If you enjoy nature and outdoor activities you’re sure to fall in love with all the Joshua Tree hikes and sights. The scenery may not be as dramatic as places like Glacier National Park but if it’s adventure you’re after there’s hiking, climbing, bouldering, and mountain biking to get the blood and adrenaline pumping.
However, don’t worry if you’re not the adventurous type or are visiting with young kids as there are plenty of other things to do in Joshua Tree National Park.
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Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree Quick Facts
- Joshua Tree National Park is located in southern California. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles and less than 1 hour from Palm Springs.
- Joshua Tree was declared a National Monument in 1936 but was not listed as a USA National Park until 1994.
- The park was named after the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) that are native to the area.
- The size of the park is just shy of 800,000 acres and more than 400,000 acres of that is designated wilderness.
- The cost to enter the park is $30 per vehicle and the pass is good for 7 days. Motorcycles are $25 and an annual pass is $55.
- There are almost 3 million visitors annually to Joshua Tree National Park.
- The park contains 2 different desserts (Mojave and Sonoran) with 2 unique eco-systems creating wonderful contrasts mainly due to having different elevations.
- There are 6 different mountain ranges within the park.
- Joshua Tree National Park has nearly 200 miles of hiking trails.
- Due to extreme temperatures in the summer months, it’s best to visit between September and May plus avoid weekends and holidays to miss some of the crowds. In the summer go early morning or evening to avoid the intense heat.
- Camping under the stars in Joshua Tree is one of the most unique things to do in California. There are campgrounds inside and outside the park. For luxury camping give Glamping in Joshua Tree a try.
- If staying in a hotel is more your style, there are awesome accommodations for any group size.
- You could technically cover the Joshua Tree park highlights in one day but it’s highly recommended to allow two days, especially if you like hiking and want to see the incredible night sky.
- There are 3 park entrances: West Entrance at Joshua Tree Village, North Entrance in Twentynine Palms, and South Entrance near Cottonwood Spring.
- Much of the park is off-limits to pets so be sure to check before hitting the trails with Bring Fido
- There is a shuttle bus in the park that stops at many of the main sights if you don’t have a car.
- You cannot purchase food, water or gas inside the park so go prepared.
- Bring or download an offline map as cell service is very sparse within the park. See map and link below
Joshua Tree Hikes
The best way to fully explore Joshua Tree National Park is on foot so it’s no surprise that hiking is one of the top things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. There are nearly 200 miles of Joshua Tree trails with various levels of difficulty so there’s an option for every fitness ability. We’re happy to say there are also 4 accessible hiking trails at Joshua Tree and you can find all the details at Wheelchairtraveling.com.
We won’t cover all 200 trails here but we will share 5 of the best hikes in Joshua Tree. So grab your hiking shoes, backpack, and water bottle and get out on the trails!
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Distance: 1-mile loop
Time: 30-60 minutes
Elevation Gain: 20 ft
Location: Near Twentynine Palms
Highlights: This trail is a good introduction to the park giving a short overview of the unique landscape and plant life in the park. Many people say it reminds them of the Flintstones with all the massive boulders which also make it a popular spot for climbing in Joshua Tree.
Barker Dam Loop Trail
Distance: 1.5 mile loop
Time: 1-1.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 70 ft
Location: Near Twentynine Palms
Highlights: Th is the only Joshua Tree hike that leads to water which also makes it great for wildlife spotting.
Ryan Mountain Trail
Distance: 2.9 miles roundtrip
Time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,075 ft
Location: Park Boulevard just past Ryan Mountain campground.
Highlights: Well-maintained but steep trail with an exceptional view at the end from Ryan Mountain summit. Even more spectacular at sunset. On the way, you’ll pass through the colorful Wonderland of Rocks which is one of the top things to see in Joshua Tree.
Lost Palms Oasis Joshua Tree Hike
Distance: 7-mile roundtrip
Time: 3-3.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 500 ft
Location: Near Cottonwood Springs Visitors Center at the south entrance to the park.
Highlights: This trail shows off the beauty of the Colorado desert as it passes through Cottonwood Springs Oasis, rolling hills, and a canyon before opening onto a plateau where you can look down into the Lost Palms Oasis.
