The California Riding and Hiking Trail, California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT), Joshua Tree National Park, California

The California Riding and Hiking Trail - 37.3 miles

California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT)

The California Riding and Hiking Trail

The California Riding and Hiking Trail

Round-Trip Length: 37.3 miles (one-way, through-hike distance)
Start-End Elevation: 3,983' - 2,885' (5,155' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -1,098' net elevation loss (+3,530' total elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

The California Riding and Hiking Trail - 37.3 Miles Round-Trip

The California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) stretches 37.3 miles from the Black Rock Campground in Yucca Valley to the Park's North Entrance Station in Twentynine Palms. This multi-faceted trail passes through mountainous pinyon-juniper woodlands in the west, expansive Joshua Tree flats in the middle and low-Mojave Desert ecotones in the east. 

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The demanding through-hike leads deep into wilderness areas few visitors see, with ecological and geological variations every step of the way.

The following description travels west - east, trending down from the high elevations of Black Rock Campground to open desert bajadas at the North Entrance Station.

The CRHT's 5 distinct legs, defined by Park roads that bisect it - are summarized below. More detailed descriptions of each are provided in related links (above), and under the main California Riding and Hiking Trail heading on's Joshua Tree National Park page:

7.75 miles :: 3,983' - 4,815' (5,155' max elevation) :: +832' net elevation gain :: +1,340' total elevation gain

From the CRHT Backcountry Board, the trail merges with a wash and rises to a large sign on the left for the CRHT (.18 miles). Exit the wash and turn left on the CRHT to begin a steady climb into the foothills.

The trail crests (.85 miles : 4,185') and undulates down across a bajada to another wash and the Short Loop Trail junction (1.65 miles : 4,105'). The CRHT continues southeast, merging with and becoming a wash that slows travel on steeper grades up a narrow canyon. Note the prevalence of pinyon, oak and nolina as you climb.

Canyon walls recede and grades moderates beyond the Eureka Peak Trail junction (5.3 miles : 5,040') to Upper Covington Flat Road (5.45 miles : 5,077').

Here the landscape opens considerably to the Eureka Peak Road - Upper Covington Flat Road intersection (5.7 miles : 5,155') - the California Riding and Hiking Trail's highest point.

Follow signs across and begin a shifting, downhill course into a thick Joshua Tree forest for which these flats are known. The trail drops into and negotiates a wash that rejoins the road at the Upper Covington Flat Backcountry Board to complete the westernmost segment of the CRHT (7.75 miles : 4,815').

11.25 miles :: 4,815' - 4,340' (5,015' max elevation) :: -475' net elevation loss :: +1,450' total elevation gain

The 11.25 mile section between Upper Covington Flat (west) Juniper Flats (east) is the CRHT's longest and arguably most interesting segment, undulating through high plateaus and rugged canyon country into vast Joshua Tree flats near Keys View Road.

From Upper Covington Flat, the trail bends east and drops steeply through a diversely vegetated hillside into a wide, barren valley. Make consecutive wash crossings to Mile Marker 28 (9.4 miles : 4,705') and bear right.

The trail tilts SE and climbs steadily to a high ridge (10.8 miles) with useful perspective on the fire-scarred valley through which you just passed, and maze of canyons and washes ahead. It negotiates a rugged descent along a thin ridge into a wash (11.35 miles : 4,612'), where cairns lead to Mile Marker 26 (11.45 miles : 4,578'). Remain vigilant through vague areas.

The trail slips through a slot and bursts into a capacious, inhospitable basin. It drops steeply to the valley floor at Mile Marker 25 (12.45 miles : 4,175') and climbs immediately back up to the encasement's northeast rim (13.75 miles : 4,795'). Here grades moderate, edging northeast across a high, Joshua Tree-filled flat.

The CRHT rolls through an expanding landscape past two connections for the Stubbe Springs Loop Trail (15.35 miles and 17.25 miles) to Keys View Road (19.0 miles : 4,340').

