How to Have the Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park (2023)

Taking a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park is perfect for anyone. Whether you are an avid hiker, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, a couple taking engagement photos, or with kids, there is something special for everyone to see at Joshua Tree in one day. It is also one of the US National Parks you cannot miss and I will tell you why!

We have been to several U.S. National Parks and Joshua Tree is the first park we think is truly unique. One of the fascinating elements of Joshua Tree is that it’s not just a vast desert, but two distinct desert ecosystems – Mojave and Colorado.

Furthermore, every national park we have visited so far has been to enjoy incredible hikes to high peaks. However with Joshua Tree, though there are lovely hiking trails, we felt more at peace just driving through and admiring the desert landscape and plant life.

Joshua Tree is also one of very few U.S. National Parks that can be seen entirely in one day. Therefore, a day trip to Joshua Tree is perfect for anyone coming from San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Phoenix!

How to Have the Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park (1)


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Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park is open all year-long but since it is a desert, the best time to visit is during the spring and fall.

Late February to early May are the recommended months to visit Joshua Tree because the weather is perfect and wildflowers are beginning to bloom. These months are also some of the busiest times of the year, so if you can visit during the week that would be your best option.

From late September through November, there are fewer crowds and the weather is perfect for scenic hikes or rock climbing. In fact, September through October is always our favorite time of the year to hike and enjoy a national park vacation.

The Best Things to See in Joshua Tree in One Day

Though the park is over 800,000acres large, there are a handful of essential things to see and do in Joshua Tree National Park that can all be done in one day. From hiking trails to taking picturesque photos – here is a list of things to see in Joshua Tree to help plan what you want to do in one day.

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Recommended Route

Based on personal experience, here is my recommendation of the perfect route to enjoy Joshua Tree in one day. Of course, if you are coming from the south entrance station then you can enjoy my route in vice-versa.

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Starting at the west entrance station, begin your day trip to Joshua Tree by admiring the vast Mojave desert landscape filled with the iconic Joshua trees. Take your time driving through and feel free to stop, walk along paths (Hidden Valley is a nice one), and take plenty of photos.

Then make your way to Skull Rock to see the famous formation, followed by Arch Rock. Lastly, a day trip to Joshua Tree is not complete without a visit to Cholla Cactus Garden. After Cholla Cactus Garden, you can make your drive back up through the park and continue to enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Joshua Trees

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Of course, you must see the Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park. They are not hard to find but only located within the Mojave desert of the park (the west side). You can find a vast amount of Joshua trees along Park Boulevard road with plenty of places to stop, walk, and take pictures. We really enjoyed stopping near Hidden Valley to take our scenic photos of Joshua trees.

For those wanting to enjoy a short nature walk surrounded by Joshua trees, Cap Rock is a great trail. It is a quick and easy 0.4-mile loop (30 – 45 minutes) with unique boulder piles, Joshua trees, Mojave yucca, juniper, and other desert plants,and flowers.

Skull Rock

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Nature is a wonderful and surprising gift. Who would have thought that raindrops accumulating over time could create a granite rock to start eroding and turn into the shape of a skull? It is easy to get to the iconic Skull Rock. In fact, you can see it from the road and park very closeby. From the parking lot, it only takes about 2 minutes to walk to Skull Rock.

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If you are up for a 1.7-mile loop hike (1-2 hours), you can start the Skull Rock Nature Trail at Jumbo Rocks Campground and enjoy a scenic trail to your Skull Rock treasure.

Arch Rock

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Arch Rock has become beloved by several visitors throughout the years and is a site you cannot miss on your Joshua Tree day trip. It might not be as magnificent as the ones at Arches National Park, but it is still a beautiful work of art by Mother Nature. In fact, if you look closely and use your imagination, it actually resembles an elephant head and trunk!

If you are up for just one short hike during your Joshua Tree day trip, this one is it! To get to Arch Rock, park at White Tank Campground and find the marked trailhead near site #9. Then walk 0.5-miles (30 minutes) along the trail and viola, you will come across an arch rock shaped like an elephant’s head.

Once you make it, Arch Rock is one of many great climbings areas in Joshua Tree, so enjoy your time scrambling up to the top and its surrounding areas.

