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One day in Joshua Tree National Park was all it took to become completely mesmerized by this unique protected area in California.
It was a weird and fascinating landscape, almost cartoonish, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Dr. Seuss’ Lorax or everybody’s favourite Stone Age family, the Flintstones, go walking by.
The desert plains were strewn with piles of rocks and eroded boulders, so big they formed imposing walls. Odd-looking trees, with clumps of sharp, pointy leaves capping the end of each crooked, bristled branch, defiantly grew in the harsh conditions. At the foot of a dusty mountain range sat a sea of fuzzy cacti tempting me to touch them, but ready to punish me with their barbed spines if I did.
Joshua Tree National Park looked unlike any place I’ve visited before, bringing out lasting feelings of wonder, curiosity, and creativity.
There were so many things to do in Joshua Tree National Park but no matter how we chose to spend our time, whether it be hiking to a hidden oasis or exploring rock enclosed-valleys, we were always in admiration of the surreal landscape.
One Day in Joshua Tree National Park- Things to Do
To make the most of our one day in Joshua Tree National Park, we began by visiting the north end of the park (arriving through the North Entrance/Twentynine Palms Station), then exited at the south end. This allowed us to drive the entire main road through the park and conveniently access some of the best places to see in Joshua Tree.
Although we covered a lot of ground while driving, we still had plenty of time to get out and enjoy the attractions in Joshua Tree National Park.
In order to have a well-rounded visit to Joshua Tree National Park in one day, we decided to do one longer hike, walk a couple of easy nature trails, and make some stops at scenic places along the road.
Here’s a look at how we spent one day in Joshua Tree National Park, including our favourite hikes, walks, and scenic spots. We hope our itinerary helps you discover some fun things to do in Joshua Tree National Park!
Hike to Fortynine Palms Oasis
We started our visit to Joshua Tree National Park by hiking to Fortynine Palms Oasis.
This moderate, 4.8 km (3 mi) hike is located in the north end of the park and takes 2-3 hours to complete. It’s somewhat isolated from other attractions in Joshua Tree, so it’s not as busy and crowded as other places in the park.
The out and back trail begins by climbing 107 m (350 ft) up and over a stone covered ridge, then descends 91 m (300 ft) into a rocky canyon before arriving at a small oasis.
At first we weren’t that impressed with the scenery. The hills were drab, covered in small grey and brown rocks, with only a scattering of vegetation.
But as soon as we descended into the canyon there were larger boulders with warmer tones and some flowering plants adding colour to the landscape. Once in the canyon, we realized we preferred being surrounded by piles of rock, instead of looking out over them, and got back our enthusiasm for the hike.
Soon a small group of fan palms came into view and we eagerly made our way to the Fortynine Palms Oasis at the end of the trail.
This pretty little oasis was the highlight of the hike and I loved photographing the palm trees backed by the rocky hills we just hiked down. Throw in a cloudless blue sky and it made for a perfect scene!
What I liked best about this hike, and the oasis in particular, was that it was something I wasn’t expecting to see in Joshua Tree National Park. I was familiar with the giant sculpted boulders and Joshua Trees the park is named after, but I wasn’t expecting to find palm trees. Plus, it was fun to explore part of the park that most people don’t seem visit. We had the oasis and most of the trail all to ourselves!
If you want to do this hike, I recommend starting in the morning before it gets too hot. There isn’t shade along the trail and no safe drinking water at the oasis, so come prepared.
Directions: The Fortynine Palms Oasis trailhead is accessed off Highway 62, near the city of Twentynine Palms. Turn south on Canyon Road. You won’t have to go through one of the park’s entrance stations but should still have a park pass.
Visit the Intruder
The first stop we made during our drive through Joshua Tree National Park was at the Intruder rock formation.
Located on the north side of Park Boulevard, between Live Oak Picnic Area and Jumbo Rocks campground, this long formation was a great introduction to the huge boulders the park is known for.
The Intruder is a monzogranite formation, one of two predominant types of rock found in the park. It formed when hot magma pushed upwards then cooled into a crystallized mass of granite below the ground.
Over millions of years, earthquakes shook and squeezed the granite, causing cracks and splits where groundwater could flow down. The water slowly eroded rock along the joint fractures, creating round, smooth edges.
After movement of the Earth’s crust lifted the rock, further erosion from flash floods washed away the ground surface, exposing the sculpted granite formations.
Geologists believe that the Intruder formation represents 85 million years of time. As is often the case, I was left speechless at the ongoing power of nature to shape and transform landscapes.
