Joshua Tree National Park is one of the prettiest and most peaceful parks I’ve visited. It’s easy to get to, kid friendly and is a great park for a first-timer or even a solo traveler. If you are expecting only Joshua trees, get ready for much more – awesome views, giant boulders and gorgeous desert flora just to name a few of the outstanding things to see in Joshua Tree. Here’s some useful tips about visiting the park and the surrounding area, in my Joshua Tree National Park guide.
What Makes Joshua Tree So Special?
There are a lot of reasons that Joshua Tree National Park is so special and was named a national park. Here’s just a few things that make it unique.
Lots of Joshua Trees
Joshua Tree National Park gets its name from the Joshua trees in this area of southern California. The big surprise – they aren’t really trees!
Joshua trees are actually part of the the yucca family. They are special because they need just the right conditions to grow. In fact they only grow in elevations between 2000-6000 feet It’s also estimated that it takes 50-60 years for a Joshua tree to become fully grown.
Because of the care they need, it’s important that we treat them with a lot of respect. Other desert dwellers like animals and birds depend on these trees for food and even shelter in the harsh desert landscape.
Joshua trees have recently been added to California’s Endangered Species list. So, while you can admire them from afar, please don’t climb on, hang things from or cause them harm when visiting Joshua Tree National Park or anywhere that has Joshua trees.
Starry Dark Skies
In 2017, Joshua Tree National Park was designated as a Dark Sky Park, which is a big deal. Dark Sky parks are some of the darkest places in the country. Even the communities around a Dark Sky park cooperate by installing special lights that minimize glare and reduce sky glow. Sky glow is the light you see at night around and over a city and it’s that light pollution that keeps people in cities and places where there’s light from seeing the stars.
At Joshua Tree National Park, when the moon isn’t full, you can easily see the Milky Way with the naked eye. This makes it an ideal place for astrophotography. The park service even holds an annual Dark Sky Festival at a nearby observatory and has other Dark Sky events in the park.
Another fact that makes Joshua Tree National Park unique is it’s not just one desert ecosystem, it’s actually two. The Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet in the park. The Mojave Desert section is more mountainous and sits at a higher elevation, while the Colorado is lower and more arid.
Joshua Tree National Park is home to the threatened desert tortoise and much more wildlife including seven kinds of rattlesnakes, which I’m glad I didn’t see any of when I was there. I did see plenty of bunnies and jack rabbits. Another interesting tidbit about Joshua trees is that they don’t produce any nectar to attract bees or other pollinators. They rely entirely on the yucca moth to carry pollen from tree to tree.
What’s the Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree National Park?
Joshua Tree National Park is open 365 days a year. Annual precipitation is less than six inches a year and the they rarely get snow which means besides the heat in summer, Joshua Tree National Park is perfect for year round visits.
March to May, when the wildflowers are blooming, and October and November are the best times to visit but they are also the busiest times. Winter and the middle of summer aren’t as comfortable as those months but I visited in June, and other than it being hot during the middle of day, it was cool at night. The higher elevation on the north side of the park is perfect for camping.
The most extreme temperatures would be in the late summer. If you do visit at that time, make sure you hike in the morning when it’s cooler and carry plenty of water with you. For your protection, the National Park Service closes some of the more strenuous hiking trails in the summer months.
How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is very easy to get to. Located conveniently between interstates 40 and 10 in southern California, if you were making a cross country road trip using those routes, it’s just a hop and a skip to visit.
If you were flying into the area, the closest airports would be:
- Los Angeles- 130 miles
- San Diego- 160 miles
- Las Vegas- 187 miles
- Phoenix- 222 miles
Which Joshua Tree National Park Entrance is Best?
Another thing that makes visiting Joshua Tree National Park easier is that it has four entrances and four visitor centers. So no matter where you are coming from, it’s convenient to get into the park. And you’ll never to miss a visitor center because there’s one at every entrance.
