Joshua Tree Day Trip - The Perfect 1-day Itinerary for the National Park! (2023)

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If you’re looking for the perfect Southern California getaway, a Joshua Tree Day Trip is perfect for you! With incredible desert landscapes, unique twisted trees, crazy rock formations, awesome hikes and some of the best sunsets in the world – Joshua Tree National Park is a must-see.

Here’s everything you need to know before you go!

Contents hide

1 Where is Joshua Tree?

2 Overview of Joshua Tree

3 Things to do in Joshua Tree in 1 Day

4 Joshua Tree Day Trip Route

5 Photography Tips for a Joshua Tree Day Trip

6 When to visit Joshua Tree

7 Joshua Tree Opening Hours

8 Can you enter Joshua Tree at night?

10 How far is Joshua Tree from Palm Springs?

11 Which Joshua Tree Entrance?

12 Joshua Tree Entrance Fee

13 What to pack for a Joshua Tree Day Trip

14 Where to eat near Joshua Tree

15 Where to stay after a Joshua Tree Day Trip

16 Where to park in Joshua Tree

17 Things to know before your day trip to Joshua Tree

Where is Joshua Tree?

Joshua Tree is in southern California near Palm Springs and the Yucca Valley. It is also close to Twentynine Palms, which is the largest Marine base in the US.

Overview of Joshua Tree

LocationSouthern California, 1 hour from Palm Springs
Entrance
fee
$30 USD per vehicle, $15 per person on foot or bicycle
Opening HoursAll year, 24 hours a day
Best time to visitOctober through May
Ideal length of visit1-2 days
Drones allowedNo

Things to do in Joshua Tree in 1 Day

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There is certainly enough to do in Joshua Tree to keep you busy for a few days. However, if you only have time for a day trip like we did, here are the things we recommend putting on your itinerary! These things to do are listed in chronological order assuming you start at the West Entrance (which we recommend). We were able to do most of these within 4 hours total, so if you give yourself a full day you should be able to hit them all!

Joshua Tree Visitor Center

It’s certainly worth starting your Joshua Tree Day Trip at the visitor center. The displays are super informative and planning your day with one of the friendly park rangers is super helpful! Make a quick stop here to grab a map before heading to the West park entrance.

Enjoy Park Boulevard

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As soon as you enter the park from the West Entrance you’ll start driving along the most quintessential Joshua Tree road called Park Boulevard. The Joshua Trees that the park was named after are everywhere you look as well as rock formations that seem to defy all laws of physics. We loved driving super slow between the entrance and Hidden Valley (our next stop) and taking in the magazine-worthy views.

Hike the Hidden Valley Trail

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Our first official stop of our Joshua Tree day trip was to explore the Hidden Valley trail. Along this trail you’ll find stunning golden rock formations, plenty of Joshua Trees and amazing views.

Personally this is what we like to call a bang-for-our-buck hike. The views and photo opportunities are incredible and the effort to hike it is very low. The hike is a 1 mile loop trail that consists of a predominately wide trail, and is suitable for all fitness levels.

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If you’re a rock climber, Hidden Valley is also a very popular spot in the park to climb! Just make sure you’re trained and have the right equipment with you.

Drive up to Keys View

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After you work a bit for your views on the Hidden Valley Trail, you can reward yourself by driving to an epic viewpoint called Keys View. If you follow signs going right off the main road to “Keys View” you can’t miss it.

At this 5,185 foot lookout you’ll find sweeping views of the Coachella Valley, San Andreas Fault, Salton Sea and (if it’s clear) even the US/Mexico Border!

>> Check out the most Instagrammable spots in Joshua Tree!

Hike to Barker Dam

After you take in the awesome views at Keys View, head back to the main road and continue into the park. Just a few minutes down the road you’ll find Barker Dam which is another great 1 mile loop trail to add to your Joshua Tree Day Trip.

This dam currently forms a small rain-fed reservoir and is used by wildlife in the park. When the water levels are high enough you’ll find amazing reflections here (perfect to photograph!) and have a good chance of an animal sighting.

Note: make sure to check at the visitor center to see if the dam has water in it!

Check out Skull Rock

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After you finish your hike to Barker Dam, continue on the main road until you reach Jumbo Rocks campsite. On the main road just beyond that campsite is “Skull Rock.” The famous rock sculpture looks like a human skull and can be seen from the road. Here you can pop out of your car briefly and admire the rock & surrounding area, but you don’t need to spend a lot of time.

Visit Arch Rock

Continuing your drive into the park you’ll take a right at the fork and then come across Arch Rock. This is the one spot we were super bummed to miss during our Joshua Tree Day Trip. While it’s not marked on the official park map, you can find it in Google Maps here. From pictures it looks like a mini version of the famous arches in Utah and looks like it’s an amazing spot to photograph.

>> While in California also visit Death Valley National Park

Explore Cholla Cactus Garden

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Once you see Arch Rock (& make us super jealous!!) make your way down the main road to Cholla Cactus Garden. This place is truly unbelievable and the sheer amount of cacti will blow your mind! As your day is nearing an end it’s also a great place to catch a glimpse of golden hour.

Enjoy a sunset

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Wherever you are in the park, pause and enjoy the AMAZING sunset. The sunsets in Joshua Tree are just breathtaking. Whether you’re at Cholla Cactus Garden or in a random spot down the road like we were, make sure to stop to take it all in.

Stargaze

If you can swing it, stick around in the park after sunset until it’s dark. While it’s dusk go ahead and start driving in the direction you want to exit. Once it’s dark, find a spot to pull over and enjoy.

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While it may make your Joshua Tree day trip a bit longer, it is so worth it to see the amazing stars here! There is such little light pollution in this part of the desert so the stargazing is next level (plus it’s the cherry on top after an amazing day trip to Joshua Tree!).

