Joshua Tree National Park is California’s second-largest National Park and takes Southern California residents roughly one to three hours to travel to this destination. Home to world-class rock climbing, a night sky that takes your breath away, and thousands of Joshua Trees that have their shape, you’ll want to be here for more than just a day. After visiting this location several times this past year, we wanted to share our ideal 3-day itinerary, which we believe encompasses the best experiences in Joshua Tree National Park.
Activities to do:
Hiking in Joshua Tree is enjoyable but should be taken very seriously as this park is known for losing several hikers a year. This fact isn’t here to scare you as we love hiking the park ourselves and do it often, but we just wanted to take a moment to prepare you! If you are unfamiliar with the park, getting lost is easy as everything looks familiar. Just know your routes, and tell someone where you are going just as an extra safety precaution. Our favorite trails are the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Lost Palms Oasis Trail, and Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail. To learn more about the 30+ trails this park has to offer, head on over to the All Trails website here.
Looking for an experience that requires much less movement? Try stargazing! This National Park offers the best views of the night sky in the entire country, even the world, which is why so many visitors travel great distances to see it. The reason why it’s such a great place to stargaze is because it’s 5,000 feet above sea level, making it a high desert and located far from major cities. There are several designated stargazing spots, but you’ll find the best night sky views in the park’s eastern section.
Who doesn’t love camping? This park books up fast, but don’t let it deter you from staying here! There are campgrounds at every elevation, but one of our favorites is Jumbo Rock Campground. There are 124 sites available, making it one of the park’s largest, but it’s deep enough in the park, which makes it a perfect spot for stargazing. Please continue reading below to learn more about our other favorite campgrounds and see their hookup status!
This National Park is not shy to say that they offer some of the best Rock Climbing opportunities in the country. With over 8000 climbing routes, 2000 boulder problems, and hundreds of natural gaps to choose from, no matter the ability level, there will be something for everyone. Here you will be climbing traditional style cracks, slabs and experience steep face climbs. If you are unfamiliar with the park, climbing guides are available for purchase at the visitors center and outdoor shops within the area.
Passes & Permits:
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the few parks that does not require permits for several of the activities that would take place there. You are required to pay an entrance fee and pay for a reserved camping spot, but if you want to hike, rock climb, or take photos as your hobby, permits are not needed. To stay up to date on the park’s permit requirements, visit the national park website here as conditions may change.
When planning your trip to this National Park, it’s imperative to consider the weather you’ll be facing when you’re here. Given that it’s a high desert, the weather range throughout the year is more drastic as the summer temperatures are hot and in the 100’s and the winters can experience snowfall. See below what you can expect during each season so that you can better plan your trip for yourself and your family.
Summer – With temperature highs averaging 100 degrees and lows in the 70’s, you can feel the heat. While you may be visiting the park to admire its trees, hydration will be just as important, even though your movement will be minimal if you choose to focus just on the scenic drive.
Fall – A beautiful time to visit the park as temperatures are starting to cool down, but those cooler temperatures are still hot. Joshua Tree averages highs in the 80s and 90s this time of year, but temperatures drop by 30 to 40 degrees each night once the sun goes down. You can expect Santa Ana Winds this season as well, so be sure to check your weather app frequently so you’re not caught in high winds.
Winter – This desert does see snow! It doesn’t happen often, but it is possible in this high desert. During the day, temperatures warm up to 65 degrees and have lows of 45 degrees, but temperatures drop below freezing at night. The cold will feel colder here because of the elevation, so come prepared.
Spring – A fantastic time of year to visit. Daytime temperatures are warm but not uncomfortable, and the Joshua Tree Wildflowers are in full bloom painting the desert floor with color. You won’t see a big crowd here this time of year either.
Joshua Tree National Park is a nighttime photographer’s dream. Sunrise, sunset, and every minute in between will show a different light that paints the desert. To learn more about some of our favorite photo spots, read our list below.
- Keys View
- Cap Rock
- Cholla Cactus Garden
Just remember, the east side of the park is best for stargazing photos. But, at the same time, the westside offers a better collection of Joshua Trees, and be mindful of those around you, watch your footing and keep the park clean & pristine so we can continue to share it with others.
When visiting this National Park, you won’t feel short of amenities from any side of the park. While spaced out, there are several gas stations, restaurants, lodging options, and stores right outside the park entrances in Joshua Tree and 29 Palms.
There are several gas stations at both park entrances along Highway 62, so wondering when your next fill up won’t be any concern. Just be sure to fill up before entering the park because it’s easy to wander, and you don’t want to get stuck in the middle with a low tank of gas.
Cell Phone Service
Joshua Tree is known for its poor cell service, so before entering, we suggest that you download your directions and any music or podcasts as weak cell service will affect that too. You can also grab a printed map at the entrance of the park.
Firewood is available for purchase at many locations outside the park. While it may be tempting, gathering wood, even starter twigs, is prohibited within the park, so come prepared with these items. Also, be sure to keep your fire small and only use designated rings.
