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HomeTravel TipsSee the Highlights of Joshua Tree Nationwide Park in One Day

See the Highlights of Joshua Tree Nationwide Park in One Day


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In an ideal world, you’d all the time have days – or weeks! – to dedicate to each nationwide park you may go to. In some circumstances, a number of days in a park are just about important with a purpose to see all of the highlights.

However, in different circumstances, you actually can see the very best of a nationwide park in a single well-planned day.

And Joshua Tree Nationwide Park in California is a kind of parks.

Joshua trees and boulders at Joshua Tree National Park

An intro to Joshua Tree Nationwide Park

Positioned in southern California, Joshua Tree is a very fashionable day journey from close by cities like Palm Springs, and a simple in a single day journey from bigger cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, and even Las Vegas.

The park covers roughly 800,000 acres, and is tremendous distinctive in that it straddles two distinct desert environments: the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. And it is within the cooler, higher-altitude Mojave Desert that the well-known Joshua timber develop.

Amanda doing a tree pose in front of a large Joshua tree
You will not discover Joshua Bushes anyplace on the earth outdoors the Mojave Desert!

Regardless of its harsh desert-ness, Joshua Tree Nationwide Park has been inhabited by people for roughly 5,000 years, first by individuals from the Pinto Tradition, after which by Indigenous teams just like the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla peoples. They largely settled round scarce water sources/oases round present-day Twentynine Palms and the Oasis of Mara.

White settlers started shifting in within the mid-1800s to dig mines, herd livestock, and ultimately construct homesteads. A number of the Indigenous peoples had already moved out of the realm by that time, however the remainder have been probably compelled out by settlers (historic accounts do not all agree, but it surely’s simply the best way US historical past goes typically).

Boulders in Joshua Tree National Park
Laborious to think about carving out a life right here, although!

It was due to a kind of early settlers, although, that Joshua Tree would ultimately be protected. Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, a transplant herself from Mississippi, fell in love with the California desert, and devoted her life to defending desert landscapes. It was largely due to her efforts that Joshua Tree Nationwide Monument was established by President Roosevelt in 1936.

Joshua Tree can be elevated to nationwide park standing in 1994, after Congress handed the California Desert Safety Act.

In the future in Joshua Tree Nationwide Park

Okay, okay, sufficient historical past lesson – let’s get to all the things you’ll be able to see and do in Joshua Tree in simply someday!

Observe: I am recommending some hikes right here, however know that the majority hikes inside Joshua Tree Nationwide Park supply up little shade, and the park is usually extremely popular and dry. Climbing all through the day is absolutely solely really useful within the late fall, winter, and early spring months (suppose: late October-early April); when you’re visiting throughout one other time of yr, plan to start out your hikes very early within the morning, and pack extra water than you suppose you want.

1. Dawn at Cholla Cactus Backyard

Sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden
No, this is not Photoshopped; the teddy bear cholla actually seems like this!

I do know dawn could be too early for a lot of park guests, however when you’re keen to do it for simply this someday, I promise it will be price it! Not solely will you see a extremely particular sight, however you will additionally beat the crowds to most of the mountain climbing trails and prime factors of curiosity afterwards.

The Cholla Cactus Backyard is positioned about 12 miles from Joshua Tree’s north entrance, throughout the Pinto Basin the place the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet. The “backyard” is full of close-growing teddy bear cholla cacti.

It is a panorama in contrast to every other in Joshua Tree Nationwide Park, and is particularly hanging because the solar rises over the close by mountains to light up the semi-translucent yellow spines on the teddy bear cholla.

Pre-sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden
Pre-sunrise
Sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden
Dawn begins
Cholla Cactus Garden right after sunrise
Sure, they seem like they glow with the solar behind them!

There is a .25-mile nature path by the cacti to stroll, providing up loads of vantage factors for nice dawn pictures.

Simply BEWARE that the teddy bear cholla solely look smooth and fluffy. They’re really coated in tiny barbs that can latch onto your clothes or pores and skin on the merest brush, and they are often very painful to take away. They’re so delicate that they’ve the nickname of “leaping cholla,” so make sure you maintain your distance!

Amanda at Cholla Cactus Garden
I used to be additional away from these than I seem!

Time spent: 1 hour for watching dawn/mountain climbing the brief path right here.

2. Arch Rock Nature Path

Your subsequent cease ought to be at Arch Rock, which is positioned slightly north of the Cholla Backyard alongside Pinto Basin Highway. The parking zone for the trailhead is marked as Twin Tanks Parking, and you will additionally see indicators for the Arch Rock Trailhead.

