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Nestled in the heart of Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is a testament to the raw beauty of the desert landscape! As our second stop on the LA to Joshua Tree road trip (following the vibrant vibes of Palm Springs), this desert oasis captivated us with its sprawling landscape adorned by the iconic Joshua Trees and surreal rock formations.
It’s a true haven for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike! In this guide, I will walk you through how to spend a perfect day trip to Joshua Tree National Park, uncovering the best times to visit, some of the top hikes in Joshua Tree, and more!
When is the best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park?
When planning your day trip to Joshua Tree, keep in mind the park experiences diverse weather conditions throughout the year. For optimal comfort and a chance to witness the unique beauty of the landscape, the best time to visit is during the fall and spring.
In these seasons, temperatures are milder, ranging from 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer can be scorching, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, making it a little intense for outdoor activities.
Winter, although cooler, is still a viable option for a visit, especially if you prefer solitude and unique photographic opportunities amid the stark desert scenery. We visited Joshua Tree National Park in January, and enjoyed it!
While mornings and evenings were a bit chilly, we were still able to go on several hikes comfortably during the day. Although we had hoped to catch a sunrise hike the next morning, the 40-degree temperature and strong winds made it less favorable. However, during daylight hours, dressed in sweatshirts and yoga pants, we enjoyed the trails comfortably.
What is a Joshua Tree?
A defining feature of Joshua Tree National Park is, of course, the peculiar Joshua Tree itself. Scientifically known as Yucca brevifolia, these otherworldly trees are native to the southwestern United States, with a significant population found in the park.
The Joshua Tree’s distinctive appearance, characterized by its spiky leaves and gnarled branches, creates an almost surreal landscape. It’s fascinating to witness these unique trees as they punctuate the desert scenery, adding to the park’s allure. You get to appreciate these not only on your hikes but all throughout your drive in the park.
Joshua Tree day trip itinerary
Morning: Explore Joshua Tree (the Town)
Caffeinate at Joshua Tree Coffee Company
Kickstart your day at the charming Joshua Tree Coffee Company, where the coffee is as delicious as the staff is bubbly. This local gem not only serves up quality coffee but also offers a chill ambiance that perfectly complements the town’s laid-back vibe.
Be prepared for a caffeine boost—their medium latte packs four shots of espresso! That’s my kind of coffee shop.
Breakfast at JT Country Kitchen
If you are hungry head right next door from Joshua Tree Coffee Company and indulge in a hearty breakfast at JT Country Kitchen. It’s known for its welcoming atmosphere and generous portions.
The homey feel of this Joshua Tree restaurant adds to its charm, creating a relaxing dining experience. Prepare for substantial portion sizes; even sharing a breakfast burrito may just leave you happily satisfied. But I must say, spotting someone’s pancakes on the way out left me a bit bummed that I didn’t have room for seconds!
Visit the World Famous Crochet Museum
Embrace the quirky side of Joshua Tree with a visit to the World Famous Crochet Museum, a unique and free attraction that really showcases the town’s unique spirit.
This small yet captivating museum is a fun and quick pit stop before venturing into Joshua Tree National Park. Located alongside the Art Queen, this area offers a blend of eccentricity and artistic finds that encapsulate the creative essence of Joshua Tree.
Afternoon: Explore Joshua Tree National Park
Visitor Center Pit Stop
Before venturing into Joshua Tree National Park, make a strategic stop at the Visitor Center. Engage with the knowledgeable rangers; they’re a valuable resource for specific trail recommendations and insights. During my visit, I asked for suggestions for the best sunset and sunrise spots, as well as must-visit trails for a single day in Joshua Tree.
While you’re here grab a sandwich at the Grab-n-Go, ensuring you’re fueled for your park adventures.
Pro tip: It costs $30 per vehicle to enter, but if you plan on visiting other National Parks within the next year you can get an America the Beautiful Pass for $80 at the Visitor Center, or you can get it in advance here. This pass covers entrance fees at lands managed by the National Park Service for the next year.
Enter Joshua Tree National Park
Time your entrance wisely, ideally before or at least by noon, to make the most of daylight hours. If you’re visiting in the summer you’re going to want to get here even earlier to dodge the hot midday sun. In the winter, the sun sets early, around 5 pm, emphasizing the need to maximize your daytime exploration.
There are 3 entrances to the park, Yucca Valley West is the most recommended. The trails we did suggested by the ranger were all classified as easy, ensuring an accessible and enjoyable experience for all.
Suggested Joshua Tree National Park hikes:
- Barker Dam: An easy 1.3-mile loop offering scenic views, Barker Dam boasts unique rock formations and the possibility of wildlife sightings. The dam itself, when filled with water, reflects the surrounding beauty.
- Hidden Valley: This 1-mile loop is known for its stunning rock formations, providing an immersive experience into the unique landscape of Joshua Tree.
- Arch Rock: A 1.2-mile out-and-back trail leading to a captivating natural arch, offering a picturesque setting for photography and a serene atmosphere.
- Cholla Cactus Garden or Keys View: We didn’t get to experience these unfortunately, but. I feel like either of them would be perfect for sunset. For Cholla Cactus Garden (0.2-mile loop) you’ll wander through a breathtaking landscape adorned with clusters of unique cacti, creating a surreal and picturesque setting. Meanwhile, the Keys View trail (0.1-mile loop) offers panoramic vistas of the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, and the San Andreas Fault, providing an awe-inspiring overlook of the diverse desert terrain.
