Perfect Joshua Tree Day Trip: Tips & Hidden Gems

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If you just have one day, follow this Joshua Tree day trip itinerary for the perfect route that blends top hikes and hidden gems. We’ve created the ultimate guide for planning the perfect visit to Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park

Whether you’re squeezing a quick visit to Joshua Tree into your Palm Springs itinerary or you’re coming from elsewhere in Southern California, this unique national park is pretty cool to see. And the good news is you can do a lot in just one day.

Joshua Tree National Park is a place where two distinctly different desert ecosystems – the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert – come together in Southern California’s wilderness.

Known for an abundance of Joshua trees – the park’s namesake – these quirky “trees” are characterized by spiky leaves and arms poking out at odd angles, which will make you feel as if you’ve stepped inside a Dr. Suess book.

Fun fact: Did you know that Joshua Trees aren’t technically trees? They are actually part of the agave family! Learn more about them here.

In addition to Joshua trees, you’ll also find lots of short and easy hikes and cool rock formations in this arid desertscape.

If you only have one day to explore Joshua Tree National Park, you’re in luck because: a) it is totally possible to see a lot of what this park has to offer in a short period of time, and b) we’ve got the perfect Joshua Tree day trip guide for you!

Psst! Read our totally honest thoughts on Joshua Tree. Spoiler: it’s not our favorite national park, but it is still worth seeing when you are in Southern California. 

Joshua Tree day trip guide

Psst! Want to see what our time in Joshua Tree looked like in real life (plus some behind the scenes stuff)? See all the videos and tips on our Instagram highlight!

Joshua Tree National Park quick info

Joshua Tree National Park

Tip: You can either purchase both of these passes at one of the 4 visitor centers or you can buy it in advance (to save time) by clicking the links above.

North vs. South portions of the park

Joshua Tree National Park

If you are visiting Joshua Tree as a day trip and only have one day, you should choose to visit either the north or the south portion of the park, not both. In our opinion, trying to see the whole thing in one day will be very long and will feel rushed.

Which area should I visit with just one day?

We can undoubtedly say that the north part of the park is best for first-time visitors

The southern portion of the park (starting at the south entrance, near the Cottonwood Visitor Center) actually has very few Joshua trees. They’re kind of the main reason you come to this park, so we highly recommend sticking to the north if you just have one day as they are plentiful here.

Our recommended route: There is a nice loop in the northwest section of the park that hits just about all of the top attractions in Joshua Tree. Start at the West Entrance and follow Park Boulevard and Keys View Road to Twentynine Palms. If you follow our itinerary then you will essentially do this loop.

Joshua Tree day trip itinerary

Joshua Tree National Park

We’ve created two itineraries for different types of people:

  • Laidback itinerary: More relaxed and includes some stops outside the park as well. 
  • Photographer itinerary: Focused on getting you the best views and into the park as early as possible.

Choose whichever route appeals to you most, or do a bit of mixing and matching.

Each item listed in the itinerary is described in further detail in the next section. Be sure to read that so you get all our insider tips!

Laidback itinerary

Hall of Horrors Joshua Tree National Park

Follow this itinerary if you don’t feel like getting a super early start (aka before the sun rises!). This route is what we personally did and we’ve included a bunch of quirky stops and hidden gems as well as the top attractions.

  • Dig your own cactus (optional)
  • Grab food for a picnic (& breakfast if you want!)
  • Walk the Hidden Valley Nature Trail
  • Hike to Barker Dam (or just the petroglyphs)
  • Snap a quick picture at Cap Rock
  • Explore the Hall of Horrors
  • Take a picture at Skull Rock (hike more of Discovery Trail if you have time)
  • Hike to Arch Rock & Heart Rock 
  • Golden Hour at Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Happy hour cocktails at Más o Menos
  • Live music and food at Pappy + Harriet’s
  • Stop for sunset views of windmills (if timing works out)

Photographer’s itinerary

Joshua Tree National Park California

Follow this plan if you want to get the best shots and don’t mind waking up early! (Pack snacks or a picnic lunch)

  • Sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Hike to Arch Rock & Heart Rock 
  • Take a picture at Skull Rock (hike more of Discovery Trail if you have time)
  • Explore the Hall of Horrors
  • Snap a quick picture at Cap Rock
  • Hike to Barker Dam (or just the petroglyphs)
  • Walk the Hidden Valley Nature Trail
  • Hike the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail (if you want a longer hike)
  • Sunset at Keys View (optional)
  • Happy hour cocktails at Más o Menos
  • Live music and food at Pappy + Harriet’s
  • Stargazing (optional)

Joshua Tree Map

Joshua Tree National Park day trip itinerary map

Click on the map above for a closer look at our perfect Joshua Tree day trip route.

