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2 Days in Joshua Tree Itinerary: How to Spend Your Time Visiting

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A journey to Joshua Tree National Park is where you’ll find an unparalleled haven for outdoor enthusiasts, where the unique desert landscape promises a memorable weekend escape. From the stark beauty of the iconic Joshua trees to the rugged canyons and fascinating rock formations, this Southern California gem caters to adventurers of all kinds.

With strategic planning, you’ll immerse yourself in the park’s natural wonders and cultural sites, making the most of your two-day sojourn. If you’re heading to the Golden State, this itinerary outlines everything you need to know when you visit Joshua Tree.

You only need around two or three days to see most of the park’s main roads and take the best hikes, making it the perfect excursion for weekend warriors. Our Joshua Tree itinerary proposes the best fun-filled two days you can ever have in this National Park! 

Preparation and Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree

Hiking path with boulders under blue sky at Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Joshua Tree is the perfect destination for travelers looking for a quick weekend getaway, just a stone’s throw away from LA. Those raring for an exciting stop in their road trip through the Sunshine State will also find plenty of things to do in this Southern Californian gem.

Joshua Tree National Park is a 1,235-square-mile American national park founded in 1994. It’s named after the Joshua Tree, a type of Yucca endemic to the region. The park comprises two distinct desert ecosystems, Colorado and the Mojave, making it one of the most extraordinary destinations on Earth.

While the popularity of national parks has boomed over the recent years, Joshua Tree, though massively popular, still feels like an untouched getaway.

The melding of High Desert charm and bohemian vibe creates an experience that attracts artists and musicians alike. For starters, Joshua Tree’s natural beauty is pure eye candy.

Hiking trails that wind through stunning desert oases, campgrounds situated along craggy rocks, and a fascinating variety of animals and plants call this desert their home.

Joshua Tree is also an International Dark Sky Park, which means it possesses an exceptional quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment. This is especially true if you trek to the park’s eastern wilderness area, away from the city lights of Palm Springs and Morongo Basin.

With that said, a Joshua Tree itinerary will never be complete without stargazing! If you’re a photographer looking for great natural subjects or a traveler looking to space out and enjoy the wilderness, you’ll never run out of stuff to see here.

See Related: National Parks to Visit in November

What to Bring to Joshua Tree National Park

Rocky Terrain in Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Planning well before your trip to Joshua Tree is necessary since you’ll be exploring a remote desert park without access to necessities most of the time. You’ll need at least one gallon of water per day per person.

We recommend lugging around a lightweight water bottle that can keep your beverage cold for long periods so you can constantly refresh yourself. This Yeti Rambler Bottle is a great choice.

If you’re planning a picnic session, a sturdy travel cooler is essential. You’ll need a sturdy model, especially if you’re lugging it around while hiking, so try the Igloo BMX Cooler with a reinforced base and metal kickplates. Never explore the desert without a decent high-SPF sunscreen. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen Stick is a handy choice.

Nicks and cuts are expected when hiking, especially with your kids tagging along. This easy-to-carry first aid kit offers all the basics, including cleansing towelettes, alcohol swabs, cotton gauze pads, and adhesive bandages. Here’s what we gathered from our trip to this national park:

See Related: Best Travel Water Purifiers

Best Time to Visit

Joshua Trees and Boulders in the National Park, California
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Navigating the seasons is paramount for a fulfilling Joshua Tree National Park excursion. The period from late autumn to early spring is a traveler’s golden window to savor mild climes, slim crowds, and open landscapes. If cooler nights beneath a blanket of stars entice you, camp here in the high summer’s embrace; late evenings negate the sun’s fierce reign.

Joshua Tree straddles the Mojave’s low desert, and each season casts its spell—scorching summer peaks and winter’s crisp chill (especially at night). Let me share insights for your perfect visit timing.

Climate Considerations

Road in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Cayetano / Adobe Stock
  • Winter: Promises warm days with the mercury tipping towards 80°F—ideal for hiking and glimpsing fauna in their livelier states. Nights cool considerably; a robust fireside caps the day well.
  • Shoulder Seasons (Spring and Fall): Present fewer visitors alongside pleasant temperatures. They are the park’s sweet spot when balance is sought between isolation and the desert’s raw heat.
  • Summer: Brings the fierce desert pulse to bear. However, engage with the land after sundown for safety and serenity’s sake.
  • Peak and Off-Peak: Unlike many US parks peaking in summer, Joshua Tree’s winter calls the crowds since it is one of the best warm weather places in the US, elevating prices for stay and service. Lean towards summer or other shoulder moments for more economical accommodation options.

