Planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park? Here is your ultimate guide to visiting the area, along with the 11 best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park!
There are many great things to do and see in and around Joshua Tree National Park, including an abundance of wildlife!
There are dozens of Joshua Tree National Park hikes of varying lengths and difficulties throughout the park. The hikes offer endless opportunities to see unique plants and wildlife.
We loved Joshua Tree National Park because it felt like a giant playground. We had a blast climbing and exploring on and off-trail during each of our hikes in the park.
After reading this post, you will be more prepared for and excited about your trip to the park.
In this post you will find:
- Planning Information for Your Trip to Joshua Tree National Park
- What to Bring for your Visit to the Park
- Drinks and Dining Near the Park
- 11 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park
Planning Your Visit to JTNP
Getting to Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is in southern California. You will need a car to navigate through and around the park.
Airports Near Joshua Tree National Park:
- Palm Springs Airport (PSP) – 45 miles (45 minutes – 1 hour)
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – 145 miles (2.5-4 hours depending on traffic)
- San Diego International Airport (SAN) – 160 miles (3.5-4hours)
- Las Vegas McCarran Airport (LAS) – 182 miles (3-3.5 hours)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) – 227 miles (3.5-4 hours)
San Diego and Phoenix are closest to the South entrance near Cottonwood Spring.
Los Angeles and Las Vegas are closest to the West Entrance near the town of Joshua Tree.
Palm Springs is about the same distance to either the South or the West entrance.
Where to Stay
The communities of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms are right on the edge of the north park boundary. These charming little towns are great options if you want to stay in a hotel or Airbnb close to the park.
When we visited Joshua Tree in March 2020 (right before the world shut down), we booked our stay through Hotwire and stayed at the Best Western in Yucca Valley. The rooms were a little bit older but very spacious. There was a free continental breakfast, a pool, and a hot tub, and the location worked well for us.
In February 2022, we stayed at the Oasis Inn & Suites in Twentynine Palms. It was not the nicest hotel, but it was inexpensive and had a good pool/hot tub area.
There are so many amazing, unique Airbnb stays near JTNP! These can be very competitive and pricey, so try to book in advance.
There are 9 campgrounds within the park as well as more camping areas outside of the park boundaries.
We have not camped at the park before, so I do not know which campgrounds are the best. However, we did drive through and do a little hike in Indian Cove Campground, and it was absolutely stunning. If I was going to camp in the park I would probably choose Indian Cove.
Campsites can be very hard to come by during peak season, so book a site as far in advance as possible. If you are not able to plan your stay far in advance, there are some sites that are first come, first served!
Best Time to Visit
Spring and fall are the best times of year to go if you want ideal temperatures. During these seasons, the average high is around 85°F (29°C), and the average lows are around 50°F (10°C).
Summers are very hot, often over 100°F (38°C). Although not as comfortable, summer is still doable if you plan accordingly (adequate water, sun protection, etc.), especially if you don’t plan anything too strenuous and get an early start.
If you don’t mind cooler weather, winter brings average high temperatures of around 60°F (15°C). This is ideal hiking weather IMO! Evenings and nights often drop below freezing during the winter season.
Overall, any season is doable if you plan on sightseeing and hiking. If you are camping, spring or fall would likely be most comfortable.
Admission to the Park
The entrance fee for Joshua Tree National Park is $30. This gets you admission for 7 days. You can purchase admission at any of the park entrances.
We always get the America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80, is valid for one year, and grants you admission to all of the U.S. National Parks and over 2,000 federal recreation areas in the United States.
If you plan on visiting multiple parks within the year, this is definitely the most bang for your buck!
You can buy the pass at any visitor center or ranger station, from the USGS website, or from most federal recreation sites in your area.
Essentials for Your Joshua Tree National Park Trip
- Plenty of water & snacks
- Sun Protection – hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, SPF chapstick, protective clothes
- Park Map (you can get this at the visitor centers or entrance stations in the park)
- Climbing Gloves – climbing on the rocks at JTNP is a blast, but they are very rough and cut up your hands, so climbing gloves are very helpful
Best Eats Near Joshua Tree National Park
- Joshua Tree Saloon (Joshua Tree) – live music, neat ambiance, drinks & food
- 2 Guys Pies (Yucca Valley) – We loved the pizza here!