Most people coming from Los Angeles and the west enter the park at the town of Joshua Tree. However, that entrance can get really busy in peak season.
If you are coming from the west, and want to avoid crowds, you could enter at the Black Rock entrance station, which is before you get to the town of Joshua Tree. This entrance station is located near the town of Yucca Valley. The drawback is, it’s difficult to access the rest of the park from that entrance.
To avoid a bottle neck at the busiest times, drive a little further east, past the Joshua Tree township and enter at the Twenty Nine Palms entrance. You’re still close enough to civilization, if you weren’t planning on staying in the park. The town of Twenty Nine Palms is charming, has plenty of restaurants and hotels. I loved the vibe of of the town and art and murals. This entrance is best if you are coming from Las Vegas.
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park
Whether you are camping in the park or staying in one of the surrounding towns, the entire area has a lot of lodging options.
In the Park
Joshua Tree National Park has nine developed campgrounds and about 500 campsites total. If you aren’t a camper but maybe want to be one, this is the perfect place to give it a try. Most of the campgrounds are easy to get to inside the park and they are easy to set up camp on since most of them have nice flat places for your tent.
Jumbo Rocks Campground
Jumbo Rocks campground has 124 sites and accepts reservations during the busy season of September to May. In summer months, the campground operates on a first come first served basis. If you aren’t familiar with how first come first served works, find out more info in my Beginner’s Guide to Camping in National Parks.
One thing I like about Jumbo Rocks is that all the campsites are good. The sites are strategically laid out among the boulders for privacy if you want it. However, there are plenty of sites situated together so if you are traveling with a group of friends or family, it’s easy to get sites close together.
There are also a sufficient number of pit toilets scattered around the campground. Remember to take hand sanitizer and maybe some extra toilet paper on a busy weekend.
Camping + Lodging Outside the Park
According to the park website, the campgrounds fill up during peak season and even on the weekends during the off season. So book your site on Recreation.gov well in advance of your visit. Campsites can be booked up to six months in advance.
If your trip is a last minute trip and you aren’t able get a reservation or the first come first served policy makes you nervous, there are plenty of small hotels and familiar brands in both Twenty Nine Palms and Joshua Tree. Use Booking.com to browse options.
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Things To Do in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island and has a wide variety of things to do. This area of Southern California is full of public lands and parks. If your time is limited and only have time to drive through the park, you can see a lot. Here’s some things you shouldn’t miss in Joshua Tree National Park,
Joshua Tree National Park has three visitor centers and a new cultural center in Twentynine Palms for guest to enjoy. Located at 6533 Freedom Way, this new center will have exhibits and info about the park.
- Joshua Tree Visitor Center
- Cottonwood Visitor Center
- Black Rock Nature Center
Like most national park visitor centers, all the visitor centers have exhibits and interpretive info about the park. The Joshua Tree location has a park movie. All of the centers have have bookstores, junior ranger activities, restrooms and you can get your national park passport stamped.
The Joshua Tree visitor center at 6554 Park Blvd, even has a cafe. All the visitor centers are open daily with the exception of the Black Rock location. It’s seasonal and only open October-May. Check NPS.gov for exact hours.
Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t have a traditional scenic drive or loop road like many national parks do. That doesn’t mean there’s not good routes to drive.
Although Joshua Tree national Park doesn’t have a designated park road or scenic drive through the park, Park Boulevard is the main road that connects the Joshua Tree entrance with the Oasis entrance at Twenty Nine Palms. Driving Park Boulevard in its entirety provides a nice overview of the park. The road features turn outs and viewpoints with interpretative signage and some of the best – and easiest – hikes in the park.
Southerner Says: If you always enter at the Joshua Tree entrance, try switching your entrances up. For a change, enter at the Oasis entrance in Twenty Nine Palms to drive Park Boulevard from a different direction.