Accommodation Options

Hotels

JW Mariott hotel and resort in Palm Desert, California
One year, I stayed at the JW Marriott Palm Desert and took a day trip to visit Joshua Tree.
(Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Towns like Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley offer a splendid roster of national hotels and motel chains, including Holiday Inn, SureStay Plus by Best Western, and Motel 6. Check out these top hotels in those areas from Booking.com.

Most hotels are rated two or three stars, priced between $125 and $150 per night. Many luxury accommodations, including Hyatt Palm Springs and JW Marriott (pictured above), are available in Palm Desert, giving you decent access to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs.

Airbnb

Sunset House Joshua Tree
Sunset House Joshua Tree | Infinity Pool Spa Views / Airbnb

Airbnb accommodations are taking Joshua Tree by storm, and although not all are happy about the area’s commercialization, travelers looking for cheap rooms and vacation houses will never run out of options here.

Try this rustic architectural guesthouse, this off-grid stargazing cabin, or this roadside ranch.

Camping

White Tank Campground in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park / Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

There’s no better place to ditch local accommodations in favor of rugged camping than Joshua Tree. Camping options abound, so you won’t find it challenging to plan your Joshua Tree camping itinerary, though it’s worth noting that the park only has eight campgrounds.

During the peak months of October and May, Black Rock, Indian Cove, Cottonwood, and Jumbo Rocks are only available by reservation but are open to all during the hot summer.

White Tank, Hidden Valley, Ryan, and Belle always function on a first-come, first-served basis. Campers may secure their camping spot through Tentrr or the recreation.gov site. Read our full guide on where to stay in Joshua Tree if you need further insights and options.

Getting to Joshua Tree National Park

LAX to Joshua Tree

Whether you’re flying in or situated in SoCal, most will get to Joshua Tree by driving from Los Angeles. Joshua Tree’s town is a 2-hour and 40-minute drive from the Los Angeles International Airport, so remember this when planning your Joshua Tree itinerary.  

If you stay in Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms, it will take 30-60 minutes to reach the main area of Joshua Tree National Park from any entrance. This means a day trip is entirely possible when you’re coming from Los Angeles, but be prepared for a lot of driving!

Without a car, you’ll find it hard to get to the town of Joshua Tree or the National Park. Vehicles at LAX can be very pricey, so consider renting a car or an RV from rental services like RV Share. Driving an RV is a massive convenience, especially if you’re going camping!

Read Also: Things to Do in Los Angeles

The Perfect 2 Days in Joshua Tree Itinerary

Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Joshua Tree National Park is the region’s piece de resistance, so if you’re not paying a visit here, you’re not getting the full experience! Seven-day passes are available to enter the national park, but there’s no need to spend a week here to get the best experience.

Day One Itinerary: Western Region Exploration

Hiking Barkers Dam Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Embark on an adventure through Joshua Tree’s western expanse, renowned for its iconic landmarks and climbing spots. Your day is packed with trails, historic sites, and breathtaking vistas.

The Hidden Valley Trail

Rock formation in Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Joshua Tree Park
Dan / Adobe Stock

If you’re planning your Joshua Tree hiking itinerary, the Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a definite inclusion. Begin your journey with the Hidden Valley Trail, a one-mile loop that is both accessible and scenic.

This self-guided hiking trail near Twentynine Palms is studded with desert plant life, beautiful wildflowers, and massive boulders, perfect for all skill levels. You’ll be encircled by imposing rock formations—a rock climber’s paradise and an essential Joshua Tree experience.

Allocate about an hour here to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of Hidden Valley. Even if you don’t plan on rock climbing, spending time here is fun to watch other climbers embrace the challenge.

Barker Dam Historical Sites

Barkers Dam Trailhead in Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Great for wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, families, and art lovers, Barker Dam is a definite inclusion to your Joshua Tree itinerary. Proceed to Barker Dam Trail, a 1.3-mile loop that winds through monzogranite boulders leading you to an early 1900s water reservoir.

This trail offers an opportunity to see petroglyphs and a variety of wildlife that frequents the dam. The historic relevance and the chance of spotting bighorn sheep make this a must on your itinerary.

Climbing at Hall of Horrors

Hall of Horrors in Joshua Tree Park
Joshua Tree National Park / Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

After exploring Barker Dam, set your sights on the Hall of Horrors, an area offering several climbing routes amid towering boulders. This is an excellent location for rock climbers, hikers, photographers looking for interesting subjects, and birders looking to spy on the vast birdlife attracted to its flowers and vegetation.

Whether new to climbing or a seasoned expert, this location caters to all skill levels. Ensure you’re adequately prepared with the right gear and water.

Sunset at Keys View

Keys View Summit in Joshua Tree Park
Naya Na / Adobe Stock

A Joshua Tree itinerary will not be complete without spectacular views of the Coachella Valley. Conclude your day by driving to Keys View—Joshua Tree’s premier lookout. Revel in a spectacular sunset that paints the Coachella Valley in golden hues.