Things to do in (and around!) Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

While most of the things to do in Joshua Tree National Park are viewpoints or hikes, we’ve also included some fun stops on your way to and from the park to make this one epic day trip!

Feel free to read through all the details and cut the ones that you’re not interested in so you can tailor this Joshua Tree itinerary to your specific taste.

Important: When plugging directions into Google Maps, be sure you aim for the West Entrance (NOT Cottonwood Entrance!), as this is where you will start your journey.

1. Dig your own cactus (optional)

Cactus Mart Joshua Tree National Park California

If you’re looking for one of the most unique things to do near Joshua Tree, then stopping by Cactus Mart should be on your list.

This nursery has a “dig your own” cactus bar, which makes a fun activity and a special souvenir. Choose from a variety of 79-cent cacti and handmade ceramic pots, then roll up your sleeves and get digging! You can add rocks to the top for your very own DIY cactus garden.

Our personal experience: We flew home with ours in a paper bag and it survived the flight just fine!

Cactus Mart Palm Springs California
Cactus Mart Palm Springs California

Good to know: If you want to do this, you can’t be in a rush to get to the national park, as Cactus Mart opens at 9 a.m. and it’s the first stop along the highway. We recommend skipping this stop if you are visiting on a weekend day, as it’ll be more crowded and you’ll want to get into the park earlier. 

Alternative routes: Personally, we got breakfast then backtracked to Cactus Mart because we really wanted to do this and that saved a little time. If you’ll be getting a really early start and know you’ll be headed back to town in the mid-afternoon, you could stop by on your way back as they are open until 5 p.m.

2. Breakfast & coffee

Frontier Cafe Palm Springs Joshua Tree California

You’ll want to be sure you fuel up for the day so you have enough energy for exploring! 

Either grab something small at your Airbnb that you can eat on the drive, or stop once you get close to the national park. 

There are tons of cute cafes and coffee shops to choose from:

  • (Our top rec) Frontier Cafe: Boho-hipster vibes with excellent coffee and a decent selection of healthy(ish) food items. We grabbed breakfast here as well as take-away for lunch, and everything was great! (7 a.m. – 5 p.m., every day)
    • Our personal experience: We got a breakfast sandwich, lox bagel, and iced pistachio latte (with an extra shot of espresso!) for breakfast, and a roasted beet salad and BLT for lunch.
  • The DEZ: Recommended to us by a friend, this place has excellent sandwiches for a picnic lunch, as well as breakfast items, like avocado toast, sausage rolls, and quiche. Vegan options too. (7 a.m. – 5 p.m., every day)
  • Luna Bakery: Excellent assortment of pastries as well as to-go sandwiches (8 a.m. – 2 p.m., every day)
  • Yucca Valley Outpost Cafe: With a Western-themed exterior, you may not expect a wide selection of healthy and fresh vegan eats, but that’s what you’ll get! (9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays only)
  • The Yucca Tree Eatery: Cafe with a variety of options for eat in and take away. Top recs include their smoothies and breakfast burritos. (8 a.m. – 3 p.m., closed Sundays)
  • Joshua Tree Coffee Company: If you’re just looking for coffee (not food), stop by this coffee shop near the park entrance for a great brew.

Our advice: If you want to grab breakfast and lunch, choose one spot to do both to save time. Personally, we got both breakfast and lunch at Frontier Cafe and everything was great. 

3. Pick up food for a picnic

Picnic Joshua Tree National Park California

Since there are no places to purchase food within the national park, it’s important that you have a plan for eating. Trust me, you don’t want to be hangry in the desert!

Either pack snacks and a picnic lunch the night before, or stop along the way to get a meal to go. There are a surprising number of really great choices on the way that offer to-go sandwiches and salads that you can enjoy amongst the scenery of Joshua Tree. 

Most of the cafes listed above (in the breakfast section) also offer takeaway options for lunch. If you’re going to do breakfast and lunch, then we recommend picking it all up at the same spot to save time.