This 1.4-mile path takes you thru a little bit of desert, after which by some actually cool rock formations. Arch Rock itself is positioned about midway by the hike, alongside a .2-mile loop that connects to the primary path.

Amanda inside Arch Rock in Joshua Tree
Me at Arch Rock
Rock formations along Arch Rock Nature Trail
Cool rock formations close to Arch Rock

This hike is pretty fast and simple, and is unquestionably price doing!

Time spent: Round 1 hour

3. Cranium Rock cease

Subsequent, you will flip left off of Pinto Basin Highway again onto Park Boulevard to go into the guts of Joshua Tree Nationwide Park.

I like to recommend making a fast picture cease at Cranium Rock in your approach west, as will probably be quiet right now of the day.

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park
Cranium Rock in morning gentle

There are a number of parking areas on the aspect of the street proper in entrance of Cranium Rock, which can also be the place you will discover a trailhead for a number of trails, together with the Discovery Path (good for youths), the Cranium Rock/Jumbo Rocks Path, and the Cut up Rock Loop (rated reasonable).

I personally did not do any of those hikes as a result of I had different trails on my wishlist, however you may wish to strive one!

Time spent: 10 minutes for Cranium Rock photographs

4. Barker Dam

Subsequent, you will observe Park Boulevard by the guts of the park – notice that you’re going to begin to see these well-known Joshua Bushes (Yucca brevifolia) now, as you are formally within the Mojave Desert. The Mojave Desert, between 2,000 and 6,000 ft elevation, is the one place on the earth the place Joshua timber develop naturally.

Amanda hiking near Joshua trees
Barker Dam path

Make a proper onto Barker Dam Highway, which dead-ends within the parking zone for one more brief (1.1 miles) and simple loop hike. The Barker Dam hike has slightly little bit of all the things: large monzogranite boulders and rock formations, loads of Joshua timber, and slightly space historical past.

About midway by the hike, you will attain Barker Dam itself, which is a water tank constructed by early cattle ranchers. You may get fortunate sufficient to go to when it has water in it, which is a fairly cool sight to see in such a dry desert panorama.

Barker Dam in Joshua Tree National Park
There wasn’t a lot water in Barker Dam after I visited, however you’ll be able to see earlier water ranges on the rocks.

Look out for bighorn sheep on this hike, in addition to views of San Gorgonio Mountain.

A snow-covered San Gorgonio Mountain in the distance
San Gorgonio Mountain
Joshua tree branch framing San Gorgonio Mountain
Undoubtedly a cool and scenic hike!

Time spent: Permit about an hour; the path is flat, so that you may really end sooner!

5. Hidden Valley hike

From Barker Dam, head throughout Park Boulevard to the Hidden Valley path. That is in all probability the most well-liked hike within the park, so that you may discover it slightly busier than the others you have achieved to this point.

This 1-mile loop path requires a little bit of uphill climbing on the very starting and finish – however solely about 100 ft or so of elevation acquire. When you get into the valley itself, you will perceive the way it acquired its identify!

The legend goes that this “hidden valley” was utilized by cattle rustlers to cover stolen livestock. Right this moment, the hike right here takes you previous towering rock formations.

Hidden Valley hike
The rocks seem like they have been stacked by hand!
A hiker in Hidden Valley
My buddy Kat mountain climbing in Hidden Valley

Time spent: Permit about an hour, although when you do not cease an excessive amount of you could possibly simply do it in much less time.

It won’t even be 11 a.m. but relying on what time dawn was, but it surely’s probably you will be prepared for lunch anyway after placing a number of miles below your belt. If that is the case, there is a good picnic space throughout the parking space from the Hidden Valley trailhead. I like to recommend packing a picnic lunch for the day, and having fun with it right here!

Observe: Particularly when you’re bringing meals/drinks into the park, you need to undoubtedly pledge to observe Depart No Hint rules, which embrace eradicating any trash/waste you herald or create, not harming any plant/animal life, and usually leaving the park in the identical situation as while you entered it. Be type to our public lands!

6. Cap Rock Nature Path

Cap Rock Nature Trail
And there is Cap Rock!

Hit the Park Boulevard once more again the best way you got here earlier within the day, this time detouring to Keys View Highway.

Not far previous this turn-off, you’ll be able to cease on the Cap Rock Nature Path, which is a brief (0.4-mile) loop path with some wonderful views and attention-grabbing data boards alongside the path telling you all in regards to the native desert natural world.

