Joshua Tree Itinerary: 1-2 Days in Joshua Tree National Park (2023)

Are you planning a trip to California’s most epic national park and wondering what to do in Joshua Tree? If so, you’re in the right place. The vast protected desert is full of incredible sights like giant boulders, fascinating rock art, iconic plants, and unique wildlife. So, to make the most of it all, you need a well-researched Joshua Tree itinerary.

Whether you’re visiting for the day or taking a Joshua Tree weekend getaway, we’ve got a fantastic itinerary with the best things to do in Joshua Tree for one or two days.

One Day in Joshua Tree

On a Joshua Tree one day itinerary, you’ll most likely explore the attractions around the north entrance. There are tons of things to do in this part of the park, so there is no need to go further afield if time is limited.

But first: Don’t miss the other California national park guides and even more Joshua Tree travel tips.

Joshua Tree Itinerary: 1-2 Days in Joshua Tree National Park (1)

Marvel at the unique Skull Rock

The famous sandstone formation known as Skull Rock is one of the most famous sights in Joshua Tree. As a result, it gets busy here, so I recommend making Skull Rock your first stop of the day.

This intriguing rock draws in the crowds because it resembles the shape and features of a human skull. It even has naturally occurring eye sockets formed from the erosion rain accumulation has caused.

Skull Rock is located at Jumbo Rocks Campground, just 15 minutes from the north entrance, but you will need to take a ​​short 1.6 mile (2.7km) walk. Don’t worry, though, as this trail is very gentle and won’t tire you out before your day has even started.

Joshua Tree Itinerary: 1-2 Days in Joshua Tree National Park (2)

Hike to Split Rock

Just up the road from Skull Rock you’ll find another popular Joshua Tree trail, the gentle two-mile (3km) Split Rock loop trail, opposite Live Oak Picnic Area. The accessible route features lots of cool rock formations and boulders that you can climb, making it a must-see on any day trip to Joshua Tree.

(Video) Itineraries to Joshua Tree National Park. 1-2 days

Because of the climbing opportunities here, Split Rock is famous among climbers and boulderers. However, you don’t need to be an adrenaline seeker to enjoy this place. There are some incredible viewpoints and it’s a tranquil ambiance.

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Stroll through Barker Dam and Hidden Valley

After Split Rock, if you continue east along Park Boulevard, you’ll soon come to the turning point for Barker Dam Nature Trail. Barker Dam is a small lake reservoir built by ranchers to store water, and it offers one of Joshua Tree’s most leisurely hikes.

However, this gentle 1.1 mile (1.8km) loop showcases the best of the Mojave Desert’s plant life as well as some impressive rock art. Be sure to take your time strolling around here as the rocks reveal the fascinating history of the desert. The Dam is at its best when it is full of water, giving many wildlife sightings. However, even if there is little to no water, you might still spot some earth animals like rabbits or lizards.

If you’re feeling up to it and have time, you can hiking in Joshua Tree on the connector trail to Hidden Valley. The 4.3 mile (7km) route is not the easiest, and you’ll have to scramble over some rocks, but it offers some gorgeous vistas. If you’re not up for the trek, drive to Hidden Valley instead and walk along the pleasant 1-mile (1.6km) Hidden Valley Nature Trail. The route is super fun as there are some superb bouldering opportunities along the way where you can climb to get a better view of the park.

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Catch the sunset at Keys View

Heading south of Hidden Valley and Barker Dam, you’ll come to Keys View Road, leading you to the most famous sunset location in Joshua Tree. Watching the sky change color here is the perfect way to end your one day Joshua Tree National Park itinerary. However, be warned, the car park fills up fast so try to arrive around 45 minutes before sunset. Luckily, it’s only a 15-minute drive from Barker Dam, so you should have plenty of time.

Sunset at Keys View is a majestic experience, seeing the sky over the valley alternating between shades of pink and purple. The warm hues make the landscape glow and give beautiful views out to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley.

