Teddy and I visited Joshua Tree National Park as the second National Park on our desert southwest road trip. We planned for only one day in the park. Even in just a day, we felt like we were able to do a lot so below you’ll find my recommendations for the best things to do in the park.
Best Time to Visit
The park can get incredibly hot in the summer as parts of the park are desert, so peak time to visit tends to be later fall through mid spring. If you are visiting in the off season, prepare to have very chilly nights (under 30 degrees).
If you’re flying, you can fly into Los Angeles (2.5-3 hours), Palm Springs (1 hour), or Las Vegas (3.5-4 hours). We flew into Vegas since we could get a direct fly there from Philadelphia for a great price, and we added Death Valley National Park onto our trip which we visited just prior to Joshua Tree. Make sure to get a rental car since you will need one in the park as there’s not a shuttle or other methods of transportation.
What to do in 1 Day
Catch Sunrise – A few of the most popular sunset spots include Cholla Cactus Garden, Keys View, and Barker Dam. When we visited, we didn’t go to any of these. We instead pulled off to the side of Park Boulevard on the east side of the Jumbo Rocks campground. There was no one else around and only a few cars drove by. While I thought the sunrise was beautiful coming over the mountains and rocks, what I enjoyed most was the light hitting the mountains behind me. The cotton candy sky during the winter morning we were there was incredible.
Visit Skull Rock – After sunrise, we drove toward the Skull Rock area to check it out. The light was still a bluish purple in the sky, so the way it hit the rocks around skull rock was beautiful. I could have walked around and climbed among these rocks for a while, but we decided to walk on the Skull Discovery Trail across the street instead. It’s about .75of a mile and wanders through a variety of rocks and cacti gardens. It was a great short walk to take in beautiful views of the park’s features.
See the Cactus at Cholla Cactus Garden – There’s a fair sized parking lot and a .25 mile trail that goes through the garden. What’s wild is these cacti are so densely populated in this area, but are much more sparse north and south of the garden. This is a peaceful spot in the park, and since it’s in the lower portion, not as many people visit this area.
Watch the Sunset – Again, popular spots tend to be Keys View and Barker Dam. Though I really think you could watch it from pretty much anywhere in the park and it be beautiful.
If You Have Additional Time
- Drive the Roads through the Park – This sounds very basic, but truly the incredible views are from the main roads. Just pick a direction and explore!
- Visit Arch Rock – This is a 1.3 mile loop walk to an arch about 30 foot across.
- Hike Around Barker Dam – This is a 1 mile hike around the dam that was initially a water tank used by cattle ranchers in the area.
- Walk the Hidden Valley Nature Trail – An easy 1 mile loop through big rocks and Joshua Trees.
Where to Stay
- Inside the park are a variety of campgrounds that can be reserved, with Jumbo Rocks being the most popular. Book this one well in advance.
- Outside of the park are a variety of options in 29 Palms, Joshua Tree, and the Yucca Valley. We booked an Airbnb you can find here in 29 Palms (photos below). If it wouldn’t have already been fully booked, I would have loved to stay at the Pioneertown Motel.
- Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Also bring snacks and food as options are very limited in the park.
- Either pay for the day or a longer pass at the entrance station, or purchase the America the Beautiful Pass for $80 prior and use it to get into all National Parks as well as many other parks and monuments in the US. I’ve had one each year for 3 years and it’s saved me so much money.
- The park is larger than it may look on a map (at least for me). There really is a lot to see and do in the park.