Directions: To get to the Intruder from the north and south park entrances, turn west onto Park Boulevard. After passing Live Oak Picnic Area, watch for a little brown sign that says “Exhibit Ahead”. There will be a pull out on the right side of the road with an interpretive panel about the Intruder rock.
Visit Skull Rock
Skull Rock is the most unique formation we saw in Joshua Tree National Park, making it a very popular stop for visitors.
The name says it all- it’s a rock that looks like a skull, complete with hollowed out eye sockets and a nose cavity formed by erosion.
There is a 2.7 km (1.7 mi) nature trail here, but since Skull Rock is at the start of the loop, we decided there was no need to do the 1-2 hour walk. Instead we chose to spend our time on trails with more Joshua Trees.
Directions: Skull Rock is located on Park Boulevard, between Live Oak Picnic Area and Jumbo Rocks Campground. There are pullouts on each side of the road for parking.
Walk the Hidden Valley Nature Trail
If you only have time to do one nature walk in Joshua Tree National Park, make it Hidden Valley Trail.
This short 1.6 km (1 mi) loop has all the most prominent features of the park. There are Joshua Trees, towering walls of rock, and giant boulders that are fun to scramble on.
The trail starts by passing through a gap in the rock piles, then arrives in a sandy valley bound by boulders and dotted with Joshua Trees and other desert loving plants.
It was just the type of scenery I was expecting to see in Joshua Tree National Park, yet I still felt like I had entered an unfamiliar world.
Although we were following a marked path, I felt like we were explorers discovering new and uncharted lands as we meandered between larger-than-life rock piles, dry desert bushes, and peculiar looking trees.
I stopped so often to take pictures, read the interpretive panels, and quietly gaze across this intriguing landscape, that it probably took us longer than the recommended hour to walk Hidden Valley Trail.
Hidden Valley was my favourite of all the places to see in Joshua Tree National Park because the geology and biodiversity complemented each other so well, creating an unforgettable scene!
Directions: The trailhead for Hidden Valley is at the Hidden Valley picnic area, just off Park Boulevard.
Walk the Barker Dam Nature Trail
The Barker Dam Trail is similar to Hidden Valley, in that it showcases mounds of boulders and a flat area with Joshua Trees. However, what makes this trail unique are the archaeological and man-made remains including an old dam, cattle trough built by early ranchers, and some petroglyphs.
The 1.8 km (1.1 mi) loop begins by passing in between two tall piles of boulders. Eventually the trail emerges at the shore of a small reservoir before continuing towards a historic dam.
Next up, the trail navigates down some rocks, providing an elevated view of an old cattle trough before reaching the open desert.
This part of the trail was my favourite because there were plenty of tall Joshua Trees, looking especially beautiful in the warm glow of late afternoon light.
We took our time walking down the sandy path appreciating the gorgeous views that surrounded us. From the interesting shapes of the Joshua Trees to the backdrop of naturally sculpted rock, everything about it was a photographer’s dream.
Before looping back to the parking lot, we followed a very short detour to a petroglyph-covered rock. I was surprised to see that the colours of the drawings have been enhanced, which makes them easier to see but also takes away some of their mystique.
While the petroglyphs added a bit of variety to this trail, they in no way compared to the natural beauty of a desert of Joshua Trees!
Directions: The Barker Dam Trail can be reached by taking Park Boulevard to Barker Dam Road. The trailhead is at the parking lot on the left.
Visit the Cholla Cactus Garden
Driving towards the south entrance, we made one more stop before leaving the park. The last scenic spot in Joshua Tree National Park we visited was the Cholla Cactus Garden.
The garden consists of thousands of densely concentrated cholla cactus and a short 0.4 km (0.25 mi) trail that loops through the stand.
Don’t let the cacti’s fuzzy appearance and cute name fool you- these teddy-bear cholla have barbed spines that will tightly hitch a ride on you if you get too close.
Much like the Joshua Tree, teddy-bear cholla are interesting to look at because of their odd, crooked shapes. I’ve never seen cacti like this before so a walk around the Cholla Cactus Garden was a fun way to end our day trip to Joshua Tree National Park.
Directions: The Cholla Cactus Garden is on Pinto Basin Road, about 32 km (20 mi) north of the Cottonwood Visitor Centre (the south entrance to the park).
Final Thoughts About Our Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park
We did several day trips from Palm Springs but our visit to Joshua Tree National Park was my favourite.
The scenery was unparalleled and even after a whole day in Joshua Tree National Park, I was still captivated by those funny looking trees. The park not only lived up to my high expectations, it surprised me in ways too.
