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A Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

As soon as we drove into Joshua Tree National Park, I was taken aback by how strikingly eerie the landscape is. It is almost like you are on another planet. It is named for the prickly trees you see growing throughout the western section of the park. These trees plus massive rock formations add to the other worldliness of the geography. Joshua Tree National Park is located about 3 hours from San Diego and 2 hours from Los Angles at the point where the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet in southern California.

It is not as majestic as other National Parks, but the barren, wind swept vistas leave a mark on your soul. There is plenty of hiking, camping, mountain biking, climbing and exploring historical sites to keep desert lovers busy for several days. We only visited for a day and were easily able to see many of the highlights.

Things to Know Before you Go

The bulk of the points of interest are in the northwest quadrant of the park. We entered the park at the West Entrance near the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. We stopped to pick up a map. There is no water or food service in the park. Next to the Visitor Center is a grab and go cafe with food and non alcoholic beverages, if you need supplies for a picnic. The climate is very hot and dry, so plan on at least a gallon of water per person per day while you are visiting the park. Sturdy walking shoes, sun hats, sunglasses and sun screen for everyone in your travel pod is essential, as even in winter the sun is very strong. The daily temperature changes can be dramatic, so dress in layers for your visit.

There is no cell service in the park. If you are planning on hiking some of the longer trails, you will want to download those trails in the All Trails Pro App and bring a compass. There is no lodging in Joshua Tree National Park. However there are multiple campgrounds with the park. I would love to camp there the next time we visit. The star gazing is world class and the opportunity to photograph the desert at sunrise and sunset calls to me. The entrance fee is $30 per car. You can purchase an $80 annual pass for all National Parks if you have more National Park visits in your plans. Also, all military veterans have free entrance to National Parks, when you show a driver's license with the veteran designation on it.

What to See

Keys View: William Keys was one of the original settlers in the area that later became Joshua Tree National Park. He, his wife Francis and their five children lived on the Desert Queen Ranch from 1910 to 1969. They made their living mining and ranching. Tours are available through the National Park Service to the Queen Desert Ranch. This breathtaking scenic overlook was named in their honor. From this scenic overlook you can see the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, Mt. San Jacinto and the San Andreas Fault. It is a stunning view.

Cap Rock: In this part of the Mojave Desert between 250 and 75 million years ago, teutonic plates push volcanic material to the surface forming the granite boulders. Strong winds, sporadic torrents of rain, and groundwater created the formations we see today. Cap Rock looks like a beret sitting on top of this rock formation. It makes a fun photo stop.

Cholla Cactus Garden: Cholla Cactus can be found throughout the park. There is a beautiful stand of this Teddy Bear Cholla Cacti on the road leading to the South Entrance. There is a short flat trail that leads you through this unusual site. If you are camping in the park, this is a beautiful place to photograph at dawn.

Hidden Valley: Once used as place that cattle rustlers hid their stolen herds, this intriguing area is accessible by a relatively short, flat hike. Surrounded by high rocks and boulders, it is easy to see why it was used as a hiding place for cattle. Hidden Valley is home to some interesting species of mammals. On the day we were there, we saw a coyote, several rabbits and chipmunks. Within the valley, the flat faced granite boulders are used for rock climbing.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbers will find dozens of places to enjoy their sport.

There are plenty of places for amateur climbers as well.

Barker Dam: Barker Dam was built by OC Barker in 1900 as a catch basin for rain water. It was later raised by William Keys and the horse and cattle trough, in the lower right hand corner of the above picture, was added. There is an easy hike out to the dam, where long horned sheep are often seen.

Skull Rock: The wind and rain have created the unique landscape at Joshua Tree National Park. Skull Rock is a great example. Right off the road from the Twenty Nine Palms Entrance, this formation makes another great photo opportunity.

Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? Share with us your favorite spots or experiences in the comment section below. Ready to book your trip, head over to for low rates on hotels.

If you are planning on doing some hiking, make sure you have appropriate Hiking Clothes and Safety Gear. Check out my Hiking Favorites on LiketoKnowit. and my Amazon Store.

For more inspiration to visit National Parks in the United States, click on the links below.


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