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Joshua Tree National Park: The Complete Guide for 2023

Nicole Jordan

California, USA

Rugged mountains, giant boulders, desert wildlife, and the famous Joshua Tree yucca plants span across the 800,000-acre landscape protected as Joshua Tree National Park. Go hiking, rock climbing, birding, stargazing, or horseback riding to explore the tranquil environment in this Southern California national park. Gaze at impressive panoramic vistas, learn about California’s mining history, explore native culture, or take a scenic drive; there are plenty of ways for all visitors to explore Joshua Tree. In this Guide to Joshua Tree National Park, we cover everything you need to know before you go to this magical desert.

2023 Guide to Joshua Tree National Park

Where is Joshua Tree National Park?

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California where the Mojave Desert, Colorado Desert, and San Bernardino Mountains meet. Without traffic, it’s about 2 hours east of Los Angeles and 3 hours northeast of San Diego. If you are planning a trip to Las Vegas, Joshua Tree is only a 3 hour drive south of Las Vegas and makes a great add-on.

Planning a road trip to see every national park in California? Don’t forget to check out the otherworldly Death Valley National Park, which is about 4 hours north, or Channel Islands National Park, a 3 hour drive (plus a tiny boat ride) west. If you’re up for a big trip, cruise north to California’s most iconic national parks: Yosemite National Park (7.5 hours north) and Redwood National and State Parks (12 hours north).

Joshua Tree Facts

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park is a captivating destination that will leave you in awe. With its stunning landscapes, unique flora and fauna, and intriguing geological formations, this place is an absolute gem for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. Here are some fun facts about one of the most popular national parks in California:

  • The park’s namesake tree, a Joshua Tree, is actually not a tree; it’s the largest plant of the yucca family and grows 30-45 feet high.
  • There are three unique ecosystems in the park. The Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet the San Bernardino Mountains in Joshua Tree. These three different ecosystems are visible through the varying flora and fauna.
  • Humans have inhabited the area for over 5,000 years. The Pinto Culture were the first known inhabitants distinguished by the “pinto points” used for hunting, cutting, and scraping. They lived here when the environment was much cooler and wetter.
  • Native Americans of the Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, and Serrano tribes succeeded the Pinto Culture, but there is little evidence that links these groups.
  • While Joshua Tree was named a national monument in 1936 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it wasn’t until 1994 that Joshua Tree acquired its official US national park status.
  • Joshua Tree is home to 57 mammal species, 46 reptile species, over 250 species of birds, and a variety of amphibians and invertebrates.

Joshua Tree National Park Weather

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The weather in Joshua Tree National Park showcases the true essence of the desert environment. Known for its arid climate, the park experiences hot and dry summers, with temperatures soaring above 100°F (38°C). Winters bring cooler temperatures, with daytime highs ranging from 50°F to 70°F (10°C to 21°C), and occasional nighttime frost. Spring and fall offer more moderate conditions, making them popular seasons to visit, which also brings the crowds. However, the weather is great for hiking and exploring. It’s important to note that temperatures can still fluctuate significantly during these transitional periods. The park is also prone to strong winds, especially during the spring months. It’s essential for visitors to stay prepared with appropriate clothing, sun protection, and plenty of water to stay comfortable while exploring this beautiful desert landscape.

Joshua Tree National Park Hours

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park is open year-round, providing visitors with ample opportunities to explore its remarkable landscapes. The park does not have specific operating hours, allowing for access 24 hours a day. This flexibility allows visitors to witness breathtaking sunrises, marvel at the stunning desert sunset, or even embark on nighttime stargazing adventures. However, it’s important to note that some facilities, such as visitor centers and campgrounds, may have their own operating hours and seasonal closures. The Joshua Tree Visitor Centers generally open at 8 or 9 and close between 3 to 5. It’s recommended to check National Park Service’s (NPS) website for Joshua Tree National Park or contact the visitor center in advance to obtain up-to-date information regarding any restrictions or closures during your planned visit.

