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The Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California, where 2 major deserts, the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, meet.

Each year, 1.3 million visitors come to see this magnificent park which is known for its rugged rock formations, distinct desert landscapes, and twisted, spiky Joshua trees that look like they were plucked from a Dr. Seuss book. Joshua Tree National Park is filled with hiking opportunities, stargazing, and standing in awe of the beauty that lies within the park.

How To Get to Joshua Tree National Park

Where Is Joshua Tree National Park?

Joshua Tree National Park is found in southeast California, east of Los Angeles, and north of Palm Springs. This park encompasses nearly 800,000 acres of remarkable desert terrain, including the Mojave and Colorado Deserts.

Nearest Airports to Joshua Tree National Park

There are several airports that visitors utilize when going to Joshua Tree National Park, but the 2 that are mostly used are Los Angeles International Airport and Palm Springs International Airport. Below you will find more information on each of these airports to help you decide on your Joshua Tree National Park vacation.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Los Angeles International Airport is 143 miles from Joshua Tree National Park. It takes nearly 3 hours to arrive at the park from the airport.

Flying in from Los Angeles International Airport is a cheaper option for those traveling to Joshua Tree, and there are fewer layover concerns. Los Angeles International Airport serves a wide variety of popular airlines, including Delta, WestJet, American, Spirit, and JetBlue.

Rental cars are readily available for continuing on your journey to Joshua Tree National Park. Los Angeles International Airport makes great sense if you want to save money and time, even though the drive to the park is longer.

Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)

Palm Springs International Airport is the absolute closest airport to Joshua Tree National Park. Located just 39 miles from the park, this airport makes an excellent choice for those hoping to save time.

PSP has nonstop flights from 31 destinations across the U.S. and Canada. In addition, travelers can get direct flights or connecting flights with short layovers.

This airport serves 12 different popular airlines, including Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, and United. The airport has rental car services and public transportation that can take you directly to the gateway town where you are staying.

Driving to Joshua Tree National Park

Driving to Joshua Tree National Park
Image Credit: Tommy Lisbin via Unsplash

Several different routes can be used to get to Joshua Tree National Park. The route you take depends on where you are coming from.

Below you will see the routes to the park from the 2 main airports that are used to access the park. Keep in mind there are many highways to get you to the park, even if you use a different airport. Be sure to have printed directions when you begin your journey, as GPS and phone services are limited in the areas where you will be driving.

If you are coming from Los Angeles International Airport, Highway 10 to Highway 62 will get you to Joshua Tree National Park. It is wise to avoid weekday business hours if this is the route you will take. This will help you to save time and not have to worry about traffic. This trip is 150 miles and will take a little over 2 hours to arrive at Joshua Tree.

Visitors coming from Palm Springs International Airport will utilize Highway 10 West to Highway 62 to Joshua Tree National Park. This is a 40-mile trip and shouldn’t take you too long to arrive at the park.

Taking the Train to Joshua Tree National Park

Amtrak is a great option to utilize for traveling to Joshua Tree National Park. While this option doesn’t take you directly to the park, it does get you close. This option can take you to Los Angeles, and from there, you can rent a car and head to Joshua Tree. This park is about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles, so it isn’t too long of a drive.

Getting Around Joshua Tree National Park

The best way to get around in Joshua Tree National Park is by having your own vehicle. The park has 2 main roads, Park Boulevard and Pinto Basin Road, that cross the park and provide access to the attractions and different areas of the park.

Using your own car allows you to see everything on your must-see list and allows for an unhurried experience. Joshua Tree National Park offers several printable and interactive maps to help you navigate the park.

Another way to get around in the park is to utilize the RoadRunner shuttle bus. This free shuttle service runs throughout the park’s northern area throughout the day during the fall and spring months.

While the RoadRunner shuttle service is geared toward hikers and campers, all visitors are welcome to use this form of transportation to explore the park. There are schedules posted at the shuttle stops, and a park ranger is assigned to each stop to answer questions that may arise. The shuttle stops at many popular attractions, including Hidden Valley, Ryan Mountain, and Barker Dam.

