Joshua Tree National Park in California is a perfect destination for those who like nature but prefer to stay close to shopping, restaurants, and city conveniences. The park’s close proximity to Palm Springs allows for exploring the park during the day and enjoying city at night. Many visitors come just for a day and see only attractions accessible from the paved road, but to fully appreciate the park, stay at least few days. Discover a silent beauty of its sunrise or sunset. Take in its incredible vistas, irresistible rock formations, and enjoy its trails. It is truly a great playground for your entire family. Read on for tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park – Know Before You Go
After seeing all major national parks in the continental US, I made a list of parks still waiting for me to be discovered. When planning my spring break vacation, Joshua Tree National Park in California popped at the top. Its dramatic trees, interesting boulders, and the possibility of spring wildflowers caught my attention. And I also liked that I used my miles to fly to San Diego and Best Western credit card opening bonus points to stay at Best Western Gardens at Twentynine Palms, California. Traveling for free is my way to go!
Where is Joshua Tree National Park in California
Joshua Tree National Park lies within a few hours drive of several major metropolitan areas. The park is located about 140 miles east of Los Angeles, 175 miles northeast of San Diego, 215 miles southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, and 222 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona. The closest airport is in Palm Springs.
Do not rely on GPS to navigate to or within Joshua Tree National Park. You may be routed onto back country roads that may be impassable to your vehicle. You can approach Joshua Tree from Interstate 10 or California Highway 62 (the Twentynine Palms Highway).
Best Time to Visit
Joshua Tree National Park is open year-round. The best time to visit is spring when the average high temperature is around 85°F and the average low is 50° F. If you’re lucky, a large display of wildflowers is possible to find, depending on weather conditions.
The busy season in Joshua Tree runs from October through May. About 1.4 million visitors come to the park each year to enjoy activities such as hiking, camping, photography, rock climbing, and simply enjoying the serene desert scenery. During the summer, expect high temperatures, intense sunlight, and low humidity.
Winter temperatures can drop well below freezing. Hypothermia can be a hazard even at temperatures above freezing.
Where to stay at Joshua Tree National Park:
Hotels outside the park
There are no hotels in Joshua Tree National Park. The towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms are minutes from park entrances and have loads of lodging and restaurant choices.
For more upscale accommodation, look at the towns of Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Palm Desert, La Quinta, and Rancho Mirage. They are filled with upscale resorts, but 40 minutes to an hour away from the park.
Camping at Joshua Tree National Park
My camping days are almost over, but I can easily imagine how magical it would be to camp under the clear sky at Joshua Tree National Park. Campgrounds usually fill on weekends October through May. From mid-February to mid-May (and during holidays) campgrounds usually fill throughout the week. Make your reservation in advance!
There are campgrounds available outside the park. During the quieter summer months, all campsites are first-come, first-served. No reservation needed.
Tips on visiting Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is not like more popular parks you visited before. Inside the park, you will not find any lodges or food service. Cell coverage is very limited. Do not depend on your phone in an emergency. It is a pure wilderness. Not all roads are paved. Come prepared!
Bring plenty of water
Water is available at only a few locations near the edges of the park.
Have layers of clothing.
Remember the importance regulating your body’s temperature.
Bring extra food.
Whenever you take a hike, it is important to have food, especially in this vast park.
Wear a hat and keep your body covered.
Protect yourself from the sun. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses.
Do not approach and never feed wild animals.
Store food in hard-sided containers or in your vehicle. Carefully clean up all trash and leftovers, even small crumbs.
Proper footwear is a must.
A few venomous animals live in the park, including rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders. When hiking or climbing in the park, always look before you place your hands or feet. Remember, cholla cactus can stub you!
Carry a first aid kit.
Your children will climb the rocks and most likely you will too. The boulder areas are just calling your name to do that! With the climbing can come casualties. Through the blood and grit from skinned knees and elbows, it would have been extremely beneficial to have a first aid kit with you. A kit containing various Band-Aid sizes, peroxide, gauze, and Neosporin are a must.
What to see in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park delivers miles of wild, unspoiled and diverse desert scenery.
The park’s premier attraction is giant branching yucca known as Joshua trees. There is a popular belief that the tree was named by Mormons who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. Even though this story is being questioned by many, I can easily see how it could be the case. Each of these trees reaches the sky in its own dramatic way!
Another great attraction of the park is interesting clusters of huge granite boulders, up to 100 feet high, often framed with Joshua trees and desert plants. They are very popular with photographers. They also provide endless opportunities for exploring, hiking, and climbing.
Hidden Valley Trail: A 1-mile round-trip loop with easy flat terrain surrounded by awe-inspiring boulders and rock formations. The best hike in my opinion if you have little ones.
Barker Dam: 1.1 miles round trip. Again, easy terrain with good boulders to climb, but not as impressive as Hidden Valley. The hike takes you to an old dam, hence the name, built in 1900. This hike had the most greenery by far.
The park is dotted with six different oases where tall California palm trees grow in their natural surrounding. These lovely areas are further away from the main road of the park and are accessible on foot. Most of them offer interesting hiking trails.
Cholla Cactus Garden
For me, the most impressive attraction of the park was Cholla Cactus Garden, easily accessible from the road. This area is best to visit at sunrise or sunset when the sun rays make the cacti brightly glow. It is an amazing scene!
Do not get fooled by their beautiful look. Do not touch or step on them! They will make you bleed!
Keys View: This is a look-out spot, an all-encompassing view of the Morongo Valley. Mt San Jacinto, Mt. San Gorgonio, desert cities, and even the Salton Sea in the distance. Gorgeous.
Joshua Tree National park is the ultimate playground for kids and adults. Spectacular scenery with outdoor adventure everywhere. Unplug and get out there! Check out Family Fun Guide to Joshua Tree National Park.
Also see another outstanding California’s desert attraction, Death Valley National Park.
NOTE: This is an updated version of a post originally written by Sara Pittman.