There are a few markets in Joshua Tree for you to choose from, some focused more on healthy alternatives and others as general grocery stores, but if you’re looking to stock up on your fridge, the best place to do this is in Palm Springs. They have a large grocery store and can accommodate all your nutrition needs.
There is a handful of dumping stations available, and some of them are the KOA, Desert Springs RV Park, Twentynine Palms Resort, and Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground. The first two are for registered guests only, but the last two have a $20 fee for non-registered guests.
Pets are allowed in Joshua Tree National Park, and it’s one of the most friendly to our pets. They are allowed in the park’s developed areas, i.e., campgrounds, parks, paved roads, etc., and can venture up to 100 feet from those areas. However, they still must remain on their leash and need to be supervised at all times. Read here for more information on where you can stay and what you can do with your pup in tow.
Where to stay
From Camping to Hotels and Airbnb stays, there will be plenty of options for you to choose from. These accommodations tend to fill up fast during the winter months, but you usually won’t have to worry about finding a place to stay if you come out for a spontaneous trip.
There are several campgrounds to choose from and all of which require reservations. These fill up fast and can book months in advance, so check in regularly to try and secure your spot. Unfortunately, all campgrounds have no access to hookups.
- Water, Flush Toilets, Dumping
- Black Rock Campground (4,000 ft Elevation)
- Cottonwood Campground (3,000 ft Elevation)
- No Water Available
- Indian Cove Campground (3,200 ft Elevation)
- Jumbo Rocks Campground (4,400 ft Elevation)
- Ryan Campground (4,300 ft Elevation)
Dispersed camping around Joshua Tree National Park is limited, but these lands have their own rules and regulations. To learn more about where you can disperse camp, head on over to the BLM website here.
Joshua Tree Airbnb
Between Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, there are several major name hotels for you to choose from, but you can also find unique AirBnB options. To see a list of popular super host stays, click the link here. We’ve made notable mention of some of our favorite stays below.
- The Quails Nest
- 2 Guests, 2 Beds, 1 Bath
- The Joshua Tree Chalet
- 4 Guests, 1 Bed, 1 Bath
- Architects Off-Grid Stargazing Cabin
- 6 Guests, 2 Beds, 1 Bath
Day #1 Itinerary
Depending on what adventure you want to focus on, your trip to Joshua Tree National Park can be as short as one day or as long as one week, but we put together an itinerary perfect for the weekender.
Morning: For many of you, your drive to Joshua Tree National Park will take up most of the morning, so when you start your journey, have a light snack because you’ll want room for lunch! Before you reach the park, stop at Indian Canyons in Palm Spring. This destination is an hour away, and you will see the world’s largest grove of California Fan Palms here.
Afternoon: Spend the first part of your afternoon having lunch at the classic western-themed restaurant, the Joshua Tree Saloon! This restaurant is also right next to the park’s Gift Shop, Coyote Corner, and will be a fun introduction to the area. It is a popular restaurant in town though so on the weekends you can expect wait times up to an hour! Once you fill up with excellent food, make your way into the park for some light exploring.
Evening: We recommend you spend the start of your evening exploring the Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks. Closer to the entrance, these views won’t be hard to miss. These rocks are a fun area to explore for young kids and adults, so spend as much time as you want here. Just be careful because it’s much easier to climb up than down. Then, if you still want to spend time in the park, drive deeper in and find a nice pull-out along the way and wait for the best sunset you may ever see and, of course, a night sky unlike any other.
Day #2 Itinerary
Morning: It’s time to wake up early because if you thought seeing a Joshua Tree Sunset was impressive, wait until you see the sunrise. You’ll be able to hear the Great Horned Owl grabbing its breakfast and Jackrabbits wandering the desert floor. If you’re a photographer, some spots we recommend are the Barker Dam for great water shots, Keys View for a large variety of landscapes, or Cholla Cactus Garden. The golden sun illuminates them like you wouldn’t believe.
Afternoon: Hit one of the many trails in Joshua Tree! Ryan Mountain Trail is a moderate out and back trail that’s 3 miles long and is one of the most popular trails in the park, making it one of the safest. There is no shade on the trail, so come with plenty of water and if you love to hike in the summer heat, listen to your body and take plenty of breaks. While moderate, the 1,000 ft + elevation can get to you.
Evening: If you want to squeeze in a good challenge for the day ends, go to FortyNine Palms oasis Trail. It’s a 3 mile long challenging trail that takes experienced hikers two hours to complete. You’ll explore rocky ridges, palm trees, and a true desert oasis.
Day #3 Itinerary
Morning: We know this morning will consist of you packing up your campsite or your hotel room but if you’re looking to have a fantastic breakfast and save on dishes, head on out of the park and have breakfast at the Country Kitchen right outside the main entrance. Here you will find tasty and large portions of some of the best breakfasts in town.
Afternoon: For the last few hours, head back into the park for one last hike. Split Loop Rock Trail is an easy two-mile loop that shows you several rock formations and incredible desert views. If you want something easier than that, drive through the park and stop at any designated pull-out throughout the park. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, but some of the best spots are found by simply exploring!