Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California. Come explore for yourself!
The park´s premier attractions, forests of giant branching yuccas known as Joshua Trees, massive rock formations, fan palm oases, and seasonal gardens of cholla and ocotillo, can be enjoyed on a leisurely half-day auto tour that includes both desert ecosystems. Scenic paved roads lead to viewpoints, all campgrounds and trailheads. Roadside interpretive exhibits have pull-outs and parking areas, and offer insights into the region’s complex desert ecology, wildlife and human history.
How to visit Joshua Tree National Park
Getting to the park
Joshua Tree National Park is 140 miles east of Los Angeles. From I-10, take Hwy 62 to the entrance stations via Joshua Tree village or the city of Twentynine Palms. You can also enter the park from the south directly off I-10 at Cottonwood Spring, 25 miles east of Indio.
Start your tour with a visit of one of the park`s four visitor centers (Joshua Tree Visitor Center, Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms and Cottonwood Visitor Center are open daily; Black Rock Nature Center is open October through May). These are places to seek out if you have a question for a ranger, want to check out the park bookstore, or take a look at interpretive exhibits.
When you get to the park entrance, you’ll need to make a decision: Do you get a “Weekly Pass” or do you get the “Annual Inter-Agency Pass”. It’s a no brainer. Get the Annual Inter-Agency Pass. Yes, it costs more, but an Inter-Agency Pass gets you into every National Park for free for the next 12 months.
Think about the possibilities! …and, you’ll have a very good reason to come back to visit the park again soon!
- per vehicle $30
- each motorcycle $25
- per person on food or bike $15
- Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass $55/ year
- “All National Parks” Pass (Inter-Agency) $80/ year
You will find more (and updated) information about fees and passes on the official website.
Best times to visit Joshua Tree National Park
The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park depends on what you’re looking for. Want mild temperatures perfect for hiking or rock climbing? Visit in the early spring (March, April), when desert wildflowers bloom, or late fall (October, November), when soft autumn light illuminates the park. Looking to avoid the crowds and score a campsite at one of the best campgrounds? Plan a winter visit. Want to view Joshua Tree’s famously starry skies while enjoying balmy temperatures at night? Summer is best. No matter when you visit, however, the Joshua Trees and towering rock formations will be unforgettable.
Notes of cautions
- Don’t hit the trails without the adequate amount of water. With the park’s high desert setting, it will be rather scorching hot during the day. A gallon of water per person a day is the recommended minimum amount.
- The desert, as fascinating as it is, can be rather life-threatening for travelers who are unfamiliar with its potential dangers. Even if you’re only driving through the park, it’s essential that you carry water with you. Keep in mind, keys get locked inside, cars break down, and accidents happen.
- Dress in layers, wear sunscreen and take all the other necessary precautions, whenever you’re dealing with a desert environment.
- Rattlesnakes can be avoided by being extra careful when wandering around rocky areas.
- Avoid drainage areas and canyons in times with severe weather. A small amount of rain in Joshua Tree national Park may cause flash flooding.
- Bees can be present in large numbers at the Cholla Cactus Garden and Key Views. They are attracted to moisture. When visiting these areas, turn off vehicle AC 10 minutes before arriving so condensation can dry. Keep car windows closed.
What to See and Do in Joshua Tree National Park
You should not miss following sights and nature trails:
- Cap Rock Nature Trail
- Arch Rock Nature Trail
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- Keys View
- Skull Rock
- Hidden Valley
- Barker Dam
- Cottonwood Spring
Cap Rock Nature Trail
Our favorite trail was a 0.4 mile loop, starting at the Cap Rock parking area (at the junction of Park Blvd. and Keys View Road). Features: boulder piles, Joshua trees and other plants of the Mojave desert.
Arch Rock Nature Trail
You will find another great trail at White Tank Campground, opposite site 9.
A 0.5-mile loop leads you to a natural arch.
Cholla Cactus Garden
This “garden” is dominated by jumping cholla, named for its tendency to attach itself to the unwary. Guide brochures available at trailhead (an easy 0.25-mile loop).
Highest viewpoint in Joshua Tree National Park! From an evalation of more than 5,000 feet, you can overlook a stunning expanse of valley, mountain and desert. Look for the San Andreas Fault in the valley below.
It is really easy to visit this popular spot: after parking at nearby lot, a short paved walk takes you to the top of the hill for some spectacular views.
Located along the main east-west park road, Skull Rock is a favorite stop for park visitors. A parking spot is located just across the road from the rock.
For those wishing to stretch their legs, a 1.7-mile nature trail begins either just across from the entrance to Jumbo Rocks Campground or inside the campground, across from the amphitheater.
A 1-mile loop trail starts in the picnic area and winds among massive boulders through this legendary cattle rusters’ hideout.
Built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining use, the dam today forms a small rain-fed reservoir used by park wildlife (esp. Bighorn sheeps). 1-mile loop trail.
Cottonwood Spring, located seven miles inside the South Entrance, lies in the Colorado Desert. There is fascinating cultural history associated with the Cottonwood Spring Oasis, as well as great opportunities for birding and hiking.
Where to sleep?
You won´t find any hotel within the park, but there are quite a few lodging options in the towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. We can recommend following hotels.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Twentynine Palms
This typical chain hotel is located in Twentynine Palms, just a couple of miles from the park visitor center and entrance. We stayed here for 2 nights which were very pleasant. We liked the cleanliness of the hotel and our comfortable room (we had a King Bed Executive on first floor, back side). Breakfast was included (but nothing special), WiFi was free and worked well and there were plenty of parking spaces. Overall, this place is a good choice in the area.
Harmony Motel, Twentynine Palms
We stayed in this Motel in Summer 2007. Very charming and special. A nice change from the chain hotels and more familar! Founded in 1952 this refuge offers a simple rustic elegance and a great deal of history (including the rock band U2 who stayed here when working on the Joshua Tree album).
Where to drink and eat?
While there’s no store or restaurant in Joshua Tree National Park, there are plenty of choices available along Hwy 62 – north of the national park, as well as along the renowned I-10. Plus, Joshua Tree Village boasts an array of restaurants and cafes as well, with several vegetarian and vegan options. On Saturdays, Joshua Tree Village hosts a farmer’s market.
Water, meanwhile, is available from some campgrounds as well as all visitor centers. Likewise, the Oasis Visitor Center offers beverages. You may also head to nearby towns like Twentynine Palms, if you are looking for additional refreshment options.
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