There’s no need to hike to reach this destination, as it’s only a 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard. There are massive juniper trees here, while the San Andreas Fault runs through the valley and is visible below.  

Stargazing

Joshua Tree Stargazing
Image from nps.gov

As dusk settles, the stargazing opportunity here is unmatched; the Milky Way is often visible on clear nights. Remember, each spot requires a short hike, so wear comfortable footwear and carry plenty of water to stay hydrated in the desert environment.

High-altitude skies and low light pollution mean clearer visuals of heavenly bodies! As an International Dark Sky Park, Joshua Tree offers some of the most amazing skies, making it an excellent spot for stargazing and astrophotography.

If you want to get more up close and personal with the astronomical objects, consider heading to Sky’s the Limit, a small observatory near the Twentynine Palms Park entrance. Public star parties where you can look through telescopes are occasionally held here.

Day Two Itinerary: Eastern Adventure

Desert and Mountain Landscape in Joshua Tree
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Start the exciting continuation of your Joshua Tree exploration by heading east, where a blend of natural marvels awaits. Mastering timing is vital today.

Your steps will follow the sun from a high vantage point on Ryan Mountain to the sunset hues playing across Cottonwood Campground. Plan an entire day of seeing the sunrise and the sunset if you can.

Morning Hike on Ryan Mountain

Trail and Hikers in Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park
GDMatthews / Adobe Stock

Starting with the ascent of Ryan Mountain, set out early to beat the heat and see the sunrise. The Ryan Mountain Trail is a 3-mile round trip, rewardingly steep, with panoramic views at a 5,457-foot elevation—eye-level with the breathtaking horizon. Stay hydrated and take your time; the summit view is unparalleled.

Just south of here, miners set up one of the most lucrative gold mines here, the Lost Horse Mine, during the end of the 19th century. The ruins of the Lost Horse Mine, an adobe house, and a cemetery still stand here.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree Park
Arpad / Adobe Stock

After descending, make your way to the extraordinary Cholla Cactus Garden. If you’re looking for desert plant life, Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the best places to do it. It’s a flat loop that will lead you through 10 acres of land studded with teddy bear cholla, a cholla cactus native to California.

If you’re into nature photography, there’s plenty of flora to see at Cholla Cactus Garden, including the hedgehog cactus with its brilliant magenta flowers and the beavertail cactus with its neon-pink flowers.

Stroll through the quarter-mile loop among thousands of cholla cacti. Here, the early morning light captures the cholla needles in a luminescent glow—a photographer’s dream. Note the garden’s stark contrast to the desert landscape; the cacti create an almost whimsical atmosphere.

Check out Skull Rock

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree Park, California
RbbrDckyBK / Adobe Stock

Next, uncover Skull Rock, one of the park’s hidden gems. Shaped by the elements, this natural marvel resembles a human skull. It’s not just the shape that draws curiosity but also the surrounding area, ripe for exploration.

Adventurous spirits can find countless nooks and formations, each with a story to tell. While there isn’t a lot of hiking to do in the area, you can scramble over boulders or snap photos of local plant life.

Stargazing at Cottonwood Campground (if you are staying overnight)

Panoramic  view of Cottonwood Campground Joshua Tree Park
Sundry Photography / Adobe Stock

Conclude your day at Cottonwood Campground. While known for its camping facilities, its location offers an impeccable stargazing stage. The sky becomes a canvas painted with cosmic wonders as the stars emerge.

The absence of city lights amplifies the view, allowing for a spectacular end to your Joshua Tree excursion. Remember, each step you take amid these geological treasures enriches your understanding of Joshua Tree’s splendor.

Explore nearby Pioneertown (in the morning or evening)

Pioneertown

The timing of visiting Pioneertown in your itinerary depends on if you are coming into the park each day and where. If you have another night and leave in the morning, stop by Pioneertown.

This Old West town built as a 1940s movie set should never be left off your Joshua Tree itinerary. Mock gunfights are occasionally held every weekend on Mane Street. Still, the locale’s main draw is Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a bar and grill serving delicious barbecue and live music.  

See Related: Weekend Getaways from Orange County

Nature and Wildlife Spotting

As you traverse Joshua Tree National Park, its unique biodiversity is an undeniable highlight. Here, two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado, converge, hosting a variety of plant and animal life to discover.

Flora and Fauna of Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree silhouette against rocky terrain in Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Joshua Tree National Park is named after the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), unmistakable with their spiny, twisted branches—a hallmark of the Mojave Desert, the higher and cooler part of the park.

Beyond these iconic trees, the flora of Joshua Tree includes diverse cacti, wildflowers, and brush species, each adapted to the arid climate. You’ll wander among creosote and ocotillo plants, and if your visit coincides with spring, you may witness a vivid wildflower bloom.

