Visiting Joshua Tree National Park has been on my bucket list for years. While we’ve visited other places in Southern California like Huntington Beach, Oceanside, and Anza Borrego Park we never made it to Joshua Tree, until now. It was worth the wait and now we want to help you plan your own trip. Here are what we consider the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park and near it!
Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park
While further from the entrance of the park than other points of interest the view here is gorgeous it’s worth making the trip! With an elevation of over 5,000 feet you can see lots of Coachella Valley. Technically if there are clear skies you can even see Mexico from here! Be sure to bring a jacket because it’s much cooler up here than other sections of the park.
Arch Rock is a super short trail, less than half a mile to get there from the start of it. As the name gives away, the trail leads to a gorgeous arch. The way is filled with boulders our kids had way too much fun climbing up and down. This was the girls favorite hike in Joshua Tree.
Barker Dam Nature Trail
If you want to hike but don’t want to hike too far the Barker Dam Nature Trail is a short 1.3 mile loop. Contrary to popular belief Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t have Joshua Trees everywhere so if you’re looking for a hike that does, this is the one for you.
Throughout the park you can easily use your imagination to see different “things” in the rocks. Skull Rock is the most well known of the park. Right off the main road it’s easily accessible but it’s also very popular so it can be hard to find parking sometimes. If you want to hike just across the road is the start to a 1.7 mile hike with gorgeous Joshua Trees along it. While you can’t actually see the skull shape in this photo we took here I just loved it so much I couldn’t help but share.
Keys Ranch is the former home of William F. Keys. It has a house, schoolhouse, store and workshop. As it’s a National Historic Register Site you can only visit it through a guided tour. The tours are only offered from winter to spring and last 90 minutes. You do have to make a reservation (can be done up to 60 days in advance) and the tours are not free.
Cottonwood Springs Oasis
A spring in the desert? Why yes, Cottonwood Springs Oasis that pretty much always has water in it. Prior to colonization it was mainly used by the Cahuilla Native Americans. Later it was used by minors in the gold mining era. It’s one of the best places in the park to go bird watching.
Halls of Horror
We headed to Halls of Horror in hopes of finding the path that leads you to a small slot canyon. While nothing the magnitude of Antelope Canyon which we visited on our Southwest road trip, it’s still supposed to be quite beautiful. Alas we did not find it but we did still enjoy the area and the kids enjoyed walking into the caves they have here. Hopefully you’ll have better luck than we did!
Cholla Cactus Garden
Cholla Cactus Garden is right off the side of the road so easily accessible to all. It is one of my favorite parts of the park. The Cholla Cacti are so beautiful but please be careful. They easily stick to your clothes and/or body and if they stick you it is painful. They aren’t poisonous or anything but let’s just say I had to use a tweezer to get a few out of somebody’s leg and it wasn’t pretty. This isn’t to scare you, be aware and you’ll be fine! The best time to stop here is sunset as they literally glow! This was one of my favorite things to do in Joshua Tree National Park, it was just so beautiful.
If you’re visiting Joshua Tree National Park from March-JuneI recommend stopping at Ocotillo Patch to see these beautiful red flowers in bloom. If you’re visiting any other time of year it’s really not worth stopping as you’ll only see large green stems.
Rock Climbing is one of the most popular things to do in Joshua Tree, most people here actually call it scrambling. You will see lots of people throughout the park doing so. If you want to give is a try yourself you can find tour guides on Airbnb Experiences. We didn’t have time to do it on this trip but we recently went canyoneering on our Southern Utah road trip. If it’s anything like that it’s a spectacular experience. Even though we didn’t officially go rock climbing, the kids were definitely climbing all over the rocks while exploring the park!
Joshua Tree National Park is a certified International Dark Sky Park, one of only 110 in the entire world. This means it’s one of the best places to stargaze so definitely take advantage, you can see the milky way with your naked eye. To see stars and planets up close with a company that has a really expensive telescope like, Sky Watcher Star Tours. The best time is when there is a new moon and these dates book fast so be sure to reserve ahead of time.
Sunset in Joshua Tree
If you’re unable to do a stargazing tour you at least have to stay and watch a sunset. The sky is absolutely stunning at this time. Depending on the day you’ll see shades of purple, pink, orange, blue and yellow.
Become a Junior Ranger
The Junior Ranger Program is so fun for kids (and I’m not going to lie, adults too lol). All you have to do is stop by any of the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, grab a Junior Ranger Book and complete the designated activities for your age group. Once you’re done, bring your completed book back and have a Ranger swear you in as a Junior Ranger.
Ryan Mountain Hike
While the view from the top is absolutely stunning this is definitely not one of the easier hikes in the park. You have to hike three miles up and down and it’s pretty steep. There is also no shade! If I haven’t scared you off by now you’ll enjoy a view that is 1,000 feet above the rest of the park which you can see from every direction at the top.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
If my description of the Ryan Mountain hike did scare you don’t worry the Hidden Valley Nature Trail is way less intimidating. It’s only a one-mile loop and is pretty much flat. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the park which means finding parking can sometimes be difficult. This is the perfect place in the park to have lunch as it has a dedicated picnic area.