Cholla Cactus Garden

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Though both Skull Rock and Arch Rock are amazing, the Cholla Cactus Garden surprised us the most with its sheer beauty. It is definitely one of the best things to see in Joshua Tree National Park.

I have never seen such exquisite nature before walking amongst the thousands of densely concentrated cholla cactus. If you fall in love with the Cholla Cactus Garden as we did, you can enjoy a lovely 0.25-mile (15 minutes) walk surrounded by the fuzzy cacti. Remember it is a cactus – though it looks warm, fuzzy and cuddly, do not touch it!

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Best Major Cities to Take a Day Trip to Joshua Tree

The best way to see Joshua Tree in one day is by coming from San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Phoenix. When you are coming from any of these cities, you can expect your day trip to Joshua Tree (including the round trip drive) to take anywhere between 10 to 12 hours. So ideally you would want to start your morning drive no later than 8 am and leave the park around 4 to 5 pm.

There are three different entrance stations into Joshua Tree National Park – west, north, and south. Depending on the city you are driving from will dictate which entrance station is the best option.

The entire drive inside Joshua Tree from the west and north entrance stations to the south takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes without any stops. With that said, during the weekends, especially on the holidays, the west entrance station is extremely busy. So if you are not arriving early and it’s during peak season, driving to the north entrance might be a better option.

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Joshua Tree Day Trip from San Diego and Los Angeles

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best places to visit in Southern California. It is also a great weekend day trip from San Diego, Los Angeles or nearby towns in LA such as Pasadena. Moreover, you can visit Joshua Tree as a detour on a road trip from Los Angeles to San Diego.

When you are driving from San Diego and Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, you will want to enter the west entrance station. The drive from San Diego to Joshua Tree takes approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes whereas, from Los Angeles, it takes 2 hours and 15 minutes.

In my opinion, I think the west (also referred to as main) is the best entrance into Joshua Tree National Park. You immediately begin in the Mojave Desert where you see an abundant amount of Joshua trees spanning for miles on end. It is also a very easy and straight forward drive because you hit all the best things to see in Joshua Tree within 45 minutes.

Joshua Tree Day Trip from Las Vegas

If you are coming from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree, the closest entrance station is north, but I recommend driving 30 extra minutes to the west entrancestation for reasons listed above. The drive from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree’s west entrance station is approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes.

I recommend following the route from the west entrance station and after you visit the Cholla Cactus Garden, exit the park through the north entrance station.

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Joshua Tree Day Trip from Phoenix

When you are coming from Phoenix, the best entrance station to Joshua Tree National Park is from the south. This entrance into the park begins in the Colorado Desert, whereas the west and north entrance stations are in the Mojave Desert. It is also a lot less crowded than the other two, so enjoy the serenity until you enter further into the park with the crowds.

I recommend following the route from the south to the west entrance station and enjoying all the sights along the way. Then exit the park and drive home from CA-62 E to CA-177 S, then I-10 E until Phoenix. It is almost an hour faster than driving back through the park, but if you want to enjoy the scenery again, I do not blame you.

Final Notes for a Day Trip to Joshua Tree

In addition to no cell service, there are also no places to eat inside Joshua Tree. So I recommend packing a nice lunch and enjoy a great outdoor picnic. With that said, please do not forget to bring plenty of WATER! It is a desert after all.

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Lastly, if you are looking for some great photo opportunities with friends, family, or loved ones, Joshua Tree is the perfect destination. We had a great time not only enjoying the breathtaking landscape but also taking fun photos with the dramatic backdrop.

So, do you feel ready to take your day trip Joshua Tree National Park?

  • How to Have the Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park (10)
  • How to Have the Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park (11)
  • How to Have the Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park (12)
  • How to Have the Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park (13)

FAQs

Is Joshua Tree good for a day trip? ›

Yes! Joshua Tree is one of the best national parks to see in only a day. In one day you can see the highlights of Joshua Tree, including Cholla Cactus Garden, Ryan Mountain, and sunset at Keys View.

