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Joshua Tree National Park: The Complete Guide for 2022

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.

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, 3 hours northeast of San Diego, and 3 hours south of Las Vegas.

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
  • 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

Joshua Tree National Park has a variety of weather conditions year-round, even with varying temperatures from the daytime and nighttime. Always check the weather before you head out and read about park conditions to prepare.

The fall, October and November, and the spring, March and April, bring the most comfortable temperatures, which also bring the most crowds. However, the weather is great for hiking and exploring. Evenings still get cold so pack warm layers.

The winter in Joshua Tree is nice, but the park temperatures sometimes drop below freezing and there is snow.

Summers in Joshua Tree, from June to September, are blisteringly hot. If you plan to visit during the summer, plan short hikes early in the day and avoid time outside. Carry a lot of water.

Hours of Operation at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park entrances are open year-round 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Joshua Tree Visitor Centers have limited hours opening at 8 or 9 and closing between 3 to 5.

Joshua Tree National Park Entrance Fees

Joshua Tree National Park, California

A 7-day entrance fee into Joshua Tree is $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, or $15 on bike or foot. An annual pass into Joshua Tree is $55 and an America the Beautiful Pass, which allows access to all US national parks, is $80 a year.

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

Joshua Tree National Park, California

If you’re ready to stretch your legs (but not sure where to start), here’s a list of 15 of our favorite hiking trails in Joshua Tree.

Easy, perfect for families

  1. Hidden Valley Nature Trail (1-mile loop, 100 ft gain)
  2. Cholla Cactus Garden Loop (¼ mile, flat)
  3. Barker Dam Nature Trail (1.3-mile loop, 60 ft gain)
  4. Skull Rock Discovery Trail (0.7 miles, 70 ft gain)
  5. Oasis of Mara Trail (0.5 miles, flat)

Moderate, fairly strenuous

  1. Black Canyon Trail (3 miles out and back, 400 ft gain)
  2. Split Rock Loop (2.5 miles, 150 ft gain)
  3. Wall Street Mill Trail (2.5 miles round trip, 80 ft gain)
  4. Lost Horse Mine Trail (4 miles round trip, 550 ft gain)
  5. Mastodon Peak (3 miles, 375 ft gain)

Difficult, experience recommended:

  1. Ryan Mountain (3 miles round trip, 1,000 ft gain)
  2. Black Canyon Trail to Warren Peak Trail (5.5 miles round trip, 1,100 ft gain)
  3. Joshua Tree Boy Scout Trail (8 miles one way, 1,200 ft gain)
  4. Lost Horse Mine Loop (6.5 miles, 550 ft gain)
  5. 49 Palm Oasis Trail (3 miles round trip, 600 ft gain)

Lodging Near Joshua Tree National Park

Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Camping Near Joshua Tree

Planning a night under the stars? Here are some of the best campgrounds and campsites inside and outside of Joshua Tree National Park.

  1. Black Rock Campground
  2. Cottonwood Campground
  3. Indian Cove Campground
  4. Jumbo Rocks Campground
  5. Ryan Campground
  6. Belle Campground
  7. Hidden Valley Campground
  8. White Tank Campground
  9. Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground
  10. Little Pioneertown RV

Hotels Near Joshua Tree

If camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of resorts, hotels, hostels, inns, cabins and B&Bs within a quick drive of Joshua Tree.

  1. Joshua Tree Inn
  2. Sacred Sands
  3. Mojave Sands Motel
  4. Sunnyvale Garden Suites
  5. Pioneertown Motel
  6. The Castle House Estate
  7. Hicksville Trailer Palace
  8. 29 Palms Inn
  9. Harmony Hotel
  10. Autocamp Joshua Tree

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.

Best Things to Do in 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.

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 / Shutterstock.com

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 in Joshua Tree is one of the most iconic boulders in the park. It’s a short hike from the 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, this is a climbing mecca in Southern California. 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.

Go on a ranger-led tour to Keys Ranch to learn the 60-year story of the Keys family. Living in the desert in a remote rock canyon from the early to mid-1900s was a different way of life. The site is now considered a National Historic Registered Site.