Quick rec: We got breakfast, coffee, and lunch at Frontier Cafe and would recommend stopping there!

Insider tip: We recommend bringing a cooler filled with ice so that you can keep your lunch cool in your car until you’re ready to eat it. 

4. Stop at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center (optional)

Joshua Tree Visitor's Center

Stop in the visitor center if you want to do any of the following:

  • pick up paper maps
  • chat with a park ranger
  • purchase an America the Beautiful pass (or non-digital day pass)
  • shop for souvenirs
  • see some of the informational exhibits about Joshua Tree
  • use the last flushing toilet in a while

Hours: 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day

Google Maps location

Other stops in the town of Joshua Tree:

5. Hike the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Hidden Valley Nature Trail Joshua Tree National Park

Hidden Valley Nature Trail is the first noteworthy hike you’ll come across. It’s one of the most popular in the park, and for good reason. 

This easy loop trail brings you past interesting rock formations and plenty of Joshua trees

While we really enjoyed the diverse scenery on this trail, it was the most crowded hike we did during our time in Joshua Tree. Some parts become a bit congested, so adjust your expectations accordingly.  

Fun Fact: Did you know that you can see Joshua Trees at Death Valley National Park too? There’s a grove of them in an otherwise barren part of the park called Lee Flats. On that note, U2 has an album called The Joshua Tree, and contrary to popular belief, the tree on the cover was actually photographed in Death Valley, not Joshua Tree NP.

Hidden Valley Nature Trail:

Rock Formation Alert: When you exit the parking lot to continue the loop, you may notice a gigantic rock just across the street with noticeable diagonal cracks running through it. This is Intersection Rock, another one of the well-known rock formations. 

6. Walk to Barker Dam (or just the petroglyphs)

petroglyphs Barker Dam Joshua Tree National Park

The next hike on this route is the loop to Barker Dam. 

All the pictures we have seen online look beautiful, with water filling the dam to create a picturesque scene. However, when we were there in early March 2024, the dam was completely, 100% dry. Not a drop of water!

Our personal opinion: We were disappointed to find no water in the dam, and honestly,  we didn’t find this trail as beautiful or interesting as some of the others. Plus, it was one of the most crowded, so that may have something to do with it. 

We did love seeing the petroglyphs though. They are some of the most vibrant we’ve ever seen and are interesting to look at. The petroglyphs on the Barker Dam trail are said to date back roughly 2,000 years. Take a photo and admire them from afar, but don’t climb near them or touch them.

petroglyphs Barker Dam Joshua Tree National Park

Our advice: We recommend reading the recent trail reports on AllTrails to see the current conditions so you know what to expect. 

  • Option 1: If it is dry during your visit, we think you could skip this trail in order to give yourself more time elsewhere. 
  • Option 2: Alternatively, you can still park here and walk only until the petroglyphs (which is just about .8 miles out and back), then back to your car. It only saves you about half a mile, so you could do the whole loop (1.3 miles) and see what you think for yourself. 
  • Option 3: For a longer hike where you can see some pieces of history, continue on the trail to the Wonderland Ranch Ruins and the Wall Street Mill. Seeing these pieces of the past could be fun for a history buff!

We’ll cross our fingers that there’s water in the dam when you’re there!

Barker Dam Trail:

7. Snap a picture at Cap Rock 

Cap Rock Joshua Tree National Park

Cap Rock is one of the iconic rock formations in Joshua Tree, and it makes for a really quick stop. But there’s not much to it, honestly. 

It’s a rock balancing atop a bunch of other giant boulders. There is a short, half-mile loop trail around Cap Rock if you want to see it from different angles.

There are also some picnic tables here if you’re ready for lunch.

Our personal opinion: I think there are other, more interesting formations in the park, so if you have limited time and want to skip this, you won’t be missing much.

8. Explore the Hall of Horrors

Hall of Horrors Joshua Tree National Park

Despite the creepy name, this ended up being one of our favorite spots in Joshua Tree. You’ll have the opportunity to scramble atop boulders and squeeze into crevasses on this adventurous trail!

While this is a popular area, it never got congested – I think because there are lots of little offshoots (not marked on the map). In fact, we had a good 20 minutes where we didn’t see a single other person.

