Pine City via the Eagle Cliff Hills, Split Rock Picnic Area and Parking Lot, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Pine City via the Eagle Cliff Hills - 9.4 miles

Split Rock Picnic Area and Parking Lot

Trekking through the Eagle Cliff Hills en route to Pine City

Trekking through the Eagle Cliff Hills en route to Pine City

Round-Trip Length: 9.4 miles
Start-End Elevation: 4,280' - 4,578' (4,613' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +298' net elevation gain (+2,019' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Pine City via the Eagle Cliff Hills - 9.4 Miles Round-Trip

Pine City is located in a maze of rugged and heavily vegetated canyons in the northeast corner of Queen Valley. It's named for a high concentration of pinyon pine that are sheltered and funneled water by surrounding canyons and rock formations.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

While easily reached from the Pine City Trailhead, a more adventurous route begins from the Split Rock Loop Trailhead and navigates the lightly traveled Eagle Cliff Hills:

The trail begins on the north end of the parking lot at Split Rock, a large boulder with a pronounced split in its base. Go left around Split Rock and look down to your left for the trail.

The trail weaves through open rock gardens to the Eagle Cliff Trail split (.35 miles : 4,225'). Note the sign reads: SL (left) - EC (right). Bear right toward EC (Eagle Cliff Hills).

The Eagle Cliff Trail bends NW and undulates to the basin wall, which it scales on a steep, narrow and faint path (.75 miles : 4,263'). Anticipate slick footing over loose rock and sand.

Note higher concentrations of juniper, pinyon, oak, nolina, and yucca as you gain elevation. Mound, beavertail and hedgehog cacti also appear on this challenging climb. The trail squeezes through a gap beneath adjacent boulders (.95 miles : 4,574'), and continues up to the crest of a high ridge (1.0 miles : 4,602').

Ignore an unmarked spur that branches right just before reaching the crest, and aim for the lone pinyon pine straight ahead (atop the ridge) to remain on track.

Survey the basin below before dropping in. Rugged travel moderates on a more distinct path through the Eagle Cliff Hills, a stretch highlighted by large rock formations and dense vegetation. Remain vigilant through this complex and indistinguishable landscape.

At 2.0 miles (4,383') you'll reach the Desert Queen Mine complex, a cluster of gated mine shafts on a high ridge overlooking a deep canyon.

The Desert Queen Mine was a lucrative gold mining outfit that operated 1865 - 1961. The trail skirts the mines (left) and drops on a wide path into the canyon. It bottoms out on the canyon floor and crosses a wash (2.2 miles : 4,287'); once over it climbs steeply back up the far canyon wall. Keep left at a faint split shortly after the wash crossing (2.3 miles : 4,347').

The trail winds uphill to a sparsely vegetated plateau and unmarked junction with a dirt road (2.6 miles : 4,435'). Turn Left. The dirt road leads to the Pine City Trailhead (2.75 miles : 4,432'). The Pine City Trail heads north and level across Queen Valley, formed by different rates of erosion between the surrounding mountains and underlying rock.

Negro Hill (4,875') stands prominently over the Pine City Trailhead area, while Queen Mountain (5,687') and its east ridge frame the northern horizon. Joshua Trees dot the great expanse, but grow poorly in the far east end of their range.

The trail runs across the valley to a brief wash merge (4.0 miles : 4,538'), beyond which the landscape diversifies with large rock gardens and a variety of trees, cacti and shrubs (4.2 miles : 4,538'). This is generally considered the south edge of Pine City, and the Day Use Area demarcation.

The trail continues northeast to Pine City Overlook and an end of maintained trails sign (4.7 miles : 4,578'). Social trails branch down into canyons and along high ridges, the latter providing excellent views of the pine-filled maze below.

Steep pitches, large boulders, and tangled vegetation make canyon exploration difficult, but patient hikers will find safe passage. Skilled route-finders can drop into Pine City Canyon and follow it northeast through the mountains and across a bajada to connect with Park Boulevard near the North Entrance Station.

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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 01.038 W116 03.605 — .7 miles : Undulating travel to base of high basin wall
  • N34 01.170 W116 03.748 — .95 miles : Duck through low passage under boulder
  • N34 01.199 W116 03.735 — 1.0 miles : Reach high ridge overlooking large basin
  • N34 01.249 W116 03.792 — 1.15 miles : Trail moderates and clarifies
  • N34 01.479 W116 03.939 — 1.5 miles : Rolling travel thru Eagle Cliff Hills
  • N34 01.443 W116 04.281 — 2.0 miles : Desert Queen Mine area
  • N34 01.320 W116 04.309 — 2.2 miles : Cross wash, begin climb up far canyon wall
  • N34 01.372 W116 04.370 — 2.3 miles : Veer left uphill at vague trail split
  • N34 01.435 W116 04.544 — 2.65 miles : Meet road, make left to reach Pine City BB
  • N34 01.424 W116 04.666 — 2.75 miles : Pine City Trail and Backcountry Board
  • N34 01.804 W116 04.590 — 3.25 miles : Level travel across Queen Valley
  • N34 02.367 W116 04.291 — 4.0 miles : Brief wash merge; landscape intensifies
  • N34 02.862 W116 04.046 — 4.7 miles : Trail ends at overlook of Pine City Canyon

Worth Noting

  • Split Rock Picnic Area is s a day use area only. Locked gates prevent entry from sunset to sunrise, and vehicles left after dark are subject to citation.

  • Popular map sources (such as Park provided maps and National Geographic) don't adequately illustrate the trail system you'll experience while on foot between the Split Rock Loop and Pine City Trailhead. Trail connections are not marked (if they exist at all), and the location of mines are potentially misleading. Navigational vigilance is a must between these points.

  • Queen Mountain (5,687') is the second tallest peak in Joshua Tree National Park.

  • Those with time should consider completing the Split Rock Loop on the return, which adds an additional 1.7 miles to the hike. This worthy excursion is highlighted by Tulip Rock, The Tooth, and Face Rock - three geologic formations with uncanny likenesses to their given names.

  • The immense boulders you'll see on this hike are Monzogranite Rock, which forms when molten liquid, heated by the continuous movement of Earth's crust, seeps upward and cools while still below the surface. Monzogranite is often distinguished by rectangular joints and a rough, grippy surface prized by climbers.

  • The Pine City Day Use Area is designated to protect bighorn sheep that utilize water pockets in these canyons.

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

  • Honor Day Use Area boundaries. Do not disturb wildlife or remove artifacts.

  • Do not enter mines at anytime.

  • 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 the large boulder on the far north side of the parking area and walk around its left side. The trail is located just behind this boulder, which features a large cave on its back side.

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.


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