Time spent: half-hour when you cease to learn the data boards

7. Drive to Keys View

From Cap Rock, observe Keys View Highway to the tip (about 5.5 miles), the place you will end up at Keys View itself.

This lookout level at 5,185 ft affords up unimaginable views out over the Coachella Valley, which the San Andreas Fault runs by.

Beware that it may be extremely windy and COLD up right here, particularly outdoors of the summer time months. So make sure you throw on a jacket earlier than you get out of the automotive to absorb the view.

Time spent: 45 minutes-1 hour (together with the drive)

8. Corridor of Horrors

Yet one more place price stopping alongside Park Boulevard is on the “Corridor of Horrors” space. (Sure, I am going to admit we stopped just because I used to be curious in regards to the identify!)

There are some actually tall Joshua timber right here which can be nice for photographs, and a brief path leads by them and round some clusters of big boulders.

Joshua trees at Hall of Horrors
So many large Joshua timber!

The extra adventurous may also do some rock scrambling right here, and even discover some small slot canyons! (Extra on methods to discover the slot canyons right here.)

9. Oasis of Mara

Assuming you entered and can exit the park by the North Entrance (the closest to the city of Twentynine Palms), then I additionally advocate stopping on the Oasis of Mara in your approach out.

This pure oasis is surrounded by tall palm timber, and was one of many most important locations round which native Indigenous individuals would have arrange their camps and settlements centuries in the past.

Palm trees growing at the Oasis of Mara
Palm timber rising on the Oasis of Mara

This additionally was once the location of one in all Joshua Tree’s customer facilities, however the Oasis Customer Middle closed in 2022. The brand new Joshua Tree Cultural Middle is now open as a substitute in Twentynine Palms at 6533 Freedom Means.

When you’ve got extra time…

The above itinerary will take you thru mid-afternoon in Joshua Tree Nationwide Park, which actually might be sufficient for most individuals, particularly when you begin your day earlier than dawn. (Personally, the panorama began to look a bit same-y to me after some time!)

However when you do have extra time, another belongings you may wish to do in Joshua Tree embrace:

  1. Keys Ranch – You’ll be able to tour this previous ranch/homestead throughout the park to study what it was like for the Keys household dwelling right here. Excursions are often provided October-Might, price $10 per individual, and have to be reserved upfront right here.
  2. Cottonwood Spring Oasis – Close to the southern entrance of the park (and close to one other customer heart and campground), a brief path leads you to an oasis the place fan palms and cottonwood timber develop.
  3. Forty 9 Palms Oasis hike – In the event you’re on the lookout for a harder and longer hike inside Joshua Tree, the 3-mile Forty 9 Palms hike could be for you. It has a 300-foot elevation acquire in each instructions, and ends at a fan palm oasis in a rocky canyon.
Lone Joshua Tree at Keys View
One lone Joshua Tree at Keys View

The place to remain close to Joshua Tree Nationwide Park

Even when you’re solely spending someday in Joshua Tree, likelihood is you could be within the space for an evening or two. I visited this park as half of a bigger California desert street journey, and we spent two nights in Joshua Tree.

Except you are visiting Joshua Tree as a day journey from someplace like Palm Springs, the very best locations to remain in shut proximity to the park are:

  • Twentynine Palms – This small city sits close to the northern entrance of Joshua Tree Nationwide Park, and has some eating places and fairly a number of motels/motels to select from.
  • Joshua Tree – The city of Joshua Tree is nearer to the western entrance to Joshua Tree, however has extra trip leases.
  • Campgrounds within the park – There are 9 campgrounds throughout the nationwide park. Some require superior reservations, whereas a number of are first-come, first-served. Costs vary from $20-$50 per night time. Extra data right here.

There are lodge/motel choices round Joshua Tree, however there are additionally a TON of actually cute, design-forward trip leases within the space. My buddy and I rented an lovable 2-bedroom Airbnb in Joshua Tree city for a fairly honest price that got here full with personal sizzling tub! (It was this one, particularly.)

Joshua Tree Airbnb bedroom
Typical Joshua Tree design vibes
Amanda and Kat drinking wine in a hot tub
We took full benefit of this sizzling tub!

Seek for Joshua Tree trip leases right here.

And when you keep in Joshua Tree city, I can extremely advocate stopping for espresso at Joshua Tree Espresso Firm, and having a meal on the Joshua Tree Saloon.


Take a look at these different 1-day nationwide park guides:


Have you ever been to Joshua Tree Nationwide Park? If not, what issues would you most love to do/see there in someday?

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