– Written by Julie H. –
Joshua Tree National Park , where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge and of course, home to the famed Joshua tree or yucca palm (Yucca brevifolia).
I’d never had much appreciation for deserts until after I arrived in California and Joshua Tree changed my outlook completely on deserts. Certainly they are dry and hot as expected and I felt like I couldn’t slather on sunscreen fast enough, but there’s also a beauty to the desert that I never expected to see.
We decided to embark on this adventure as a day-trip, though many have suggested a multi day trip would allow you do many more of the hikes and cover the park in more depth.
Joshua Tree is located 2 – 2.5 hours drive East of Pasadena (without traffic) so if you want to get there early to catch the sunrise, it would be recommended to stay near the National Park the night before. If going for a day-trip, I would suggest leaving early (by 8am at the latest) so you have a full day to wander the park with plenty of hikes in between.
$30 covers an entrance permit for one vehicle (including all passengers inside the vehicle) for 7 days.
If you choose the enter the park by foot or bicycle the cost is $15 per person (motorcycles are $25 per bike.)
An annual park pass (specific to Joshua Tree NP) will set you back by $55 but the best deal by far is to purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass for $80 which then gives you unlimited access to over 2000 federal recreation sites within the US (including Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, Arches, etc. more information found on their website)
Before heading into the park, make sure you stop off at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center to purchase your entrance pass if you don’t already own one. This is located South of Hwy 62 if entering from the West Entrance. NB : The visitor center is before you get to park entrance so to avoid an extra 20 minutes of doubling back, stop off here first!
Visitor Center Address: 6554 Park Boulevard, Joshua Tree, CA 92256 ; Open 8am – 5pm
Alternatively the America the Beautiful Pass can be pre-purchased online and posted to you. More information here.
There are 3 entrances that allow you to enter the park, we entered from the West Entrance and drove down through the park exiting from the South. Obviously the park will be less busy during the week than on the weekends or public holidays. We have been on a Tuesday and Saturday and both times we didn’t have to queue to enter the park.
As we only did a day trip we did not have first-hand experience on camping there or reserving a site. There are 9 campgrounds within Joshua Tree- some are reservation only (and book out well in advance in popular months) and others which operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
Check out their official website for more information about each campsite and booking.
There is no shortage of things to see, hikes to walk, rocks to clamber up, gorgeous scenery to admire and perhaps even a new profile pic in the making.
Our favourite spots
Hidden Valley Trail – An easy 1 mile loop trail where rustler’s used to hide their stolen cattle. Overall it’s relatively flat with a few stairs throughout and towering boulders to climb should you be that way inclined.
Barker Dam Trail – A 1.5 mile loop trail that takes you through to the barker dam (which was almost completely dry by the time we reached it by the end of summer) but follow the marked trail further to a turnoff that leads you to some native petroglyph carvings on a rock.
Skull Rock- Perhaps I am just an anatomy nerd, but this was hands down my favourite rock formation in the park. It’s located right next to the road on Park boulevard and well worth the time to pull over and admire!
Keys View– A popular viewpoint to drive to, giving you panoramic scenery of the Coachella Valley
Cholla Cactus Garden – This is a short trail that takes you through an abundance of cholla cacti plants and possibly the cutest cactus plant I have ever come across. Apparently nicknamed the “teddy bear” cactus with its fuzzy appearance, but be warned not to get too close, those needles are sharp and ready to attack!
Arch Rock A short loop of with it’s entrance by the White Tank Campground. It’s a popular walk so can get crowded with everyone trying to get that iconic profile view of Arch Rock.
- Fill up your car with gas prior to entering the park, there is no gas station inside.
- Bring lots of drinking water – there is nowhere inside the park that provides potable water so bring plenty to last you your whole trip! (The park recommends at least 1 gallon per person, per day for drinking alone!)
- Food and snacks -There is nowhere inside the park to purchase food so bring a packed lunch that you can leave in the car while you go on short hikes. If you’re going in summer, bring a cooler to put your food and water in, your body will thank you in the midday heat.
- Sun protection is vital – you’re heading into a desert…this should be self explanatory but a hat, sunglasses and a giant bottle of sunscreen.
- Deserts cool down at night after the sun goes down, so make sure you have plenty of layers and a warm jacket if you plan to stay in the park late into the evening or are camping.
- Bring hand sanitizer – not all the toilets in the park provide soap so come prepared.