11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is frequented by SoCal residents, because it’s only a couple of hours from LA. It easily made our list of must-see places while we’ve lived in LA and San Diego.

The park isn’t very big in comparison to Death Valley or Yosemite, and there isn’t as much variety in terms of scenery.

For those who like rock climbing or stargazing, though, you’ll never tire of this place. It also offers beautiful photo opps and has the most fiery sunsets we’ve seen.

11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park - First Timer's Guide and Tips

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Last Updated: July 10, 2019. First Published: Dec 24, 2016

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What You Need to Know Before You Visit JTree

  • There is no cell service in the park. Although one of our RVer friends told us they found some small patches to stream a show. Download your google maps and keep a park map handy.
  • Get the America the Beautiful Pass to save money. An annual costs less if you plan on visiting Jtree more than once or plan on visiting two national parks within a one year period.
  • Oct – May is peak season.
  • March – May has the best weather, but visitation is the highest. It’s great for wildflowers and is peak climbing season. If you come on a weekend, expect crowds. In the summer, temps get up to the hundreds, but you can still explore in the mornings and evenings and take an AC break mid-day.
  • Late April – late July – Best stargazing and astrophotography since the galactic center is visible longer.
  • If you don’t want to drive, take the free RoadRunner Shuttle Bus. It takes you to all the main attractions and gives you free entry into the park. They run every 30 minutes and depart Twentynine Palms Transit Center and Oasis Visitor Center every hour. During peak season, if you don’t go early, parking lots fill up at popular spots.
  • If you’re trying to get a campground at peak season, plan ahead. We’ve gone a couple times on a whim where we were circling the campgrounds for hours. Most weekends will be full. Try to arrive between 9 am and noon when people are leaving. Come by Fri morning if you want to get in for the weekend (if not earlier). If you can’t snag a campsite, have a backup plan.
  • Pets are only allowed at campgrounds, picnic areas, and paved and unpaved roads. They are not allowed on trails and must always be on a leash.

What To Bring

  • Bring enough drinking water. There aren’t many places in the park where you can get water.
  • Pack layers. The desert temperatures can change drastically from day to night.
  • Don’t forget your sunscreen. There isn’t much shade in the park.
  • Pets are only allowed at campgrounds, picnic areas, and paved and unpaved roads. They are not allowed on trails. They also must always be on a leash.
Trailhead Coordinates: 33.985301, -116.016605, map

A 0.5-mile nature trail with lots of large rock formations to climb on and a natural arch.

11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park California

2. Cholla Cactus Garden

Trailhead Coordinates: 33.925569, -115.928853, map

A 0.25-mile loop where you can view a concentrated area of cholla cactus. Also nearby is the Ocotillo Patch. These two areas are extremely far from the rest of the park’s attractions.

I wouldn’t recommend visiting them unless you also have other plans to do Desert X, Coachella, or to see the superbloom.

Cholla Cactus Garden Joshua Tree National Park CA // localadventurer.com
Cholla Cactus Garden Joshua Tree National Park CA // localadventurer.com

Trailhead Coordinates: 34.012493, -116.168061, map

Climbing at Hidden Valley is world class. It’s a mecca for SoCal climbers and during the winter, those from NorCal come down to play.

The campgound is also popular for climbers, so get there early if you want a campsite. It’s the first place we started bouldering outdoors, so it has a special place in our hearts.

The grades at Jtree are sandbagged (much harder than other places we’ve climbed), so if you can crush them, it’s legit. Think 1-2 grades harder than other outdoor spots, 2-3 grades harder than most gyms.

If you don’t climb, there’s also the Hidden Valley Loop (1 mi, easy), where you can watch climbers in action. It was also rumored that cattle rustlers used this area.

Our Climbing Gear:

 

Joshua Tree Bouldering + 11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

4. Keys View

Coordinates: 33.926563, -116.187256, map

A high elevation lookout point on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains that you drive up to. You can see Palm Springs and Coachella from here.

Keys View Joshua Tree National Park CA - a high elevation lookout point on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains that you can drive up to
Keys View Joshua Tree National Park CA - a high elevation lookout point on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains that you can drive up to

Coordinates: 34.000136, -116.146749, map

We stopped here to take sunset photos. It’s a popular spot for climbing and slack-lining.

Sunset at Hall of Horrors Joshua Tree National Park CA (11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park) // localadventurer.com

6. Lost Palms Oasis

Trailhead Coordinates: 33.736858, -115.810596, map

7.2-mile moderate hike through a canyon that involves some scrambling.

7. 49 Palms Oasis

Trailhead Coordinates: 34.11929, -116.11211, map

A 3-mile moderately strenuous hike to an oasis. 300 ft elevation gain twice. Our friends tell us that it’s not exactly what you would picture as an oasis, but I love the desert and it’s not too long of a hike.

