A Detailed Guide to Visiting Joshua Tree National Park
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Joshua Tree National Park encompasses over 790,000 acres of some of the most incredibly unique natural formations. The vast landscape calls to those looking for a thrilling adventure in this desert playground. Expect to find giant boulders for climbing, open trails for hiking, plenty of land for dirt biking, and the iconic Joshua Trees that are waiting to be photographed.
The park includes two desolate tract environments, the higher elevation Mojave desert and the lower elevation Colorado desert. Mojave is where you’ll encounter the Joshua Trees, California Juniper, Piñon pines, Oak, and plenty of spots for bouldering. The Colorado desert is where you’ll find mixed scrub brush, cactus gardens, and many sand dunes. It’s no wonder that so many music videos and movies were filmed here, Joshua Tree is truly a uniquely beautiful place to take an adventure. Here is a detailed guide to visiting Joshua Tree National Park:
How to Get There
Joshua Tree National Park is located:
- 40 miles east of Palm Springs, CA
- 140 miles east of Los Angeles, CA
- 175 miles northeast of San Diego, CA
- 215 miles southwest of Las Vegas, NV
- 222 miles west of Phoenix, AZ
The closest airport is Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), where you can rent a car and be in Joshua Tree National Park in under 60 minutes.
Public transportation is rather limited to the park but can be found on the Morongo Basin Transit Authority (MBTA) website.
There are three entrances to the park:
- The North Entrance is in Twenty-nine Palms, three miles south of the junction of Highway 62.
- The West Entrance is five miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Blvd at Joshua Tree Village.
- The South Entrance near Cottonwood Spring is along Interstate 10, which is 25 miles east of Indio.
Where to Stay
There is no lodging available inside the park, so Joshua Tree has become a haven for Van Lifers and anybody looking to camp under the star-filled sky. Established campgrounds inside the park include:
- Hidden Valley Campground: Open to tents and RVs, this is one of the most popular sites in the park. With 44 sites, it’s close to some of the best climbing and hiking trails. Near the West Entrance Station, the sites are well maintained and first-come, first-served only.
- Belle Campground: 18 first-come, first-served campsites available for tents and RVs. You’ll be surrounded by large boulders and Joshua Trees.
- White Tank Campground: Located on the east side of the park, near Cottonwood. This site has 15 spacious sites with plenty of opportunities for nearby scrambling.
- Ryan Campground: Located in the center of the park. It has 31 sites for tents and 4 designated equestrian sites, and is near many great hiking trails. This location is reservation only.
- Jumbo Rocks Campground: The largest campground in the park, with 124 sites. This campground is centrally located and, as you can guess, surrounded by enormous rocks. There’s a mix of RV sites and small sites only big enough for one tent. Reservations are required during the busy season (September - May).
- Indian Cove Campground: Located off Highway 62, ten miles west of Twentynine Palms. This is a large area with 101 campsites and 39 reservable group sites. These sites feature some incredible rock formations and offer plenty of space to explore.
- Cottonwood Campground: Near Cottonwood Visitor Center on the southeast part of the park. It offers 62 sites for tents and RVs. There is potable water and flush toilets at this location.
- Black Rock Campground: Located on the opposite side of the park from Cottonwood. It provides 99 sites for tents and RVs. This is a great location for bird watching and Joshua Tree photography. Only five minutes away from Yucca Valley.
There are also many opportunities for free camping on BLM land just outside the park. For more information, you could visit the BLM website.
The closest towns to the park are Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, Palm Springs, and Indio. You can find plenty of lodging in these locations, from hotels and motels to bed-and-breakfasts and vacation rental properties.
Things to Do
The vast desert landscape of Joshua Tree offers a variety of different outdoor adventures for all to enjoy. Notable “things to do” in the park include rock climbing, mountain biking, ATV riding, educational tours, and, of course, hiking.
Climbing and Bouldering:
The park is famous for the giant boulders that encompass the land, where climbers find solace and enjoy the various pitches within the rocks. Joshua Tree offers challenges for all abilities. With over 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 boulder problems, and hundreds of natural gaps, there’s something for everyone.
Well-known climbs that are perfect for beginners are:
- Double Cross (5.7+). On The Old Woman Rock in Hidden Valley Campground
- Sail Away (5.8-). On Hidden Tower Rock in Real Hidden Valley
- Leaping Leaner (5.7). On Locomotion Rock in Real Hidden Valley
- Right On (5.6). On Saddle Rocks in Sheeps Pass
Some of the more popular difficult boulder problems include:
- Streetcar Named Desire (V6). In Gunsmoke, the climbing/ bouldering spot in the Barker Dam area of the park.
- Caveman (V6-8). In the HiddenValley Campground area.
- Alexandria (V7). A climbing route on the Rosetta Stone Boulder in Loveland Canyon.
