Palm Springs to Joshua Tree: How to Make the Most Out of Your Trip (2023)

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How to travel from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park and all the cool places to see along the way and in the park for a day.

Joshua Tree National Park is where two surreal desert ecosystems come together, the Mojave and Colorado.

It’s an easy hour-long drive from Palm Springs, California, and a fun national park to explore unique desert landscapes that will make you feel like you’re on another planet.

The road from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree has a handful of fun stops worth exploring along the way.

I also urge you to do one very important thing as you take the road to Joshua Tree, you MUST blast U2’s namesake album to get yourself in the mood and sing along with Bono under that desert sky!

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Table of Contents

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.

Fun Fact: Joshua Tree is the closest national park to Palm Springs, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

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How to Get to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs

Driving is the absolute easiest way to get to Joshua Tree National Park.

And luckily, Joshua Tree is very easy to navigate. There are three main entrances into the park and two main roads to keep things simple.

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.

Three Joshua Tree Entrances (with three visitor centers for each one)

  • Joshua Tree (West) – This is the main entrance and the one you will want to use if you’re coming from Palm Springs.
  • Twentynine Palms (North)
  • Cottonwood (South)

Two Main Roads in the Park

  • Park Boulevard – This runs from the park entrance near the town of Joshua Tree to the entrance near Twentynine Palms.
  • Pinto Basin Road – This connects to Park Boulevard in the North and runs south to the entrance near Chiriaco Summit.

And one of the best parts about Joshua Tree is the number of easy roadside pull-outs to park and that give you easy access to rock formations and hiking trails.

Driving Tip: Do NOT rely on GPS directions to navigate to Joshua Tree National Park from Palm Springs. Many navigation systems will try to route you off-road through the backcountry which could be dangerous. Be sure to look at a map of the area before you start your road trip.

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Palm Springs to Joshua Tree Shuttle & Local Transportation

If you don’t want to rent a car or take your own, you have a few options to get to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs.

  • MBTA (Morongo Basin Transit Authority) bus 15 will take you from the Palm Springs Airport to the Yucca Trail & Airway for a $19-25 roundtrip.
  • MBTA (Morongo Basin Transit Authority) bus 12 will take you from the Palm Springs Airport to Joshua Tree or Yucca Valley for a $9-15 roundtrip.

Note: Joshua Tree National Park used to offer a free shuttle service for a short time around the main attractions in Joshua Tree. It was called the “Roadrunner Shuttle” but it stopped running in 2019 and there hasn’t been talk of resuming it yet, I believe because of funding issues.

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How to Get from Palm Springs Airport to Joshua Tree

The easiest way to travel from Palm Springs Airport to Joshua Tree National Park is by car, plain and simple. The airport will have easy access to rental cars which will be your best bet.

When you’re driving from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll follow CA-62 E (the Twentynine Palms Highway) through the Morongo and Yucca Valleys.

If you don’t want a rental, you can also look into a bus and uber/cab combo on the SunLine Transit Agency.

You can take the #2 bus from Palm Springs to Desert Hot Springs and then take an uber/cab from there to Joshua Tree. Just note that the uber/cab can get a little pricey depending on peak times.

Joshua Tree travel tip: The only places to refill your water are at the Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds, Indian Cove Ranger Station, Twentynine Palms Visitor Center, and the entrance station south of the town of Joshua tree. Plan accordingly.

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What to See on a Road Trip from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a fun stop to learn about Cabot Yerxa’s legacy of cultural respect, art, and desert habitat. If you aren’t that into history, this is still a cool stop to take a tour of the grounds and explore this Desert Hot Springs treasure.

Another stop that shouldn’t be missed, if you’ve ever dreamt of being a gunslinger in the Wild West, you must stop at Pioneertown on your way to Joshua Tree National Park.

Roy Rogers and Gene Autry created this town in 1946 to give visitors an interactive Old West experience with real saloon doors, jails, and Hollywood gunfights.

Looking to add a little kick of caffeine to your road trip? Move over Starbucks there is a desert coffee in town – the Joshua Tree Coffee Company.

Organic farming and roasting their tasty coffee beans in the extreme heat of the Mojave Desert make the Joshua Tree Coffee Company roast blend a tasty treat for any coffee lover.

Lastly, the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum is a free open-air desert museum full of eclectic and folksy offbeat art.

Noah Purifoy spent the last 15 years of his life creating 10 acres of large-scale one-of-a-kind sculptures constructed entirely of junked material. Check out this gem that is just north of Joshua Tree.

