Split Rock Loop, Split Rock Picnic Area and Parking Lot, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Split Rock Loop - 2.1 miles

Split Rock Picnic Area and Parking Lot

The Tulip, one of many striking geologic formations along the Split Rock Loop

The Tulip, one of many striking geologic formations along the Split Rock Loop

Round-Trip Length: 2.1 miles (an additional .2 miles roundtrip to Face Rock)
Start-End Elevation: 4,280' - 4,280' (4,358' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +78' net elevation gain (+348' total elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Split Rock Loop - 2.1 Miles Round-Trip

The Split Rock Loop passes through an imaginative landscape of sculpted monzogranite rock gardens highlighted by Tulip Rock, The Tooth and Face Rock - three geologic formations with uncanny likenesses to their given names.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The following description follows the Loop counter-clockwise (note that proximity to a picnic area and poor trailhead markings have led many hikers astray on false trails emanating from the parking lot):

The trail begins on the north end of the parking lot at Split Rock, a large boulder with a pronounced vertical split at its base. Go around the left side of Split Rock and look down to your left for the trail. Once found, it's generally well marked by cairns and easy to follow for the next 1.3 miles.

Sculpted boulders and rock piles fill the open valley with the rugged and lightly traveled Eagle Cliff Hills framing views to the north. 

At .3 miles the trail crosses a small wash to the Eagle Cliff Trail split (.35 miles : 4,225'). The loop keeps left up to a crest (.6 miles : 4,280') with rangy views in all directions across a diverse and indistinguishable landscape.

The trail passes monolithic Tulip Rock just beyond the 1 mile mark. While Tulip Rock is identifiable from a counter-clockwise direction, it's best viewed and more easily recognized when looking back at it. To the west of Tulip Rock is 'The Tooth' - a large boulder that resembles a molar.

The trail passes over cairn-marked rock slabs at 1.2 miles, reaching a notably large cairn at 1.3 miles (4,295'). Here the trail splits: Though unmarked - and confusingly so - the more intuitive right fork drops into a wash and is the spur trail leading to Face Rock (see details below). The faint left fork continues the loop.

Take the left fork across a narrower portion of the aforementioned wash - obfuscated by vegetation - which rises to a low saddle between towering rock formations. While the landscape is stunning vigilance is imperative, as the next .3 miles twist and turn along a sparingly marked path.

Once over the saddle, the trail bends decisively to the left (do not follow the drainage that forks off to the right at this bend). The trail makes a few quick turns through and across washes and rolling hills, though generally heads in a northeasterly direction.

Several metal trail signposts and the occasional cairn will help you stay on track, but may be difficult to see amid brush and boulders should you stray off course. Note that the trail returns to the parking lot a few dozen yards to the south of where you began.

Reaching Face Rock:
At the 1.3 mile mark and trail split, veer right and drop into the wash. Turn right in the wash and follow it for about .1 miles until it becomes choked with brush and boulders (4,285').

Just shy of this point look up: the rock wall in front of you is Face Rock. Many believe it resembles George Washington. Retrace your steps to the split and reorient yourself to continue the loop.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N34 00.579 W116 03.353 — Split Rock Loop Trailhead
  • N34 00.829 W116 03.407 — .35 miles : Eagle Cliff Trail split
  • N34 00.167 W116 03.632 — 1.3 miles : Cross wash and rise between to two rock form
  • N34 00.316 W116 03.512 — Sign Post behind rock formation
  • N34 00.458 W116 03.431 — Sign Post behind leading back to trailhead
  • N34 00.579 W116 03.353 — 2.1 miles : Split Rock Loop Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • This is a family friendly trail, though navigational vigilance between 1.3 and 1.8 miles is imperative. Dawn and Dusk are especially photogenic times to visit this trail.

  • The Split Rock Loop is well-suited for trail running.

  • Those seeking a longer adventure should consider traveling north on the Eagle Cliff Trail for a spell, higher into these richly appointed but seldom visited foothills.

  • This is a relatively new trail. Joshua Tree National Park is considering future augmentations and improvements to it and others leading through the Eagle Cliff Hills.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for backcountry camping in Joshua Tree National Park. There are no designated backcountry campsites along the Split Rock, Eagle Cliff, or Pine City Trails.

  • Wilderness campsites must be located one mile from any road and 500' from any trail. Open fires are prohibited in the backcountry. Camping is not permitted within 500' of historical remains.

  • The Pine City vicinity is a Day Use Area, designated so to protect sensitive bighorn sheep populations and historical remains. Camping is not permitted in the Day Use Area.

  • The Day Use Area is not marked, so hikers are expected to identify and honor this zone on their own. The Day Use Area begins approximately 1.8 miles north of the Pine City Trailhead and Backcountry Board.

Rules and Regulations

  • Locked gates prevent entry to the Split Rock Trailhead and Picnic Area from sunset to sunrise, and vehicles left after dark are subject to citation.

Directions to Trailhead

The Split Rock Loop Trailhead is located in the north central region of Joshua Tree National Park, just off of Park Boulevard.

From Park Boulevard (2.2 miles west of the Park Boulevard - Pinto Basin Road intersection), turn north at the sign for Split Rock Picnic Area. Follow the dirt road .5 miles to the cul de sac parking area. There is no official trailhead marking. Identify Split Rock - the large boulder at the far north side of the lot - and walk around its left side. The trail is located just behind this boulder.

Contact Information

Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twenty Nine Palms, CA 92277-3597

Visitor Information

Park Headquarters

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"When I got to the cul de sac picnic area the entrance to the loop trail was obscured by a huge tour bus. I quickly found the exit of the trail and headed off on what I thought was the Loop Trail. I found large split rocks, and continued past them following the path of the climbers and the many social trails. I was heading into the Eagle Cliff Hills. Finally I realized I wasn't on the Loop Trail, but couldn't find my way back. I decided to follow what obviously appeared to be a trail which led to a plateau with grated mine openings. I was lost for over six hours. I followed the Desert Queen Wash east, again seeing footprints in the wash. Finally I saw a car zooming by in the distance on Park Road. With relief and elation I started in that direction and was picked up by four tourists at the intersection of Park and Pinto Basin Road. This was a frightening, harrowing experience. I foolishly didn't bring my trail book, "On Foot in JTNP" because the Loop Trail is not in the book. (But the topos were.) There is no cell service and my whistle for SOS was unanswered. Trail markings are nonexistent, and certainly would have helped at key points. Be prepared, people."
Jeanette Nadeau  -  Santa Barbara, CA.  -  Date Posted: May 16, 2016
"This was a nice hike. Our family group consisted of 3 adult males, a 4 month pregnant lady (me!), and four little girls (ages: 9, 7, 6 & 4). Two of the youngest started complaining of fatigue a little over halfway through. Another lasted in good spirits until the very end. The 9 year old was able to handle the hike with little to not difficulties. Overall, it was a fun experience for our family."
Casey  -  Twentynine Palms, CA  -  Date Posted: May 18, 2013


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