The Ultimate Joshua Tree National Park Guide

Need a quick break from LA’s non-stop frenzy? Yearning for an epic outdoor adventure in the United States? Then, make sure to include Joshua Tree National Park to your bucket list or travel plans this year. Straddling a couple of deserts – the Mojave and the Colorado – this scenic oasis offers some of the most otherworldly landscapes and extraordinary sights in Southern California. Although it’s just a 3-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles, a trip to JT may feel like you’re stepping into a different plan dimension.

Check out the tips shared by Joshua Tree travel guide, before you pack your bags and go.

Why visit Joshua Tree National Park

At the first glance, Joshua Tree National Park looks desolated and lifeless, with its barren desert landscape littered with the spiky, signature Joshua trees and brown boulders. Yet, surprisingly, this southeastern California park supports a plethora of creatures that become active in the early morning and during evening. For instance, the park is home to a variety of bird species, including roadrunners, golden eagles, vultures and burrowing owls.

Bobcats are seen less frequently, but a lucky visitor may get to see one silhouetted against the majestic moonlight. The shy kangaroo rats as well as jackrabbits will also emerge from their sanctuaries, to forage. And, there are coyotes that will also make their rounds near the park’s roads.

They don’t call Joshua Tree National Park as one of the most beautiful places in California for nothing. With its blazing desert sunsets, stunning panoramas and dramatic geology, Joshua Tree National Park is truly a bucket-list-worthy destination for every Instagram addict and shutterbug.

But, as we all know, this US National Park isn’t just a hub for sightseeing and landscape photography. As a matter of fact, it’s a sprawling adventure playground with tons of opportunities for hiking, rock climbing and even stargazing.

History of Joshua Tree National Park

Even though it was designated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a national monument in 1936, it wasn’t until 1994 that “JT” took on the national park status. In 1984, it was also declared as a Biosphere Reserve.

As for its name, legend says that a band of Mormon travelers – who in the mid-19thcentury crossed the Mojave Desert – named the iconic United States national park after the biblical figure of Joshua. Reportedly, the one-of-a-kind shape of the tree reminded these Mormons of a story in the Bible, where Joshua was reaching up his hands to the sky.

The park’s profile was significantly raised in 1987 (a national monument back then), with the release of U2’s best-selling album – The Joshua Tree.

Climate check and Getting in

Days are, in general, clear with less than 25% humidity. The most comfortable temperatures are in autumn and spring, with an average low and high of 50 and 85 °F respectively. Of course, winter brings in freezing nights and cooler days – about 60 °F. Every now and then, it snows at the park’s higher elevations.

Summers are a little hot, above 100 °F during the day, and don’t cool much below the 75 °F mark, until the morning’s early hours.

Via air or train. The closest airport to the national park is the Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) in Palm Springs. Alternatively, you may hop a Sunset Limited train plying the LA-NOLA route, and drop by an Amtrak station in Palm Springs.

Via car. The park is located 140 miles east of LA, and it can be reached from the west via Twentynine Palms Highway and Interstate 10. The south entrance of the park at Cottonwood Spring – over 20 miles east of Indio – can be approached from the west or east through Interstate 10 as well. The park’s north entrances can be found at Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree Village.

National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands pass and Fees

An inter-agency annual pass will give access to over 2,000 recreation sites on the country’s federally-managed public lands. Every pass will cover entrance fees to national wildlife refuges and national parks like Joshua Tree National Park, as well as the standard amenities at national grasslands and forests. Likewise, it covers the entrance and amenity fees to lands managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management.

• Annual Pass – $80 (valid for 1 year from the date of issue). Military personnel may get a free annual pass by showing a Military ID or Common Access Card at a federal recreation site in person.

• Senior Pass – $10 (lifetime pass). Available to all US permanent residents and citizens age 62 and beyond.

• Access Pass – Free. Available only to US permanent residents and citizens with permanent disabilities.

• Volunteer Pass – Free. Available to volunteers who’ve logged 350 service hours with participating federal agencies.

• Annual 4th Grade Pass – Free. All 4th graders will have free entry to Joshua Tree National Park and other National parks for the whole duration of their 4thgrade school year.

Joshua Tree National Park fees and permits

• $12 – 7-day single motorcycle or bicycle pass

• $12 – 7-day for a person traveling on foot

• $25 – 7-day single vehicle pass

• $40 – 1-year Joshua Tree National Park annual pass for non-commercial vehicle

Fees for commercial group tours

• 1 to 6 passenger capacity – $25 plus $12 per passenger

• 7 to 15 passenger capacity – $50

• 16 to 25 passenger capacity – $60

• 26 plus passenger capacity – $150

How to get around and Where to drink and eat

• By bike – A lot of the roads and park trails in Joshua tree are great for mountain biking. Just don’t forget to check the ranger stations, to pick the best route and option.

• By foot – Joshua Tree National Park has countless of scenic and lovely trails. Carry plenty of water, when hiking them, though.

• By car – The park’s main roads are not only paved but are easily accessible to vehicles for passengers as well. Most dirt roads though Joshua Tree park may be passable by regular sedans, but their conditions usually require 4WD vehicles with high-clearance.

While there’s no store or restaurant in Joshua Tree National Park, there are plenty of choices available along Highway 62 – north of the national park, as well as along the renowned Interstate 10. Plus, Joshua Tree Village boasts an array of restaurants and cafes as well, with several vegetarian and vegan options. On Saturdays, Joshua Tree Village hosts a farmer’s market.