Pinto Basin Road
Pinto Basin Road is another road you shouldn’t miss in Joshua Tree National Park. It runs from Park Boulevard southwest to the Cottonwood entrance. As you leave the mountainous higher altitude Mojave desert and head into the lower altitude of the Colorado desert, the Joshua trees disappear and give way to more cacti and other desert plants.
Besides Joshua trees, Joshua Tree National Park is home to a wide variety of plants. Here’s a couple of places to appreciate the flora.
Cholla Cactus Garden
The Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the prettiest places in the park. Even thought the landscape is more desert like and without Joshua trees, there are hundreds of cholla cacti as far as the eye can see. A maintained wooden path meanders among the cholla for an up close look. They may look soft, but don’t let that fool you. Get too close and you’ll spend the rest of the day picking cactus barbs out of your skin.
Further south on Pinto Basin Road is the Ocotillo Patch. Ocotillos are a spiny desert shrub that bloom glorious reddish orange blooms after a rain. Unless you know how much precipitation the park has received, catching them at the right time might be hit or miss. It’s definitely worth a chance to drive and check them out.
Joshua Tree National Park has all kinds of choices when it come to hiking. There’s something for any skill level. Here’s just a few of my favorite easy hikes and trails.
- Skull Rock
- Hidden Valley Nature Trail
- Split Rock Loop Trail
- Hall of Horrors
To find out more information about each of these hikes read my Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park article.
In its nearly 800,000 acres Joshua Tree National Park has quite a few unpaved roads. While ATVs and off-road vehicles are not allowed, if you have a four wheel drive or a high clearance vehicle you can explore some of the less visited area of the park. One of the most popular unpaved road is Geology Road. The route is an 18 mile route with 16 stops that are part of a self guided tour to different geological features.
FAQ’s About Joshua Tree National Park
- How Much Does Joshua Tree National Park Cost?
The entrance fee $30 for a 7 day vehicle permit, $55 for a Joshua Tree park pass that’s good for a year. Your best bet is to purchase an America the Beautiful park pass that’s accepted at over 2k interagency public land sites. In a year’s time you can save a lot of money. More money saved means more travel. Read more about in What is the America the Beautiful Pass article.
- Are Dogs Allowed in Joshua Tree National Park?
Dogs are only allowed in the campgrounds and on backroads. Basically anywhere you take your vehicle.
- Will I have phone service in the park?
It probably will depend on your carrier. I have Verizon and had no service. My daughter has AT&T and had some. Service was very good at the Oasis Visitor Center.
Joshua Tree National Park June Packing List
Joshua Tree National Park is not as isolated as some other national parks. If you forget something, you should be able to pick it up in Yucca Valley or Joshua Tree. Twenty Nine Palms is smaller than those two towns but it does have a Dollar General. Here’s a few suggestions of things to pack for June in Joshua Tree National Park. Especially if you are camping in the park.
- water, water and more water -did I mention there’s no water in the park?
- food and snacks
- first aid kit
- lip balm
- hand sanitizer
- toilet paper just in case
- appropriate shoes for hiking in dusty conditions
- a sweatshirt or hoodie for cool evenings
- a hat
- bandanna to get you cool
- water bottles
More Things To Do Around Joshua Tree
Southern California is one of the best places in the country to road trip. If you’re driving from Las Vegas stop by Amboy Crater, Mojave Desert National Preserve or drive some of old Route 66. From San Diego, visit the Salton Sea or Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Coming from LA? Drive into the San Bernardino National Forest for some cooler temps and greenery.
No matter how you get there or how long you stay, Joshua Tree National Park is sure to steal your heart just like it did mine.
Joshua Tree National Park Guide + Resources
- Buy your America the Beautiful Park pass before you go.
- NPS park website
- NPS map of Joshua Tree NP
- Download the National Park Trust’s ParkPass app
- Learn more about Leave No Trace ethics for the outdoors
- For all your park gear and passport books shop America’s National Parks