What is the best way to enjoy Joshua Tree? ›

Plan Like a Park Ranger: Top 10 Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree...
  1. Leave No Trace. ...
  2. Always Leave a Note. ...
  3. Pack Your Patience. ...
  4. When Two Roads Diverge, Take the Road Less Traveled. ...
  5. BYOW—Bring Your Own Water. ...
  6. The Early Visitor Gets the Parking Spot. ...
  7. Plan for Your Pet. ...
  8. There's no Bad Sunset Spot in the Desert.
9 Feb 2022

What do I need for a day trip to Joshua Tree? ›

Joshua Tree Packing Checklist
  1. Water—at least one gallon per person per day.
  2. Food—more than you think you'll need.
  3. Ice and ice chest.
  4. Sun hat and sunscreen.
  5. Sunglasses.
  6. Sturdy footwear.
  7. Daypack.
  8. First aid kit.
29 May 2019

How much time should I spend in Joshua Tree National Park? ›

You can easily spend three full days seeing the sights in Joshua Tree, much less getting out and hiking or exploring the surrounding region doing some of the other activities I recommend here. You can also use the America the Beautiful pass for entry, which can save in the long run if you love visiting National Parks.

Should I wear pants to Joshua Tree? ›

Clothing and Footwear

In Joshua Tree's desert environment, sun protection is essential. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin. Some trails can be overgrown, so long or convertible pants are best to avoid scratches and protect against cactus spines.

What is the best month to go to Joshua Tree? ›

The best and most popular months to visit Joshua Tree National Park are March-May and October/November. This is because the park can get hot (and I mean hot). In the summer months, temperatures can reach over 100° F with an extremely dry, desert heat and very little shade to escape to.

Should I wear shorts to Joshua Tree? ›

For when you go hiking in Joshua Tree, it's best if you dress more practical than stylish. In the summer it gets really hot in the national park, therefore wear some shorts and a light t-shirt. A tank top or athleisure wear works well too.

How long does it take to drive the Joshua Tree Loop? ›

Check out this 79.0-mile point-to-point trail near Joshua Tree, California. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 28 h 22 min to complete.

Can you drive your car through Joshua Tree National Park? ›

Driving Park Boulevard can be a great way to see a lot of Joshua Tree National Park in a couple of hours. This drive can be combined with shorts side stops and hikes along the way for longer trips. Park Boulevard will take you by many highlights, rock formations, and Joshua tree groves.

What is the best time of day to visit Joshua Tree? ›

Choose to enjoy the more popular activities (such as designated nature trails and easy hiking routes) before 9 or 10am. Most people see the park between 10am and 4pm, so the evening hours can also offer some respite from crowds. Remember that the sun sets after 7pm from May to September.

What shoes should I wear to Joshua Tree? ›

Pack your favorite pair of hiking shoes.

A trip to Joshua Tree is all about trekking trails and exploring the great outdoors. You'll want a solid pair of supportive hiking shoes. If you plan on doing any climbing, bring a separate pair of climbing shoes, too.

How much does it cost to drive through Joshua Tree? ›

Per vehiclePer person
Current$25$12
(June 1) 2018$30$15
13 Apr 2018

What time can you see the Milky Way in Joshua Tree? ›

The Milky Way is horizontal in the east. The “Core” is visible midnight to sunrise. This is an amazing time to see/photograph the Milky Way. You have to get up early (or stay up all night!) but that means no one else will be there!

Do you need reservations for Joshua Tree National Park? ›

No advance reservations are needed to enter Joshua Tree National Park. Reservations are required for ranger-led tours of Keys Ranch. Reservations can be made on recreation.gov. Some campgrounds are first come, first served, whereas others require reservations during the peak season.

Is Joshua Tree a dark zone? ›

Boasting some of the darkest nights in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park, an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), offers many visitors the chance to admire the Milky Way for the first time in their lives.

Is it better to enter Joshua Tree from the North or South? ›

From the south end, the park is full of desert wildflowers and cacti. As you drive north, the iconic Joshua Trees and boulder rock formations begin to populate and take your breath away.

Can you drink alcohol in Joshua Tree National Park? ›

Can you drink alcohol in Joshua Tree National Park? You can have alcohol at your campsite, but you cannot bring an alcoholic drink into a building (which is true of most places, national parks or not).