6.55 miles :: 4,340' - 4,475' (4,540' max elevation) :: +135' net elevation gain :: +610' total elevation gain

The 6.55 mile section between Keys View Road (west) and Geology Tour Road (east) begins in the great Joshua Tree forests of Juniper Flats, rises through a pass between Ryan Mountain (5,461') and Lost Horse Mountain (5,313') and ends in a desolate expanse of Queen Valley on Geology Tour Road.

The CRHT crosses Keys View Road toward Ryan Campground and turns sharply southwest along the base of Ryan and Lost Horse mountains. The trail weaves quickly through a thick Joshua Tree forest while rising up a narrow passage between the summits (20.6 miles : 4,405').

It trail crests along a basaltic rock-strewn saddle (21.7 miles : 4,540') and twists ruggedly down the east side with sweeping views across Queen Valley.

The landscape is now markedly different as you move into the low Mojave, a stark transition zone dotted with creosote, yucca, cholla, desert scrub and monzogranite rock piles. The CRHT undulates down across a wide wash (23.2 miles : 4,330'), then climbs steadily through open desert and deep sand to Geology Tour Road (25.55 miles : 4,475').

4.5 miles :: 4,475' - 3,912' (4,482' max elevation) :: -563' net elevation loss :: +25' total elevation gain

This section of the CRHT passes through Mojave desert shrub and scrub vegetation zones in a lonely, desolate corner of Queen Valley.

True desert lovers will appreciate this segment's stark beauty, boundless open space and solitude. After a brief rise to a low N-S ridge, the trail glides gently down open desert with little variation to the Twin Tanks Trailhead on Pinto Basin Road (30.05 miles : 3,912').

Ubiquitous creosote is accompanied only by an occasional Joshua Tree, or an even more rare Juniper. Worth noting along the way are Coyote Melons, a softball size gourd that grows from stringy vines on the ground. Afternoon travelers will enjoy rangy views across the Hexie Mountains.

7.25 miles :: 3,912' - 2,885' (3,926' max elevation) :: -1,027' net elevation loss:: +146' total elevation gain

The easternmost section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail continues downhill from Twin Tanks to the North Entrance Station.

From Twin Tanks, the trail turns sharply north on packed gravel down a vast bajada framed by high ridges to the east and west. The stark expanse ahead belies a rich scrub and brush community with plants from the mid and low Mojave deserts: creosote is predominant, while paperbag bush, jojoba, various cholla, mound, hedgehog and barrel cacti emerge as you progress.

The trail edges east and crests a thin saddle (33.05 miles : 3,636') with useful perspective on the upper bajada. Note the dark basaltic rock on this saddle and slopes above, a sharp contrast to the light monzogranite of previous miles. The trail drops into and crosses a wash, the first of many on this final segment.