As you walk around this loop, get up close to the boulders and go inside any of the slots you find. There are a bunch! Plus, there’s a high concentration of Joshua trees and yucca plants in this area to admire. 

Hall of Horrors Joshua Tree National Park
Hall of Horrors Joshua Tree National Park
Hall of Horrors Joshua Tree National Park

Warning: Be careful not to touch the yucca plants, which are plentiful in this area! They are everywhere in this area and I accidentally brushed up against one while walking on a trail. The point punctured my hand and the next morning I woke up to it throbbing. Apparently these plants can cause plant thorn arthritis (which I had never heard about!). I got messages from 3 different people who knew someone who needed surgery to wash out their joints after this happened to them. Please be careful, it’s very painful! 

Hall of Horrors Trail:

9. Take a picture at Skull Rock 

Skull Rock Joshua Tree National Park

Probably the most iconic rock formation in the national park, Skull Rock is just a few steps from the road and therefore is super accessible.

While it gets busy, nobody stays too long, so be patient and you’ll be able to get a photo here. 

Fun fact: I have a picture in front of this same spot from back in 2006 that I’ll have to dig up someday!

Have more time? Hike along the Skull Rock Nature Trail and climb the giant boulders at Jumbo Rock. Or cross the street and walk the Discovery Trail, a short loop that can be extended to see Face Rock and Split Rock

10. Hike to Arch Rock & Heart Rock (+secret spot!)

Arch Rock Joshua Tree National Park

Now it’s time to veer off of the Park Boulevard loop you’ve been following and head south on Pinto Basin Road. The Joshua trees really thin out in this area, but what this area lacks in fauna it makes up for in cool rock formations.

Before getting to Arch Rock, you’ll see a small sign pointing to another trail that leads to Heart Rock. Many people miss this but it’s a cool little addition to this hike, so we recommend you go there first.

Heart Rock Joshua Tree National Park
Heart Rock Joshua Tree National Park
Heart Rock Joshua Tree National Park

Arch Rock is a cool formation, but if you’ve been to Arches National Park in Utah (aka the real deal!), this one isn’t nearly as impressive. That said, it’s still cool to see.

Be warned that in order to get a good view of it, you’ll need to scramble on top of some boulders, but most people should be able to do it just fine.

Now here’s the important part… after you’ve seen Arch Rock, don’t turn around and continue on the path. Keep walking! 

Secret spot Joshua Tree National Park
This secret spot past Arch Rock was one of our favorite parts of the park, and we had it almost all to ourselves!

You’ll come to a section in the rocks that’s a tight squeeze, so suck it in! Then it opens up to a secret spot that most visitors never see. When we were there, we only ran into one other couple, and it was such a cool area and probably one of my favorite parts of the park. Shoutout to our friend, Taryn, from Chasing Trail Blog who recommended this secret spot to us!

You can keep walking for a bit or turn around and continue back on the Arch Rock loop back to the parking lot. 

Arch Rock Trail:

11. Golden Hour at Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden Joshua Tree National Park

By the time you reach Cholla Cactus Garden, the sun will likely be sinking in the sky (depending on the time and season). The closer to the horizon, the better the lighting here.

True photography enthusiasts should plan on coming here for either sunrise or sunset, as the lighting is spectacular. We got here in late afternoon (not quite sunset), but we still found the lighting to be really nice and not too harsh. 

There’s not much of a trail here, but you can wander in between the cacti and get some cool photos. 

Cholla Cactus Garden Joshua Tree National Park

Our opinion: This is a really cool spot (another one of our favorites!) and even though it’s a bit out of the way from the loop in the northwest section of the park, we recommend making sure you get here.

Interesting to know: As you drive south to this point, you’ll notice that there aren’t many Joshua trees in this area, as this section of the park is a slightly lower elevation and therefore a different climate.

Driving directions: After you are done at Cholla Cactus Garden, head back the direction you came, but instead of retracing your route on Park Blvd, continue north to Twentynine Palms by following this route.

12. Happy hour cocktails at Más o Menos

Mas o Menos cocktails

If you want to find a spot to relax with a cocktail after leaving the national park, we highly recommend stopping here. 

The shaded patio with firepits, twinkle lights, and locals catching up will make you feel like you’ve discovered a hidden gem (you’re welcome!).

They have a full bar, but we particularly liked their mezcal and tequila cocktails. Also on the menu are wine, espresso drinks, and light bites, such as a charcuterie board.