Hot Tip: The shuttle system is a great way to explore the park and not have to worry about the stresses of driving and navigating.

What To See and Do in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is an ideal place for adventurers to explore. This park is filled with opportunities to hike many trails, scenic drives leading to fascinating attractions, and thrilling rock-climbing routes.

These activities and attractions, partnered with the mesmerizing desert scenery, make a trip to Joshua Tree National Park an adventure to remember for a lifetime. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular attractions in this remarkable park.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock is a fascinating natural arch in Joshua Tree National Park. This stunning arch and the gorgeous scenery can be admired after a short 1.4-mile hike. Arch Rock is approximately 30 feet across, and many people say it is shaped like a brontosaurus. This is a fun hike that leads to a unique view.

Barker Dam

Barker Dam Trail
Image Credit: Hannah Schwalbe via National Park Service

Barker Dam is one of the most stunning areas of the park. If you had to choose only 1 place to see in Joshua Tree National Park, this would be the place to stop.

Barker Dam has a short hiking trail that is filled with spectacular views of Joshua trees, wildlife, mounds of boulders, and a stunning lake. Barker Dam is an incredible area for taking photos, a quick hike, and taking in the beauty of the park.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden is an incredible site in Joshua Tree National Park. This beautiful feature is located along Pinto Basin Road, close to the transition area between the Colorado and Mohave Deserts.

This area showcases over a thousand densely packed chollas that cover the desert floor. These plants can be found sprinkled around other vegetation in the desert, but this area of Joshua Tree is where chollas are the only cacti in the garden.

Cottonwood Spring Oasis

Cottonwood Spring Oasis is a rare, permanent spring found in the desert of Joshua Spring National Park.

This spring was formed long ago after an earthquake, and ever since, it has been used by Native Americans, miners, and prospectors. Even today, visitors can see the past remains of gold processing equipment, along with concrete ruins.

Cottonwood Springs Oasis is one of the best places in the park for catching a glimpse of the wildlife in the park. The water, shade, and trees attract birds and other animals to the area.

Hidden Valley

The Hidden Valley area is one of the most stunning areas of the park. This part of the park is perfect for visitors who want to hike or roam around and look at the trees and rock formations. The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a 1-mile loop trail that is enjoyed by many since it is an easy and scenic trail. This trail is one of the most popular in all of Joshua Tree National Park.

This nature trail showcases incredible geography, such as the Great Burrito, a giant monolith that visitors can climb and explore.

Hidden Valley also has a beautiful picnic area where visitors can take a break and refuel while taking in the incredible scenery that includes Joshua trees, huge boulders, and rock piles all around.

Keys Ranch

Keys Ranch is the former homestead and ranch of William F. Keys. Keys settled in the Joshua Tree area in the 1910s, and visiting this historic ranch gives visitors a glimpse into the past and the struggles of living in this area.

Keys Ranch can be viewed only by a ranger-led guide. The tours are seasonal and typically run through the winter and spring.

There is a fee and a half-mile walk that come along with these guided tours. These guided tours are 90 minutes long, so be sure to schedule them into your itinerary if you plan to take part in one of these tours.

Keys Ranch is listed on the National Historic Register Site, and the area features a house, store, schoolhouse, and workshop.

Keys View

Keys View
Image Credit: Manda Hansen via Unsplash

Keys View is a popular lookout point in Joshua Tree National Park with an elevation of over 5,000 feet and magnificent views over the Coachella Valley. From this vantage point, visitors can also see the San Andreas fault line in the distance and the Salton Sea, Palm Springs, and (on a clear day) even into Mexico.

Keys View is located on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains and is about a 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard down Kings View Road. While this is a bit of a drive, it is well worth the time as it leads to breathtaking panoramic views that can’t be seen elsewhere.