Note: We skipped Cholla Cactus Garden during our day trip to Joshua Tree thinking that we were going to do this as a sunrise hike. Unfortunately, weather conditions prevented us from enjoying the Cholla Cactus Garden at sunrise, but it remains a top recommendation. Overall, our Joshua Tree itinerary was a success, with only a couple of tweaks for an even more exceptional experience.
If you start your day early and have additional time, consider exploring the Skull Rock trail (1.7 miles). Although the ranger recommended Skull Rock for sunset, we found Cholla Cactus Garden or Keys View to offer less obstructed and more picturesque views. If your schedule allows, save the unique rock formation for daytime exploration; however, if time is limited, you can still stop by for a quick photo, as Skull Rock is visible from the road.
Evening: Relax and Unwind
Relax While Indulging in Authentic Thai Cuisine
After spending your day exploring the captivating landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park, treat yourself to an exquisite Thai dinner. We discovered Royal Siam Cuisine Thai Restaurant, a local gem, where the Panang Curry stole the show, offering a perfect balance of spice and savory flavors.
We were so exhausted we got it to go and took it back to our rental to relax and eat. Our home had a cowboy pool, jacuzzi, and sauna – the perfect serene oasis after a day of hiking!
We opted for a soothing sauna session, embracing the chilly evening. If relaxation is your priority, this rental is an ideal option to cap off your day.
Optional: Go Stargazing
If you’re enchanted by the allure of the night sky, consider venturing back into Joshua Tree National Park after dinner. The park’s pristine dark skies offer a breathtaking canvas for stargazing.
Find a secluded spot, lay out a blanket, and lose yourself in the celestial wonders above. It’s a magical way to conclude your day in Joshua Tree.
Since we visited in the winter and the nights were chilly, we decided to skip this. However, if you’re exploring during the warmer months, I highly recommend including this in your Joshua Tree day trip itinerary.
Where to stay in Joshua Tree
From quirky retreats to cozy hideaways, there are some really unique and awesome accommodation options in Joshua Tree. The town is a haven if you’re seeking eclectic vacation rentals, each with their own character and charm.
As I previously mentioned, we really loved our rental which was right in town and offered great amenities such as a cowboy pool, jacuzzi, and sauna. It was a 2-bedroom home which provided us with the nice bonus of enjoying our own space.
If you’re seeking a unique outdoor experience without compromising comfort, Joshua Tree offers glamping options. Spend the night surrounded by the breathtaking desert landscape while enjoying the convenience of luxurious amenities.
Whether you’re into vintage trailers, cozy yurts, or private desert estates, the diverse lodging choices add an extra touch of adventure to your Joshua Tree getaway.
When you plan your day trip to Joshua Tree, I highly recommend considering extending your stay to fully immerse yourself in the enchanting atmosphere of the desert. Chances are you’re going to be exhausted after a long day of hiking. Plus, the diverse range of accommodations ensures that your overnight experience is just as memorable as your daytime adventures!
Los Angeles to Joshua Tree
The approximately 2 1/2-hour drive takes you from the urban sprawl of LA to the tranquil desert landscapes of Joshua Tree. As you leave the city behind, the scenery transforms from skyscrapers and traffic jams to vast desert vistas.
The journey itself becomes part of the adventure, offering a stark contrast to the fast-paced city life. It’s a testament to the geographical diversity of Southern California, where a relatively short drive can transport you from the ocean’s edge to the heart of a rugged desert environment!
Whether you embark on a spontaneous day trip from LA or plan a more extended excursion, the road from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree promises a rejuvenating experience immersed in nature.
Palm Springs to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree is an easy trip or even day trip from Palm Springs. The approximately one-hour drive along CA-62 E (Twentynine Palms Highway) provides a seamless transition from the lush resort city to the arid landscapes of Joshua Tree.
As you venture this scenic route, the iconic Joshua trees gradually dominate the horizon, signaling your arrival in the captivating national park. You may notice a little shift in climate from the slightly cooler ambiance of Palm Springs to the warmer embrace of the desert.
Make sure your vehicle is well-fueled, pack essentials for the road, and consider a stop in the eclectic town of Joshua Tree before immersing yourself in the natural wonders of the park.
Joshua Tree National Park Tips
- Pack Essentials: Carry essentials such as sunscreen, hats, comfortable footwear, and layered clothing, as desert temperatures can vary throughout the day.
- Entrance Fee/America the Beautiful Pass: The park requires an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, but savvy travelers can opt for the America the Beautiful Pass, a cost-effective annual pass that provides free access to all national parks for $80.
- Visitor Center Wisdom: Before entering Joshua Tree National Park, make your first stop at the Visitor Center. Get a detailed map to navigate the park, especially since the park lacks reliable cell service. Engage with knowledgeable rangers who can offer personalized recommendations for the best trails, scenic spots, and must-see attractions.
- Respect Nature: Stay on designated trails, follow Leave No Trace principles, and respect the delicate desert ecosystem. Avoid touching or climbing on rock formations.
- Safety First: Inform someone about your plans, especially if venturing on longer hikes. Cell service within the park is limited.
- Weather Awareness: Be mindful of weather conditions, especially during extreme heat. Carry extra water and be prepared for sudden changes in weather.
- Check Park Events: Explore ranger-led programs or events happening in the park during your visit. These can provide valuable insights into the park’s ecology and history.
Are you ready for an epic day trip to Joshua Tree?!
From the distinctive Joshua trees to the rugged trails, your day trip to Joshua Tree National Park promises an unforgettable escape into nature’s wonders. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, hiker, or stargazer, Joshua Tree National Park offers a diverse range of experiences, making it a perfect day trip destination!
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