There are few places more beautiful in this world than Joshua Tree National Park. Located in Southern California just hours from Los Angeles and San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park consists of beautiful preserved desert land with amazing rock formations, beautiful hikes and, of course, the famed “Joshua Tree”.
We recommend that you visit this park while you can, because the Joshua Tree is actually going extinct. It is expected to be reduced by 90% of its population by the end of the 21st century.
Since Joshua Tree National Park is a desert park, it is best to visit in the winter months when it is cooler and easier to hike. During the summer months, it can get as hot as 100°F–not exactly ideal hiking weather. It’s also best to plan to spend at least 2 days at the park since there is so much to see and do.
While most people come to Joshua Tree National Park to spend time in the park itself, there is also a ton of great things to do just outside the park in neighboring town “Twentynine Palms.” We’ve included a few of those things in our list as well.
What To Do Inside The Park
1. Stop in at the Oasis Visitor Center
The Oasis Visitor Center is right on your way into the park if you are entering from the Twentynine Palms like most people do. It’s a great spot to stop if you want to get additional information on the park before you enter. It’s also one of the last spots that you are likely to have cell service before you enter the park.
There are a few trails to explore behind the visitor center if you feel like stretching your legs. There’s also a cute gift shop if you want to purchase any trip mementos.
2. Arch Rock Nature Trail
Arch Rock Nature Trail is hiking trail that leads out to the famed Arch Rock formation. It’s only 0.5 miles round trip, and very doable for less experienced hikers. Along the hike, there are a ton of massive rock formations that you can climb for scenic views of your surroundings.
The trail picks up from the White Tank camping ground, where there is plenty of parking. The Arch Rock itself is absolutely gorgeous, so you may have to wait for a picture if you go on a busier day. If you keep hiking past the arch, there is also a really cool slot canyon that we discovered.
3. Cholla Cactus Garden
The Cholla Cactus Garden looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss novel! It was probably my favorite stop out of everywhere in Joshua Tree National Park. Everywhere you look, there are these adorable looking little cactuses sprouting out of the ground. The mountains in the distance make this area picture perfect.
The trail itself is about a quarter of a mile, and it just loops through the cactuses for visitors to snap pictures and stroll around. Keep in mind that these cactuses are actually hazardous! They are nicknamed “jumping cactus,” because they will attach themselves to you if you get too close. So remember to keep your distance!
4. Split Rock Picnic Area
Split Rock Picnic Area is the perfect scenic spot to eat your lunch. There are a few picnic tables located at the base of Split Rock Loop Trail that are great to eat at. There are also some flat rocks next to the parking area that you can eat at if you bring a picnic blanket.
5. Split Rock Loop Trail
Split Rock Loop Trail is a 1.9 mile loop trail that picks up right from the Split Rock Picnic Area. It’s a gorgeous hike that offers scenic views of the surrounding desert and rock formations, including its namesake, the split rock. We actually saw multiple split rocks along the hike. They are some of the coolest rock formations that we saw throughout the park.
6. Skull Rock
Skull Rock has become a famous fixture of Joshua Tree National Park. This enormous rock formation resembles a human skull, with two eye sockets and a slightly deformed nose. Located right off Park Blvd, the top of Skull Rock is actually visible from the road, making it an easy stop during your time in Joshua Tree.
The rock itself is pretty huge, as you can see by Jack standing fully upright in one of its eye sockets! It’s pretty easy to climb up into the skull to take a picture, or you can stand on the ground in the nose of the skull.
7. Off-roading on Geology Tour Road
While you technically need 4-wheel drive to go off-roading in Joshua Tree National Park, the roads aren’t too bad so you would probably be able to get away without it. Off-roading is a great way to escape from the sun while enjoying the beautiful scenery. We enjoyed driving around on Geology Tour Rd, which had beautiful views of the surrounding desert and mountains.