Joshua Tree Day Trip Route

Here is map of this Joshua Tree day trip route! You canclick the Starnext to the map name tosave it to your Google Mapsas a reference!

Photography Tips for a Joshua Tree Day Trip

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We’ve detailed the 10 Best Photo Spots in Joshua Tree so you can get the perfect Instagram shots during your day trip! Joshua Tree is incredibly picturesque and has so many gorgeous spots to photograph. Whether you’re into portraits, landscape shots or night photography, you can get the perfect shot here.

>> Also read: the most Instagrammable places in Death Valley National Park

Are drones allowed in Joshua Tree?

No, unfortunately drones are not allowed in Joshua Tree National Park. There are signs at each entrance as well as warning signs about fines posted at the different attractions.

>> Check out the photography gear we bring with us and the Lightroom Presets we use to edit our photos in 1-click!

When to visit Joshua Tree

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October through May are the best times to visit Joshua Tree because the summers in the desert can reach really unbearable temperatures. However, December through February can get pretty cold and even experience snow sometimes. We went in the end of January and it was perfect conditions, but for the most predictable weather consider going Oct-Nov or Mar-May.

If you can, try and go on a weekday so you avoid the weekend rush. If you go on a weekend, arrive early in the day to beat the crowds.

Joshua Tree Opening Hours

Joshua Tree is open year-round, 24/7. The visitor centers, however, operate under regular business hours (see below).

Can you enter Joshua Tree at night?

Yes! The park gates are open 24/7 for both entering and exiting the park. This means you can enjoy the stars even without camping in the park. Do note, though, that the visitor centers all close between 4 and 5 pm daily.

How to get to Joshua Tree

Because Joshua Tree National Park has 3 entrances, it is accessible from many different areas. You can access two of the entrances from highway 62 and the other is off of I-10.

From both Palm Springs and L.A. you can take the I-10 to highway 62 to get to the West Entrance Station. Just put Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center into your GPS and you should have no problem finding it!

How far is Joshua Tree from Palm Springs?

Joshua Tree is less than a 1-hour drive from Palm Springs, which makes this park a great day trip in the area!

Which Joshua Tree Entrance?

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While there are 3 entrances to the national park, we highly recommend the West Entrance Station off highway 62. This entrance is the closest to the majority of attractions we highlighted in this blog, and is super picturesque from the second you enter.

While which entrance you choose may depend on where you’re coming from, if you’re coming from Palm Springs the West Entrance Station and the Cottonwood entrance are about equidistant. The North Entrance station is most convenient if you’re coming from Twentynine Palms.

Joshua Tree Entrance Fee

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It costs $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle or $15 per person (either walking or on bicycle). If you have a group of 2 or more, bringing a car is the most economical option for park entry.

What to pack for a Joshua Tree Day Trip

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There are no amenities within Joshua Tree National Park, so it’s important to pack smart for your day trip! Here is a list of things you shouldn’t forget:

  • Layers of clothing since the weather changes rapidly
  • Plenty of water to last you the whole day in the desert
  • Food & snacks because there are no restaurants inside the park
  • Camera (also bring a tripod if you want to photograph stars)
  • Tennis Shoes (consider hiking shoes if you’re doing more intense hikes)
  • Sunglasses
  • Phone Charger – while there is no cell coverage, bring a car charger or external charger for your phone to maintain battery life for photos, offline maps, etc.
  • Map of the area (pick one up at the visitor center!)
  • Rock climbing equipment (if you plan to rock climb)

Where to eat near Joshua Tree

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While there are no restaurants within the national park, 10 minutes outside the West Entrance there is a can’t-miss restaurant called Crossroads Cafe. The restaurant is super eclectic like the town of Joshua Tree, and the food is to die for. They also have incredible plant-based options on the menu – so many that they make it hard to choose! We went here prior to starting our day trip and it was the perfect way to fuel ourselves for adventure.

Where to stay after a Joshua Tree Day Trip

If you want to stay the night in the area, here are a few places to stay that caught our eye!

If you want to stay in Palm Springs after your day trip, here are some hotels we recommend!

>> While you’re in Palm Springs, check out our guide to a Weekend in Palm Springs!

Where to park in Joshua Tree

At each point of interest there is either a designated parking lot or a place to pull off the road and park. Since the attractions are decently spread out, we drove between each of them to maximize our time. While we never had trouble finding parking at any spot during our time there, it may be more crowded on the weekends.

Things to know before your day trip to Joshua Tree

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  • There is no cell service once you enter the park, so make sure you either download offline maps for the area (Google Maps) or get a map from the visitor center before you enter.
  • Fill up on gas before you enter because there are no gas stations within Joshua Tree National Park!
  • Don’t forget food & water since there are no restaurants or stores within the park.
  • Do not go rock climbing unless you are properly trained and equipped!
  • Camping is only allowed in designated camping areas or with a back-country registration. You can find the campsites nicely marked along the road and on the map they provide at the visitor center.
  • During the spring and summer it is important to watch out for snakes.
  • Off-road driving is not allowed and all vehicles (including bikes) must stay on the established roads
  • Pets are only allowed within 100 feet of a park road, campground or picnic area and must be leashed. Pets are not allowed on any trails.
  • Emergency phones are located at Indian Cove Ranger Station and Intersection Rock
While you’re in the area, read these next…
  • 10 Best Photo Spots in Joshua Tree
  • Can’t Miss Death Valley Instagram Spots
  • The PERFECT Death Valley Day Trip
  • Weekend in Palm Springs – Full Guide!

Have the best time on your Joshua Tree day trip!!

Kylie & Scott

(If you liked this article or have any questions, please comment below! And make sure to follow along on Instagram@LoveHardTravelOften)

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