Two Days in Joshua Tree

If you spent the first day of your Joshua Tree itinerary exploring the attractions north of the park, it’s time to head south. Most people coming for a Joshua Tree day trip stay in the north part, so the further south you go, the more peaceful it is. A large majority of the south and east of the national park is a vast desert, but there are some cool spots worth exploring here.

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(Video) Joshua Tree Camping - 2 DAY ITINERARY

Watch the sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden

One of the best benefits of staying overnight in Joshua Tree is seeing the sunrise in this unique location. Cholla Cactus Garden is undoubtedly the best sunrise spot in the park and an ideal way to start your Joshua Tree two day itinerary.

Cholla Cactus Garden is less than a 30-minute drive from the north entrance. Then, once you arrive at the parking lot, you just need to follow a short ¼ mile trail until you reach some fantastic photo opportunities. The spot is magical this time of the morning. Not only do you skip the crowds that arrive a few hours later, but you get to see the 10-acre garden completely illuminated as the sun rises over the horizon.

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Go climbing at Arch Rock

Arch Rock is located just before Cholla Cactus Garden and is usually a popular spot. However, if you head here straight after sunrise, you’ll skip the crowds and be able to snap some incredible photos with no one walking into your shot!

Arch Rock is a 30-foot arch-shaped granite rock that sits on a field of boulders. It was uniquely formed from lava pushing up through the fault line. It’s one of the best climbing spots in the park and an excellent sight to explore from ground level.

Arch Rock is straightforward to access from the White Tank campground. If you follow the clearly marked trail from here, you’ll reach the distinct rock formation in just a few minutes. Alternatively, you can take the gentle 0.4-mile Arch Rock Nature Trail for a short but scenic stroll to the rock. You can access the nature trail from the car park just north of the campground.

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Explore Cottonwood Spring

One of the best Joshua Tree attractions in the south is Cottonwood Spring, a hidden oasis in the vast desert. Cottonwood Spring is a 40-minute drive from Arch Rock, so you will probably arrive mid-morning. I recommend taking a light picnic lunch as the spring is so peaceful that you will undoubtedly want to stay for a few hours. If you experienced crowds at some of the attractions on day one, you’d be pleased to see that you are one of the only few tourists in this part of the park.

Hopefully, your feet are not aching too much from yesterday’s hiking, as Cottonwood Spring has some excellent trails. I recommend the three-mile loop to Mastodon Peak, full of fascinating geology, spectacular views, and unique sights like the Winona Mill and Mastodon Mine.

However, if you want to save your energy, you can opt for the short and easy Cottonwood Wash trail leading to a dry fall. While not as scenic as Mastodon Peak, you’ll see plenty of colorful sights in the sky as Cottonwood Spring is a reserve to over 50 bird species!

(Video) 1 day in Joshua Tree National Park

If you find the tranquility of Cottonwood Spring too good to leave, you might consider taking the 7.2 mile (11.6km) Lost Palms Oasis Trail after lunch. This is an extended version of the Cottonwood Spring Nature Trail.

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Hike Ryan Mountain

If a couple of hours at Cottonwood Spring is enough for you, you can head back north and attempt one of Joshua’s Tree’s most famous hikes, Ryan Mountain. As the highest climbable peak in the National Park, you’ll undoubtedly see more people here than Cottonwood Spring.

Still, the 3 mile (4.8km) is an excellent challenge and well worth it for the stunning views you’ll experience from the top. Give yourself 2 to 3 hours to ascend and descend the peak, ensuring you get down before it gets dark.

When to Visit Joshua Tree

If there’s one thing to know, it’s to avoid summer, if you can! This national park is open year-round but since it is a desert, the summer daytime temperatures are hot and the winter nights are quite chilly. Spring and fall are the best times to visit for a pleasant time.

How to Get to Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree has the perfect position for a weekend getaway from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Palm Springs. With it being 3 hours or less to drive from any of these destinations, you can opt to fly into whichever you choose and rent a car at the airport. The closest, however, is Palm Springs.