Tip: They have a good happy hour menu all night on Tuesdays and for limited times on other nights.

Good to know: This is a 21+ establishment.

  • Hours: open every day, hours vary (open early to late most days, but close at 5 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays)
  • Google Maps location

Looking for an alternative? If you want a treat but aren’t in the mood for a cocktail, The Coyote Cone is an old-school ice cream shop located along your route back to Palm Springs that is open early most days (6 a.m.) until late (9 p.m.)

13. Enjoy dinner and live music 

Joshua Tree Saloon

While you won’t find any food inside the national park, you don’t have to go far outside the park’s boundaries to find some surprisingly good options (many of which have regular live music!). 

  • Pappy + Harriet’s: When we mentioned we were going to Joshua Tree, we got all sorts of messages on Instagram recommending this spot. Located in nearby, Western-themed Pioneertown, this barbeque joint is an icon. Some may say it’s a tad overpriced or leaning towards being a tourist trap, and others will swear up and down it is the coolest spot ever. They were closed on the day of our visit, so we can’t personally say! But it sure does look like a fun atmosphere, especially if you can catch the live music, which they’re known for. 
  • Giant Rock Meeting Room: Recommended to us by a good friend, this place serves incredible artisanal pizzas in a cool atmosphere with a full bar and beer on tap. There’s often live music playing. We were just bummed they were closed on the day we visited.
  • grnd sqrl: Hip gastropub for comfort eats and beer with regular open mic nights. Top food recs include the grilled cheese, falafel burger, garlic parm fries, and pulled pork sandwich. Don’t miss the quirky mural outside!
  • Joshua Tree Saloon: Quirky Old West vibes just outside the park’s entrance, the menu features no-frills pub grub, like burgers and sandwiches. Try their fried pickles or sweet potato fries!

Good to know: Check to make sure they’re open the day you’re visiting!

14. Stop on Garnet Ave for sunset views of windmills (if timing works out)

Sunset windmills Palm Springs

If you decide to eat dinner in Palm Springs and hit the timing right, you may be able to catch an epic sunset at the windmill farm, like we did. (Well, we were a tad late for prime colors, but it was still cool!)

As you’re driving toward Palm Springs, there’s no way you can miss the thousands of wind turbines just off of highway 10.

While they are cool to see at any time of day, they are particularly picturesque at sunset.

We’ve seen a lot of pictures from Instagram of influencers posing beside the windmills in beautiful dresses as the sky turns cotton candy pink. If you’re into photography, this makes a great backdrop for a little photoshoot. But be prepared for a lot of wind – the turbines are in this spot for a reason, after all!

Sunset windmills Palm Springs
Sunset windmills Palm Springs

How to get a good view:

You’ll surely see them from your car window, but if you’re looking for a spot where you can park your car and get out to take some photos, exit the highway and get onto one of the frontage roads. 

  • If you are headed east on Highway 10, you will aim for: Garnet Ave
  • If you are headed west on Highway 10, you will aim for: 20th Ave

As you drive on the frontage road, look for a good spot to pull over – there will be many opportunities. Be sure to look out for signs that say “no stopping”, and respect the rules. Only pull over where there is ample space and no signs prohibiting it.

Alternative: If you’re interested in learning more about wind farms, there is a tour available that gets great reviews. You can either book a self-guided tour here or reserve a guided golf cart tour on their website.

BONUS: More things to do in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park

Want some more ideas of other things to do that didn’t make the itineraries?

We personally think we put together 2 pretty solid routes that’ll give you a good taste of Joshua Tree National Park on a day trip. But if you have more time or you want to alter the route a bit, here are some more suggestions. 

Be warned that if you only have one day in Joshua Tree, there’s no way you can do and see everything!

  • Go on a ranger-led tour of the historical Keys Ranch (you must book a tour in advance).
  • Catch sunset at Keys View or Cholla Cactus Garden.
  • Pop inside the quirky World Famous Crochet Museum.
  • Venture off the beaten path to hike to Fortynine Palm Oasis (this is top of our list for our next visit!).
  • Hike Lost Horse Mine Trail, a somewhat strenuous 6.5-mile loop that leads to a well-preserved gold mine from 1894.
  • Do some vintage shopping in Yucca Valley. The End is (ironically) a good place to start! 
  • Go rock climbing or bouldering on your own or with guides (this is a popular spot for it!).
  • Wander the Western-themed village of Pioneertown.
  • Go stargazing (here are some good tips!).
  • Get really off the beaten path and go backcountry camping.
  • Do a sound bath (popular in this area).
  • Check out the quirky art installations at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum.

