Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect desert getaway in Southern California with its giant rock formations, beautiful trees, and unbeatable landscapes. For the most part everything in the park is relatively close so if you only have one or two days to spend here you will be able to enjoy the area without feeling like you are missing out.
What to know before you go:
- Wear layers: The weather can change quickly in the desert. The temperature drops a decent amount as the sun goes down which makes the morning and late afternoon rather chilly. Depending on where you are in the park the winds can also pick up so it’s never a bad idea to pack a jacket for your hike.
- There are no services in the park: Be sure to fill up your gas tank before you head in so you can enjoy your time without worrying about having to leave during the middle of the day to refuel. There are nearby towns where you can find restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations.
- Pack plenty of water: It is so easy to get dehydrated in the desert so this one is extremely important!! The National Parks Service recommends a gallon of water per person a day.
- There is no cell service: You lose cell service almost immediatly after entering the park so make sure you have everything you need for navigation, supplies for an emergency, and as always, let someone know where you will be if you are alone.
Hikes and Sights:
There are some amazing hikes in this park! A huge perk is that most of them are relatively short but offer great views of Joshua Tree’s unique desert and what makes it special.
- Hidden Valley Trail: This hike is located on Park Boulevard and is only a mile in length. Although this hike is short, it is jam packed with Joshua Trees and gorgeous rock formations along the trail. Defintley plenty of photo opportunities! Due to it’s popularity, this trail can get rather busy so we would suggest planning to visit as early as possible. We did this hike around 9 am and found parking to be no problem. However, as we left people were having to park on the side of the road and walk to the trailhead. There is also a really great picnic area in this area with grills and tables right beside the rocks if you want to have a snack and hang out.
- Barker Dam: This is a 1.1 mile loop that leads to a dam built by cattle ranchers in the early 1900s. Depending on when you visit, you may or may not see water in the dam but regardless it is a beautiful hike. This is also an area where big horn sheep are often spotted so keep your eyes peeled and you may see some wildlife!
- Skull Rock: This is an awesome rock formation in the shape of a skull. It can be seen from the road on Park Boulevard just after the Jumbo Rocks Campground. There will be a sign letting you know its approaching so you have plenty of time to pull over and get a picure.
- Hall of Horrors: The Hall of Horrors isn’t really a hike but certainly a cool area to walk around and check out some unique rock formations.
- Arch Rock: This hike is located near the White Tank Campground heading in the direction of the Cholla Cactus Garden. This is another short hike at only 1.3 miles and leads you to an arch that is similar to sights you would find in Utah. We found this hike to be less crowded than others in the park, probably because it is not listed in the park map.
- Cholla Cactus Garden: This is an absolute must on your visit. The garden is filled with the beautiful, yet dangerous, Cholla cactus. There is a small loop trail that is only about 0.25 miles and leads you through the garden safely. For the best photo opportunities check out this spot around sunset.
- Fortynine Palms Oasis: Fortynine Palms was probably our favorite hike in Joshua Tree. It is located near the the Oasis visitors center right outside of the main area of the park, which also making it less crowded. This hike is 3 miles roundtrip and has you climb about 300 feet before descending 300 feet into a beautiful oasis of palm trees. It is mind blowing to see the change on this hike from desert mountains to palms.
Where to Stay:
- Campgrounds: There are eight campgrounds in Joshua Tree National park and half of them are first come first serve. Reservations can be made at Black Rock, Cottonwood, Indian Cove, and Jumbo Rocks and first come first serve sites are at Belle, Hidden Valley, Ryan, and White Tank. If you want to chance it and try for a first come first serve spot we would suggest you go during off season (June- September). We were in the park on a Monday and Tuesday in February and all campsites were full. Check out the National Parks website to get updated information on campsites and all things Joshua Tree.
- Hotels: If you chose not to camp there are hotels in the nearby towns like Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, and 29 Palms. Airbnb would also be another option.
- BLM land: There is BLM land right outside of the town of Joshua Tree and also outside of the southern entrance of the park. For our trip we stayed on BLM land near the Joshua Tree West entrance. The land is located on a dried up riverbed right under the mountains and there was so much space in this area. Obviously there are no restrooms or hookups on BLM, but if those things aren’t necessary for your trip this is a great way to save money and enjoy a peaceful night in the desert. If you do decide to stay here be sure to check the weather beforehand because if it rains it can get muddy and require 4WD. To find free campsites like this we use the iOverlander app and freecampsites.net. Get more insight on finding campsites like this in our Vanlife Parking Guide.