Rock Climbing and Bouldering

Some of the most popular adventure activities in Joshua Tree National Park are rock climbing and bouldering. There are roughly 8,000 climbing routes to explore in the park. Climbing enthusiasts especially enjoy visiting the park during the winter months when other rock-climbing destinations to the north are out of season.

Rock climbing introductory courses are offered that teach technical movement, teamwork safety techniques, and climbing systems. This is a great way to learn the logistics of rock climbing and then come back to put your new knowledge into action while climbing the rocks and boulders of Joshua Tree.

Hot Tip: There are several areas in the park that are great for climbing, but many climbers especially like the Hidden Valley area.

Ryan Mountain

One of the most popular attractions in Joshua Tree National Park is Ryan Mountain. This area is filled with incredible rock formations and panoramic views of the park.

The Ryan Mountain hike climbs up a dirt, sun-exposed trail of 1,050 feet. From its summit, visitors can view the Wonderland of Rocks, which is the jumbled rock formations that Joshua Tree is known for, and the Little San Bernardino Mountains that rise over the park in the distance.

Skull Rock

Skull Rock is a favorite attraction in Joshua Tree National Park. This enormous feature is located right beside the main park road.

This massive rock formation has been sculpted naturally and appears in the shape of a skull staring out across the landscape. This is a great place for taking photos, walking, and rock scrambling.


Joshua Tree National Park Stargazing
Image Credit: Austin Human via Unsplash

Joshua Tree National Park is an incredible location for stargazing. Because of its remote, desert location, the park is named an International Dark Sky Park. The night sky in Joshua Tree National Park is a true sight to behold. The Milky Way Galaxy and many constellations can be seen from Joshua Tree.

Best Times To Visit Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is open every day of the year, but there are certain times throughout the year that are better than others, depending on your vacation desires. So let’s delve into some of the best times to visit Joshua Tree.

Best Time To Visit Joshua Tree National Park in Winter

Winter is a great time to visit Joshua Tree National Park. The daytime high temperatures reach into the mid-60s, and there is a lot of sunshine and fewer crowds.

Early December through the middle of December is the best time to visit in the winter. These weeks will allow visitors to avoid the winter holiday crowd in late December. Fewer crowds and cooler temperatures make a visit to the park a lot more enjoyable.

Hot Tip: Rock climbing, bouldering, and hiking on sun-exposed trails are popular winter activities in Joshua Tree National Park.

Best Time To Visit Joshua Tree National Park To Avoid the Crowds

If you want to visit Joshua Tree National Park and avoid crowds, the best time to plan a visit is in the winter months.

You will want to avoid some busy times during the winter, such as around Christmas and New Year’s. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the third Monday in January, is also packed with crowds because it is a free admission day.

Best Time To Visit Joshua Tree National Park for Viewing Wildlife

Joshua Tree National Park Wildlife
Image Credit: Rick J. Brown via Unsplash

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park in the spring is the best time for those who want to view the wildlife in the park. This is when the animals wake from their winter slumber and become more active throughout the park.

Some of the common animals found in Joshua Tree are the white-tailed antelope, ground squirrels, coyotes, and kangaroo rats. Other animals that will be venturing out and about include bighorn sheep, foxes, mule deer, and bobcats.

If your trip is planned during a different season, you can still spot an abundance of wildlife in the park. For example, visiting at night will help you catch a glimpse of many nocturnal animals that are coming out to eat. Some of these nocturnal animals include 16 species of bats, snakes, and black-tail jackrabbits.

Cheapest Time To Visit Joshua Tree National Park

There are several times throughout the year for guests who want to travel to Joshua Tree National Park and save money.

Times when flight and lodging rates are lower include from early January to early March, from mid-April to early May, early August to early October, and late October to mid-November. Visiting in early September proves to be the cheapest time to visit the park.

Another way to save money when traveling to Joshua Tree National Park is to come on one of the free admittance days. These free admission days include Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the third Saturday of April for National Park Week, August 4th for Great American Outdoors Signing Day, the fourth Saturday in September for National Public Lands Day, and November 11th for Veterans Day.

