Joshua Tree National Park (What You Must Do)

Joshua Tree National Park, situated in southeastern California in San Bernardino County, is the perfect gem that deserves your time. Update your bucket list and add this trip to the destinations you must visit. Plan your day trip or spend a long weekend camping; either way, this is one experience that ticks more than one box and will fill your memory box with adventure and fun.

Joshua Tree National Park is slightly bigger than Rhode Island, with two different ecosystems determined by two deserts: the upper elevation of the Mojave Desert, where Joshua trees are found, and the lower Colorado Desert, where dominant geologic features of this landscape are hills of bare rock.

Location: 6533 Freedom Way, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

Entrance Fee:  Costs of permits range from $15 for seven-day passes to $55 for annual passes.

Getting There: The main entrance is the North Entrance on 29 Palms Springs Highway.

How Long To Stay: Plan your trip for at least 2-3 days to enjoy the park’s main attractions.

Best Time of Year: Spring from March to May and fall during October and November

Joshua Tree National Park Entrance Sign And Ranger Station. California - California View
Joshua Tree National Park Entrance Sign And Ranger Station. California

Is It Worth Visiting Joshua Tree National Park?

Suppose you love the outdoors and enjoy exerting some energy on hiking and rock climbing, or want to view nature at its best and take some extraordinary photos for the memory box. In that case, Joshua Tree National Park is worth the trip.

The park was established in October 1994 as a national park, whereas before this, the park was declared a national monument in 1936. The park covers 795,156 acres of land (1243 square miles), including two deserts with its ecosystem. The Mojave Desert, where the Joshua trees are found, and the lower Colorado Desert.

The Joshua trees are what inspired the name of the park. 19th-century Mormons named the tree after the biblical figure Joshua. The outstretched tree limbs guided them westward on their journeys.

The weather depends greatly on where in the park you are, but the best times to visit the park are during the spring season, March to May, and the fall season between October and November. The park is dry and clear most of the year, with your clearest month in September and your cloudiest month being in February with the most rain.

Oshua Tree National Park Interior Scenic Park Road. California - California View
Oshua Tree National Park Interior Scenic Park Road. California

Joshua Tree National Park Facts

Age: A 28-year-old National Park

Size: 1243 square miles; 794,000 acres

Named After: The Joshua Tree

Weather: Spring and fall are moderate temperatures with average temperatures of 85°F during the day and dropping slightly to °F in the evening. Summer has sweltering hot temperatures with winters dipping well below freezing.

Joshua Tree Valley. - California View
Joshua Tree Valley.

What To Do In Joshua Tree National Park

There are many attractions that you can spend your time doing, but if you’re limited in time and want ideas for the best places to see and what to do when visiting the park, then we have compiled a list of the top 10 things to do in Joshua Tree National Park.

  • Hidden Valley
  • Ryan Mountain
  • Barker Dam
  • Keys View
  • Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Cottonwood Springs
  • Star Gazing
  • Rock Climbing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Camping

Hidden Valley

This 1-mile self-guided trail winds around boulders and scenic paths that reveal the Hidden valley, believed to be a legendary cattle rustler’s hideout. The trail takes about a casual 45 min walk with beautiful scenery, boulders, and plenty of Joshua trees. This is also a popular rock-climbing area for people who want to be more adventurous.

Highlight: It was a hideout for cattle rustlers.

Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain is a moderately challenging hiking trail that takes about two to three hours to complete the 3-mile round hike. Reaching the mountain’s summit at 1,050 feet elevation gives you amazing panoramic views of the park. On clear days you have views as far as the eye can see with sights of the massive peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio points in Southern California.

Highlight:  The peak of this mountain gives you 360° panoramic views of the park with impressive views.

Barker Dam

Barker Dam Trail is a much milder trail for a leisurely hike of about a 1.1-mile loop. The trail takes you through many highlights of the Mojave Desert, taking a broad look at the plant life and the monzogranite boulders of different shapes and sizes. The rock art found on boulders and rocks tells the story of Barker Dam and the plants, animals, and people that called this spot their home.

Highlight: Features cliff-bearing Indian petroglyphs.

Keys View

This little jewel of a destination perches on the crest of the San Bernardino Mountains, providing you with a panoramic view of the Coachella Valley. For more extraordinary views of the Salton Sea, take the 2-mile loop trail. Enjoy the sights of the Santa Rosa Mountains and the snow-covered peaks of San Gorgonia Mountain, which stands at 11,500 feet.

The infamous San Andreas Fault can also be seen, stretching an impressive 700 miles, running through the Coachella Valley. And if you are extremely lucky and have a clear day, you may see Signal Mountain in Mexico.