Meanwhile, water is available from some campgrounds as well as all visitor centers. Likewise, the Oasis Visitor Center offers beverages. You may also head to nearby towns like Twentynine Palms if you are looking for additional refreshment options.

Where to sleep

You won’t find any hotel within Joshua Tree National park, but there are quite a few hotels in the towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms along Highway 62.

As with Yellowstone National Park, there are a lot of campgrounds available within the park. For the most part, however, they will fill up before sunset, especially during weekends. That’s why you should come early if you plan to do some camping.

Although there are no longer any free Joshua Tree camping sites, the costs are pretty reasonable, ranging from $5 to 50 a night. And by the way, some campsites can be reserved in advance, via the National Park Service Reservation System.

• White Tank Campground

• Ryan Campground

• Jumbo Rocks Campground

• Sheep Pass ground Campground

• Indian Cove Campground

• Hidden Valley Campground

• Cottonwood Campground

• Black Rock Campground

• Belle Campground

Things to do and the best sights in Joshua Tree National Park

• Jumbo Rocks

• Cottonwood Springs

• Cholla Cactus Garden

• Geology Tour Road

• Keys View

• Barker Dam

• Hidden Valley

• Indian Cove

Wildflower spotting. Spring wildflowers in Joshua Tree National Park come in many varieties, and may produce splendidly colorful displays, specifically after wet winters. The floral displays may include small flowering plants at your feet or sprawling fields of booming shrubs.

Learning. There are many classes conducted within the park through the Desert Institute of Joshua Tree national Park Association. The lessons include topics like geology, wildflowers, wildlife, photography and painting.

Astronomy. Thanks to the clarity of its air and dark night skies, Joshua Tree National Park is a beloved spot for astrophotography, stargazing and amateur astronomy.

Rock climbing. Looking for a thrilling adventure in this world-famous park? Joshua Tree National Park is by far one of the world’s most popular rock-climbing spots, with over 4,500 established routes available and offering a broad range of difficulty. Whether you’re a seasoned rock climber or a newbie, the park is absolutely the best place in California to quench your thirst for adventure.

Recommended rock climbing guides and institutions in the park

• The Climbing Life Guides

• Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School

• Cliffhanger Guides

Photography. The Joshua tree’s bizarre shapes, paired with its desert backdrop and dramatic geology, make this US National Park an excellent place for nature and landscape photography. Like most areas and national parks, photography is best during the late evening and early morning hours.

Hiking. The park has a cluster of amazing hiking trails, such as:

• Ryan Mountain Trail – 3 miles. The trail has excellent vistas of Pleasant, Queen and Lost Horse valleys, with a peak elevation of 1,664 meters.

• Mastodon Peak Trail – 3 miles. A scenic and strenuous trail offering lovely views of the Salton Sea and Eagle Mountains, with a peak elevation of 1,027 meters.

• Lost Palms Oasis Trail – 8 miles. Moderately strenuous, this trail will lead you to a canyon with dozens of palm stands, with a potential side trip to Musen Canyon and Victory Palms.

• Lost Horse Mine and Mountain trail – 4 miles. A bit strenuous, with a peak elevation of 1,690 meters.

• 49 Palms Oasis trail – 3 miles. Moderately strenuous, it’s a refreshing hike that will take you to an oasis wondrously surrounded by pools of water and stands of fan palms.

• Boy Scout Trail – A moderately strenuous and picturesque trail that passes through the edge of the marvelous Wonderland of Rocks.

Horseback riding. Both Black Rock and Ryan campgrounds offer accommodations for their equestrian guests. What’s more, the Back country and Wilderness Management Plan offers more than 250 miles of trail corridors and equestrian trails that traverse dry washes, canyon bottoms and open lands. Riding trails are mostly open year-round and are marked clearly. There’s just one catch, though – you’ll have to bring your own horse.

Notes of Cautions

• Don’t hit the trails without an adequate amount of water. With the park’s high desert setting, it will be rather scorching hot during the day. A gallon of water per person a day is the recommended minimum amount.

• The desert, as fascinating as it is, can be rather life-threatening for travelers who are unfamiliar with its potential dangers. Even if you’re only driving through the park, it’s essential that you carry water with you. Keep in mind, keys get locked inside, cars break down, and accidents happen.

• Dress in layers, wear sunscreen, and take all the other necessary precautions, whenever you’re dealing with a desert environment.

• Rattlesnakes can be avoided by being extra careful when wandering around rocky areas.

• Avoid drainage areas and canyons in times with severe weather. A small amount of rain in Joshua Tree National Park may cause flash flooding.

A sample Joshua Tree National Park 3-day itinerary

Don’t have a lot of time in your hands? Planning on exploring Joshua National Park in four hours or less? If that’s the case, I suggest that you start your tour with a visit to any of its visitor centers, so that the park staff can help you out with your visit.

Day 1

• Keys View

• Lost Horse Mine

• Keys Ranch

• Hidden Valley Campground

• Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Day 2

• Ryan Mountain

• Cap Rock Nature Trail

• Skull Rock Nature Trail

• Geology Road Tour

• Jumbo Rocks Campground

Day 3

• Cholla Cactus Garden

• Ocotillo Patch

• Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak

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