Judging by the crowds, Skull Rock is one of the most popular stops in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s certainly worth a brief visit, to see the huge boulder that looks a lot like a skull (perhaps of an alien, rather than a human). You can also do some boulder scrambling here, and take a short hike.
Skull Rock is located along Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree National Park, about halfway between the north entrance station (near the Oasis visitor center) and the west entrance station (near the town of Joshua Tree). You’ll find the actual skull-looking rock directly off the side of the road, with plenty of parallel parking along the road.
You’ll probably have very little trouble spotting the main attraction at Skull Rock. You can see it without even getting out of your car. But I’d still suggest that you step out for a moment…
… and climb up to skull rock for a closer look. Good luck getting a picture of it that doesn’t also have half a dozen tourists in it!
Once you’ve scrambled up to Skull Rock (that part is easy), circle around to the back (a little more tricky) to the huge field of rounded boulders. This is a great place to let the kids burn off some energy.
Earlier in the day, when I stopped at the visitor center in Twentynine Palms, the park ranger suggested that I stop at Skull Rock to “stretch my legs as a warm-up for Ryan Mountain”. That’s exactly what I did. There’s a short trail that leads off to the right from the skull. I had no idea where it went…
… but I soon discovered that it runs next to the road, past more boulders, to the next parking area (at a campground). The park describes this trail as a 1.5 mile loop, but I didn’t see an obvious return route, so I backtracked the way I came. And since this trail parallels the road, and doesn’t really lead anywhere, I wouldn’t suggest you make it a priority. Instead, spend a little more time hopping from boulder to boulder, back at the skull, and then move on to another, less-crowded spot.
The Bottom Line
You simply mustn’t visit Joshua Tree National Park without snapping a few pictures of Skull Rock. I’d suggest spending some time on the boulders near the skull, and skipping the unimpressive hiking trail that connects the skull to the nearby campground.
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive into Joshua Tree National Park, with a stop at Skull Rock: