Joshua Tree National Park is a vast desert wilderness located in southern California. The park encompasses 800,000 acres and is found at the crossroads of the great Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems which provides habitat for numerous birds, mammals, insects, and lizards. The rugged desert landscape has been sculpted by the wind and is spotted with twisted, spiky, resilient Joshua trees. The tallest Joshua tree in the park grows in the Queen Valley Forest and towers forty feet high. This incredible tree is estimated to be hundreds of years old. The park has witnessed over 5,000 years of human history from the Pinto Culture who were the first known inhabitants of the area, to the Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Cahuilla peoples, and finally cattlemen, miners, and homesteaders in the 1800s-1900s. Today, the park offers world-class rock climbing, spring wildflower blooms, and endless trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
When is the Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree National Park
March to May is the park’s peak season, visitors are drawn to the bloom of desert wildflowers and the comfortable temperatures. Average high temperatures are around 85°F (29°C) and average lows are around 50°F (10°C).
Summer days from June to September are very hot, around 100°F (38°C), and the nights stay warm, not falling far below 75°F (24°C). The heat keeps many visitors away at this time and some park facilities close down for these months. A highlight of visiting at this time of year is the warm nighttime temperatures for stargazing.
The winter months last from December to February. If you are looking for solitude and want to avoid the crowds then this is the best time to visit. Day time temperatures are around 60°F (15°C) and nights can drop below freezing. Occasional snow is possible at higher elevations.
As the heat of the summer begins to decrease, October to November becomes the second busiest time in the park. Average highs are around 85°F (29°C) and average lows around 50°F (10°C).
How do I Get to Joshua Tree Park National Park
There are three park entrances from the west, north, and south. The West Entrance is the main entrance from the town of Joshua Tree, the South Entrance is off of Highway 10 east of Palm Springs, and the North Entrance is from Twentynine Palms.
From Los Angeles
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). From the airport, it is a 142 mile (228 km) drive to Joshua Tree Visitor Center which takes 2 hours and 15 minutes via the CA-60 E.
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San Diego International Airport (SAN). From the airport, it is a 163 miles (262 km) drive to Joshua Tree Visitor Center which takes 2 hours and 20 minutes via the I-15 N.
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Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS). From the airport, it is a 194 mile (312 km) drive to Joshua Tree Visitor Center which takes 3 hours and 15 minutes via N Amboy Road.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). From the airport, it is a 294 mile (473 km) drive to Joshua Tree Visitor Center which takes 4 hours and 20 minutes via the I-10 W.
The best way to travel around Joshua Tree is by vehicle. There are two main roads through the park, Park Boulevard, and Pinto Basin Road as well as many unpaved roads that are open to visitors and require 4WD.
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It’s always a good idea to start any National Parks trip with a stop at a visitor center where you can speak to rangers, watch the park film, enjoy exhibits about the natural and cultural history of the area, join a ranger-led program, pick up your backcountry permits, or shop for books and maps.
Joshua Tree Visitor Center – 6554 Park Boulevard, Joshua Tree, CA. Open all year.
Oasis Visitor Center – 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA. Open all year.
Cottonwood Visitor Center – Pinto Basin Road, Twentynine Palms, CA. Open all year.
Black Rock Nature Center – 9800 Black Rock Canyon Road, Yucca Valley, CA. Open October through May.
Things to Do and Main Attractions in Joshua Tree
Geology Tour Road
Drive Geology Tour Road, an 18-mile scenic route suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles. The trip takes you into the desert and past sixteen stops of historical and geological interest. 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed in the park on established roads. Alternatively, explore these roads by mountain bike. These dirt roads can take you through winding canyons in the mountains, past some of the park’s largest Joshua trees, and to hiking trailheads. Bike camping sites are located at Ryan Campground.
Explore the vast desert wilderness along the park’s hiking trails. The park has short accessible walks and nature trails such as Barker Dam, Cap Rock, and Cottonwood Spring where you can discover desert plants and explore the cultural history of the area. Alternatively, there are moderate trails such as Mastodon Peak and West Side Loop. There are also challenging multi-day trips such as the California Riding and Hiking Trail which are not recommended to attempt in the heat of the summer.
World Class Rock Climbing
Challenge your climbing skills at a world-class climbing destination. The park has over 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 boulder problems. Inexperienced climbers can hire certified climbing guides to take you out to explore for the day.
International Dark Sky’s Camping
Camp under the stars in Joshua Tree. This is an incredible experience because the park is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park. There is very little light pollution for those who want to experience a naturally dark night sky. The Night Sky Festival takes place in September where you can use telescopes, enjoy live music, be part of a Constellation Tour, and listen to Sky Stories. Daytime activities include astronomy lectures, photo booths, educational tables, crafts, solar viewing, and nature walks.
Spot resident and migrant birds. The park is home to many resident birds such as the greater roadrunner, mockingbird, prairie falcon, and red-tailed hawk. Winter migrants include brightly colored warblers and black-headed grosbeaks among many others. The best place to begin looking for birds is at fan palm oases, and water impoundments.
Private companies offer a variety of unique guided tours. Explore the backroads by jeep, take a guided shuttle to key park areas, hike or mountain bike into the backcountry, climb and rappel famous rock formations, view the night sky with an astronomer, or take an expertly guided horseback riding tour. Alternatively, attending ranger-led programs is a great way to learn about the natural and cultural history of the park. These talks, walks, and evening programs are most often free of charge.
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park
There are nine campgrounds located within the park boundaries. Campers require reservations from September through May for Black Rock, Cottonwood, Indian Cove, Jumbo Rocks, and Sheep Pass Campgrounds. Belle, Hidden Valley, Ryan, and White Tank Campgrounds are first come first serve and Sheep Pass Group Campground requires reservations all year.
Black Rock is a large campground surrounded by Joshua Trees and is only five miles away from the town of Yucca Valley where you can find restaurants, groceries, and shopping. Cottonwood is a flat, open campground with great views of the night sky and an amphitheater. Indian Cove is a large secluded campground enclosed by towering rock formations. Jumbo Rocks is a centrally located campground with views of the rock formations and an amphitheater. Sheep Pass is a group campground that can accommodate 10 – 60 people. The campground is near hiking trails and climbing routes.
Belle is a small campground with great views of the night sky. Hidden Valley Campground is surrounded by Joshua Trees and sites are set amongst large boulders that offer some shade. Ryan Campground is centrally located with equestrian and bike camping sites. White Tank Campground sites sit amongst giant granite boulders and sites are only suitable for RV’s under 25ft (7.6m) in length.
Things to Remember While Visiting the Park
- A minimum of one gallon of water per person, per day, is recommended while in the desert.
- Pets are not allowed on hiking trails, in the backcountry, or in park buildings for their safety and the safety of park wildlife.
- Public WiFi is available at Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms and at Joshua Tree Visitor Center in Joshua Tree.
- There is no cellphone signal throughout the majority of the park.
- Stock up before entering the park. There are no places to buy food or gas within the park.
- Water is only available at Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, West Entrance Station, Black Rock Campground, Cottonwood Campground, and Indian Cove Ranger Station.
- Respect wildlife from a distance: don’t feed or approach them or let them approach you.
- Human food has a serious impact on wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife, keep camps free of all traces of food, store food in an animal-proof food locker, and place all garbage in an animal-proof trash can.
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Still interesting in learning more about amazing National Parks in the southwestern United States, check out Valley of Fire in an RV or Yosemite National Park. Or how about RVing Washington State National Parks.