Joshua Tree National Park Entrance Fees

Joshua Tree National Park, California

To access the wonders of Joshua Tree National Park, visitors are required to pay an entrance fee. The fee for a private vehicle is $30 for a 7-day pass. For those arriving on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle, the fee is $15 per person. An annual pass to Joshua Tree National Park costs $55, providing unlimited entry for the pass holder and passengers in a private vehicle. It’s important to note that these fees are subject to change, so it’s advisable to check the official National Park Service website to get the most up-to-date information on entrance fees before planning your visit. Additionally, certain passes, such as the America the Beautiful National Parks (can be purchased for $80 at the Joshua Tree Visitors Center or online) and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, can be used for entry to Joshua Tree National Park, offering a cost-effective option for frequent visitors to national parks across the United States.

Directions from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Los Angeles is the closest large city to Joshua Tree. Without traffic, it’s about a two-hour drive or 130 miles from the city to the park. From LA, head east on CA-60 for about 100 miles. Take exit 117 and continue on CA-62 E/29 Palms Highway for 27 miles until you end up in the town of Joshua Tree. From there, turn right onto Quail Springs Road that will take you to the park entrance.

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park offers an unforgettable experience amidst its unique desert landscapes. With over 250 miles of hiking trails, visitors can explore a variety of terrains, from the iconic Joshua Tree forests to rugged mountains and hidden oases. The park offers trails of varying difficulty levels, catering to both novice hikers and experienced adventurers. Along the trails, hikers can marvel at the park’s fascinating rock formations, encounter desert wildlife, and witness stunning panoramic vistas that showcase the park’s natural beauty. Whether you’re seeking a short stroll or a challenging trek, Joshua Tree National Park provides a captivating hiking experience for all nature enthusiasts. Here’s a list of 15 of our favorite hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park.

Easy hikes in Joshua Tree, ideal for families

Whether you have small kids in tow or are just looking for a leisurely stroll, there are many options for beginner hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, all accessible from the main roads. From the famous Skull Rock to the Cholla Cactus Garden, many of these family-friendly hikes are less than a mile loop and take you along some of Joshua Trees most famous sights. For a complete list of beginner and family friendly hikes, see: Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.

Moderate hikes in Joshua Tree, fairly strenuous

If you are a bit more adventurous, there are plenty of options for beautiful hikes that take you past some of Joshua Tree’s most scenic spots. Spanning approximately 6.5 miles, the Black Canyon Trail offers a journey through canyons, washes, and desert landscapes. With a moderate level of difficulty, it presents a rewarding challenge without being overly strenuous. The Split Rock Loop is a 2.5-mile loop trail takes you through a scenic desert landscape, passing by iconic Split Rock and offering panoramic views of the surrounding Joshua Tree wilderness. The Wall Street Mill Trail in Joshua Tree National Park offers a captivating moderate hike that combines natural beauty with a glimpse into the park’s historical past. The Lost Horse Mine Trail in Joshua Tree National Park offers a moderate hike that leads to a historic mine site, providing both scenic vistas and insights into the park’s mining history. And finally, the Mastodon Peak in leads hikers to a unique rock formation resembling a mastodon, offering both a satisfying challenge and stunning desert views.

Difficult hikes in Joshua Tree, experience recommended:

And finally, for the real adventure seekers, Joshua Tree National Park offers many challenging ascents with epic panoramic views of the vast desert landscape. The Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park is a challenging, advanced hike with breathtaking views from the park’s highest point. The Black Canyon Trail to Warren Peak Trail combines rugged terrain, steep ascents, and stunning vistas, offering a thrilling challenge for experienced hikers. The Joshua Tree Boy Scout Trail stands out among advanced hikes in Joshua Tree National Park due to its historical significance, as it was originally used by the Boy Scouts of America during their annual desert training expeditions. It is a great option for an endurance hike, stretching 8 miles each way. The Lost Horse Mine Loop is a rugged 6.5 miles and provides a glimpse into the park’s rich mining history with remnants of the Lost Horse Mine. And finally, the 49 Palms Oasis Trail offers a striking contrast to the arid desert surroundings, taking you past a hidden oasis of lush palms.

