Are you planning your Joshua Tree itinerary? Whether you’re a casual hiker, photographer, or wildlife enthusiast, Joshua Tree has something for everyone. This hiker’s paradise in Southern California offers one of the best weekend travel opportunities, especially for those looking for a quick respite from city life!
If you’re heading to the Golden State, this Joshua Tree itinerary outlines the most remarkable experiences so you can get the most out of your trip.
The only gameplan you need to get the fullest J-Tree experience is here, from hiking picturesque trails to exploring the local floral and fauna.
Table of Contents
An overview of Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree is the perfect destination for travelers looking for a quick weekend getaway, being 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 that is endemic to the region.
The park is composed of two distinct desert ecosystems, the 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 create an experience unlike any other, attracting 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 nocturnal environment.
This is especially true if you make the 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 just looking to space out and enjoy the wilderness, you’ll never run out of stuff to see here.
See Related: 13 Best National Parks to Visit in November
How many days do you need in 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 on this National Park!
Getting 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 keep this in mind when planning your Joshua Tree itinerary.
If your accommodations are situated in the town of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms, you’ll spend around 30-60 minutes to get into the heart of Joshua Tree National Park from any of its entrances.
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. Bringing an RV along with you is a massive convenience, especially if you’re going camping!
Accommodation options in Joshua Tree
Towns like Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley offer a splendid roster of national hotel chains, including Holiday Inn, Best Western, or Motel 6.
Most of these hotels are rated two stars or three stars, with prices between $125 to $150 per night. You’ll find a host of luxury accommodations, including Hyatt Regency and JW Marriott, is also available in Palm Springs.
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 be never run out of options here.
There’s no better place to ditch local accommodations in favor of some 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 worthy to note 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 hot summer months.
White Tank, Hidden Valley, Ryan, and Belle always function on a first-come, first-served basis. Campers may secure their camping spot through the recreation.gov site.
Things to do in Joshua Tree
Before we get right into our Joshua Tree itinerary, here are the best things you can do in the town of Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree National Park, and its surrounding areas.
1. Take a trip to Joshua Tree National Park
You can skip everything in Joshua Tree, just not its national park.
The 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.
Here are the best activities in Joshua Tree National Park.
Hiking and rock climbing
Our Joshua Tree itinerary will not be complete without everyone’s favorite national park time: hiking and rock climbing. Joshua Tree National Park has its share of splendid hiking trails and rock-climbing routes.
You’ll be roaming around a desert, so don’t underestimate the heat – be sure to hydrate and bring plenty of sunscreen. Know that there aren’t many water stations in the area, so plan well!
High altitude skies and low light pollution means 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’re looking 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.
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 the best things to see in Joshua Tree.
- Ryan Ranch
Miners set up one of the most lucrative gold mines here during the end of the 19th century. The ruins of an old mine and adobe house still stand here, along with a cemetery. The trail to get here stretches 1.2 miles, so make sure to hydrate!
- Hidden Valley Nature Trail
If you’re planning your Joshua Tree hiking itinerary, the Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a definite inclusion. This 1.6-kilometer self-guided hiking trail near Twentynine Palms is studded with desert plant life, beautiful wildflowers, and massive boulders that are perfect for all skill levels. It’s also a very popular rock climbing area.
- Keys View
A Joshua Tree itinerary will not be complete without spectacular views of the Coachella Valley. 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.
- Cholla Cactus Garden
If you’re looking for desert plant life, there’s no better place to visit than Cholla Cactus Garden. It’s a flat loop that will lead you through 10 acres of lands studded with teddy-bear cholla, a type of cholla cactus native to California.
If you’re into nature photography, there’s plenty to see flora to see here, including the hedgehog cactus with its brilliant magenta flowers and the beavertail cactus with its neon-pink flowers.
- Hall of Horrors
While it’s not the most popular spot in Joshua Tree National Park, it’s an excellent location for rock climbers, hikers, photographers looking for interesting subjects, and birders looking to spy the vast array of birdlife attracted to its flowers and vegetation.
- Split Rock Loop
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
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-feet wide rock formation that you can rest under for a breather or climb for a photo opportunity.
- Barker Dam
Great for wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, families, and art lovers, Barker Dam is a definite inclusion to your Joshua Tree itinerary. This 1.8km loop winds through monzogranite boulders and past the historic Barker Dam. There’s also a rock art site here!
- Skull Rock
One of the most favorite stops in Joshua Tree, Skull Rock is a natural rock formation that resembles, you guessed it, a skull. 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.
2. Explore nearby 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, but the locale’s main draw is Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a bar and grill that serves up delicious barbecue and live music.
The best 2-Day Joshua Tree itinerary
- 9:00 AM – Enter through the Cottonwood Visitor Center
- 10:30 AM – Explore Cholla Cactus Garden and Octillo Patch. If the weather is excellent, the sunrise views here are fantastic!
- 11:30 AM – Have a picnic lunch at Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks
- 1:30 PM – Hike through Arch Rock
- 2:30 PM – Hike through Hidden Valley
- Rest for the night
- 8:30 AM – Enter Joshua Tree through the West Entrance
- 9:30 AM – Hike Ryan Mountain
- 11:30 AM – Explore Barker Dam
- 1:00 PM – Have lunch and beers at Joshua Tree Saloon
- 2:30 PM – Enjoy a spa session at Miracle Springs Resort and Spa
What to bring to Joshua Tree
Since you’ll be exploring a remote desert park without access to necessities most of the time, it’s necessary to plan well before your trip to Joshua Tree.
Here are some things to bring for your Joshua Tree National Park itinerary.
1. Lots of water
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.
See Related: 11 Best Travel Water Purifiers
2. A good ice chest
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.
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 and convenient choice.
4. First Aid Kit
Nicks and cuts are expected when hiking, especially with your kids tagging along. This easy-to-carry first aid kit offers all the basics you need, including cleansing towelettes, alcohol swabs, cotton gauze pads, and adhesive bandages.
5. Sturdy footwear
This is especially essential when you’re exploring Cholla Cactus Garden, where all sorts of prickly nasties lie underfoot. Merrell has a splendid offering of hiking shoes for both men and women!
6. Flashlight or headlamp
It can get pretty dark in Joshua Tree at night, so make sure to pack a travel flashlight with you.