The park’s fauna is equally fascinating. Your eyes might spot desert-dwelling animals like the black-tailed jackrabbit, bighorn sheep, and various lizards scuttling across the terrain. As night falls, nocturnal creatures such as coyotes, owls, and kangaroo rats emerge, thriving under darkness.

Birdwatching and Spotting Wildlife

Black-tailed jack rabbit in Joshua Tree National Park
Nick Fox / Adobe Stock

The avian life within Joshua Tree is as rich and varied as its landscapes. Birds act as vital pollinators for many of the park’s plants. While exploring, look skyward and on the branches of Joshua trees for chances to observe species like the ladder-backed woodpecker, the aptly named loggerhead shrike, or Scott’s oriole. Each bird adds its unique note to the desert symphony.

Curating opportunities for wildlife spotting elevates your exploration. Early mornings or evenings in areas where the Colorado Desert meets the Coachella Valley are optimal for catching a glimpse of less commonly seen creatures, including the crafty kit fox or the elusive bobcat.

Remember to maintain a respectful distance and minimize your impact, ensuring these animals continue to thrive in their natural habitat.

See Related: The Ultimate Scottsdale, Arizona Itinerary

Other Attractions in Joshua Tree National Park

Massive Rock Boulders of Joshua Tree
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Joshua Tree National Park itinerary will not be complete without visiting its long list of extraordinary sights. While the park is relatively small compared to other national parks in the United States, Joshua Tree holds many spectacular views not available anywhere else.

Here are some other great things to see in Joshua Tree.

Split Rock Loop Trail

Rock formation in Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Billy McDonald / Adobe Stock

Looking for a trail that packs a lot of scenery in one package? This two-mile hike takes you past massive boulders, Joshua trees, and a section that winds through oak and pine woodland.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock in  Joshua Tree National Park
estivillml / Adobe Stock

This 0.5-mile hike leads you through massive boulders and geological formations. Still, the main draw in this area is its eponymous Arch Rock, a 30-foot wide rock formation that you can rest under for a pause or climb for a photo opportunity. 

See Related: The Ultimate Grand Canyon Itinerary

Visitor Amenities and Facilities

Cars queue at Joshua Tree National Park entrance
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Embarking on your Joshua Tree excursion, prepare to access a variety of amenities designed for convenience and safety. Whether your needs revolve around accommodations, dining, or information, this guide details what’s accessible within the park and surrounding areas.

Park Entrances and Visitor Centers

Road and entrance to Joshua Tree National Park
Ryan Tishken / Adobe Stock

Navigating Joshua Tree National Park begins with entry through one of the main gates—the West Entrance, near Joshua Tree Village; the North Entrance, stationed in Twentynine Palms; or the South Entrance, close to Cottonwood.

Upon arrival, make your first stop at one of the visitor centers: Joshua Tree Visitor Center or Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms. Here, you’ll procure maps, current updates on park conditions, and souvenirs offered by the National Park Service. Remember that cellular service can be spotty, so collecting information here proves essential.

Visitor Centers Operating Hours:

  • Joshua Tree Visitor Center: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
  • Oasis Visitor Center: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

Snapshot of Local Eateries

Crossroads Cafe in 
 Joshua Tree, California
Crossroads Cafe / Facebook

Post-hiking, you’ll likely crave a fulfilling meal. Adjacent to the park, Joshua Tree Village offers casual eateries with options for every diet. For the health-conscious, select from a variety of organic snacks and foods at local cafes.

Close to the North Entrance, Twentynine Palms beckons with sit-down restaurants where you can savor a hearty dinner. Options are more limited near the South Entrance, so having snacks and water on hand is wise. Here are some options:

  • Crossroads Cafe – Joshua Tree Village (Classic American fare)
  • Sam’s Indian Food & Pizza – Joshua Tree Village (Fusion cuisine)

Emergency Services and Safety Tips

Emergency Respondents
hedgehog94 / Adobe Stock

Your safety is pivotal. In emergencies, the park rangers are your immediate resource—always obey park rules and heed their warnings. Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree is the nearest hospital for medical emergencies, with Morongo Basin Ambulance on call.

Hydration is critical; carry ample water, at least one gallon per person daily. Finally, acquaint yourself with the possibility of sudden weather changes and know the signs of heat exhaustion or hypothermia.

Safety Contact Numbers:

  • Park Rangers: Dial 911 (for emergencies)
  • Hi-Desert Medical Center: (760) 366-3711

Remember these amenities and tips to ensure a safe, enjoyable visit.

Related Resources

Editorial Note: This article was originally published by Joshua Langandaon and was revised in 2024 by Kyle Kroeger after visiting the national park.

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