Annual Events in Joshua Tree National Park

Several annual events take place in and around Joshua Tree National Park and park adventurers can always find an activity taking place.

Joshua Tree 55

The Joshua Tree 55 is a cycling event that is known as one of the most challenging scenic rides. This ride is a 55-mile course that provides a remarkable way to experience Joshua Tree National Park. This Joshua Tree 55 takes place every April.

Joshua Tree Half Marathon

The Joshua Tree Half Marathon takes place each November in Joshua Tree National Park. This race takes place at night and provides a glorious run through the desert under the stars and incredible night sky.

Joshua Tree Music Festival

The Joshua Tree Music Festival happens near Joshua Tree National Park twice a year, in May and October. This family-friendly event has continuous live music acts, yoga, workshops, art, and dancing. This music festival is much more than music and always provides an incredible experience for visitors of all ages and stages in life.

Where To Stay in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park has one of the most beautiful landscapes and skies in the U.S. There are plenty of sites where visitors can sleep under the stars inside the park and a variety of accommodations in the towns near the park.

Inside the Park

Black Rock Campground
Image Credit: Hannah Schwalbe via National Park Service

The only lodging available in Joshua Tree National Park is camping at one of the several campgrounds. There are 500 campsites in the park, and if you choose to experience Joshua Tree in this way, making a reservation may be necessary before your visit.

All reservation campgrounds are open year-round, but some sections of campgrounds close during the summer months. Reservation campgrounds include Black Rock, Cottonwood, and Indian Cove.

There are also several campgrounds that can be used on a first-come, first-serve basis. These campsites fill up quickly during the busy seasons, so the earlier you arrive in the week, the better chance you will have to secure a campsite.

While these are considered first come, first serve, you can still reserve a site online. Hidden Valley, White Tank, and Belle are some of the first-come, first-serve campgrounds.

Towns Near Joshua Tree National Park

There are several cities near Joshua Tree National Park. Each gateway offers its own unique atmosphere, whether you are searching for a remote, quiet area or a place buzzing with excitement. Let’s explore the popular towns near Joshua Tree and discover which town will fit your vacation needs.

Joshua Tree

The City of Joshua Tree is one of the most popular places to stay for those visiting Joshua Tree National Park. This city has many local hotels and motels for setting up a base camp. Other options for lodging include private rental homes.

Joshua Tree is very close in proximity to the national park and takes only a short 2-minute drive. The city has an incredible array of dining and drinking options, as well as great shopping.

Twentynine Palms

Another incredibly close town near Joshua Tree National Park is Twentynine Palms. This town offers a relaxed desert experience in the isolated Johsua Tree area. This charming area has a lovely downtown that features art galleries and nature museums. There are a few restaurants and bars where visitors can unwind and relax after a long day at the park.

Yucca Valley

Yucca Valley is known as the gateway to Joshua Tree National and is located just a short 10-minute drive from the park. Yucca Valley is a small town that has plenty of attractions, activities, restaurants, and accommodations for visitors to the Joshua Tree area.

One reason Yucca Valley is so popular is that it is further from the crowded areas near Joshua Tree. Prices on hotel stays are more reasonable in this area, which is another reason this is a popular destination for parkgoers.

Yucca Valley showcases beautiful desert landscapes and has many hiking trails available. There are many restaurants and bars available in the Yucca Valley area.

Bottom Line: Yucca Valley has something for everyone and is a perfect place to choose for a home base while visiting Joshua Tree National Park.

Where To Eat Near Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t have any restaurants or dining opportunities inside the park, but there are many popular options right outside the park. Let’s take a look at some favorite restaurants located near the park.

Crossroads Café

Crossroads Cafe
Image Credit: Crossroads Cafe

Crossroads Café is one of the most loved restaurants near Joshua Tree National Park. This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily and offers sit-down dining as well as takeout.