Best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park
Ben striking his best “Joshua Tree pose” on the Hall of Horrors hike

There are all sorts of hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park. 

Below is a list of the most popular hikes to do if you have just one day so you can see the park’s highlights. We’ve also included a few more to add if you have the time.

  • Hidden Valley Nature Trail
  • Barker Dam 
  • Cap Rock
  • Hall of Horrors
  • Discovery Trail
  • Arch Rock & Heart Rock 
  • Cholla Cactus Garden

More hikes to add if you have time:

  • Fortynine Palms Oasis
  • Ryan Mountain Trail
  • Keys View

For detailed hiking notes and tips for each, check out this guide to the best hikes in Joshua Tree.

Good to know: One thing I should point out is that unlike national parks in the mountains – like Glacier or Grand Tetonsmost of these hikes are very short and easy and require little preparation. You can do several in one day! This means that most trails are possible for people of a wide variety of fitness, but it also means that they tend to get somewhat crowded (especially in peak season).

Tips for visiting Joshua Tree

Sunscreen Joshua Tree National Park
  • Download maps you will want to access to your phone (e.g. Google Maps and the hikes you want to do on AllTrails). There is very limited cell service in the national park, so you want to be prepared.
  • Be sure you have a full gas tank before entering the park because there are no gas stations once you enter.
  • Determine your top priorities. It isn’t possible (or fun) to try to squeeze in everything in one day. Is seeing sunrise really important to you? Or stargazing? Beating the crowds? Getting yummy food in the area? Having a relaxed pace? Use these prompts to help guide you while you plan your Joshua Tree day trip.
  • Have a plan for food. There aren’t any places to get food inside the national park, so you’ll either want to pack something the night before or plan to stop on the way to get a picnic lunch to go. (There are lots of great spots!) 
  • Bring lots of water (especially in the warmer months). We recommend bringing a cooler in your car (if you’re flying, this collapsible one is a good option) so your water stays cold in between your hikes. Trust me, you will be grateful for this.

Best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park

Secret spot Joshua Tree National Park

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is in the fall, as temperatures are comfortable and crowds are fewer.

Fall: Boasting comfortable temperatures for hiking, and less crowds than spring, this is our top pick for visiting Joshua Tree if you have the option. 

  • Daytime temps: 70-85°F (21-29°C) | Nighttime temps: around 50°F (10°C)

Winter: The winter months bring cooler days and chilly nights near or below freezing, occasionally with snow at higher elevations. Cool temperatures isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – the crowds will be fewer and you won’t have to worry about extreme heat in the desert.

  • Daytime temps: around 60°F (15°C) | Nighttime temps: near or below freezing

Spring: Keep in mind that while temperatures are pleasant, spring is a peak travel time, so expect crowds. March sees families traveling on spring break, and April can get especially busy with the crowds from Coachella. On the plus side, you may be able to spot desert wildflowers if you are visiting between February and April.

  • Daytime temps: 70-85°F (21-29°C) | Nighttime temps: around 50°F (10°C)

Summer: Summertime can be scorching, with highs over 100°F (38°C). If you’re visiting in the summer, then we recommend getting an early start on your day to avoid the midday heat. Also, be sure to pack even more water than you think you’ll need.

  • Daytime temps: over 100°F (38°C) | Nighttime temps: lows around 75°F (24°C)

Good to know: Be prepared for strong winds and the possibility of flash flooding regardless of the season.

