Joshua Tree Trip Planning Essentials to Know for Every Trip! — Spearhead Adventure Research (2023)

Timing Your Trip

Timing Based on Activity Preference

Basic Camping and Hiking - Peak season for comfortable all-around camping and hiking conditions is spring and fall. Summertime (after early June) gets too hot in the day once temperatures exceed 105 degrees. Wintertime is much more tolerable (and even extremely popular among the climbing community), but temperatures at night often dip below freezing. Clearly you’ll be miserable if you aren’t experienced or prepared for those kinds of conditions.

Unfortunately peak season months tend to be extremely popular times to visit Joshua Tree. You’ll want to be prepared on how to avoid the crowds, especially when finding a campsite.

Climbing and Backpacking - With few exceptions, if you’ll be climbing or backpacking, you'll want to time your trip during cooler months. The weather, and especially the rocks themselves, are just too hot between mid June and mid September. Between extended sun exposure and higher exertion levels, you’re not only going to be miserable, you’ll also be adding a safety risk if anything goes wrong.

Dealing with the Heat for a Great Nighttime Experience - See Step 1 of the Four Essentials of a Mind-Blowing Joshua Tree Trip below. Some of our most profound outdoor experiences in the outdoors have been all-night adventures under the stars during the late spring & late summer months. Yes, the next day will be hot, and Joshua Tree in general offers little in terms of shade. But find a cave to help you manage the heat, and it will all worth it when you spending a warm night wearing t-shirts staring up at the stars.

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Avoiding the Crowds

While Camping

If you’re looking to camp inside the park, this will be your biggest obstacle. See our full section here on snagging that perfect campsite.

While Hiking

If you’re the adventurous type who likes to play around on rocks and explore caves, you won’t have any problems finding a cool, secluded & unique experience once you get off the main trail, regardless of the time of year. I’d recommend starting our section on Top 5 High-Adventurous Hikes section if you need some inspiration on specific trails.

If you’re looking for a mellow hike, you’re probably going to run into other hikers. Luckily, I’ve never seen hiking crowds reach that ‘annoying’ level that we’re all familiar with.

See Three Great Mellow Hikes for ideas. Depending on the trail, you may want to consider going during sunrise and sunset hours with proper headlamps and navigation tools. Your photographs will be exponentially better in a diffused-light setting compared to glaring overhead mid-day sun of the Mojave desert, and crowds will be a small fraction of what they normally are. At this time of day, I’d recommend the Ryan Mountain Trail for the park-wide view you’ll get at the top, especially if you’re seeing those the tell-tale high, wispy clouds that typically create a beautiful sunset.

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The Four Essentials of a Mind-Blowing Joshua Tree Trip

My four best tips for turning a good Joshua Tree adventure into a great one:

  1. Plan for a nighttime experience

  2. Pimp out your campsite

  3. Cook up a feast

  4. Bring both safety and adventure gear

Step 1:Plan for the Nighttime Experience

Joshua Tree, when timed right, is even more spectacular at night than it is during the day. If you're looking for an ideal nighttime experience, you won't regret timing your trip out with the following events:

New Moon

The less moonlight in the sky, the brighter the stars will shine. Yes, it makes a massive difference.

New moon nights are my favorite time to visit Joshua Tree. With no other competing sources of light in the sky, you'll see the Milky Way stretch completely across the sky. The eastern most campgrounds of White Tank and Twin Tanks are least affected by light pollution and offer the greatest viewing experience.

Full Moon

In a completely different way, the park is equally spectacular with a full, bright moon. On these nights,stars are much less visible, but the intense moonlight brightly illuminates J-tree's pale granite rocks and sets a perfect scene for a group midnight adventure. You won't even need to bring a flashlight (but bring one anyway). Make sure to find a campground that gives you easy access to a cool area to explore--I recommend Jumbo Rocks and White Tank Campground.

Resources

Meteor Showers

Most people don't know that meteor showers occur on a very predictable annual time table. They occur when the Earth passes through intersecting orbital paths of comets, which leave a disintegrated wake (aka the comet's "tail")of rock and ice as they sling around the Sun. At these points, where the Earth passes through comet debris, we can accurately predict where and when meteor showers will occur. The most brilliant displays happen recently after the comet has passed.

Resources

Weekly Observatory Events with Sky's the Limit

Just outside the Twentynine Palms park entrance is the Sky’s the Limit HQ, a nonprofit observatory and nature center that offers night sky observation parties almost every Saturday night. The site has its own research observatory along with an outdoor amphitheater and level pads for amateur astronomers to set up their own equipment. Of course, there's no requirement to bring equipment of your own. Simply check the link below for posted events and show up with an open mind for some next-level star gazing.

Resources

Step 2:Pimp Out Your Campsite

After nearly a decade of visits to Joshua Tree, I won't head out there without packing ALL of the following unique J-Tree essentials. The list below is IN ADDITION to your regular 10 essentials and survival gear needed for any outdoor trip. Your car may be packed full, but it's the only way to go.