  • From Palm Springs: 1 hour
  • From Los Angeles: 2 hours and 50 minutes
  • From Las Vegas: 3 hours
  • From San Diego: 3 hours

Pro tip: Rent a car from a car rental location close to but not in the airport and it can lower the cost.

You will need a car to get around Joshua Tree as there is no shuttle in this park. Most roads are paved so you will have no problem renting whatever car you’d like, but if you want to do off-roading, AWD is of course necessary.

Entrance Fees

Joshua Tree is not free to enter, nor does it have a single-day pass (all the more reason to stay longer!) However, a weekly ($30) and annual pass ($55) are options that can be bought for a single-vehicle so splitting it with friends is possible.

You can buy your park pass online at recreation.gov (be sure to download your pass before getting to the park) or in person at any of the entrances.

(Video) The California Coast + Joshua Tree National Park | US Road Trip Days 1-3

Where to Stay in Joshua Tree

When planning your trip to Joshua Tree, you’ll need to decide whether you will camp in the national park or stay in a hotel just outside. The nearest towns to most attractions on your Joshua Tree weekend itinerary are Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree town.

While both towns are among the best places to stay in Joshua Tree, I recommend Twentynine Palms for convenience. Most tourists on a Joshua Tree weekend trip opt to stay here as there is a good selection of hotels for all price ranges. There are also plenty of restaurants and shops, and many of the top sights are a 15 to 30-minute drive away. Here are the top picks for hotels in Twentynine Palms.

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Luxury: Fairfield Inn & Suites is a modern 3-star hotel that offers spacious king and queen-sized rooms with lounge areas, stylish bathrooms, and luxurious extras. You’ll also enjoy the outdoor pool with a whirlpool and the delicious buffet breakfast.

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Mid-Range: Sunnyvale Garden Suites is a fabulous aparthotel with an on-site hot tub and spacious rooms that come with private patios and BBQ facilities.

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(Video) Joshua Tree | 2 days in 2 minutes

Budget: Motel 6-Twentynine Palms is an excellent low-budget option with clean, comfortable air-con rooms and an outdoor pool to refresh after a long day hiking in the park.

FAQs

Is 2 days in Joshua Tree enough? ›

You only need 1-2 days to explore most Joshua Tree National Park. The trails are pretty straightforward in this park, and the views are effortless to get to. Joshua Tree National Park is a very easy weekend trip from Los Angeles.

How many days do you need to see Joshua Tree National Park? ›

How much time do you need in Joshua Tree? To see the highlights of Joshua Tree National Park, you only need one day. If you want to explore the park's backcountry or off-road drives, plan to spend at least 2 to 3 days in Joshua Tree.

Is one day enough for Joshua Tree? ›

Things to do in Joshua Tree in 1 Day. 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!

Which entrance is best Joshua Tree? ›

Joshua Tree has three main entrances, the most popular of which is the West Entrance. If you're going during a busy season, try going through one of the other entrances – the North Entrance near Twentynine Palms or the South Entrance near the Cottonwood Visitors Center.

How long does it take to drive thru Joshua Tree National Park? ›

Get to know 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.

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.

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 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

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 much does it cost to drive through Joshua Tree? ›

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

When should you not go to Joshua Tree? ›

Summer is the least popular season in Joshua Tree due to the scorching hot daytime temperatures. This is the desert, after all, and daytime temps in June, July and August often top 100˚F (38˚C). This makes outdoor activities like hiking and rock climbing uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

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.

How long does it take to drive from one end of Joshua Tree to the other? ›

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.

Do you need hiking shoes for Joshua Tree? ›

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.

What is the best time of year 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.

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.

What is the easiest hike at Joshua Tree? ›

Located on the eastern side of the park, Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the easiest and most well-known hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. The main attraction of the hike is the deceptive Cholla Cactus (also known as the Teddy Bear cactus and Jumping Cactus).

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 get into Joshua Tree without paying? ›

All visitors 16 years of age and older are required to pay an entrance fee at Joshua Tree National Park. Please be prepared to show your physical pass or digital pass on your mobile device.

