures were built in 1938.

Who was Olsen? Actually it’s John Olson, and he was a Swede who lived here from the 1920s, mining onyx. He was tragically murdered in 1945 by an Army deserter who he took in. There’s a quaint description of life at the cabin in this old article.

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Continue down the wash from the cabin. There are trail markers along the way too.
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As you continue, the wash gets wider.
Pioneertown Petroglyph
There’s even a small viewing area for petroglyphs, keep your eyes open to the left for a small loop off the main trail.
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And then you reach the gate at the visitor center area. Go through gate and continue straight.
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And then you reach the end of the Pipes Canyon Trail. That’s the hike!

This guide last updated on February 21, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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