What to pack for visiting Joshua Tree

America the Beautiful Pass Joshua Tree National Park
  • Sun protection: There is very little shade in this park, and you will be exposed to the sun for much of the day, so pack sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
  • UV shirt: We love this ultra lightweight shirt for wearing in the desert because it protects from the sun but isn’t too heavy. (Here’s the men’s version)
  • Fanny pack, small daypack, or sling bag (I love this one!)
  • Warm layers: When visiting in March, I was surprised by how cool it was until about noon. Be sure to bring a puffy jacket or pullover that you can wear until it warms up.
  • Comfortable walking shoes or hiking sandals: We both wore Chacos, which we usually love in the desert, but we kept getting small pebbles and sand in our shoes. They were fine, but I think if we were to do it again, we’d opt for closed toe shoes.
  • America the Beautiful Pass: This is the most cost effective way to enter Joshua Tree if you plan on visiting 2+ other US National Parks within the calendar year.
  • Cooler: We recommend bringing a small cooler in your car where you can keep water and snacks, as your car will get very hot when you’re parked in the sun. We have this collapsible one, which is a good choice if you’re flying.
  • Plenty of water: Be sure you have plenty of water before entering the national park.
  • Picnic lunch and/or snacks: We recommend packing lunch the night before (if you’re doing the early itinerary) or stopping on the way to grab some food to go, as there are no places to get food within the park.
  • Lightweight picnic blanket (optional): There are picnic tables scattered throughout the park, but they can fill up and you may find a more secluded spot to enjoy your food.
  • Portable battery pack: to charge your phone in case it starts to die
  • Photography equipment (optional)
  • Chapstick: My lips got really dry and chapped in the desert air, so I was happy I had packed my lip balm .
  • Hand sanitizer: The bathrooms can get pretty gross, so I always like to carry this hand sanitizer in my day pack or fanny pack.
  • Head lamp: If you’ll be in this area at sunrise or sunset (or camping overnight), then we’d highly recommend packing a headlamp.

Check out our full Joshua Tree packing list below:

How to get there

Driving to Joshua Tree National Park

Located one hour north of the Coachella Valley, Joshua Tree NP feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life, yet it is close enough to both Palm Springs and LA that you can visit Joshua Tree as a day trip.

To experience Joshua Tree National Park, you will need a vehicle as it’s not in any major towns. The good news is that driving there from Palm Springs or Los Angeles is pretty straightforward. 

Tip: If you’re flying into Palm Springs or LA and need a rental car, we recommend comparing prices on Discover Cars in order to find the best deal!

Palm Springs to Joshua Tree

Sunset windmills Palm Springs

Palm Springs is the closest major city to the national park, and getting from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree is pretty straightforward. 

From downtown Palm Springs, it is just under an hour to get to both the South Entrance (Cottonwood) and the West Entrance (near the town of Joshua Tree).

Important: If you have only one day in the national park, then we recommend sticking to the north portion of the park and driving on highway 62 straight to the West Entrance of the park.

Los Angeles to Joshua Tree

The drive from LA to Joshua Tree follows highway 10 east for most of the way (until you reach highway 62, just north of Palm Springs). Without traffic, it should take roughly 2 hours 20 minutes, and while not exactly a super short drive, it is one of the best road trips from Los Angeles.

Want to plan an epic road trip? This route would be amazing: Start in Las Vegas, drive to Death Valley, hit Joshua Tree, then Palm Springs, down to San Diego, then end your road trip by flying out of Los Angeles. It’s just under 12 hours of driving to complete that route, so split up over several days it wouldn’t be bad. Or, if you had even more time, you could take highway 1 all the way up the coastline to San Francisco. Talk about the perfect way to see some of the top places in California on one trip!

Where to stay near Joshua Tree National Park

Campervan Joshua Tree National Park

Have the option to stay overnight? 

Honestly, we’d recommend doing this as it’ll make it a lot easier to see both sunrise and sunset (both of which are fabulous!), and you’ll also be able to do some stargazing, which is incredible in this area.

If we had to do this trip all over again, we would book 2 nights in Joshua Tree either at an Airbnb or in one of the campgrounds. I guess we’ll just have to come back!

Campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park

Camping Joshua Tree National Park

There are 9 campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park and they look really cool (we would definitely go back with our campervan if we’re ever in the area again!). 

Of the 500 campsites in the park, most are available only by reservation and can be booked up to 6 months in advance either on recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. 

Reservations required at the following campgrounds:

  • Black Rock campground
  • Jumbo Rocks campground
  • Ryan campground
  • Sheep Pass (group campground)
  • Cottonwood (group campground)
  • Indian Cove (group campground)

First come, first-served campgrounds:

  • Hidden Valley campground
  • White Tank campground
  • Belle campground

Airbnbs in Joshua Tree

Airbnb Joshua Tree screenshot

We’ve stayed at Airbnbs all around the world, but we haven’t ever seen such a high concentration of amazing properties at such reasonable prices as there are near Joshua Tree!

