The Chasm of Doom is arguably the most popular secret hike in Joshua Tree National Park and having recently done it, I want to show you exactly how to find it, and more importantly what to expect from it once you do, so you can properly complete it and not get into a dangerous situation (which can happen here if you’re not careful).
7 quick things you should know about the Chasm of Doom:
- There are no signs for this trail (it’s literally hidden).
- It’s isn’t even a trail (it’s a cave you have to navigate to).
- It can be dangerous if you’re claustrophobic (you can get stuck).
- I would not do this hike alone, especially if it’s your first time.
- Chasm of Doom is only about a few 100 yards in length.
- Very few people know about this trail.
- There’s a lot of climbing involved but it’s a very fun hike if you enjoy this sort of stuff.
Keep these 7 things in mind before you go here and if you don’t think you can do this hike, the good news is that Joshua Tree is full of amazing trails and hikes you can explore, climb on and scramble to.
3 things I recommend you bring on your hike to Chasm of Doom:
1) Good hiking or trail running shoes. For me, I wore the Salomon Speedcross 5 and for this hike, they performed very well!
2) Decent shirt and pants (no shorts): You’ll likely get caught in jagged rocks and if you’re wearing good, resilient clothing, you’ll be protected. I just wore a rashguard shirt and sports pants for this.
3) Some form of lighting: It gets pretty dark in certain parts of the Chasm of Doom. Some people recommend bringing a headlight to this hike. I personally just relied on a phone with a flashlight app on it and that was fine for me.
Step by step instructions to find and hike Chasm of Doom:
1) First things first: Where exactly is the Chasm of Doom?
Its located near the Hidden Valley Parking lot which is inside Joshua Tree National Park.
You won’t find it on Google Maps, but when you enter Joshua Tree National Park, make sure to grab a map of the park (or download it). The good news is that the Hidden Valley Parking lot is pretty large and popular and you will see signs for that as you approach it.
I’ve included a map of that to the right to give you some reference, but long story short: To start the hike to the Chasm of Doom, you must first start at Hidden Valley Parking lot.
Note: As you arrive to the parking lot, you will see trailheads and signs for hikes nearby. Keep in mind these are NOT the trailheads to Chasm of Doom but for other hikes including a 1 mile one called Hidden Valley Nature Trail. Now that one does have a GPS available to reach and you may want to input that if you plan to go here as it’ll take you to the parking lot.
2) Next step is to find the entrance to Chasm of Doom:
To do that, I’ve attached a Google Map screenshot where you’ll see the parking lot and arrows showing you where to go. The key is this:
The entrance to Chasm of Doom is located to the left side of the parking lot where you see 2 picnic tables. Once you walk past the second picnic table, turn up (north) and you will see a bush, behind which there is a space to enter into rock formations.
This is basically the entrance to the Chasm of Doom. It’s also completely normal when you find it to wonder if it’s really the right path.
Keep in mind that this hike is NOT official and there are NO signs for it. You will have to follow basic instructions and improvise, but believe me, if you just find the bush and rock opening after the 2nd picnic table, that is the right entrance to it. Here is what it looks like:
3) Hike through the rocks (aim go to up and to your left) till you find a palm tree:
This section of the hike will be tight in spots and very annoying because you will have to scramble in between large boulders (which Joshua Tree is known for).
As you make your way through there, again you may wonder if you’re even doing the right hike. Just make sure you are aiming to hike up and to your left as you make your way through these boulders.
There will be a section right before the entrance to the Chasm of Doom (the cave part) with a palm tree right by it (image included).
Once you see that palm tree, you will see a small opening right next to it. That is the cave entrance to Chasm of Doom. From a distance you won’t even see that small entrance, but you will see the palm tree. Just note that once you do, the entrance is right by it.
4) Enter into the Chasm of Doom (and prepare for a serious scramble/hike):
Once you enter into the cave, it will be pretty narrow (but this is still a picnic compared to how tight it’ll get soon).
A good thing to note is that inside this cave, its sandy on the ground and you may wonder if this is even a challenging hike from this point forward.
Don’t worry the tough parts are coming up after that.
Once you walk past the initial area of the cave, then you’ll have to climb up, over and in between rocks.
As you do, you will slowly be making your way up the cave.
In my estimate, this section of the hike was about 50 meters long which may not even seem like much but considering how slow you’ll be going (especially if you’re filming like I was), it’s going to be a strenuous, but fun experience.
But then, once you finish it, you’ll be coming up to what is likely considered the most famous spot in the entire Chasm of Doom:
5) Entering “The Coffin” section of Chasm of Doom (where it can get claustrophobic):
As you make your way through the cave, you will eventually reach what is known as “The Coffin” which is a narrow hole in between 2 rocks that you will have to crawl through.
It is very narrow there, and if this is where you want to turn back because you fear claustrophobia, this is where you’ll want to do that and just backtrack to the parking lot.