What is the big deal with Joshua Tree? ›

Joshua Trees are crucial to the ecosystem of the Mojave Desert. They provide food and habitat to local species. Additionally, new research is indicating that trees are being negatively impacted by climate change, making their protection even more important.

Are there cougars in Joshua Tree? ›

Otherwise known as cougars or pumas, mountain lions have long been a part of the natural landscape of this area. They are incredibly solitary animals that avoid humans and interact with one another solely during mating season or when females raise their cubs.

What happens if you touch a Joshua Tree? ›

But: touching Joshua trees is not illegal, in or out of a national park. And by itself, it's not damaging to the trees. Having thousands of people compressing the soil around a particularly photogenic and accessible tree so that they can each touch it might be a problem.

Is Joshua Tree worth the trip? ›

There are so many stunning and best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park that you really can't miss. Around a 3-hour drive from the city of San Diego, it's technically possible to visit Joshua Tree for a day but I'd definitely recommend longer.

Is Joshua Tree a difficult hike? ›

This moderately strenuous hike will take two to three hours to complete. 49 Palms Oasis is your top Joshua Tree hike if you are looking for challenging terrain and some rock scrambling. The trail immediately heads uphill to a ridge punctuated by barrel cacti.

Is Joshua Tree crowded on weekends? ›

Crowds are common during the weekends and definitely in the holidays but come in during the week for some solitude at Joshua Tree.

Can you hike Joshua Tree in sneakers? ›

Hiking Boots | Closed-toed shoes are a must in Joshua Tree. Instead of simply wearing sneakers, consider hiking boots. They not only provide better protection against spines on the ground, but you'll find yourself slipping a lot less on dirt and loose gravel.

What is the darkest part of Joshua Tree? ›

The Ocotillo Patch: Located on Pinto Basin Road within the park, this is one of the darker areas for stargazing.

Can you do Joshua Tree in a few hours? ›

If planned ahead of time, it is possible to see most, if not all of these sights with just one day in Joshua Tree. It takes less than 2 hours to drive through the entire park from the West Entrance to the South Entrance and with just 5 stops I have faith you can do it.

How far apart are Death Valley and Joshua Tree? ›

The distance between Joshua Tree and Death Valley is 252 miles. If you haul it, it will take about 4.5 hours to get from Joshua tree to Death Valley. But don't be in too much of a hurry because there are a few cool stops along the way.

Do you have to pay to drive through Joshua Tree? ›

If arriving by vehicle you must purchase a Private Vehicle Pass; Individual Passes are for visitors arriving by bicycle or walking in. This pass is only valid for entrance fees at Joshua Tree National Park. All visitors 16 years of age and older are required to pay an entrance fee at Joshua Tree National Park.

Do you need 4x4 for Joshua Tree? ›

Joshua Tree is a very accessible park with the main park road taking visitors through various viewpoints, hiking opportunities, and interesting sites. Any vehicle will do on the main park road, but you'll need a 4WD high-clearance vehicle for some of the unpaved and off-the-beaten-path roads in the park.

Can you enter Joshua Tree at any time? ›

Joshua Tree National Park is open year-round. There are few facilities within the park's approximately 800,000 acres, making Joshua Tree a true desert wilderness just a few hours outside Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

How many entrances does Joshua Tree have? ›

There are three park entrance stations:

The West Entrance is located five miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village. The North Entrance is in Twentynine Palms, three miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Utah Trail.

Can you touch the trees in Joshua Tree? ›

No, you should not touch the Joshua trees if you care about this iconic species that gives Joshua Tree National Park and the area around Joshua Tree its name.

Is Joshua Tree better at sunrise or sunset? ›

Some prefer the rocky landscape of Hidden Valley at sunset, others enjoy the panoramic lookout of Keys View, while many may enjoy the tall mountains and open spaces of the Pinto Basin at sunrise.

Where are the best views in Joshua Tree? ›

Keys View is the best view in Joshua Tree, with a clear view of the Salton Sea in one direction and Palm Springs in the other, as well as the surrounding mountains (San Jacinto, etc.). It's a relatively short drive in and out, and the parking is pretty good.