And holy moly, these places are beautiful! There are so many to choose from, but below is a good start. We chose ones that are not gonna break the bank, have stunning designs, and have cool amenities such as plunge pools or hot tubs.

Check them out and you’ll soon understand why I keep raving:

  • Little Joshua Tree: Secluded 5-acre desert oasis with a remodeled one-bedroom cabin, sauna building, outdoor dining areas, and stunning mountain and desert views, perfect for stargazing.
  • The Nighthawk Homestead: Rustic-chic 1950s cabin with gorgeous indoor and outdoor spaces that include a built-in fireplace, outdoor soaking tub, hammock, and bocce ball.
  • Wild Spirit Cabin: Thoughtfully-curated cabin adorned with local art and vintage treasures, complete with incense, an outdoor meditation deck, hammocks, and a hot tub for a relaxing and mindful stay.
  • Moon Mountain Cabin: This spacious cabin has an eastern deck and a western patio for shaded outdoor dining morning and night, as well as a fenced backyard with rock stairs to a “mini mountain” with sweeping views.
  • Magic Glamping Experience: Intimate off-grid shipping container strategically positioned for breathtaking sunrise views, with a quirky hot tub and 180-degree windows for stargazing.
  • DJTJ House: Secluded “retro-modern” cabin with a huge swimming pool, private hot tub, outdoor wood stove, and comfy king-sized bed.
  • 1954 Homestead: Historical charm with modern amenities such as a hot tub, yoga mats, rain shower, telescope, and fully-equipped kitchen on a spacious, ultra-private property.

Joshua Tree National Park FAQs

Joshua Tree National Park

Still have questions about planning a day trip to Joshua Tree? We’ve got all sorts of answers!

How long does it take to drive through the national park?

Getting from one section of the park to another can take quite a bit of time.

  • West Entrance (Joshua Tree) to North Entrance (Twentynine Palms): 45-minute drive
  • North Entrance (Twentynine Palms) to South Entrance (Cottonwood): 1 hour drive
  • West Entrance (Joshua Tree) to South Entrance (Cottonwood): 1 hour 30-minute drive

Is there cell service?

You may get very limited service at certain locations in the park, but you should not count on it.

Our personal experience: We have Verizon and didn’t get any cell service at all.

Before you start your Joshua Tree day trip, be sure to download the offline version of Google Maps as well as any AllTrails maps you’d like to access. 

Good to know: Some of the visitors centers have free WiFi, if you forget to do this before heading out!

What wildlife can you see in Joshua Tree?

Bighorn sheep sign

Joshua Tree is home to 57 species of mammals, 46 species of reptiles, and more than 250 species of migrant and resident birds

Animals can be notoriously difficult to spot in the desert because many only come out around sunrise and sunset. Also, some of them live underground or inside rock crevasses. 

Most common animals to see:

  • jackrabbits
  • coyotes
  • antelope squirrels
  • birds, like red-tail hawks and ravens
  • lizards

Other animals that you may see: 

  • rattlesnakes (don’t bother them and they shouldn’t bother you)
  • desert tortoise (rare)
  • Bighorn sheep (most active at sunrise and sunset near rocky areas)

How did the Joshua tree get its name?

Joshua Tree National Park

Legend has it that Mormon pioneers saw the trees’ limbs as the Biblical character Joshua’s upstretched arms and therefore took it to be a symbol of their journey to a promised land. 

This tale lacks concrete evidence, so we can’t be certain this is the origin story of the name “Joshua tree”, but this name stuck when other nicknames – dirk pear tree and dragon yucca – didn’t.

Our (totally honest) opinion on Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park

I’ll be 100% honest… Joshua Tree isn’t our favorite national park, or even in our top 5 (aka Glacier, Grand Teton, Rainier, Olympic, North Cascades – so far!). 

In case you can’t tell, we really love big mountains, water features, and thick forests, none of which Joshua Tree has. 

We felt that some of the hikes blended together a bit, but that may just be a personal thing.
All that being said, it is still really cool to see and worth visiting if you are in the area. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see the quirky Joshua Tree, after all!

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Have you ever been to Joshua Tree? What’s your opinion on this national park? Tell us your thoughts or ask us your questions in the comments below and we will do our best to get back to you!

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