We were very happy with our one day Joshua Tree itinerary and felt like it included some of the best hikes and nature trails in Joshua Tree National Park. Even though I don’t necessarily feel like we missed out anything, I’d still like to go back and explore more of the park. Perhaps next time we do a road trip in the southwest USA we’ll visit Joshua Tree National Park again.
Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park
Location: Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California, near Palm Springs.
Getting There: Joshua Tree National Park is most conveniently accessed from Palm Springs and its neighbouring cities in the Coachella Valley. From Palm Springs, it’s about a 50-70 minute drive to any of the entrances to Joshua Tree National Park.
- There are three entrances to the park. The west and north entrance stations can be accessed from Highway 62 (Twentynine Palms Highway). The south entrance is via the Cottonwood Visitor Centre and can be accessed off the I-10 E.
Operating Hours and Seasons: Joshua Tree National Park is open year round.
Park Passes: Visitors are required to buy a park pass at an entrance gate. Passes are valid for seven consecutive days.
Best Time to Visit: The spring (March- May) and fall (October- November) are generally the best times to visit Joshua Tree National Park because temperatures are warm but more comfortable than the summer, averaging around 29°C (85°F). Summer temperatures can surpass 38°C (100°F), so too hot to be hiking around in a desert without shade. We were happy to visit in winter when the daytime temperature was about 15°C (60°F).
- The park is the busiest in early spring when the wildflowers are in bloom.
Visitor Centres: There are visitor centres near all three park entrances. They have exhibits and bookstores/gift shops.
- Joshua Tree Visitor Centre is in the village of Joshua Tree, just south of Highway 62 before the west entrance.
- Oasis Visitor Centre is at the Oasis of Mara in Twentynine Palms, just south of Highway 62 before the north entrance.
- Cottonwood Visitor Centre can be found inside the park, after arriving through the south entrance.
Restaurants: There are no restaurants inside the park so you’ll need to pack a picnic lunch.
Campgrounds and Accommodations: There are several campgrounds in the park, but no hotels. Some of the campgrounds are first-come, first-served, while others require reservations. Note that some campgrounds close in the summer when visitation is low because of the heat.
Information was updated January 2022, but can change without notice. Please confirm directly with the park.
Accommodations Near Joshua Tree National Park
Palm Springs and its neighbouring cities are the nicest places to base out of for a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park.
For your convenience, here is a list of accommodations inPALM SPRINGS,CATHEDRAL CITY,RANCHO MIRAGE,PALM DESERT, andINDIO. Please consider booking your accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!
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Can you do Joshua Tree in a day? Yes! Joshua Tree is one of the best national parks to see in only a day. In one day you can see the highlights of Joshua Tree, including Cholla Cactus Garden, Ryan Mountain, and sunset at Keys View.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).Which entrance to Joshua Tree is the best? ›
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.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.
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.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 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 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.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.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.
|Per vehicle||Per person|
|(June 1) 2018||$30||$15|
The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is March to May and October to November. Though the park is open year-round, temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average high of about 85 degrees. It's worth noting that temperatures vary depending on where you are in the park.How long should a beginner hike be? ›
If you're just starting out, pick a hike under 5 miles with minimal climbing. If you want to do a longer hike, make a training plan in advance. Do an extra mile or two each week and build up to your target distance. Don't forget to look at the total climbing on your hike.Is the Delicate Arch trail hard? ›
To get to Delicate Arch, it is a 3-mile round trip hike with 480 feet of elevation gain. This hike, plus time to view the arch, takes most people 2 to 3 hours. The National Park Service describes this hike as difficult.What is the easiest thru hike? ›
- 1) Foothills Trail, South Carolina. 76 miles. Average Elevation ~1,000 feet. ...
- 2) Florida Trail, Florida. 1,500 miles. Average Elevation ~500 feet. ...
- 3) Greenstone Ridge Trail, Michigan. 41 miles. Average Elevation ~1,000 feet. ...
- 4) Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail, New Hampshire. 48 miles.
Enjoy 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.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.Where is the best place to see the Milky Way in Joshua Tree? ›
The east side of the park is best for stargazing. There is very little light pollution there, since the closest major city to the east—Phoenix, Arizona—is about 300 miles away.Is hiking in Joshua Tree hard? ›
These hikes are listed by difficulty.
In fact, nine of them are easy hikes that are less than 2.5 miles. And all but 1 of these hikes is 6 miles or less. That makes Joshua Tree National Park a great hiking destination for families, those who are new to hiking, and people of all ages and ability levels.