Highlight:  The easiest access point in the park with stunning views of the Salton sea.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Where the higher Mojave Desert meets the borders of the lower Colorado Desert sits a sea of large Cholla cacti that are nicknamed giant teddy bears. This short trail gives you a view of the desert and its outstanding beauty with a close reminder of how dangerous it can be.

Highlight:  This Cactus Garden is the transition between the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts.

Cottonwood Spring

Cottonwood Spring Oasis is the park’s best-kept secret. The spring results from earthquake activity in the region that the Cahuilla Indians used. The area still has evidence of this culture with bedrock mortars, clay pots, and ollas.

During the era of gold prospecting, this oasis was a water stop for many prospectors that traveled north to the Mecca mines in the north—hiking this 3-mile loop trail to Mastodon Peak bids you spectacular views and interesting geology. You can also visit the Mastodon mines and the Winona mill site.  

Highlight: Bring along your binoculars for this trial, as it boasts of being the best birding spot in the park.

California Desert Landscape. Joshua Trees And Rocks. - California View
California Desert Landscape. Joshua Trees And Rocks.

How To Spend A Day In Joshua Tree National Park

There is a lot to do in Joshua Tree National Park and so many views to experience and take in that planning your day is important. Make sure to pack lots of water and snacks for the road; all the walking and climbing tends to build up quite an appetite.

Morning

Try to get into Joshua Tree National Park early to catch the dreamy sunrise over Cholla Cactus Garden. After charging your batteries with the beauty of nature, head out to visit some of the park’s leisurely hikes at Baker Dam and Hidden Valley.

Lunch

Head out of the park to get away from the heat, stop by a visitors’ center, enjoy some of the park’s stores, have lunch, and rest to recover some energy. Stop off for a refreshing treat at Fosters Freeze if you exit on twenty-nine Palm.

Afternoon

Visit the Skull Rock and Arch Rock before heading out to Key’s Views for an epic sunset to store in your memory box.

Joshua Tree National Park Yucca Valley In Mohave Desert California - California View
Joshua Tree National Park Yucca Valley In Mohave Desert California

When Is Joshua Tree National Park Open?

Joshua Tree National Park is open year-round. The park does not close its gates; however, they are not operated at night. The visitor centers are open from 8 am to 5 pm during the day.

  • Open Year-round
  • Open, but gates are unmanned on the following days

17 Jan: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

16 Apr: First Day of National Park Week

4 Aug: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act

24 Sep: National Public Lands Day

11 Nov: Veterans Day

  • Gates are open at night but unmanned
Joshua Tree Silhouette In California National Park At Sunset - California View
Joshua Tree Silhouette In California National Park At Sunset

Can You Drive To Joshua Tree National Park?

You can easily drive to Joshua Tree National Park from a few major cities that are within a few hours of driving to the park, such as Palm Springs, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

  • West Entrance at Joshua Tree Village is five miles south of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard.
  • North Entrance is in 29 Palms, three miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Utah Trail.
  • South Entrance near Cottonwood Spring is an access point along Interstate 10, 25 miles east of Indio.
A Unique Tree To The Southern California Landscape Stands Here Awash In Orange Hues - California View
A Unique Tree To The Southern California Landscape Stands Here Awash In Orange Hues

Where To Stay In And Around Joshua Tree National Park

There are no cabins, hotels, or lodges inside the park, but just outside Joshua Tree National Park in Yucca Valley and the town of Joshua Tree, you will find different styles of lodging from Glamping, cabins, and hotels.

Lodging

Experience small home living with the great outdoor spaces these lodgings offer and enjoy the same comfy feel of home while relaxing around an outdoor fire pit and gazing at the stars.

Hotels

Come back to your hotel and take that much-needed break from your busy schedules, relax and get away from the mundane daily activities of life, and plan your next day packed with adventure and fun.

Camping

Experience mother nature at its finest and camp inside Joshua Tree National Park at one of its many campsites. Bring your tent and rough it, or drive in with your camper and enjoy the experience of camping with some luxuries at your fingertips.

Tent Camping At Night In Joshua Tree Park - California View
Tent Camping At Night In Joshua Tree Park

Joshua Tree National Park FAQ

What Are The Dangers In Joshua Tree National Park?

Responsible for your safety falls on you; remember that you are visiting the park home to many animals, including some more dangerous species such as the black widow spider, scorpions, bobcats, coyotes, and rattlesnakes.

Can You Drive Through Joshua Tree National Park?

You can drive through Joshua Tree National Park, depending on where you enter. Most people will start at the northern entrance and gradually work their way south to Cottonwood Springs and exit from the southern exit.

Where Can You Fly Into For Joshua Tree National Park?

If you are flying in to visit Joshua tree, the closest airport is Palm Springs International Airport, about 50 miles away from the park.

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