With the strong allure of the desert and its close proximity to Los Angeles, Joshua Tree has become a quirky weekend alternative to the glitzy design-centric Palm Springs. Here’s how to enjoy the best of Joshua Tree in a weekend.
Joshua Tree’s growing scene of yoga studios, art galleries, coffee bars, live music, natural food cafes, and quirky gift shops meets the needs of hippies to hipsters and everyone in-between. And all of it can be found within a few steps of the intersection of Park Boulevard and Highway 62. But don’t blink as you enter the town or you might miss it. This downtown is literally only three or four blocks in length.
Bring your cameras and your sense of adventure, and prepare to be blown away by the natural beauty of the stunning rock formations and unique Joshua Trees.
For inspiration, here’s a short video providing a glimpse of the stunning beauty you’ll see in Joshua Tree National Park.
To watch this video in high-resolution 4K on YouTube, click here: Joshua Tree National Park Hike
A Brief History
Settled thousands of years ago by Native Americans, followed by lonesome cattle ranchers and gold miners, Joshua Tree was propelled onto the world stage with the release of the famous U2 album in 1987, which went on to sell over 20 million copies. In 1994, Joshua tree was finally designated a National Park and today it sees over 1 million visitors annually.
WHAT TO DO:
Joshua Tree offers a vast array of activities for anyone who loves nature and the outdoors.
Hiking. From short strolls through fuzzy cacti to strenuous, scrambles up a sheer rock, Joshua Tree National Park offers hiking options for all fitness levels and interests.
The West Entrance Station into the Park is most common. To get there, take Park Blvd in downtown Joshua Tree, heading south. This road will become Quail Springs Road (and it will revert back to Park Blvd.). Eventually, you’ll reach the entrance. There is an entrance fee. At the time of this publishing, it’s $15.00 per passenger car.
Here are a few stellar hiking options:
Baker Dam / 1.1 Miles (Easy)
Built in the early 1900’s to hold water for cattle and mining, today it is a small pond that provides beautiful reflections for photographers. Birdlife abounds and you might even spot a bighorn sheep.
Cap Rock Nature Trail / 0.4 miles (Easy)
Named for the broad, flat boulder perched on top of the outcrop, this trail allows you to get up close to Joshua Trees, giant boulder piles, and desert plant life.
(Cap Rock Trail)
(These rocks can be seen from Cap Rock trail, but you must go off the trail to get up close.)
(Cap Rock Trail)
Skull Rock Loop / 1.7 miles (Easy)
An easy hike and exploration of boulder piles and desert washes. The highlight is the ever-popular rock formation famous for its resemblance to a human skull.
(Skull Rock [left] and area environs)
Keys View Loop / 0.25 miles (Easy)
More of a lookout than a hike, Keys View is glorious at sunset. On clear days you can see the notorious San Andreas fault, the Coachella Valley, and the Salton Sea.
Arch Rock Nature Trail / 0.3 miles (Easy)
Short walk among beautiful rock formations. The highlight and perfect photo opportunity is Arch Rock, a 25-foot natural arch formed by erosion.
(Narrow slot canyon along the trail near Arch Rock)
Cholla Cactus Garden / .25 miles (Easy)
A stroll through thousands of naturally growing cholla cacti. They may look fuzzy, but they have tiny barbed hooks that cling to skin. Stay on the trails and wear closed-toe shoes. The cacti look magical at sunrise and sunset when the low light makes the fuzzy barbs glow.
(Cholla Cactus Garden)
Forty-nine Palms Oasis / 3 miles (Moderate)
One of 5 oases in the park. There is a 300 foot gain in elevation in both directions. At the end, you will be rewarded by a shady oasis of over 50 native palms towering over clear pools of water.
(Trail to Forty-Nine Palms Oasis)
(Forty-Nine Palms Oasis)
Rock climbing. With over 8,000 known climbs, Joshua Tree is one of the top rock climbing destinations in the world. Throughout the park, you will see climbers hanging off the side of enormous rock faces or standing atop huge peaks. This makes for great photos and motivation to join them. Joshua Tree Uprising Adventure can provide lessons and gear.
(Seemingly endless faces for rock climbers to scale.)
Stargazing. Everyone wants to capture that lone Joshua Tree silhouette against a starry sky. Bring your tripod, a nice camera and test out your long exposure features to capture that epic milky way shot within the park. Limited light pollution within the park makes it all possible.
(The lack of light pollution makes Joshua Tree National Park a stargazer’s dream.)
Check the National Park Service page for any news, information, warnings or closures.
WHEN TO GO:
You can visit the park any season of the year. Just be aware of high temperatures, especially in the summer months.