- JT Country Kitchen (Joshua Tree) – We had a delicious breakfast here on the patio after a morning of hiking!
- John’s Place (Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley) – 3 different locations offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This could be a good option if you want to order food to go. The milkshakes were delicious!
- Joshua Tree Coffee Company (Joshua Tree) – The go-to place for delicious coffee
- Fosters Freeze Ice Cream (Twentynine Palms) – We enjoyed the ice cream here!
- Pappy & Harriet’s (Pioneertown – Yucca Valley)
11 Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park
1. Stroll the Cholla Cactus Garden at Sunrise
The Cholla Cactus Garden trail is an easy, relaxing trail that is only .25 miles long. This is hardly even a hike, but more of a quick stroll through a stunning garden. This is a great stop any time of day but is extra incredible at sunrise or sunset.
You will have a bit of a drive to get to the Cholla Cactus Garden, but we thought it was definitely worth a stop. It was crazy to us how thousands of cholla cacti just seemed to appear out of nowhere as we approached the cactus garden.
The Cholla Cactus Garden is about 20 miles north of Cottonwood Visitor Center, or about 12 miles south of the White Tank Campground, depending on which direction you are coming from. If you are planning to hike Arch Rock Trail, pair up the Cholla Cactus Garden with it on the same day.
This was one of my favorite things that we did on our visit to Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree National Park is an International Dark Sky Park.
The park is open 24/7 and you can stargaze anywhere in the park. The further you get away from town, the darker it will get. Campgrounds and pull-outs along the road are good places to park and star gazing.
Once you get into the park and let your eyes adjust to the darkness (it can take 20-30 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust), you can see countless stars and even the Milky Way.
Bring a lawn chair or a blanket and spend some time stargazing. Make sure to bring some layers, as the temperatures can drop quickly. Next time we visit, we will definitely bring something to sit or lay on and warm layers so we can stay and enjoy the stars longer!
3. Hike Ryan Mountain
Ryan Mountain Trail is only 3 miles round trip, but it packs a punch with 1,050 feet of elevation gain. The trail is an out-and-back trail to the summit of Ryan Mountain.
This was definitely the most difficult hike that we did in the park. It was up, up, up the whole way to the top. We did it at sunrise on a cold morning in February. It would definitely be more challenging if you were trying to hike the trail in the heat.
I was 6 months pregnant when I did this hike, and we made it to the top in about 45 minutes and back down in about 35 minutes. We only spent about 10 minutes at the top because it was cold and windy.
The views at sunrise were unbelievable! The sky was the most beautiful shades of pink and orange, and it made the uphill trek go a lot faster. Despite it being a lung and leg burner, this hike was a lot of fun and very rewarding. This is definitely one of my favorite hikes in the park!
4. Climb Through the Hall of Horrors
The Hall of Horrors is a bit of a hidden gem because many people are unable to find the actual “hall”. The trailhead is located at the Hall of Horrors parking lot, just west of the Ryan Mountain Trailhead.
This is one of our favorite spots in the park because there are endless opportunities to climb and explore. It is seriously so much fun! I would plan to spend at least an hour here if you enjoy climbing and exploring.
The actual “Hall of Horrors” is a specific slot canyon that is very cool, but not too narrow. There are many other fun and exciting slot canyons, cave-like features, arches, and rock features to climb around on as well.
To find the actual Hall of Horrors, you can head left (clockwise) around the first big section of boulders. The Hall of Horrors is near the front of the second large section of boulders, but you will have to do a little bit of scrambling up boulders to get to it.
Click here for a great post that will help you find the Hall of Horrors.
5. Walk the Indian Cove Nature Trail at Sunset
We only found this place because we were looking for a quick drive from our hotel to watch the sunset. Oh my gosh were we pleasantly surprised! The Indian Cove Campground and Nature Trail are absolutely stunning!
There were so many boulder mounds everywhere. It reminded me of Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California. The sunset colors in the sky were unbelievable.
The Indian Cove Nature Trail is on the west end of the campground. It is an easy and relaxing 0.6-mile loop. Like many other trails in the park, there are many opportunities to explore and climb just off-trail if you want to.