Coordinates: 34.006008, -116.085012, map

Take an 18 mile off-roading adventure through Pleasant Valley (four-wheel drives only). While it doesn’t have the most interesting views of the park, you’re going to have a lot of it to yourself.

Note: Check road conditions. If it had rained recently, you can even get stuck in a 4×4.

Geology Road - Off roading at Joshua Tree NP California USA (11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park) // localadventurer.com

9. Ryan Mountain Hike

Trailhead Coordinates: 34.003135, -116.135994, map

3 mi, 1000 ft elevation, strenuous, 1.5 – 2.5 hr

One of the most popular hikes in the park with dramatic 360 views.

It’s visible off the main road. There is also 1.5-mile nature trail loop.

Does it look like a skull to you? Skull Rock Joshua Tree National Park CA USA // localadventurer.com
Does it look like a skull to you? Skull Rock Joshua Tree National Park CA USA // localadventurer.com

11. The Scenic Drive

We also saw a lot of great photo ops and plenty of pullouts for Joshua Trees and stacks of boulders along the main road in the park.

Driving Joshua Tree National Park California // localadventurer.com

Summer Only - Stargazing and Astrophotography

Joshua Tree is an International Dark Sky Park, and stargazing is great anywhere in the park. You do get a little light pollution from surrounding communities, and if you’re going for (hour+) long exposures Cottonwood Campground has the darkest skies. If you want to see the Milky Way, make sure you’re visiting during New Moon on a clear day.

Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park // localadventurer.com

Spring Only - See Joshua Tree Wildflowers

In the spring, especially during a superbloom, the valleys fill up with a variety of flowers. We came during the first week of. April and in the south near Cottonwood Visitor Center, we saw California bluebells (wild Canterbury Bells). In Wilson Canyon we saw a variety of flowers, but mostly Parish poppies that weren’t open for the day yet. Now, the flowers are slowly making their way up north in the park.

Pro Tip: I’ve looked at various websites for the superbloom, and this one has been the most accurate. Check the dates carefully, because sometimes posting date is different from their visit date.

We collaborated with @mytraveltoons to create an illustrated map of the highlights of the park. You can check out more of his work here.

Joshua Tree National Park Map Illustration by @mytraveltoons

Directions To Joshua Tree

The closest airports are Palm Springs (42.7 mi), Santa Ana (120 mi), Long Beach (130 mi), Los Angeles (146 mi), San Diego (162 mi), Las Vegas (182 mi).

We’ve driven in from San Diego and Las Vegas for both day trips and weekend trips. The road from Las Vegas goes through the Mojave National Preserve. It doesn’t have much light and it’s windy, so drive carefully. We saw one person speeding who drove off the road.

More Things to Do IN and Near Joshua Tree

  • Become a Junior Ranger. Mostly kids 4-14 complete the Junior Ranger program to get a badge, but adults can too. I always do it at every National Park since it helps me learn so much about the park.
  • Desert Institute Field Class – adult classes to learn more about the cultural history, survival skills, desert naturalist studies, creative arts, and more.
  • Join a Ranger Program – talks, hikes, and guided walks given by park rangers.
  • Ocotillo Patch – it’s not the most concentrated that we’ve seen, but if you haven’t seen ocotillos before, it could be worth the trek to the southern end of the park.
  • Barker Dam Trail – petroglyphs
  • Mastodon Peak Hike – A 3-mile strenuous hike with views of the Eagle Mountains and Salton Sea.
  • Lost Horse Mine Loop (4 mi, moderate) – pass several mines and ruins.
  • Cottonwood Spring Nature Trail (0.1 mile, easy, 10 min out and back) – You end up in a fan palm oasis with cottonwood trees. It’s also a great spot for wildflowers and birding. Other great birding spots are Oasis of Mara and Barker Dam.
  • Cottonwood Wash is a good place to spot bighorn sheep.
  • Night Sky Festival (Sept)
  • Pappy and Harriet’s, Pioneertown – live music and BBQ.
  • The Integraton, Landers – a dome used for sound baths. You can choose private or public sound baths, but book early since they book up months in advance.
  • World Famous Crochet Museum, Jtree – It’s free and open 24 hours.
  • Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, Jtree – it’s right next to the crochet museum
  • Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Jtree

What to Pack for Joshua Tree

Places to Eat Near Joshua Tree

Since driving in and out takes time, we suggest packing your own meals. The only exception is if you’re visiting in the summer. Retreating to a restaurant with AC might be a good idea.

Where to Stay in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree camping

During peak season (Oct – May), you can only camp for a total of 14 nights. Outside of peak season, there’s a 30 day limit. Also, you can only have up to 6 people, 3 tents, and 2 vehicles (trailers count as one).

