Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary: Top 5 Sights to See - That OC Girl (2023)

Joshua Tree is a magical place that I beg everyone to experience at least once. Luckily, it’s an easy road trip destination from Southern California cities and I’m going to show you how to see Joshua Tree in one day with some of the best spots in Joshua Tree National Park!

You can easily take a road trip through Joshua Tree National Park during a weekend or even a really quick day trip if you wanted to! My first trip to Joshua Tree National Park was only for a day and I was able to fit in most of these sights and more.

In this post, I’m going to share some of the best things to see in Joshua Tree National Park during a day trip. All of these sights are easy to get to, meaning you can either drive up or take a very short walk or hike to see them. By following these suggestions you’ll get a good overview of the park and a glimpse into the wide variety of landscapes. Try to see all of these if you can!

Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary: Top 5 Sights to See - That OC Girl (1)

A Quick Guide to Joshua Tree National Park

Getting There

Driving to Joshua Tree is easy peasy. It’s typically a 2-hour road trip from Los Angeles or Orange County and around 3 from San Diego. Of course, that’s assuming you have normal traffic. One time it took me 4 hours to get there on a Friday afternoon due to an accident.

Even so, Joshua Tree is an ideal Southern California road trip since it is so easy to get to plus you can pair it with other great destinations like Palm Springs or the Salton Sea area.

Entrance Fees

There is a permit fee to enter the park, which can be bought at an entrance station, visitor’s center, or online. I recommend using the West Entrance Station near the town of Joshua Tree and stopping at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center on the way to pick up a map and pay the fee.

If you plan to visit more than once in a year the yearly pass is worth it and if you are going to visit multiple National Parks in a year you should consider the “America the Beautiful” pass.

When to Visit

Summers are scorching and if you plan on hiking, you should avoid this time of year. I’ve visited during the summer and it was almost unbearable just stepping out of the car. But, you’ll almost have the whole park to yourself!

Late fall to spring is a good time to visit since temperatures will be mild. You can camp in the park year-round but the best time to camp is from September to May.

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Where to Stay

Joshua Tree is a mecca for really cool and unique accommodations. You can find a few budget hotels in Joshua Tree, but my recommendation is to check Airbnb options. There are so many cool places to stay in Joshua Tree, like glamping in a vintage Airstream!

There are several campgrounds in the park, and reservations are highly recommended. If you can visit during the week that would be best since campgrounds are usually full on the weekends during high season. You can also look into nearby private campgrounds/RV parks or BLM sites outside of the park.

What to Wear

The days in Joshua Tree are normally warm but summers can be unbearably hot. During the summer I recommend dressing light during the day and bringing an extra layer for nighttime. During winter days you might want to wear long sleeves and pants, plus you’ll need a warm jacket for nighttime.

Hiking shoes and long hiking pants are almost a must due to the rocks you might be climbing and the sharp cactus plants you might walk near. A sun hat is an absolute must! The rainy season is from December to March, but I have experienced a huge rainstorm in July, so sometimes you just never know! Bring some rain gear if you do see rain in the forecast.

Shop my favorite hiking gear!

Tips for Your First Visit

There are a few things you should know before you visit Joshua Tree National Park for the first time. Most importantly, how there are no services inside the park, including gas stations and convenience stores. Even cell phone signal is non-existent.

Prepare yourself for a day in the park by reading these tips first.

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Joshua Tree in One Day: Top 5 Things to See in Joshua Tree National Park

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Stop #1: Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley is one of the first major points of interest if you enter from the West Entrance. Characterized by tons of big boulders, Hidden Valley is one of the most beautiful areas in the park and therefore, one of the most popular places to see.

Get there early to beat the crowds and hike the short and easy 1-mile route that starts at the Hidden Valley Picnic Area to enjoy the scenery.

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Stop #2: Barker Dam

Another area with large boulders to explore is Barker Dam. But this stop is a little different than Hidden Valley – here you have a chance to learn more about the park’s history with the interpretive exhibits along the trail, which makes this stop a fun adventure for nature and history buffs.

Make sure you stop at the rock art site to learn more about the history of humans in the desert and walk the 1.1-mile nature loop where you have a chance of seeing birds, reptiles, and maybe even a bighorn sheep (if you’re lucky).

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Stop #3: Arch Rock

A classic sight in Joshua Tree National Park is the really cool rock formation called Arch Rock. The very short hike to see this natural arch is worth it, but be prepared to wait in line for the perfect shot.

Is it an elephant? Is it a leg? A dinosaur? People have different opinions of what Arch Rock looks like, so you’ll have to see for yourself. Park at the Twin Tanks Parking Area to access the walking trail to Arch Rock.

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Stop #4: Keys View

This amazing viewpoint in Joshua Tree National Park will give you panoramic views over the California desert. You’ll see things like the Salton Sea, Palm Springs, and San Jacinto Peak. It is a popular place to visit during sunrise or sunset and is best on a clear day.

The drive up to Key’s View is an easy 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard (the main road through the park) and is one spot in the park that is wheelchair accessible. Bring a blanket and find a rock to perch on and enjoy the views.

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Stop #5: Cholla Cactus Garden

One of the last major points of interest before the South Entrance/Exit point, the Cholla Cactus Garden is yet another super popular thing to see in Joshua Tree National Park. But watch out! These cacti have been known to shoot if you get too close!

I have heard that the best time to see the Cholla Cactus Garden is at sunrise, but I’ve also heard sunset is good too, making this the perfect last stop for your Joshua Tree day trip. It’s an easy spot to explore since you can drive right up to the gardens and explore the .25 mile walking path.

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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.

I guarantee it won’t be your last and only trip here. This place is addicting and you will want to return for more cool things to do in Joshua Tree!

Which of these sights are you most looking forward to seeing during your trip to Joshua Tree?

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Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary: Top 5 Sights to See - That OC Girl (10)

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