The menu includes incredible meals with vegan options, as well as wine and beer for when you need to relax and unwind. Crossroads Café is the perfect place to rest and refuel after exploring the park.

Joshua Tree Coffee Company

Joshua Tree Coffee Company is just a hop, skip, and jump from Joshua Tree National Park. This coffee shop serves breakfast and extraordinary, organic coffee.

There is outdoor seating where customers can start their morning off right with great food, amazing coffee, and the breathtaking desert landscape and scenery. Guests enjoy taking a bag or 2 of coffee beans back with them to enjoy amazing coffee from the comfort of their own homes once their Joshua Tree National Park vacation comes to an end.

Joshua Tree Saloon

For over 3 decades, Joshua Tree Saloon has been serving visitors of Joshua Tree National Park its signature dishes, refreshing cocktails, and draft beers in a rustic, wild west saloon. Joshua Tree Saloon is open 365 days a year until midnight and serves lunch, dinner, desserts, and drinks. Its famous Bloody Mary and fish tacos are 2 of the most popular items on the menu.

On top of excellent food and drink, Joshua Tree Saloon has live music on the patio every Friday and Saturday, and Tuesdays are open mic nights for singers and songwriters to showcase their talents.

The Natural Sisters Café

A popular restaurant for those visiting Joshua Tree is The Natural Sisters Café. The menu features organic, locally-sourced comfort food and drinks. There is a juice and smoothie bar, vegan choices, and natural baked goods, all available at The Natural Sisters Café.

Pie for the People! Pizza di Circo

Pie for the People! Pizza di Circo is a top-rated restaurant near Joshua Tree National Park that serves New York-style pizza, calzones, salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes.

There is a long list of specialty pizzas with fun names like Wookie Pie, Dean Martin Pie, and the David Bowie Pie. There are even options for vegans and vegetarians as well, so everyone can enjoy themselves and not have to worry about special food requests.

Joshua Tree National Park Facts

Joshua Tree National Park California
Image Credit: John Ko via Unsplash

1. International Dark Sky Park

Joshua Tree National Park is known to have one of the darkest skies in Southern California. As a result, this park is listed as an International Dark Sky Park and offers remarkable opportunities to see the Milky Way and thousands of stars.

2. Joshua Trees Are Not Actual Trees

Even though Joshua trees look like trees, they are actually a plant in the agave family, which is a type of succulent. These plants store their own water and produce flowers in the spring.

3. Human Inhabitants for Over 4,000 Years

The first group of indigenous people inhabited the Joshua Tree National Park area 4,000 to 8,000 years ago. Following that group were the Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Cahuilla indigenous people.

The 19th century brought miners and cattlemen to the area, and then homesteaders who settled the lands and dug wells planted crops and built cabins. The famous Keys Ranch is a homestead that can be toured in the park, where visitors can get an idea of what life was like in earlier times.

4. Explore 2 Deserts in 1 Day

Joshua Tree National Park has 2 deserts that are featured in the park: the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. These 2 deserts actually touch, making it possible for hikers to experience 2 separate deserts in a single day.

5. Ancient Rocks

The oldest rocks in Joshua Tree National Park date back 1.4 to 1.7 billion years. The oldest tree in the park is the Joshua Tree Augen Gneiss. This massive metamorphic rock was once composed of granite, but due to exposure to high temperatures and pressures, it is now composed of quarts and dolomite. Joshua Tree Augen Gneiss is a stunning attraction found in the park.

6. Unsolved Mystery

William Keys settled in the Joshua Tree National Park area decades ago, and there’s actually an unsolved mystery regarding his death. Keys served time in prison after running scams at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley.

Once released from prison, Keys went to work mining and running his own homestead. There ended up being a long-running feud with a fellow homesteader, and this ended with William returning to prison for murder.

There ended up being a technicality that resulted in an acquittal, but everyone was convinced he had committed murder. Park volunteers and visitors still wonder about the true story of William Keys today.

