Joshua Tree Day Trip from Palm Springs California (2023)

Plan on making a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park while visiting Palm Springs and enjoy some easy hikes and scenic drives. You can really do a lot in one day at Joshua Tree.

But I loved it so much that I visited two times, on December 13th and December 25th. Yes, Christmas day is the perfect day for a Joshua Tree hiking trip! Joshua Tree is one of several national parks in the US that is a great winter vacation destination.

This post is a mini Joshua Tree guide to help you plan your Joshua Tree day trip from Palm Springs.

Many people have told me that the day trip from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree was their favorite outing in the area.

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On scenic drives and hiking trails you will see Joshua trees in the high desert

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Table of Contents

How far is Joshua Tree from Palm Springs?

The drive from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree takes from 45 minutes to an hour depending on which entrance you go through.

The main address is74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms,CA92277-3597

READ now: 12 Best DayTrips from Palm Springs

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Map of Joshua Tree park with hiking trails highlighted

There are 3 entrances to Joshua Tree National Park

West Entrance Station

Located off of Hwy 62 at Park Blvd on the northwest part of the park
38 miles from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree west entrance.

North entrance

Off of Hwy 62 in 29 Palms, watch for the signs.
50 miles from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree north entrance.

South entrance

From Interstate 10 (I-10)
50 miles from Joshua Tree south entrance to Palm Springs (38 miles from Palm Desert)

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park is definitely one of the top things to do in and around Palm Springs.

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Joshua trees along the Barker Dam Trail – some of the best Joshua Tree National Park hiking

Joshua Tree visitor center

Address:6554 Park Blvd

I made a pit stop at the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center, located 6 miles before the west entrance.

You can pick up the National Park Service guide and brochure for the park at the visitor center so you can plan your own Joshua Tree hiking trips. The brochure includes hiking trail descriptions along with a map of the park.

Park rangers are available to help you plan your day visiting Joshua Tree. They can give you info on what to do in Joshua Tree such as hiking trails, campgrounds, points of interest, scenic drives, etc.

I watched a video at the visitor center. It was maybe 20 minutes, and it was okay but not highly recommended, maybe 3 stars if I were to give it a rating.

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Grove of trees at Joshua Tree National Park

Remember to bring water with you because there is no water available in Joshua Tree park.

Also bring snacks or picnic lunch, sunscreen and/or hat, layered clothing, your camera, day bag or backpack so it’s easy to carry everything.

Also remember to grab a map at the visitor center because there isn’t any cell phone service in the park.

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Joshua tree at Barker Dam trail

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Joshua Tree National Park weather

Driving around the park there are several pull-outs where you can park and go for a wander to take in the scenery. You’ll want to be prepared for the weather at Joshua Tree.

It can getcold and extremely windy at Joshua Tree in winter (and excessively hot during summer) so check the weather forecast from the National Weather Service before you leave for Joshua Tree.

You will find a weather link on the National Park Service page here. The NPS website is a great resource for researching and planning a Joshua Tree trip or any other national park in the USA.

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Two deserts at Joshua Tree National Park

Where else will you find two deserts in one National Park? You’ll see the difference on the Joshua Tree National Park hiking trails and while you drive through the park.

The western portion of Joshua Tree National Park, above 3,000 ft elevation is part of the Mojave Desert. The eastern half of the park lies within the Colorado Desert, with elevations below 3,000 ft.

You will find the Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert but not in the lower elevations of the Colorado Desert which is part of the Sonoran Desert.

The cholla cactus garden and the ocotillo patch are located in the eastern part of the park and definitely worth the drive.

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Cholla cactus also known as Teddy-bear cholla

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Cholla cactus look interesting even after they die off – leaving only a skeleton and no more prickly spikes

Best hikes in Joshua Tree

Here are some of the best hikes at Joshua Tree, they are all easy to moderate difficulty. Remember to bring your refillable water bottle with you while hiking in the desert.

Barker Dam

Distance: 1.1 miles (1.8 km)
Type of hike: Loop
Duration: Allow 1 hour

Hidden Valley

Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km)
Type of hike: Loop
Duration: Allow 1 hour

Ryan Ranch

Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km)
Type of hike: Out and back
Duration: Allow 1 hour

Skull Rock

Distance: 1.7 miles (2.7 km)
Type of hike: Loop
Duration: Allow 1 – 2 hours

Lost Horse Mine

Distance: 4 miles (6.4 km)
Type of hike: Out and back
Duration: Allow 2 – 3 hours

Mastodon Peak

Distance: 3 miles (4.8 km)
Type of hike: Loop
Duration: Allow 1.5 – 2 hours

On my first visit to go hiking at Joshua Tree National Park I walked both theHidden Valley and Barker Dam nature trails. Each hike takes about 1-hour round-trip.