The trail bends sharply NW (32 miles : 2,882') and moderates across several washes in the lower bajada to the CRHT's terminus at the North Entrance Station (37.3 miles : 2,885').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N34 04.508 W116 23.270 — California Riding and Hiking Trail Trailhead
  • N34 04.017 W116 21.895 — 1.65 miles : CRHT - Short Loop Trail junction
  • N34 03.090 W116 20.761 — 3.45 miles : Fork in wash - bear left
  • N34 01.630 W116 20.095 — 5.45 miles : CRHT - Upper Covington Flat Road junction
  • N34 00.575 W116 18.345 — 7.75 miles : Upper Covington Flat Backcountry Board
  • N34 00.442 W116 16.898 — 9.4 miles: Mile Marker #28 - Upper Covington Flat split
  • N34 00.022 W116 16.019 — 10.45 miles: Sign Post atop ridge - begin ridge descent
  • N33 59.472 W116 15.849 — 11.35 miles : Cross wash after ridge descent to MM #26
  • N33 58.867 W116 15.381 — 12.45 miles : Mile Marker #25 on basin floor
  • N33 58.894 W116 14.553 — 13.75 miles: Crest ridge with basin overlook
  • N33 58.703 W116 13.135 — 15.35 miles: Mile Marker #22 and Stubbe Springs split #1
  • N33 58.215 W116 11.425 — 17.3 miles : Stubbe Springs split #2
  • N33 58.608 W116 09.905 — 19.0 miles : CRHT Trailhead on Keys View Road
  • N33 58.431 W116 08.780 — 20.6 miles : Climb between Ryan and Lost Horse Mt
  • N33 57.839 W116 08.083 — 21.7 miles : Crest atop saddle-pass
  • N33 58.120 W116 06.955 — 23.2 miles: Cross wash; begin climb to Geo Tour Road
  • N33 59.118 W116 04.924 — 25.55 miles : CRHT Trailhead on Geology Tour Road
  • N33 59.365 W116 01.379 — 30.05 miles : CRHT Trailhead at Twin Tanks
  • N34 01.250 W116 00.959 — 32.75 miles : Cross Park facility access road
  • N34 01.416 W116 00.826 — 33.05 miles : miles: Crest saddle, drop back into wash
  • N34 02.912 W116 01.197 — 35.05 miles : Travel in deep sand down bajada
  • N34 04.464 W116 01.900 — 37.3 miles : North Entrance Station Backcountry Board

Worth Noting

  • The CRHT is fully exposed to sun, heat and wind. Layers and full sun protection are necessary, no matter the season. There are no reliable natural water sources within reasonable proximity to the CRHT. Thru-hikers must carry their own, cache in advance or plan for assistance.
  • The CRHT travels through and crosses many washes. While most are well-marked, navigational vigilance is a must. There are several vague crossings between Upper Covington Flat and Keys View Road.
  • Be mindful of snakes, especially near boulder piles and tortoise burrows.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Beyond the Black Rock Campground, there are no designated or maintained backcountry campsites on the California Riding and Hiking Trail.

  • Wilderness camping is permitted 500' from the trail and one mile from Park roads.

  • Campground camping is available at the Ryan Campground, located .1 miles north of the CRHT near its intersection with Keys View Road.

  • Campground camping is available at the Belle Campground, 1.35 miles from the Twin Tanks Trailhead.

  • Camping is not permitted in day-use only areas. These are clearly labeled on topo maps and all backcountry registration boards.

Rules and Regulations

  • No dogs, bikes, guns or motorized vehicles are permitted on the California Riding and Hiking Trail.
  • Horses are permitted, but must stay on trails and may not graze on Park lands or drink from Park water sources.

Directions to Trailhead

The California Riding and Hiking Trail Trailhead is located on the north side of the Black Rock Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, 5.0 miles from the Highway 62 turnoff in Yucca Valley, CA.

From Highway 62 in Yucca Valley, turn south on Joshua Lane and travel 4.5 miles to its dead-end at San Marino Drive (do not veer off on Joshua Drive 1 mile from the Highway 62 turnoff). Turn right, then left on San Marino Drive and follow it into the Black Rock Campground.

The California Riding and Hiking Trail Trailhead is located .5 miles up on San Marino Drive on the left hand side of the road. Parking is very limited, and it's advisable to drive another .2 miles past it to the Ranger Station parking lot and walk back down to the trailhead.

Contact Information

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

Visitor Information

Park Headquarters

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"The trail is generally well maintained and marked, though it is still backcountry desert hiking and you'll need to closely follow cairns and other travel cues. The most challenging parts are washes - particularly knowing how long to stay in them and where to enter and exit. Most are marked with cairns, but these are sometimes easily lost in open desert. The canyons near Black Rock Campground are also a bit of a maze, so you'll want to pay close attention to signs and stay on the CRHT."
ProTrails Admin  -   -  Date Posted: August 13, 2015
"Haven't yet hiked this, but I plan to! Can anyone speak to how well maintained the trail is? Are parts of it difficult to follow, or is it clearly marked and maintained throughout?"
Matthew  -   -  Date Posted: August 13, 2015


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