Backpack the Boy Scout's Trail in Joshua Tree

Boy Scout Trail

A roughly 8 mile long trail connecting the main park to the amazing Indian Cove Campground. See varying scenery from widespread Joshua Tree forests to rocky, Mars-like terrain while camping away from the crowds and RV generators.

The Boy Scout trail connects the main part of the National Park to the outer rim campground, Indian Cove Campground. All backcountry overnight trips must be registered at a registration board (free, self-registration). Start this trip at the registration board located in either Indian Cove Campground (free to enter) or within the park ($20 fee for 7 days) at the Boy Scout Trail parking lot. Starting from Indian Cove places you almost immediately among towering rock piles and canyons, but involves a moderate level of elevation gain. Starting within the park at the Boy Scout Trail parking lot is flat terrain the majority of the way, with minor gain roughly 4 miles in, though this route grants you stellar views of the wide spanning Joshua Tree forest and San Gorgonio Mountain (tallest in SoCal).

Backcountry camping is permitted in wilderness zones (can be viewed on park maps) as long as you are one mile from a road and 500 feet from the trail. On the Boy Scout trail, you can camp anywhere within these parameters and only on the West side of the trail. That means overnight camping is only permitted to the right side of the trail when traveling from Indian Cove and to the left when traveling from within the park. Open fires are not permitted year-round.

With Joshua Tree National Park becoming increasingly popular, reservable campsites must be reserved months in advance, and first-come-first serve sites are difficult to snag even in the middle of the week. This easy backcountry trail with amazing scenery and an endless number of interesting spots to pitch your tent is an amazing way to escape the crowds. Spend your entire day rock climbing, bouldering or site-seeing and then grab your pack and hike out on the trail until you see an interesting formation. Hike to the formation and set up camp and enjoy the seclusion. During the day, scramble up boulder piles to gain amazing views, but be careful, routes can be difficult to find and technical ability can vary. As night falls, enjoy the famous Joshua Tree National Park night skies. For an added bonus, come during the end of May or early June when there is a new moon and stay up late for a brilliant viewing of the Milky Way's core (be careful of the heat this late in the year. Best start your hike late).

Pack List

  • Permit
  • Water (There is no reliable water in the park, bring a gallon a day)
  • Paracord (The ground can be difficult to drive tent stakes into. Tie to rocks)
  • Camera and Tripod
  • Backpack
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Shelter
  • Backpacking Stove
  • Food
  • Lights
Show More
RT Distance 8 Miles
Elevation Gain 600 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Autumn, Winter
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Scenic

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Scenic and Remote

I thought this adventure was great. I saw beautiful scenery from widespread Joshua trees to rocky, Mars-like terrain while camping away from the crowds and RV generators.

Go North to South

I hiked South to North on the Boy Scout trail a few days ago (Dec 28th, 2017). If I had to do it again I would go N to S. That way you start lower and do the hard part of the hike first. Then when you get to the top of the canyon, you're actually in the middle of nowehere and can't see city lights. The North campground (Indian Cove) is nice but it feels on the edge of the park and you can see civilization which for me kills the mood.


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