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.
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 does it take to drive Arches scenic 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. If you are planning to hike in Arches, you'll need more time.Does it cost money to hike in Joshua Tree? ›
Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass - $55.00
It covers the entrance fee to Joshua Tree National Park for the pass signee and accompanying passengers entering in a single, non-commercial vehicle. Joshua Tree Annual Passes are available at park entrance stations and visitor centers.
Generator use is only permitted 7–9 am, noon–2 pm, and 5–7 pm.What time can you see the stars in Joshua Tree? ›
The best time to stargaze is around the time of the new moon. This way, the light of the moon doesn't compete as much with the stars. But if you're looking for a special treat, you can get a fantastic look at the Milky Way in the summer at Joshua Tree National Park, California!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.Can you do Joshua Tree in a few hours? ›
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.Are there a lot of snakes in Joshua tree? ›
Yes, there are snakes at Joshua Tree, and the venomous creatures you may encounter in Joshua Tree National Park include rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders. In fact, there are seven types of rattlesnakes and 26 different types of snakes that can be found in or near the park.Are there cougars in Joshua tree? ›
Otherwise known as cougars or pumas, mountain lions have long been a part of the natural landscape of this area. They are incredibly solitary animals that avoid humans and interact with one another solely during mating season or when females raise their cubs.Are there bears in Joshua Tree National Park? ›
Joshua Tree: a rocky, alien, carefree, bear-free national park.
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.What is unusual about Joshua Tree? ›
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 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.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.Are there scorpions in Joshua Tree? ›
Joshua Tree's arthropods include the beautiful salmon-colored fairy shrimp (Branchinecta), the five-inch giant desert scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis), and more than 75 species of butterflies. There are even more kinds of moths than butterflies.Are there mosquitoes in Joshua Tree? ›
Mosquitos are most active at dawn and dusk, the prime times for exploring Joshua Tree National Park in the summer. Long sleeves, a bandana, and pants are great anti-bug gear.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.
Joshua Tree doesn't have any backcountry campgrounds, per se, but they have almost unlimited backpacking opportunities. Generally, you can camp anywhere in the backcountry so long as you're more than one mile from a road, 500 feet from water and trails, and not in a day-use-only area.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.How long is Keys View hike Joshua Tree? ›
2-mile-loop trail up the ridge for especially nice views. Look for the shining surface of the Salton Sea, which is 230 feet below sea level, on the far left.
- Grand Canyon National Park. There's nowhere else on earth like the Grand Canyon, and Grand Canyon National Park is the heart of this 277-mile long geological phenomenon. ...
- The Alps. ...
- Colorado Rockies. ...
- Peru. ...
- Washington State. ...
- Nepal. ...
- Yosemite National Park. ...
According to users from AllTrails.com, the best place to hike in Garden of the Gods is Palmer, Buckskin-Charley, Niobrara, and Bretag Trail Loop, which has a 4.6 star rating from 2,972 reviews.What is the hardest hike in Joshua Tree? ›
Ryan Mountain is the toughest hike in the park. And it's also the best. The view on the top makes it all worth it.What is the golden rule of hiking? ›
The best thing you can do when hiking is to remember the “golden rule”: treat others the way you would want to be treated. Here are some main points of hiking etiquette. Hikers coming uphill have the right of way. If you're descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.Is it better to hike in jeans or leggings? ›
Although it may seem counterintuitive, leggings that offer a snugger, more secure fit are often more comfortable when you're hiking. Although the zippers and pouches aren't normally as big as they are in regular pants, there are still plenty of hiking leggings that offer pockets.What is the deadliest hike in the US? ›
America's deadliest hike is Mount Ranier in Washington State. It has claimed over 400 deaths. Anything but a “walk in the park,” Mount Ranier features extreme and fast weather changes, avalanches, falling rocks, and an unpredictable volcano. Hypothermia is common, along with broken bones, drowning, and heat stroke.What are the 3 types of hikes? ›
Though it is up to each individual hiker to categorize their adventure as they choose, I have observed that the vast majority of hikers conform to one of the 3 most popular styles of hiking; peak-bagging, long distance hiking, and day hiking.Can you just drive through Garden of the Gods? ›
Yes, you can drive through the Garden of the Gods and there are several parking areas. There is no charge to visit the Garden. It is a great place to visit!Is Garden of the Gods hard to walk? ›
Check out this 0.5-mile loop trail near Karbers Ridge, Illinois. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 11 min to complete. This is a very popular area for birding, camping, and walking, so you'll likely encounter other people while exploring.