We loved this area and would definitely choose Indian Cove Campground if we ever decide to camp in the park.
6. Hike Arch Rock Trail
This hike is about 1.5 miles and is considered easy with an elevation gain of about 100 feet. You can access the trail from the Twin Tanks Parking Lot. You will actually park on the opposite side of the arch. The trail crosses the road within the first quarter mile.
We did this hike for the first time early in the morning. It was AMAZING because the moon was big in the morning sky, and the sunrise was stunning.
The hike itself was flat and peaceful. The beginning of the trail is out in the open through the desert scrub and is very exposed to the sun.
The trail gets a lot more exciting once you get to the “loop” portion. It almost feels like you made it to a different planet.
You can choose to do the loop portion clockwise or counterclockwise. Some of the users on All Trails commented that the loop portion was confusing to follow, but we went counterclockwise and had no problem following the trail and signs along the loop. Make sure to look up every so often so you don’t miss the arch.
Have fun taking photos and climbing around under the arch and on all of the surrounding rocks!
Arch Rock Trail is very family-friendly and super fun for kids and adults alike!
7. Visit Barker Dam
Barker Dam is an easy 1.1-mile trail that offers a lot, which makes it one of the most popular Joshua Tree National Park hikes. Try to beat the crowds and the heat by going early morning or late afternoon/evening.
As you walk along the Barker Dam Trail, you are treated to beautiful valley views, huge rocks and boulders, Joshua Trees and other vegetation, petroglyphs, and wildlife. There are placards along the trail offering more information about the plants and animals in the park.
Barker Dam Trail is a loop trail, with the main attraction being the water tank that was created by the dam built by local cattleman C.O. Barker in 1900. We have hiked this trail twice and saw water in the dam once, but the water is often dried up depending on the time of year and precipitation levels.
The Barker Dam Trail is a good option for anyone who has limited time to visit the park. The trail is short with minimal elevation gain, making it great for anyone, including families with small children. Strollers are not permitted on the trail, so you may want to opt for a child carrier.
8. Look for Wildlife
Joshua Tree National Park was one of our best parks thus far for spotting wildlife. We saw chipmunks, jackrabbits, mule deer, lizards, a snake, and many kinds of birds. It is also common to see foxes, coyotes, and gophers.
If you are really lucky, you might even see a desert tortoise, chuckwalla, or bighorn sheep.
9. Explore the Hidden Valley Nature Trail
This is a very family-friendly trail and is a great choice for anyone visiting the park! This easy 1-mile loop trail winds through a stunning rock-enclosed valley.
The trail starts at the Hidden Valley Picnic area. You begin by going up a few stairs and through a rock “hallway” to the boulder-surrounded valley loop. There are signs throughout the trail giving more information about the plants and animals you might see along the hike.
We loved our leisurely stroll through the Hidden Valley Trail after hiking Ryan Mountain. Kids would have a blast climbing on the low rocks and making their way through the valley.
10. Get a Photo By Skull Rock
Skull Rock is a very popular viewpoint in the park. You can see it from the road, and many people take a quick stop for a photo op and keep going.
However, if you have time, leave the crowds and check out the jumbo rocks behind the famous skull rock. There are endless opportunities to explore and climb the boulders and rocks back there!
11. Hike to the 49 Palms Oasis
The 49 Palms Oasis Trailhead is on the north side of Joshua Tree National Park near the town of Twentynine Palms. The trail has an access road off of Highway 62. The access road is separate from the rest of the park, so this trail does not require park admission.
The Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is a 3-mile out-and-back hike that leads to a secluded palm tree oasis tucked away in the mountains.
The trail heads uphill for the first half of the hike. You will then wind around some curves and catch your first glimpse of the oasis far below in the distance. You then descend down to the oasis. On the way back, you head back up and then finish by descending down to the parking lot.
Pack a lunch or bring some snacks and take some time to sit and enjoy the awe-inspiring view of the palm trees and pools of water in the middle of the desert.
I hope this list of things to do in Joshua Tree National Park helps you feel inspired and informed about visiting this incredible Southern California National Park!
Traveling with kids? Check out these posts for tips on traveling with young children!
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