Barker Dam: Path through Joshua history

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — From experienced hikers and rock climbers to families and Boy Scout groups, Joshua Tree National Park is visited by thousands of people from around the world each year.

Although the hikes up the rough terrain of rocky formations are a main attraction for many visitors to Joshua Tree, one of the most interesting and beautiful trails is a simple loop covering a flat area in the desert.

The route to Barker Dam is a clearly marked trail just more than one mile long. Although the views of Joshua trees and rock formations along the path are appealing, this trail is unique to any other in the park.

Click on the video at right to view an audio slideshow about Barker Dam Trail photographed and produced by writer Kelsey Pinault.

Named after the small dam that is located in the area, Barker Dam gives park visitors a chance to learn about the history of Joshua Tree park while enjoying interesting desert views.

When the area that is now protected as a national park began to develop in the early 1900s, cowboys built Barker Dam as a water source for their cattle. Today, the dam attracts a variety of wildlife and vegetation, especially when enough rainwater from the park is held at the dam. Along with the dam, the path overlooks an old man-made well that was also used by cattle ranchers.

“I loved being able to see these historical pieces and learning about them with the signs along the trail,” said Elizabeth Widen, a park visitor from Wisconsin.

On the way to the dam, the Barker Dam Trail also showcases a large rock formation with ancient petroglyphs carvings. Years ago these carvings, which are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, were painted over to be used on a movie set.

The Barker Dam Trail is 1.1 miles on mostly flat terrain providing scenic views of Joshua trees and rock formations along the way (Photos by Kelsey Pinault).

“These are a part of history and it’s a good way to learn about the fact that we shouldn’t alter these old paintings from Native Americans because it’s a really amazing thing to see,” said Pam Tripp, an interpretive ranger at Joshua Tree National Park.

Providing an easy path, Barker Dam is ideal for people of all ages, being a favorite among visitors with small children.

“This trail is perfect for the kids because it’s not too long and there’s plenty for them to see,” said Arlen Heginbotham, who visited the park in November with his wife and two young daughters.

The water level in the man-made dam varies throughout the year, but the site is one to see whether it is dry or filled will nine feet of water.

“There have been times when the water is flowing over the dam and the trails are flooded,” said Joe Zarki, chief of Interpretation at Joshua Tree National Park. “It’s one of the best places to see animals in the park. Over the summer people reported seeing bighorn sheep almost everyday in the area.”

Joshua Tree offers so many hikes, trails and unique views to visitors to the point where it can be hard to fit it all in one trip. However, even on a quiet day Barker Dam is known as one of the busiest trails, topping many visitor’s lists as a must see.

The Barker Dam Trail is an ideal walk for families with small children. Some groups take advantage of the open land along the trail setting up a picnic.


If You Go

  • Directions: From Joshua Tree, drive south along Park Boulevard and enter the park via the West Entrance Station. Continue following the road past the Boy Scout Trailhead. Turn left onto the road marked with a sign for Barker Dam.
  • Parking: There is a large trailhead parking lot for Barker Dam and Wall Street Mill.
    Hours of operation: the park is accessible at all hours, however Barker Dam Trail closes after sunset.
  • Facilities: Restrooms are located before the trail. Gift shops and visitors centers are located at the park entrances.
  • Fees: Seven-day vehicle pass: $15; seven-day single entry pass: $5; annual pass (entry for signee and guests): $30.
  • For more information: Visit: or call: 760-367-6392.

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