Joshua Tree National Park — named after the iconic spiky and uniquely-shaped tree — is located in southern California, in the middle of the desert. The national park is well known for its stunning rock formations, with giant red boulders scattered throughout the area.

When to visit

High season for the park is February to May, when the temperature is most moderate. Low season is during the summer, from June-September. You will avoid the crowds during this time, but it also gets extremely hot during the day.

How to get there

  • There are three entrances to the park: one along Interstate 10 and two along California Highway 62 (Twentynine Palms Highway). See the National Park Services website for a detailed map. If you are coming from Los Angeles or San Diego, it’s a three to four-hour drive, depending on traffic.
  • If you’re flying in, Palm Springs (PSP) is the nearest airport. It’s about a one hour drive from the park.
  • Entrance to the park will cost $25 per vehicle ($12 for motorcycle or bike) and is valid for seven consecutive days.

Where to stay

  • If you’re into camping, there are eight campgrounds within the park that range from $15-20 per night. Most of them are available first-come, first-served, with the exception of Black Rock and Indian Cove, which can be reserved in advance. If you plan to camp at any of the other ones, arrive early to secure your spot. From February to May they usually fill up daily.
  • There are also a few private campgrounds located just outside of the park. If you are self-sufficient, there is also free dispersed camping available on public land (BLM) outside the park. These campgrounds have no facilities and you must leave no trace. Visit the National Park Services website for more information.
  • If you’d rather not sleep outside, there are a number of hotels located in Joshua Tree Village and Twentynine Palms.

What to do

There are many hikes and trails that can take you around the most impressive areas of the park. Here are a few recommended ones, for all levels of fitness:

  • Hidden Valley: This 1-mile loop trail is an easy hike through a valley filled with all sorts of rock formations, big and small.
  • Cholla Cactus Garden: This short and easy trail will take you around an area of the park with many cholla cacti, another interestingly-shaped desert plant. Make sure to stay on the path, as fallen needles are very sharp and will get stuck in your shoe.
  • Split Rock Loop: On this moderate 2.5-mile hike you will pass by Split Rock, a huge boulder with a very defined split up the middle, as well as Face Rock, which — you guessed it — looks very much like a face.
  • Ryan Mountain: This 3-mile hike is more on the difficult side, as you will hike up 1000 feet in elevation. It leads to an amazing overview of the park.

One of the great things about Joshua Tree NP is that it’s very easy to explore on your own. Unlike other national parks, you don’t strictly have to stick to the officially marked paths. If you see something that looks interesting, pull over (safely) and check it out. By venturing off the beaten path, you may find you have a giant rock all to yourself.

Safety tips

  • The park gets extremely hot in the summer. Try to do any extensive hikes either before 10 AM or after 5 PM to avoid the midday heat.
  • Remember to drink lots of water! There are only a few water stations throughout the park, so it’s best to bring as much water as you’ll need for the day in with you.
  • Never hike alone and always tell someone else what area you will be in and when you are expected to be back by.
  • There are a few venomous creatures inside the park. Keep an extra eye out, especially when climbing and reaching on things you can’t see.

All photos are the author’s.