Looking to extend your road trip? Read our guide to planning an epic California national parks road trip.

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What to do for the Day Once You Arrive at Joshua Tree

NORTH OR SOUTH

The northern section of Joshua Tree National Park varies quite a bit from the south, mostly because of the difference in elevation. This is what you can expect from north vs south Joshua Tree:

  • The northern section of the park is in the Mojave Desert (high desert) and includes popular hikes, massive rock piles, and famous Joshua Trees that dot the entire landscape.
  • The southern section is in the Colorado Desert (low desert) which is a much flatter barren landscape and the Joshua Trees give way to Ocotillo fields and Cholla Cacti.

You’ll want to consider this as you plan your route for the day and what you want to see.

Also, it’s good to consider the heat of the day and the lack of shade in the south desert coupled with the time of day you want to do more hiking.

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RECOMMENDED JOSHUA TREE ATTRACTIONS

Take a Picture of Skull Rock & Arch Rock

Pull into the Skull Rock parking area right off the side of Park Boulevard to find the Discovery Trail.

This easy loop is about 0.7 miles long and will take about 30-45 minutes to complete. As the name says, it also features a rock that looks like a skull and makes for some cool photographs.

If you don’t want to do the hike, you can also just snap some pics of Skull Rock from the road.

Not far from Skull Rock, you’ll find the 1.2-mile Arch Rock Nature Trail that takes you out and back to the famous Arch Rock.

Plan some extra time to hike through the boulder piles and desert washes and take some fantastic Instagram shots of both Arch Rock and Heart Rock along this trail.

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Walk through the Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden should be at the top of your must-see list if you’re visiting Joshua Tree National Park.

This epic garden is about 20 miles north of the Cottonwood Visitor Center and is a perfect family-friendly 0.25-mile loop that will only take about 15-30 minutes to walk through.

These unique Cholla Cacti are what you typically picture when you think of the Joshua Tree landscape.

The Cholla Cactus Garden makes for a fun walk and is a superb place to catch the sunrise as you’re surrounded by thousands of densely concentrated, naturally growing Cholla.

Be sure to stay on the trail, wear closed-toe shoes, and be aware of prickly cacti.

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Go on a Few Short Hikes

Hidden Valley Nature Trail – It will take you about 30 minutes to hike this one-mile loop. Pack a lunch and stop by the picnic area along the way while you take in the sights.

Barker Dam Trail – This 1.1-mile loop trail is a great place to explore Joshua Tree’s cultural history. You can find a water tank built by early cattle ranchers and if you’re lucky, you might even see some bighorn sheep.

Ryan Mountain Trail – This is one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park and is quite a challenge, even for the expert hiker. Ryan Mountain Trail is only three miles out and back but with a 1,050-foot elevation change as you climb to the summit of Ryan Mountain. This hike should definitely NOT be attempted during the hottest part of the day.

If you have time for additional hikes or want to challenge yourself with something more strenuous, check this our guide to the best hikes in Joshua Tree.

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Take in the Scenery from Keys View

The breathtaking views at Keys View are a must-see and if your timing is right, it’s also a perfect place to experience a colorful postcard-worthy desert sunset.

This 0.25-mile paved loop path is super steep, but the views are worth every step when you experience the expansive views of the valley, mountain, and desert at an elevation of 5,185 feet.

You’ll be able to check out the San Andreas Fault, Mount San Jacinto, Coachella Valley, Mount San Gorgonio, and the Salton Sea to make for a memorable Joshua Tree experience.

If you can, try to stick around for the gorgeous dark sky views once the sun goes down and experience more stars than you can imagine.

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Grab Dinner at Joshua Tree Saloon on Your Way Out

After a long day of exploring stop by the Joshua Tree Saloon to enjoy some great food or a cocktail to celebrate your day.

This family-owned restaurant is the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park and has been around for over 30 years serving up some of the best Hickory Slow Smoked Baby Back Ribs in the desert.

Looking for more to do around the park? Read our guide to the best things to do in Joshua Tree.

Tours

If you want more of a guided experience in Joshua Tree National Park, Viator has some cool adventure tours that you could add to your itinerary as well.

Here are a few of the top ones that leave near Palm Springs or start within the park:

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Rosie Queen

Rosie Queen is a travel blogger and creative writer who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Since moving to Huntington Beach in 2019, she has been exploring every nook of Southern California and beyond with her adventure-seeking husband and adorable Golden Doodle, Indy. She’s obsessed with her dogs, color guard/marching band, national parks, and road trips.

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Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.

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