Early mornings (before noon) are the best time to hike and explore, while the temperature is comparatively cool and the crowds are smaller. Also, parking lots fill up fast so enter the park before 9:00 AM. Or even earlier.
WHERE TO EAT:
The Natural Sisters Cafe
Offers healthy, organic sandwiches, wraps and smoothies. Perfect for fueling up before heading into the park, or grabbing something for a picnic mid-hike.
Joshua Tree Coffee Company
Fresh, Organic and hand roasted in small batches, this coffee is some of the best you will ever enjoy. They even have a cute little courtyard to enjoy while sipping your morning coffee or afternoon pick me up.
Just as the name would suggest, this is a great place for a big, homestyle breakfast. Eggs, sausage, and potatoes rule the menu. This is perfect if you have a big day of hiking ahead of you.
Pie For The People
After a day of hiking, few things could conquer your appetite like a giant slice of pizza from this small New York style pizza joint.
A charming, rustic, country-style, wood-paneled café, complete with a framed painting of John Wayne on the wall. It gets good reviews and is often busy.
Joshua Tree Saloon
If you still have energy after a day of hiking, the Joshua Tree Saloon not only has great burgers, but they also offer live music and open mic nights.
(Natural Sisters Cafe / Joshua Tree Coffee Company [with the entrance in back])
(Get your pizza fix at Pie For The People)
(Crossroads Cafe and Joshua Tree Saloon)
WHERE TO STAY:
There are three main options in Joshua Tree. Camping in the park, Airbnb rental or hotels.
By far, the most comfortable is choosing from of a number of fantastic Airbnb rentals. These range from hip, mid-century Modern homes with pools, to funky little camper trailers. Every taste and budget can be accommodated.
For those who prefer hotels, here are a few options:
Mojave Sands Motel.
The most popular option in town is this little oasis off the highway, offering five modern, eco-chic suites.
This option is actually not a hotel per se. It consists of a few suburban rental homes, updated with modern decor and furnishings, but can be booked like a hotel. It’s definitely something worth considering.
This option is about 12 miles away from Joshua Tree, in a tiny town called, Pioneertown. They offer simple, rustic rooms. The town was built by filmmakers decades ago as a place to film western movies.
WHAT TO BRING:
Layers. Joshua Tree can be exceedingly hot in the summer, topping out at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and very cold in the winter. The temperature range from daily high to nighttime low can be extreme so wear clothing in layers.
Good shoes. A comfortable pair of hiking shoes is recommended, which will provide strong gripping on the rocks and protect your toes from cactus barbs. Our favorite brand is hiking shoes/boots is Scarpa.
Camera gear. The rock formations and trees are truly spectacular, so bring your best camera gear. But travel light because there will be some mild to moderate hiking involved. We travel with a light backpack that carries our DSLR but also water bladder and supplies. Leave your drone at home unless you fancy a hefty fine. National parks (and most state parks) have banned drones.
Plenty of water. Don’t forget a large water bottle. Or two. Experts generally recommend carrying no less than one liter per hour for hiking in 100+ degree temperatures. Preferably more. The most convenient way to carry all that water is on your back. Camelbak has a great selection of backpacks with integrated water bladders, plus an outside pocket to accommodate a 1-liter (BPA-free) water bottle in the outside pocket.
A hat. Try to keep your face out of the sun. It’s likely to burn to fastest. Actually, a large brimmed hat works best and will also spare your neck and ears from getting burned.
Sunscreen. We like to bring a natural brand rated at least SPF 30. You don’t want a nasty sunburn ruining your perfect weekend in Joshua Tree.
Sunglasses. Squinting all day long will likely give you a headache. Not to mention the glare off the rocks and sand can be quite intense. Guard your eyeballs with a light pair of sunglasses that will block out UV rays.
Snacks. There are neither cafés nor markets inside the park, so bring some snacks. Preferably high-protein snacks, such as nuts, dried fruit or protein bars. You don’t want to lose your energy and stamina while hiking.
To recap, bring:
- Dress in layers
- Camera gear
- Good hiking shoes/boots
- Sunglasses (UV protection)
- Plenty of water
We recommend at least two full days (preferably three days) to see the major points of interest in Joshua Tree National Park. If you like to take your time, plan accordingly and add even more time.
It’s a popular park and you likely won’t be alone. However, once in a while you’ll find yourself alone on a trail, in the still quiet of the desert, surrounded by awe-inspiring rock formations and Joshua Trees dotting the landscape. In those moments, the experience can be downright spiritual and deeply moving. As if you’re an explorer on a distant planet, far from home.
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