There aren’t many campsites that can accommodate large RVs and trailers (combined max length must be 25 ft or less at Hidden Valley and White Tank and 35 ft at other campgrounds).

ADA accessible campsites are only at Jumbo Rocks site 122 and Black Rock site 61.

  • Hidden Valley Campground (44 sites, non-reservable, $15) – where all the climbers want to stay since a lot of the climbing is here. It’s extremely difficult to get a spot during peak climbing season. All the campsites are close, so you get less privacy.
  • White Tank Campground (15 sites, non-reservable, $15) – This is the smallest, quieter campground. We stayed here on our first climbing trip. It’s especially great for astrophotography of the Arch.
  • Belle Campground (18 sites, non-reservable, $15) This is farther away the park’s attractions, but we really enjoyed how quiet and spacious the campsites were. Also there aren’t many campsites in the park that fit larger RVs and we were able to fit our airstream trailer + Ford F150 here.
  • Ryan Campground (31 sites, non-reservable, $15) – Also popular with climbers.
  • Black Rock (99 sites, reserve ahead, $20) – These have water, flush toilets, and a dump station.
  • Cottonwood (62 sites, reserve ahead, $20) – The darkest campground in the park if you’re doing astrophotography. Cottonwood group campground is next to it ($35-40). Also has water, flush toilets, and a dump station.
  • Indian Cove (101 sites, reserve ahead, $20) – Water is available at the ranger station.
  • Jumbo Rocks (124 sites, reserve ahead, $15) – family friendly campground.

Campgrounds outside the park

  • Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground (44 sites, $) – 40 ft max RV length. They have water and electric hookups, and dump.
  • JT Sportsman Club (78 sites, $) – full hookups. 50 ft max RV length
  • Twentynine Palms RV Resort (170 sites, $) – full hookups and pull thru sites. 55 ft max RV length.
  • Lazy H MHC and RV Park (70 sites, $) – RVs only and they have an age restriction to 55+.
  • Little Pioneertown RV (17 sites, $) RVs only with 60 ft max length. They have full hookups and pull thru sites
  • North Joshua Tree BLM (Free, Dispersed Camping) – 35 ft max RV length. Must be at least 300 ft from roadways.
  • Joshua Tree South Entrance BLM (15 sites, Free, Dispersed Camping) – self contained RVs only with max length of 100 ft.
  • Chiriaco Summit (20 sites, Free, Dispersed Camping) – 40 ft max RV length
  • Yucca Valley Walmart Parking Lot – We also boondocked in our airstream and car camped here when campsites weren’t available. They just ask you park far from the store. We also buy our snacks and food there if we’re there overnight.

Hotels near Joshua Tree National Park

There’s no accommodations or services within the park. If you don’t want to camp, you have to stay in the surrounding communities.

What's Nearby

  • Coachella and Desert X (34.1 mi east, 45 min, map)
  • Palm Springs (54.7 mi east, 1 hr, map)
  • Anza Borrego State Park (103 mi southwest, 1 hr 45 min, map)

Joshua Trees remind me of Dr. Seuss trees. They just don’t seem like they belong to this world. They were given their name by Mormon settlers who thought the tree’s shape resembled the biblical story where Joshua reaches his hands to the sky in prayer.

Also, if you’ve been, what food options did you try around there? Pie for the People was good but sometimes the lines are too long, so these ended up being life savers for us.

Have you been? Any other things to do in Joshua Tree that we missed? Also trivia question: Do you know what band named their album after the Joshua tree?

Did you enjoy this post? Pin it for later

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11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park - First Timer's Guide and Tips

See More National Park Guides

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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. We are heading there on Monday for the first time! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  2. I am an idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. We just installed new roadside art near Joshua Tree on Highway 62 just a little bit further east from the Glass Outhouse Gallery (also excellent) Check out Love Signs http://www.lovesign.net

  4. Heading to Joshua Tree tomorrow. All of these spots look amazing! Can’t wait to check them out =)

    1. Hope you had a wonderful trip!! I miss that place! :)

  5. Great post and awesome photography! Thanks for sharing, there are some spots on here I need to check out as well!

    1. Thanks so much! :) I bet you will get to them before I do. I’ll probably end up using your posts as a guide. haha

  6. U2? Of course! *knee slap*

    1. :P I wouldn’t have known unless I looked it up. I’m not very good at remember album names… sometimes even song names and artists.. oops.

      1. Haha, sorry, I meant my reply just as a corny joke, not as a comment on your memory…

    1. bahahaha Of course you would think that!! I didn’t see any cool rocks, but he probably sees them very differently than I do. :P

      Thanks! Checking it out right now!

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