Do you need bug spray in Joshua Tree? ›

Both Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks are mosquito and pest free (though rattlesnakes, scorpions, black widow spiders, bees and wasps are not uncommon). Both parks' extremely dry environments (Death Valley is one of the driest places on earth) lack suitable habitat for mosquitos to reproduce.

Does it get cold in Joshua Tree National Park? ›

Though the park is open year-round, temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average high of about 85 degrees. It's worth noting that temperatures vary depending on where you are in the park. Daytime winter temperatures hover around 60 degrees, while nighttime temps dip to 30 degrees.

Can you wear leggings in Jordan? ›

Avoid wearing T-shirts, shorts, and leggings as this can be regarded as sexual clothing. Many female residents in Jordan wear a headscarf and those who choose not to usually keep their hair tied up. Female tourists should also try to follow this etiquette and tie their hair back.

Is it hard to drive to Joshua Tree? ›

Driving is the absolute easiest way to get to Joshua Tree National Park. And luckily, Joshua Tree is very easy to navigate. There are three main entrances into the park and two main roads to keep things simple.

Is there cell service in Joshua Tree? ›

Cell phone service not available

While there is cell service in the towns surrounding Joshua Tree National Park, the rugged and remote terrain of the park itself means that very few areas in the park have cell coverage. You should not expect to rely on your cell phone for navigation or emergencies.

Is Palm Springs near Joshua Tree? ›

Joshua Tree is only about an hour outside of Palm Springs, and is more than worth the trip. We recommend starting at the West entrance into the park, and continuing through the South entrance, before heading back to Palm Springs.

Are there vortexes in Joshua Tree? ›

OK, time to get really deep: Vortexes are real and they're right here on Earth. A vortex is a place of increased energy, and Joshua Tree is said to be chock-full of them. People have been flocking to the site for centuries to channel the desert's energy.

Can you see Joshua Tree a day? ›

Can you do Joshua Tree in a day? Yes! Joshua Tree is one of the best national parks to see in only a day. In one day you can see the highlights of Joshua Tree, including Cholla Cactus Garden, Ryan Mountain, and sunset at Keys View.

Is Joshua Tree Free at night? ›

If you're visiting Joshua Tree National Park to feast on the stars, we have good news for you — the park gates are open 24/7, and anyone can drive in or out of the park regardless of where they're staying.

Can I sleep in my car at Joshua Tree? ›

No, when visiting Joshua Tree, it's best that you do not plan on sleeping in your car. Sleeping in your vehicle overnight within the National Park is not allowed. If found, you could be subject to a citation, so it's best to avoid the situation altogether.

Is Joshua Tree worth visiting? ›

The whole area is incredible to explore, especially with the iconic trails, rock formations and, of course, all those yuccas! Not only that, Joshua Tree is easily added to a California road trip itinerary, or whilst driving between Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Why do people go to Joshua Tree to trip? ›

The desert is where people search for transcendence. In a land of extremes, personal transformation doesn't seem so out of the question. The Joshua Tree Retreat Center is just one site people visit, hoping to deepen their spiritual practice through group retreats and personal retreats held on the grounds.

How long is the drive through Joshua Tree? ›

Experience this 79.0-mile point-to-point trail near Joshua Tree, California. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 28 h 22 min to complete.

Do you need a reservation to enter Joshua Tree National Park? ›

No advance reservations are needed to enter Joshua Tree National Park. Reservations are required for ranger-led tours of Keys Ranch. Reservations can be made on recreation.gov. Some campgrounds are first come, first served, whereas others require reservations during the peak season.

Is there a driving tour of Joshua Tree? ›

Driving Tour Through Joshua Tree National Park. This one day driving itinerary allows you to see Joshua Tree National Park's most popular attractions, provides enough time to stop and have lunch, and take many pictures at the turnouts located throughout the park.

Is Joshua Tree a day trip from Palm Springs? ›

Joshua Tree is only about an hour outside of Palm Springs, and is more than worth the trip. We recommend starting at the West entrance into the park, and continuing through the South entrance, before heading back to Palm Springs.

What's the big deal with Joshua trees? ›

It is an important part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, providing habitat for numerous birds, mammals, insects, and lizards. Joshua tree forests tell a story of survival, resilience, and beauty borne through perseverance. They are the silhouette that reminds those of us who live here that we are home.

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