If not and you’re ready to keep going further, enter this section of the hike. Now, this part is very important:
Here’s the key to beating the Coffin section:
Make sure you stay to your left when you enter this narrow area.
The more right you go, the tighter it gets. That’s what I tried doing when I came here and it was a huge mistake. You risk getting stuck so stick to the left side of the Coffin section as it’s wider there, just enough for you to crawl through.
Exiting the Coffin (and continuing further):
As you pass through the Coffin area, you will enter into a smaller cave that won’t even seem like it’s part of the hike (much like the other parts of this whole adventure), but there’s enough space for you to comfortably get into that part. From there, you’ll want to look up, see the light, and climb up/through that.
From the bottom it won’t even seem like there’s an exit, but trust me, there is. Just climb out of there, have faith and it’ll become clear.
6) Getting to the halfway point of the Chasm of Doom (and having 4 routes to explore):
Once you get out of that small cave, you essentially have 4 choices, and only 2 of them will actually get you out of the Chasm of Doom. Here is a short description of each option:
Option 1: Your first one is moving to your left which will take you to an overlook of Hidden Valley Parking Lot.
Option 2: Your second choice is moving to your right, over rocks and to a beautiful view of Hidden Valley (it’s a tough, short and a bit dangerous of a hike there).
Option 3: Your third choice is literally backtracking to the start of your hike.
Option 4: Your fourth choice, aka the official exit (the one you should do to fully complete the hike) is to head diagonally left (as shown on the map) to an opening in the rocks which will take you into another tight cave.
7) Exiting out of the Chasm of Doom:
Again, the fourth choice on the list above is where you’ll want to go. This tight cave will essentially take you back out into Hidden Valley’s trail which you will then take to get back to the parking lot, but this part of the hike in my opinion might be the most difficult.
Once you enter into this last cave, you will be met with a rock stuck between the walls and you will have to bypass this rock to continue going through the cave, down and out of the Chasm of Doom.
This part of the hike to me was the scariest part because I elected to try it 2 ways:
- Go to the right of that nudged rock and try to slip under it (bad idea). I got stuck and barely pulled myself out, so don’t do this!
- The second option is to go over the rock and slide on your belly with your legs out so you can feel the rocks underneath you. The height between the top of the rock and the nearest rock is about 6 feet so if you’re short, this is where you may feel very uncomfortable when you can’t feel anything under your feet and you’re continually slipping down on the rock.
However, the second option is the better way to go. This is where you may want to have someone nearby to hold your hand to help you, but once you do feel the rock underneath your feet, you’ll quickly calm down.
From that point, you’ll continue working your way down the cave and out of it. There will be one or two more intermediately difficult sections to climb through, but it won’t be anything as scary as the Coffin or the rock part you just finished.
8) Once you exit out of the Chasm of Doom, make your way back to the parking lot:
As you exit out of the cave, you will see the trail (and possibly people walking around). You’ll turn right when you hit the trail (it’s literally a few feet by the cave) and follow it back to the parking lot. From there, it’s only about 100 feet to reach it.
And that’s it, you just completed the Chasm of Doom hike!
I personally really enjoyed it. Aside from the part where I got stuck in the rock and panicked quite a bit, the rest of the hike was very exciting for me personally. I was most worried about the “Coffin” part of the hike but to be honest, that turned out to be one of the least scary and most fun parts of it.
Very few people know about this hike in Joshua Tree National Park and in our case, while the parking lot was nearly full when we arrived, no one was inside the Chasm of Doom as we were making our way through it (but we could hear people there).
Again, if you’re not someone who is an avid hiker or explorer, you may find parts of this hike to be a bit difficult, scary or even dangerous. There’s no shame at any point in turning back and backtracking to the parking lot if you’re not feeling up for it, but if you are and want to test yourself, then I can promise you that this hike will be one to remember!
Here is also one of the most helpful videos I found on how to find this hike:
One thing I do want to note though is that this video, as good as it was did not really show enough info on how to navigate the hike enough once you’re inside the Chasm of Doom and we had to figure it out on our own, which we did and that’s what the pictures above will help do in filling in the blanks!
To date, the Chasm of Doom has been one of the most fun and intense hikes I’ve ever done. I would say it bears some similarities to the following places:
- The Labyrinth hike in Mohonk Preserve.
- Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch in Grand Staircase Escalante (slot canyons).
- Some caving spots in Pinnacles National Park.
- This hike kind of reminded me of the abandoned mines in Harriman State Park.
- Some caving spots in Daniel Boone National Forest and Hocking Hills State Park.
I just mentioned these other spots in case you’re looking for similar experiences, but I’ll tell you this: The Chasm of Doom is in a league of it’s own and Joshua Tree National Park does house even more secret hikes (if I discover them, I’ll be happy to post them here).
If you have already hiked the Chasm of Doom, I’d love to know your thoughts on how it went and/or have any questions, let me know below!