Joshua Tree National Park, California is a wild desert landscape of rock formations and the iconic trees for which it was named. Established as a National Monument in 1936, it was upgraded to a National Park in 1994.
Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
In a Word “Boulderful”
“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” -Psalm 63:1
Our Visit I visited Joshua Tree NP in October while on a road trip from San Diego, CA to Phoenix, AZ.
Our Weather A very pleasant but breezy day with temperatures in the upper 70s.
Overall Impression Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t have the majestic flair of towering mountains or deep canyons, but it has a unique charm and beauty of its own. While Joshua Tree sits very much in the desert (two of them, in fact), it’s far from flat. The northern part of the park, set in the higher Mojave Desert, is a labyrinth of boulders and rock formations, and it’s in this half of the park that its namesake trees grow in abundance making it a wonderful place for a drive or a hike when the weather is cooler.
Favorite Spot Hidden Valley
Minimum Time Required While this park is the size of Rhode Island, the most scenic and accessible portion of the park is the northwest portion along Park Boulevard between the West Entrance Station and North Entrance Station. This section can be driven in about two hours, either west-to-north or west-to-south (or vice-versa). Driving this route allows you to see a good portion of the rock formations and plenty of Joshua Trees. Even if you’re just passing through, it’s worth a stop at one of the rock formation areas. While Hidden Valley and Barker Dam are the most popular areas for short hikes, consider a quicker stop at Quail Springs or Jumbo Rocks if you’d like to experience the rocks without a hike. If driving through the southern area of the park, the Cholla Cactus Garden is a worthwhile stop, though you can get the experience hiking the first 200 feet of the trail instead of the entire loop.
If you’re passing through on I-10, and only have enough time to enter the southern portion of the park via Cottonwood Visitors Center, I recommend you not waste your time. The southern half, the Colorado Desert, is nowhere near as scenic as the Mojave Desert in the northern portion of the park. The area between the North and West Entrance Stations is definitely where it’s at!
A Longer Visit For a 1/2 day or more, I still recommend spending the bulk of your time along Park Boulevard. Rather than driving through, a four-hour visit gives you a chance to take some short to moderate hikes in the more popular Hidden Valley and Barker Dam areas. Make your first stop one of the three visitors centers. The two northern visitors centers are actually not in the park but just off highway 62 in Twentynine Palms (Oasis Visitor Center) and Joshua Tree (Joshua Tree Visitor Center). There are some exhibits, but you’re really looking for a park newsletter and recommendations on the best areas for the day.
The Hidden Valley Trail is about a mile long loop that winds down into beautiful rock formations. I found it difficult to find a parking spot here on a weekend. Slightly less crowded is the Barker Dam Trail. Also about a mile loop, this trail travels through a more open area of rocks to a small reservoir originally built by cowboys and some petroglyphs. Another area to explore is Jumbo Rocks. Rather than a trail, this area is great for some rock scrambling. The most prominent feature here is Skull Rock which is visible from the road–you’ll know it when you see it. If you’re in the south section of the park, the Cholla Cactus Garden is worth a stop (but not a detour)–it’s really the only noteworthy stop in this entire section of the park.
One thing you’ll notice everywhere in the park are climbers. At every major area with rock formations, you’ll find groups of climbers and guides with ropes and gear. If this interests you, I recommend making arrangements with a private company offering this service before your visit. There are also plenty of longer hikes for the serious back-country hiker, but most of these require you to register first.
Suggestions Take water, water, water! This is the desert, and even a short hike will require a lot from your body. There aren’t many places in the park to fill up, so I recommend bringing at least one gallon of water with you including a bottle you can easily take on a hike. There also isn’t anywhere in the park to purchase food, so bring enough snacks or a picnic lunch to get you through the day.
The road through the park is only two lanes, but even with a good crowd on a weekend, I didn’t encounter many traffic jams. In addition to the main parking areas, there are dozens of pull-offs along the road, and the shoulder in most areas is wide and firm, making it easy to duck out of the way if you’d rather take your time.
Finally, this park is definitely a nicer experience in months with cooler temperatures. My visit was in the 70s, and it felt plenty warm on the hikes. I would not want to hike in this park when it’s 90 degrees or warmer. If you must hike when it’s hot, bring even more water. Of course, the sun is also bright in the desert even on a cool day, so a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses are very helpful.
Nearby Towns Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Indio (CA)
Other Nearby Attractions Nothing noted
Official NPS Website Joshua Tree National Park
Write Your Own Review