Ideal campsite gear

  • Tent with a mesh ceiling for star gazing

  • Pop tent for shade (optional and expensive but so perfect when you have one on a hot day)

  • Camping chairs & hammock

  • A cast iron skillet with cooking utensils

Nighttime star gazing party swag

  • Pre-downloaded deep house music playlist (reminder: zero cell reception in the park)

  • Three bundles of firewood per night

  • Minimum 30-40 pack of glow stick bracelets to toss around the campsite (trust me)

  • DSLR camera capable of taking long-exposure night shots

  • Battery powered LED christmas lights (Target has them for $10)

  • Pre downloaded astronomy podcasts (Neil Degrasse Tyson)

  • Headlamps for all

  • Mexican blankets (random, but they make the campsite look amazing)

  • Star constellation map (the 29 Palms entrance gift shop has a durable wheel-shaped map that can be adjusted to the exact day/time of your trip--it's under $20)

Step 3: Cook up a Feast

Cooking Tips for Group Camping:

Delegate meals to small teams within the group.An easy way to simplify grocery shopping for a large group is to split it up by meal. In a group of four, two people handle dinner and breakfast on night 1, while the second pair covers night 2. Then have everyone bring their own lunches.

Camping Hack:When you won't have time to cook but still want delicious food...Make this incredible healthy chili recipeat home ahead of time, freeze it overnight, and simply warm it up over the fire before dinner time. No onsite cooking required. As an added benefit, the frozen chili block will keep other food in your cooler cold until you can buy ice.

Water and ice are your best friends.Depending on the size of your group, have at least one large well-insulated cooler with 2 bags of ice per and one gallon of water per person (minimum) per day.

Camping Recipes:

If these links don't solve your problem, you're probably just a horrible cook (accept it):

Step 4: Bring Plenty of Adventure (and Safety) Gear

Safety Gear

First-timers--be prepared for a complete lack of resources in J-tree.The park itself has ZERO restaurants, gas stations, running water or cell phone service. Bathrooms are limited as well, so make sure you have everything you need for a full weekend when you enter the park.

The 10 Essentialsfor camping and hiking are especially important when you're off the grid.

Adventure Gear

Joshua Tree has always been a sanctuary for people looking to escape and soul search. If you're bored and unchallenged here, you'll only see at it as a desert full of rocks and completely miss the point.

If you bring the goal of pushing your limits (safely) to improve yourself as a person, Joshua Tree offers a lifetime full of opportunity. You can find some of my favorite challenges in the sections below.

Here's a quick checklist of gear I always pack for Joshua Tree specifically:

  • Camera vs GoPro

    • We all love an excuse to use our GoPros, but in my experience, their resolution isn't anywhere near as solid as even an iPhone camera. If you're simply hiking, scrambling and camping, you'll get much better quality photos with the iPhone.

    • If you have a high quality DSLR camera, absolutely bring it. You'll never be happier than the moment you see a brilliant night sky photo with a long exposure setting.

    • Sadly, drones aren't allowed in national parks; even if you sneak one in, people will probably make fun of you for being ignorant the minute you post the video online.

  • Head gear

    • A water soaked bandana is the best way to stay cool on a hot day hike.

    • Baseball cap or straw hat for shade are a must.

  • Grippy, durable shoes

    • Bring a pair of grippy hiking/outdoor boots. Those who have them will out-climb the ones who don't.

    • If you have a pair of climbing shoes, bring those in a backpack wherever you hike in case you find a cool rock feature you want to explore.

  • Durable climbing pants/shorts

    • The rough, crystalized monzogranite of Joshua Tree will wear through anything.

  • Climbing gear (if you have it)

    • See our section on Climbing in J-Tree.

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Official Joshua Tree Park Maps

Camping

All Maps

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ITEMIZED ACTIVITIES

Climbing

Guided Trip
Here are the cheapest climbing guides I've found with respectable Yelp ratings:

A general window of rates to expect when hiring a J-tree climbing guide:

  • One person: Half Day ($225-240) / Full Day ($350-360) per person

  • Two people: Half Day ($140-150) / Full Day ($195-200) per person

  • Three people: Half Day ($125-130) / Full Day ($165-170) per person

Baseline Essentials

Food
$30 per day

Gas
Calculation:(total miles round trip / vehicle MPG) * price of gas
Example trip from Los Angeles: (384 / 25) * $3.60 = $55.29

Park Fees
$30 flat (lasts one week)

Firewood
$36 per day

Camping

J-tree Campgrounds
$15-20 per night, depending on the campground

EXAMPLE BUDGET FOR A RECENT WEEKEND TRIP (3 PEOPLE)

Joshua Tree Trip Planning Essentials to Know for Every Trip! — Spearhead Adventure Research (7)

Trip Parameters
Budget is based on 2.5 days of adventure including travel time. The trip starts from Los Angeles (384 mi., including driving time in the park), using one car with three people. Departure time starts Friday afternoon (Day 0) through Sunday night (Day 2).

Baseline Expenses
Individual Expenses:Food - 2.5 days ($75)
Group Expenses:Gas ($55.29) + Park Fee ($30)/ 3 people = $28.43 per person
Total: $103.43 per person

Days 0-2: Hiking and Climbing
Group Expenses:Camping Fees ($40) + Firewood ($72) / 3 people = $37 per person

Trip Total
$140.43

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