Lodging Near Joshua Tree National Park

Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Camping Near Joshua Tree

Camping at Joshua Tree National Park is a truly magical experience that immerses you in the stunning desert landscapes of Southern California. Set up your tent under a star-filled sky and wake up to the soft hues of a desert sunrise. The park offers a variety of campgrounds, each with its own charm and amenities, allowing you to tailor your camping experience to your preferences. Whether you opt for a developed campground with facilities or venture into the backcountry for a more rugged experience, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the park’s iconic Joshua trees, fascinating rock formations, and a wealth of diverse plant and animal life. Ready to plan a night under the stars? Check out this list of the best campgrounds near Joshua Tree National Park.

Hotels Near Joshua Tree National Park

If camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other options for comfortable stays near Joshua Tree National Park – from budget to luxury. Hotels near Joshua Tree National Park are varied and often one-of-a-kind – like Hicksville Trailer Palace, featuring luxury “trailers” each uniquely designed. Another fun option is the Pioneertown Motel – a boutique hotel adjacent to a movie set straight out of the Wild West.

Tours of Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, California

There are a variety of tour options throughout Joshua Tree National Park. From Los Angeles, hop on a day trip to Joshua Tree to enjoy the park highlights. If you’re already in town and looking for an adventure tour, sign up for a local jeep tour, meditation tour, or audio tour. Many adventure guiding companies also offer guided rock climbing trips.

17 of the Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

From awe-inspiring hikes to stargazing under the vast desert sky, Joshua Tree National Park boasts a myriad of activities that showcase the unique wonders of the desert. Here are the top things to do in awe inspiring Joshua Tree National Park.

Hike up Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Gaining just over 1,000 feet in elevation, Ryan Mountain hikers are rewarded with sweeping vistas of the Joshua Tree desert floor and the rugged mountains in the distance. From the 5,456-foot summit, you’ll have impressive views of Mount San Jacinto and the San Bernardino Mountains.

Explore the Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

There is a reason the Cholla Cactus Garden is considered one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park (Don’t believe us? Just ask Instagram). Visiting the Cholla Cactus Garden is like stepping into an otherworldly realm. Known as the “teddy bear cactus” for their soft, fluffy appearance, the cholla cacti actually have soft spins that are known to “jump” if brushed up against, also giving them the name “jumping cactus.” Wander through the Cholla Cactus Garden loop to enjoy spectacular sites of these unique cacti with the mountains in the distance.

Check out the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

See the best of Joshua Tree along the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. Suitable for all visitors, hike or scramble over rocks and read the park information signs; you’ll learn about park history, culture, and flora and fauna.

Take a Scenic Drive up to Keys View

Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park, California. Lyonstock /

For picturesque views of the desert floor, wind your way up to Joshua Tree’s Keys View. On a clear day, you’ll see the surrounding rugged mountains and sometimes as far as the Salton Sea. Check out this spot at sunrise or sunset for an even more impressive site.

Visit Skull Rock

Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Skull Rock is one of the most iconic boulders and popular things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s very easily accessible from the main road or right off of the Discovery Trail. It leads hikers to an eroding granite rock with two carved-out eye sockets, looking very similar to a skull.

Go Rock Climbing near Hidden Valley Campground in Joshua Tree

Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Joshua Tree is known as a world-class rock climbing location, filled with thousands of traditional and sport rock climbing routes, as well as thousands of bouldering problems of all levels. It has become a climbing mecca for climbers of all levels. While the whole park is covered in routes, Hidden Valley Campground in Joshua Tree has a variety of famous climbs of varying grades.

Go Horseback Riding at Knob Hill Ranch

Knob Hill Ranch, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Joshua Tree has 253 miles of equestrian trails in the park where you can ride your horse through deep canyons, washes, and open desert land. It’s important to stay on designated trails, so it helps to go with a company or ranch like Knob Hill.

Hike out to Joshua Tree’s Arch Rock

Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Arch Rock in Joshua Tree is another one of the most iconic rock formations in the park. The short trail starts right off of the road and takes hikers on an easy walk to a 30-foot tall granite arch. It’s a popular destination for both hikers and photographers.