Warren Peak Trail
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
Time: 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft
Location: Near Black Rock campground in the northwest corner of the park this trail starts at Black Rock Canyon Trail.
Highlights: This is one of the longer and more challenging trails in Joshua Tree so if you only have one day in the park it will take up half of your time. However, it also has the most incredible views of Joshua Tree as a reward at the end and is also very scenic along the way.
Other Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park
Visit Skull Rock
There are many cool rock formations in Joshua Tree but the most iconic is Skull Rock. You can see the rock from the road or you can park in a nearby parking lot and walk 2 minutes for a closer view. If you’re up for a scenic hike there’s also a 2-mile loop trail that starts at Jumbo Rocks campground.
Tip: If you decide to do this Joshua Tree hike be sure to set aside some time to explore the Jumbo Rocks campground a bit as it’s a really cool site.
Explore Cholla Cactus Gardens
The cacti in this area actually go by the deceiving name of Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus because of their fuzzy appearance. But don’t be fooled, they are anything but soft and cuddly. Don’t let that stop you from walking this strangely beautiful .25 mile flat trail though, it’s one of the coolest spots in Joshua Tree National Park.
However, it is quite far out on Pinto Basin Road and away from most of the other park sights so if you’re short on time you may want to consider giving it a miss. That is unless you’re there between March and May when the cacti bloom, definitely don’t miss that!.
Tip: Don’t wear open shoes and stay on the trail to avoid getting one of the cacti spines stuck in you. If this does happen there is a first aid kit chained to the post near the entrance.
Go Rock Climbing and Bouldering (or just watch)
Joshua Tree NP is a top destination for rock climbers from all over the world. In fact, many climbers go to the park every year and stay for a week or more just to scale some of the 8,000 rock climbing routes. If you’re a climber be sure to bring your gear, if you’re a newbie this is a great place to try it and there are guides you can hire to teach you.
Tip: If you don’t want to try climbing in Joshua Tree yourself you can still enjoy watching others do it, especially in Hidden Valley, Hall of Horrors and Intersection Rock
Scramble to Arch Rock
Another much-visited rock formation in Joshua Tree park is Arch Rock. Mother Nature did a great job on this one with its smooth surface and curvy lines making it a favorite spot for photos. Many people see an elephant’s head and trunk. Unlike Skull Rock you can’t just drive up to this site but the trail is easy and only 0.5 mile. However, the view of Arch Rock from the trail isn’t the best so many people do some easy scrambling over rocks for a closer look.
Tip: If you only have time for one short hike this is a good one to go with.
Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park is a favorite activity thanks to the low levels of light pollution. If you’re excited about the idea of sitting in the pitch-black desert, looking up to the heavens to spot constellations and the Milky Way in perfect silence then this is a must for you.
If you’re camping in the park then you can stargaze from the comfort of your campsite. Otherwise, just drive in after dark (the park is open 24 hours) and find a quiet spot away from any light sources.
Tip: The day may be hot but come nightfall the temperature in the dessert drops dramatically so be sure to bring warm clothing or a blanket.
Joshua Tree Stargazing Yurt
If stargazing in Joshua Tree is a top priority consider staying at the 28 Palms Ranch Stargazing Yurt. There’s a natural window to the sky above where you can lay and stargaze from the comfort of your bed.
Take in Keys View
This is arguably the most epic view in Joshua Tree. It’s a 20-minute drive up the mountain to the 5185 ft elevation viewpoint from where you can see the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, and even the San Andreas Fault. However, keep in mind that there’s sometimes smog and low cloud obscuring the view so it’s best to go on a clear day for the full effect.
Tip: Keys View is an awesome spot for sunsets.
Tour Keys Ranch
Take a guided walking tour of a preserved old west ranch where William and Frances Keys lived for 60 years and raised their five children. You will visit their home, the schoolhouse, store and workshop and explore the ranch grounds which have an orchard and an array of old trucks and mining equipment scattered around.
Tip: You can only visit by 90-minute guided tour.
Joshua Tree National Park Map (click to download)
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.