- Thin Lizzie (V8). The rectangular boulder on the rocky hill behind The Bong 5.4 in Hidden Valley Campground area. Look for the boulder with a steep overhang.
This is just a shortlist of many more options to choose from, as the park is chock-full of amazing climbing spots.
Biking and ATVing:
Mountain biking, riding an ATV, or cruising on a dirt bike are other exciting activities in this expansive desert landscape. Some of the best trails for off-roading include Berdoo Canyon Road, Black Eagle Mine Road, and Covington Flat, just to name a few.
If you’re looking for dirt bike and ATV rentals you could check out Off-Road Rentals or Happy Trails Rentals for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel at top speeds through open lands. Just remember to stay on established roads to help protect the ecosystem and natural features of the park!
If you’re in search of a guided tour that offers different excursions including hiking, rock climbing, or camping, Joshua Tree Excursions and Joshua Tree Adventures will help plan an adventure for you! These companies provide unique services that take you through classic Joshua Tree attractions. You’ll learn about key geological features and discover some of the best-kept secrets of the park.
One of the best ways to get acquainted with this magical national park is by foot. There are hundreds of trails to choose from, but here are a few that you’ll be sure to enjoy.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Length: 1.0 mile
Elevation gain: 114 ft
Route type: Loop
The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a well-known hiking path that will take you through the heart of the park. This simple and sweet 1-mile loop takes you past large boulders and a variety of plant and animal life. Hidden Valley is popular for rock climbing, so this is also a great location to observe, or partake in, some rock climbing adventures.
Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail
Length: 0.2 miles
Elevation gain: 9 ft
Route type: Loop
Cholla Cactus Garden, located along the Pinto Basin Road, offers visitors a great chance to get an up-close look at the beautiful “teddy bear” cactus. Even though these cacti are nicknamed for their cute and fuzzy appearance, they are also known as the “jumping cholla” because certain segments can break off and attach to people or animals as a way to reproduce. So use caution when hiking this short, but a gorgeous, loop.
Keys View Nature Trail
Length: 0.2 miles
Elevation gain: 13 ft
Route type: Loop
This short hike is a perfect place for some breathtaking views of the park. From the vantage point, you’ll have a clear sight of the large Coachella Valley and surrounding mountain ranges. This may be one of the best locations in the park to catch a sunset.
Lost Horse Mine Trail
Length: 6.8 miles
Elevation gain: 882 ft
Route type: Loop
The Lost Horse Mine Trail brings you along the path that was once used by gold and silver miners back in the early 1900s. You’ll get a glimpse at a historic mine shaft and structures that have been well-preserved by the National Park Service. This is a great hike for anybody looking to stay away from the crowds of people and witness some history of the area.
Lost Palms Oasis Trail
Length: 7.2 miles
Elevation gain: 1,026 ft
Route type: There and back
Lost Palms Oasis Trail is located on the southern side of the park. This trail is located at a lower altitude so you won’t find many Joshua Trees here, but you’ll encounter plenty of gorgeous palm tree groves and pools of water within this oasis. Take this trail if you’re in the mood for a more challenging hike.
The Maze Loop Trail
Length: 4.7 miles
Elevation gain: 360 ft
Route type: Loop
The Maze Loop is located near Twentynine Palms and provides a peaceful, level trail where you’ll see the famous Joshua Trees, blooming wildflowers, and plenty of prickly pear cactus.
- The park is open year-round, but the best times to go are spring and fall. Spring is a great time for wildflowers and fall temperatures are much more bearable than summer. If you go in the summer, plan to hike early in the morning, as temperatures can exceed 100 degrees.
- Bring plenty of water with you! There are not many sources of potable water in the desert, so it’s best to come prepared with clean drinking water.
- There is no cell service within the park, so don’t plan on taking any calls while you’re in the desert. Cell service is best once you’re close to any park entrance.
- Download and print a park map to bring with you as a backup.
- Download the National Park Service (NPS) App and save Joshua Tree for offline use. It provides detailed park information, interactive maps and more.
- Wild Coyotes are around. Don’t interact or try to feed them. If you’re interested in capturing one on camera the best time would be very early in the morning.
- Be cautious of desert Tortoises in the road and don’t touch them unless they are in danger.
- There’s no electricity or street lights, so bring extra batteries for your flashlights.
- Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best locations for stargazing. If you’re staying in a hotel or vacation rental, and not camping, remember to get outside during the night and look up!
- Pack out whatever you bring in with you, and leave no trace.
Joshua Tree National Park is an incredible sight to see. This ancient desert landscape provides plenty of adventures from rock climbing and ATVing to hiking and getting lost in the stars. This area is a fabulous place to bring the family, or take a solo trip, and discover something new. Enjoy the unique sights that Joshua Tree has to offer!
Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park. Featured image by: Cedric Letsch.