Have a Photoshoot at Golden Hour By Joshua Trees
Joshua Tree National Park is the most beautiful backdrop for photos. And no, you don’t need a special occasion to take nice photos. We got dressed up for no reason other than celebrating life and capturing precious mommy and daughter moments I’ll look back on forever. Here are tips for taking great vacation photos.
Things to Do Near Joshua Tree National Park
While there are undoubtedly lots to do within the park there are also quite a bit of things to do nearby if you’re staying in the area for a few days. We had fun exploring these small stops, with the exception of Pioneer Town most are pretty close to each other so while the list is long you can do them all in one day.
The Glass Outhouse Factory
An indoor/outdoor art gallery off the side of the road that literally has every and anything you could possibly think of. Giving new life to items people probably threw away, it was cool seeing how they turned these pieces into art. It’s completely free and unless you have kids that want to run around here, 10-15 minutes is all you need.
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum & Foundation
Noah Purifoy is an artist who was born in Alabama in 1917 but grew up in Joshua Tree. This Art Museum displays so much of the work he created. It’s open every day from sunup to sundown and is free to enter. His work displayed in this outdoor museum is made out of “junk” and is so amazing to see how he transformed these pieces into art.
Wonder Valley Hot Springs
After all the walking you’ll probably do while visiting Joshua Tree National Park soaking in a hot spring at Wonder Valley afterwards will be heaven. While they used to do day passes these springs are now available to guests who are staying in one of the homes on the property. If you do book one of these homes, you’ll have your own private hot springs right in your backyard. If you aren’t staying here you can always check to see if they’ve started offering day passes again. Don’t worry the hot spring you’d be using isn’t in the backyard of any of the homes.
Pioneer Town is a cute town that looks straight out of an old Western so it’s no surprise a lot of those movies have been filmed here. There are a few restaurants and shops you can go in as you scroll down the main walkway. There weren’t any the day we explored but apparently there are often “cowboys” all dressed up riding around on their horses. They say you can’t come here without eating at Pappy + Harriet’s but we had just eaten before arriving so we’ll have to tell you next time our opinion on if it’s worth the hype or not.
World Famous Crochet Museum
Something is always world famous even when we’ve never heard of it! This Crochet Museum was literally the smallest thing ever but it was cute. There were tons of dolls inside that the kids enjoyed looking at.
Beauty Bubble, A Salon and Museum
Beauty Bubble is a fully operating salon with 50s decor but also serves as a museum. The kids had way too much fun oohing and ahhing at everything in here.
Ok before you judge me, I was traveling with kids and they are entertained by the littlest things! The Station is literally an old gas station which you can no longer get gas from but they have this huge cowboy statue. Our kids particularly enjoyed seeing what an old gas pump looked like and playing with it, they made up so many games here.
The Station, World Famous Crochet Museum and Beauty Bubble are all right next to each other! You can park in front of Beauty Bubble, walk to the back for the Crochet Museum and walk down the street for The Station.
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How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is in Southern California and a 2.5-3 hour drive from LAX, 2 hour drive from Ontario, CA airport, and only 52 minutes from Palm Springs International Airport. Entrance to the park is $30 for a 7 day vehicle pass or if you have a National Park Annual Pass you can use that and gain entry for free (the pass is $80 and admits you into every National Park for 12 months).
We’re big on flight deals so we usually choose where we are going based on what flight deals we find on Scott’s Cheap Flights. For this trip we landed $98 round trip tickets on American Airlines from Miami, I was not mad at that at all! Unless you’re driving your own car into the area you will 100% need a car rental. Joshua Tree is not a place you can get around via public transportation and walking throughout the park is just not an option. We rented a car from Hertz but you can also rent from Enterprise, Alamo, Avis and more and any of the 3 airports mentioned.
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park
You can camp right inside the park, either with a tent or RV. If this is what you’d like to do be sure to make reservations well in advance as they do sell out quickly. While we love camping and RVing and have done so in Naples, FL and on our RV road trips through Nevada and the Southwest US, on this trip staying in a nearby Airbnb was best. The area we stayed in was near downtown Yucca Valley.
This house was gorgeous and one of the cleanest places we’ve ever stayed. With a huge backyard the kids had plenty of space to run around. There was a fire pit for roasting marshmallows and a hot tub as well. This particular Airbnb was about 30 minutes from the closest park entrance but the trade off was we were right by the grocery story and plenty of restaurants for dinner.
If you want to stay closer to the park you can get a hotel nearby but know there are no 4 or 5 star hotels in the area. Your options are Fairfield Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, SureStay Plus by Best Western, 9 Palms Inn, Rodeway Inn & Suites, and the Motel 6.
I’m so happy I finally got to cross Joshua Tree National Park off my bucket list. I just love visiting National Parks and hope to eventually visit them all. If you’re interested in tips for other parks we visited Badlands on our South Dakota road trip, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon on our Southwest road trip, Capitol Reef on our Southern Utah road trip, Mammoth Cave on our trip to Nashville, and Great Smokey on our trip to Pigeon Forge and you can check our all of our itineraries by clicking those links. If you do visit and have things to add to our things to do in Joshua Tree list please add them in the comments!