Go stargazing off of Pinto Basin Road

Pinto Basin Road, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Joshua Tree is known as one of the best spots in Southern California for its stargazing. The west side of the park gets some light pollution from the surrounding towns, so head to the east side of the park and pull off anywhere along Pinto Basin Road for some of the best views of the night sky and Milky Way.

Visit the Cottonwood Spring Oasis

Cottonwood Spring Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

The Cottonwood Spring Oasis is a special part of Joshua Tree National Park. A natural spring feeds water to an oasis of native fan palms. It’s one of the greenest areas throughout Joshua Tree and offers impressive views of this under-visited area.

Get a little lost at Lost Horse Mine

Lost Horse Mine, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Lost Horse Mine is one of the many mines in Joshua Tree that boomed during California’s Gold Rush. Hike through this mine and learn about where 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver were mined during the late 1800s to early 1900s.

Go birding at Barker Dam Nature Trail

Barker Dam, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Joshua Tree is home to a variety of unique desert birds and Barker Dam is one of the best spots in the park to spot them. Roadrunners, cactus wrens, rock wrens, mockingbirds, and verdins are a few popular ones you can spot year-round. 

Stop by a Joshua Tree Visitor Center

Joshua Tree Visitor Center, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

The Joshua Tree Park Visitor Centers offer a variety of interesting information about park history, culture, wildlife, and more. Join a ranger-led program to learn more about the park through guided walks, hikes, campfires, or tours.

Find food and nightlife in Joshua Tree Town

Joshua Tree, California.

The town of Joshua Tree, located just a few miles outside of the park’s west entrance, is a quaint town filled with shops, lodging, restaurants, and cafes. It’s a great spot to chill out and explore for a day or evening with its unique culture and appearance.

Take a tour at Keys Ranch

Keys Ranch, Joshua Tree, California.

The Keys Ranch, also known as the Desert Queen Ranch, is a fascinating historical site nestled within Joshua Tree National Park. This well-preserved homestead offers visitors a glimpse into the rugged pioneer life of the early 20th century. Once home to the Keys family, who settled in the area in the early 1900s, the ranch showcases their remarkable story of survival and determination in the harsh desert environment. Exploring the ranch, you’ll encounter a variety of original structures, including the family home, schoolhouse, and workshop, giving insight into the daily lives and challenges faced by the Keys family. Guided tours provide an in depth journey into the ranch’s history and the adaptations made by the family to thrive in this remote desert. The site is now considered a National Historic Registered Site.

Transport yourself back to the wild west

Western building in Pioneertown near Joshua Tree National Park

Pioneertown, located about 5 miles from Joshua Tree National Park, was originally built in the 1940s as a movie set. This unique town offers visitors a step back in time with its rustic buildings and Western-themed dirt roads. Strolling through the streets feels like being transported to a bygone era, with wooden facades, saloons, and storefronts that harken back to the days of cowboys and outlaws. Today, Pioneertown is not only a popular tourist destination but also a vibrant community with art galleries, shops, and even a functioning Old West-style hotel and restaurant. Whether you’re exploring the historic structures, enjoying live music at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, or simply taking in the authentic Western ambiance, Pioneertown is a must-visit destination for nostalgic fun with plenty of great photo opps.

Let loose at Joshua Tree Festival

Joshua Tree Festival, Joshua Tree, California

Camp, relax, and get groovy at the annual Joshua Tree Festival. This famous fall festival takes place on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park and has been held every October since 2003. Highlights include live music, yoga, art, organic food, a world market, and of course, camping.

Joshua Tree National Park FAQs

Still have burning questions about this otherworldly national park in California? We got you.

How many entrances does Joshua Tree National Park have? Which one is best?

Joshua Tree National Park has 3 park entrances. The West Entrance Station into Joshua Tree is located off of Park Boulevard near the town of Joshua Tree. It’s the most popular park entrance.

The North Entrance Station is located in the town of Twentynine Palms. It is the second most popular entrance and a great entrance option if you’re traveling during the high season, especially on weekends.