7. A Park With 3 Different Ecosystems

Joshua Tree National Park has 3 separate ecosystems present in the park. The park’s southern side is part of the Colorado Desert, where ocotillo plants and cholla cacti grow. The western part of the park has the San Bernadino Mountains running through it, along with pine trees and juniper. The northern part of the park is where the Mojave Desert is found and where Joshua trees grow.

8. Formerly Part of Mexico

Joshua Tree National Park was a part of Mexico long ago. When America invaded the Mexican territories, the Mexican-American War began. As a result of this war, the U.S. took land from Mexico. By 1850, California had become a U.S. state. Before becoming an American state, it was a part of Mexico, and this area included the land that is now Joshua Tree National Park.

9. Pioneers in Joshua Tree National Park

In the 1800s, American pioneers from the east began to make their way to the west, where they could settle, establish homesteads, and possibly even find gold.

The Joshua Tree area became a desired location for establishing a new life because of its homesteading and cattle-ranching opportunities. The Gold Rush also brought prospectors to the region who did find both silver and gold in the area.

10. Joshua Tree National Park Named by Pioneers

Mormons were another group of pioneers that came through the Joshua Tree area. It is a popular belief that the Mormons gave the Joshua tree plant this name because of its branches resembling the outstretched arms of the biblical Joshua, reaching toward heaven in prayer. Before these trees were given this name, they were often called yucca palms.

11. A New Park Established

The Joshua Tree area was declared a national monument in 1936. On October 31, 1994, the park was redesignated as a national park when the U.S. Congress passed a bill known as the California Desert Protection Bill. This bill also added 234,000 acres to the park.

12. Animals Galore

Joshua Tree National Park is home to an incredible array of animals. There are 57 mammal species found in the park, along with 46 reptile species, 250 types of birds, and 75 different types of butterflies. Each animal found in the park has unique adaptations so that it can survive the harsh temperatures and landscapes of the park.

13. Minerva Hoyt: A Major Contributor

Minerva Hoyt moved to Southern California from the deep south in the 1890s. She quickly became passionate about the desert land and fought to protect it. She formed the International Deserts Conservation League in 1930 to preserve the land and keep it from being developed into neighborhoods and private property for homes.

Minerva campaigned for years and later worked with President Hoover to establish Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936.

Final Thoughts

Joshua Tree National Park is the ideal destination for a remarkable Californian vacation. Whether you want to see the colossal, gravity-defying boulders, experience the thrill of rock climbing, take in the spectacular sunrises and sunsets, or spend the evening under the stars, Joshua Tree National Park has plenty of things that will make your park trip one to remember for a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the fees for Joshua Tree National Park?

To enter Joshua Tree National Park, an entrance pass must be purchased. These passes are valid for 7 days. The costs of each pass vary depending on how you plan to enter the park. A vehicle pass costs $30, a motorcycle pass costs $25, and individual passes cost $15. For visitors planning to camp in Joshua Tree National Park, there are separate fees that are required. Reservable sites range in price from $20 to $25. First-come first-served campsites have a fee of $15 per night.

How long should I plan to stay at Joshua Tree National Park?

The length of your visit should be determined based on the number of items on your must-see list. If you only want to see the major attractions, this can be achieved in a 1- to 2-day trip. For those who want to explore, hike, and climb the backcountry areas, a 3- to 5-day trip would be ideal.

What is the weather like at Joshua Tree National Park?

The weather in Joshua Tree National Park varies over the course of the year. Spring and fall temperatures range from the low 50s to the mid-80s. Summer brings hot weather, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees or higher during the day. Summer nights may get to 75 degrees at the lows. Winter temperatures range from 32 degrees at night to daytime highs in the low 60s. The higher elevations in the park occasionally experience snow.

What are the most popular activities in Joshua Tree National Park?

There is an abundance of activities available in Joshua Tree National Park. Every adventurer will find something exciting to experience. Some popular activities visitors can participate in include rock climbing, 4-wheeling, biking, and hiking.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.


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