Do you need a 4x4 in Joshua Tree? ›

Joshua Tree National Park has a limited number of backcountry trails. Most of them are merely dirt roads that are accessible to everyone, but there are a few which require high clearance and four-wheel drive. Geology Tour Road is an 18-mile loop trail on the western side of the park.

How many entrances does Joshua Tree National Park 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.

Is Joshua Tree a hard 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 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.

What should I bring on 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

What is unusual about Joshua Tree? ›

Joshua Trees are incredibly unusual-looking, in part because they're not actually a tree at all. Joshua Trees are incredibly unusual-looking, in part because they're not actually a tree at all. They're a plant belonging to the Yucca genus that happens to resemble the size and growth pattern of a tree.

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 do you get around Joshua Tree? ›

There are two main roads through the park, Park Boulevard and Pinto Basin Road. Park Boulevard loops through the high northern section between the North Entrance in Twentynine Palms and the West Entrance in Joshua Tree.

Which entrance is best for Joshua Tree from Palm Springs? ›

The west entrance is five miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village, and it's the closest to Palm Springs.

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.

How many miles is Joshua Tree Loop? ›

Trail Info for Split Rock Loop Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. 1.9 mile loop. Split Rock takes a little over an hour to hike, but ideally plan for a little longer so you can stop to sit on a boulder and enjoy the views.

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.

Do you need a truck for Joshua Tree? ›

Since the main road through Joshua Tree is paved, a regular passenger car would be fine. If you plan on driving on the "Geology Tour" which is off road a 4x4 SUV would be great! Joshua Tree in August is going to be hot, hot, hot! Make sure on all the roads that you take plenty of water for you and the car!

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!

How far is Joshua Tree from Joshua Tree National Park? ›

Distances between key locations in miles
Oasis Visitor CenterJoshua Tree Visitor Center
Geology Tour Road13 miles21 miles
Hidden Valley20 miles14 miles
Indian Cove10 miles8 miles
Interstate 1045 miles63 miles
14 more rows

How far is Palm Springs from Joshua Tree? ›

How Far is Joshua Tree from Palm Springs? Joshua Tree National Park is 40 miles or one hour east of Palm Springs. Joshua Tree is also two hours from Orange County and anywhere from two and a half to four hours from Los Angeles depending on traffic.

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.

How long is the drive through arches? ›

You can spend a couple hours or the better part of a day driving the 36 mile (round trip) road through Arches National Park. With plenty of places to stop and snap pictures and panoramic views for miles, you can enjoy the brilliant artistry and majesty of Arches without having to leave your vehicle.

How long is the Arches drive? ›

The scenic drive in Arches is about 22 miles one way, so about 45 miles in total. You should count at least 4-5 hours to drive the entire road and make short stops (5-30min each) at all the scenic viewpoints.

How do I spend 3 days in Joshua Tree? ›

The Ultimate 2 to 3 Days in Joshua Tree Itinerary
  1. Day 1 – Barker Dam, Desert Queen Mine, Cholla Cactus Garden & More. Barker Dam Trail & the Hidden Petroglyphs. ...
  2. Day 2 – Hall of Horrors, Hidden Valley Trail, Ryan Ranch & More. Hall of Horrors. ...
  3. Day 3 – Lost Horse Mine, Joshua Tree Saloon & Crochet Museum. Lost Horse Mine.
7 Jul 2022

How long does it take to drive around Joshua Tree? ›

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.

Is it worth it to drive through Joshua Tree? ›

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.

Can I wear sandals to Joshua Tree? ›

If you plan on doing any climbing, bring a separate pair of climbing shoes, too. Traveling to Joshua Tree in the summer? Show off your pedicure in a pair of hiking sandals. They're just as supportive as shoes, but more lightweight — and they'll save you the embarrassment of stinky feet when you get back to the Airbnb.

Does Joshua Tree have only one entrance? ›

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.

Does Joshua Tree require reservation? ›

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.

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