The South Entrance Station is located near Cottonwood Spring. It is the least popular and most remote entrance station in Joshua Tree National Park but convenient if you are arriving at the park from the south.

How many visitor centers are in Joshua Tree National Park? Which one is best?

Joshua Tree National Park has 3 visitors centers, all offering local information, maps and desert souvenirs. Joshua Tree Visitor Center (Oasis Visitor Center) is located near the town of Joshua Tree and is the main visitor center for the park. It provides a wealth of information about the park’s natural and cultural history, maps, exhibits, and a bookstore.

Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center (Joshua Tree Village Visitor Center) is situated in the village of Joshua Tree and offers similar amenities to the main visitor center, including park information, maps, and exhibits.

And last, Cottonwood Visitor Center is at the southern entrance of the park, near the Cottonwood Spring Oasis. This visitor center offers information specific to the southern areas of Joshua Tree National Park.

What’s the closest airport to Joshua Tree National Park?

Palm Springs International Airport is the closest airport to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s about 50 minutes west of both the West and South entrances of Joshua Tree National Park.

Los Angeles International Airport is the second closest airport option about 2.5 hours away from the park. It is often the cheapest airport to fly into but if there’s traffic leaving Los Angeles the drive can take much longer.

The Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas is about 3 hours northeast of Joshua Tree if you’re planning on road tripping from the east.

What are the best glamping sites near Joshua Tree National Park?

For a more unique way to experience the beauty of the desert while visiting Joshua Tree National Park, glamping is a great option! Joshua Tree Acres offers a variety of charming accommodations, including vintage airstreams, yurts, and stylish cabins. For an upscale glamping experience, check out Under Canvas Joshua Tree, where you can stay in luxurious tents with cozy beds, private bathrooms, and breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes.

For a more quirky and eclectic glamping experience, Hicksville Trailer Palace is a one-of-a-kind experience. This site features themed vintage trailers and renovated airstreams, offering a fun and unique desert escape. Alternatively, for a serene and peaceful stay, consider Sacred Sands, which provides upscale adobe-style casitas in the high desert. And while not exactly glamping, The Joshua Tree House is a stunning vacation rental with bohemian-inspired design, offering a luxurious and immersive desert experience.

What are the best hotels near Joshua Tree National Park?

Is Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park worth it?

Absolutely, Skull Rock is definitely worth a visit when exploring Joshua Tree National Park. This unique rock formation is one of the most iconic landmarks in the park with its striking resemblance to a human skull, carved over centuries by wind and water erosion and easily accessible. It’s a great spot for photos and the surrounding area offers some short hiking trails.

What’s the best time of year to visit Joshua Tree National Park?

The best time for you to visit Joshua Tree National Park is during the fall and spring, which is from October to April. It’s not too hot during the day, and the evenings are cooler, so you can enjoy outdoor activities comfortably. In the fall, you’ll see the Joshua trees and other plants in beautiful autumn colors. And in the spring, the park is filled with colorful wildflowers. Plus, there are fewer people visiting during these times, so you can have a more peaceful and amazing experience exploring the park’s stunning nature.

What are the best things to do in December in Joshua Tree National Park

What are the best hikes and trails in Joshua Tree National Park?

Where are the best places for stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park?

Joshua Tree National Park is an unparalleled destination for stargazing enthusiasts. Among the park’s best places to witness the celestial spectacle is Keys View, perched atop the Little San Bernardino Mountains. From this vantage point, you can see awe-inspiring panoramas of the Coachella Valley, accentuated by a brilliant tapestry of stars above. Barker Dam is another favored spot for stargazing, offering a tranquil and reflective setting that perfectly complements the night sky’s brilliance.

What is the elevation of Joshua Tree National Park

The elevation of Joshua Tree National Park varies throughout the park, as it encompasses parts of the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. The park’s elevation ranges from approximately 900 feet (275 meters) at the lowest point in the Pinto Basin to about 5,814 feet (1,773 meters) at the highest point on Quail Mountain. The majority of the park’s visitor centers and campgrounds are situated at elevations between 3,000 and 4,000 feet (900 to 1,200 meters).