There are picnic benches and restrooms near the parking area of both hikes. These arepopular hikes at Joshua Tree and I enjoyed both.

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Petroglyphs at Barker Dam hiking trail

By mid-day the winds picked up and I decided to drive to the eastern half of the park. Driving along the boulders from Ryan Mountain to Jumbo Rocks is a scenic route with several places to stop and park.

In winter time during afternoon hours Joshua Tree National Park gets busier and parking spots fill up. There is room to park along the road at some of the most popular points of interest such as Skull Rock.

I stopped at Cap Rock for a stroll along the marked pathway. There are interesting boulder formations on the short walk.

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Cap Rock trail at Joshua Tree features huge boulders and the beautiful Joshua trees

Next stop was Jumbo Rocks. Standing among the boulders near a campsite, a young man inquired if anyone had seen a tent at the site.

Evidently the winds had carried the tent away during the night. The owners opted to stay at alternate accommodations one night and the tent was left without much to weigh it down. After a few minutes of searching the tent was retrieved, several meters from its original location.

So now you know, tie down your tent down at Joshua Tree.

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The view at Jumbo Rocks campground in Joshua Tree National Park

Teddy-bear cholla cactus garden

Driving to the Cottonwood Visitor Center I enjoyed the scenery and did not plan on getting out in the wind again. Then I saw the cholla cactus, also known by the common name teddy-bear cholla, and I had to stop.

Cholla cactus garden is one of my favorite places to stop in Joshua Tree. Taking in the mountain views surrounded by teddy bear cholla, a most memorable Joshua Tree Christmas day.

Cacti arms stretched out to greet me with a warm hug. Just kidding. If you hug a teddy-bear cholla you will remember it forever, in agony. The cacti spines have barbs that are difficult, and painful to remove once embedded into the skin.

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I had planned to get to the Cottonwood Visitor Center by 2 pm for a ranger talk but my stop at the cholla cactus garden kept me until after 3 pm. I drove past the ocotillo patch without stopping.

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A closer look at the cholla cactus.

Ocotillo garden

Visiting Big Bend National Park and in Tucson I saw ocotillo surrounded by magnificent views.

The ocotillo patch in Joshua Tree National Park was not so impressive in December but definitely worth a stop if you have not seen the ocotillo plant before. I would love to visit again to see the ocotillo plants while in bloom.

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One survival skill of the ocotillo is stop growing leaves during drought, when it rains leaves return

On my Christmas day visit to Joshua Tree National Park the weather was cooler and windy. I wore layered clothing but could have used some extra warmth or at least a windbreaker jacket.

Keys View was especially cold and windy but the panoramic view was majestic at 5185 ft (1581 m) and definitely worth the short drive.

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View of Coachella Valley from Keys View in Joshua Tree park

While you are in Palm Springs I also recommend going toMountSan Jacinto State Park. You can take the tram to go from desert to mountains and do some hiking in the park.

How to get to Joshua Tree National Park

Address

74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms,CA92277-3597

You can get to Joshua Tree National Park via I-10 to the South Entrance or take Twentynine Palms Highway (Hwy 62) to the West or North Entrance.

Stay in Joshua Tree

If you have more time you can arrange to stay at a campsite in Joshua Tree National Park. Contact the National Park Service website to reserve a camping spot in the park.

Joshua Tree entrance fee and hours

Joshua Tree National Park is always open, however certain areas are day use only

  • $30 for single, non-commercial vehicle (good for 7 days)
  • $25 motorcycle (good for 7 days)
  • $15 per person on foot, bicycle, or horseback (good for 7 days)
  • Annual Pass to Joshua Tree National Park is $55
  • Annual National Park pass is $80
  • Lifetime Seniors National Park pass is $80, or annual pass for $20
  • Access Pass is free with proper documentation (checkNPS website for details)
  • Active US military and dependents can get a free pass (check NPS site for details)

Note: Drones are not allowed at Joshua Tree National Park. But you can hike or climb to a great viewing point to get stunning photos of your visit.

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