8. Desert Queen Mine Overlook
Desert Queen Mine was a mine that was operated from the 1890’s through the 1960’s. There is a short trail (about 0.5 miles) that leads you to a beautiful overlook where you can see the old mine shafts below, the surrounding deserts, and a dried up river bed.
It’s worth it to do this short hike even if you don’t hike down to the mine itself, just because you get panoramic view of the surroundings.
9. Desert Queen Mine Shafts
If you’re feeling up for it, you can hike downhill to the old Desert Queen Mine Shafts. It’s about another half mile hike down to the mine shafts, but its a gorgeous hike and you actually pass by the dilapidated structure of an old stone home.
The mine shafts themselves are covered up, but you can still peer through the grates and see the dark creepy tunnels that miners created looking for gold. You can also see that some people have dug underneath the grates and entered the mine. Sounds pretty scary and dangerous to me!
10. Stop By The Informational Signs for a Dose of Local History
Joshua Tree National Park has a very rich history. While it can be tempting to pass up reading the signs detailing the park’s history, we recommend you stop and read at least a few to get some perspective on the park’s background.
At the sign pictured above, we read about a wildfire that took places years ago. The wildlife is still recovering to this day, and it helped us understand the the danger this park is exposed to because it is so dry and gets very little rainfall.
11. Keys View Overlook
At 5,500 feet in elevation, Keys View Overlook offers the best view of the surrounding mountains and landscape in the entire park. In the distance, you can see Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Gorgonio, Salton Sea, and, on a really clear day, even Mexico!
There’s plenty of parking, and it’s just a short walk up the sidewalk to the overlook. We recommend bringing a picnic blanket so you can relax, put your feet up and enjoy the stunning surrounding views.
12. Camping Overnight
While we didn’t spend the night camping while in the park, we saw multiple camp sites with great spots to spend the night. A few of the most popular camp sites include White Tank, Jumbo Rocks, Sheep Pass, and Belle. Just keep in mind that it can get pretty cold in the desert at night.
Outside The Park
Once you leave the park, the neighboring town is called Twentynine Palms. Located just minutes from the park entrance, here are a few of the things we did once we left the park:
13. Eat Dinner at The Rib Co.
After spending the entire day hiking in the hot sun at Joshua Tree National Park, there is nothing better than a hearty meal to recharge your energy. We decided to go for barbecue, and ate a restaurant called The Rib Co. The food was great, and it really hit the spot after a long day in the sun.
14. Smith’s Ranch Drive-In
Thought Drive-Ins were a thing of the past? Guess again! Smith’s Ranch Drive In in Twentynine Palms is an awesome way to relax at night outside of Joshua Tree National Park. The gates open at 7:00 PM, and the first movie showing starts at 7:30 PM.
15. Sky’s The Limit Observatory
Sky’s The Limit Observatory is one of the best ways to stargaze at Joshua Tree National Park. Located just outside the park entrance, this observatory is funded on donations and offers the public a great way to see stars and planets at night.
One the night that we went, it was far to cloudy to see anything, but the volunteers were very friendly and answered all our questions about the observatory.
16. Route 62 Diner
If you’re heading back west after your trip to Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll likely be driving along Route 62. If you leave in the morning like we did, Route 62 diner is a great place to have a hearty breakfast in retro digs.
Pioneertown is right along the way if you are heading back west after your stop in Joshua Tree National Park. Built in the 1940s by a group of Hollywood investors, Pioneertown is where many of your favorite Western movies were probably filmed.
Pioneertown has a bunch of great little shops that sell things like jewelry, accessories, and clothing. There is even a great place to eat, Pappy and Harriet’s, if you feel like stopping in for a bite to eat.
Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding areas are a beautiful and unique places to visit and explore in California. Remember to bring lots of sunscreen and water, and of course stay cognizant of the wildlife and be respectful to the nature throughout the park.
Oh, and if you’ve been to Joshua Tree National Park, drop us a comment and let us know your favorite thing to do! We always love recommendations.
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