Tip: Pack extra water, the desert is hot!

Tip: Prepare for hot days and (potentially) cold nights, especially if you’re camping.

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Joshua Tree National Park is one of my favorite parks in the world – filled with trees, appropriately named Joshua trees, that look like they are straight out of a Dr. Suess book. 

Although as much as Joshua Tree is known for these iconic trees, the rock formations are just as cool. The park attracts thousands of hikers and rock climbers every year. The park itself is huge! It stretches almost 800,000 square acres. 

hiking in joshua tree

The Basics

Food/Water: You will not be able to purchase any food or water within the park. If you are camping in the park, make sure to come prepared with anything that you need. The desert can get extremely hot, so it is better to pack more than what you think you need.

Restrooms: There are restrooms throughout the park at trailheads and campgrounds. 

Camping: Camping in Joshua Tree NP is an incredible experience that I recommend to everyone. Make sure to reserve your campsites in advance.

WiFi/Cell Service: There is no WiFi and little to no cell service within Joshua Tree National Park. Make sure to plan accordingly and download any offline maps that you need. 

Camping in Joshua Tree
Camping in Joshua Tree

How to get to Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is the closest national park to both Los Angeles and San Diego. The best way to get to Joshua Tree is to drive, either in your own car or in a rental car. Technically you could visit Joshua Tree on a day trip from one of these cities, but I highly recommend overnighting for at least night to experience a sunset and sunrise in the park – I promise you won’t regret it!

The following are the drive times to Joshua Tree (without traffic). Note, however, that traffic on evenings and weekends can add multiple hours to your drive. 

Los Angeles to Joshua Tree: 2.5 hours 

San Diego to Joshua Tree: 2 hours 45 minutes

Palm Springs to Joshua Tree: 45 minutes 

rock hike in joshua tree

How much does it cost to visit?

A 7-day pass to Joshua Tree costs $30 and an annual pass costs $55.

If you are going to be visiting multiple parks then I strongly suggest that you purchase an America the Beautiful pass ($82) that will give you access to over 2000 different parks and recreation sites annually. 

Sunset in Joshua Tree
Sunset in Joshua Tree

Best time to visit Joshua Tree

While you can technically visit Joshua Tree year round, the best time to visit Joshua Tree is in April and May. I have also visited in the early fall (September and October) and experienced great weather. During these months you will typically experience the most temperate temperatures. This is when you can really experience the best hikes in Joshua Tree.

In the winter months the park is still beautiful, but can get extremely cold at night, especially on windy days. On the other hand, summers can be extremely hot in the desert, making hikes unbearable.

Camping in Joshua Tree 

Camping is a great way to ensure you make the most of your time to hit all of the best hikes in Joshua Tree. Since the park is so big and entrances are rather spread out, camping cuts out any driving time to and from the park, so you can focus on just getting to the various hiking trails.

Camping in Joshua Tree also gives you the opportunity to stargaze in the evenings, and see what I think are some of the best stars in the world.

A few campgrounds are first-come-first-serve, but the majority are available on a reservation-only basis. I highly recommend booking your campsite well in advance.

Campsite costs range from $20-25 depending on the campground.

Camping at Jumbo Rocks Campground
Camping at Jumbo Rocks Campground
Camping at Jumbo Rocks Campground
Camping is one of the best ways to explore Joshua Tree

There are 9 different campgrounds in Joshua Tree:

  • Jumbo Rocks Campground
  • Indian Cove Campground
  • Black Rock Campground
  • Cottonwood Campground
  • Ryan Campground
  • Belle Campground
  • Hidden Valley Campground
  • White Tank Campground

Not all campgrounds are open year-round. You can find all updated informations on the various campgrounds online.

Jumbo Rocks Campground
Jumbo Rocks Campground

Where to stay in Joshua Tree town

If camping is not your vibe, you can find a ton of different lodging options just outside of the park in Joshua Tree town.

Joshua Tree is both the name of the national park, and the nearby town. While the town is obviously close by, there is a big difference between staying in the park and staying near the park. 

High Desert Cabins 

On a recent trip to Joshua Tree we stayed at High Desert Cabins and absolutely loved it! This little house, located right in Joshua Tree Town, is perfect for exploring the park. You can reach the park entrance in about 15 minutes from the house.

While in the town you are just a quick walk away from a number of cute cafes, restaurants and bars.

Disclosure: I received a free stay in exchange for photography, however all opinions are my own.

High Desert Cabins
High Desert Cabins
High Desert Cabins
I recommend staying in or close by to the park

Best hikes in Joshua Tree 

Skull Rock 

The Skull Rock trail is easily one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree. This is mostly due to its accessibility as a short, flat hike with a trail head right off the side of the road.

As soon as you start the hike you’ll see the “skull rock,” which the trail was named after. A lot of visitors stop right here, but you can continue past the skull to do the full loop.

Right across the road you’ll find the Discovery Trailhead, which is another easy, flat hike.

Distance: 1.7 mile loop, easy

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree
Arch Rock Nature Trail
So many amazing hikes to explore in Joshua Tree

Arch Rock Nature Trail

Even though its not particularly difficult, Arch Rock Nature Trail is one of my favorites in the park. The arches remind me of the arches in Arches National Park.

Distance: 1.4 miles out and back, easy

Elevation Gain: 

Hidden Valley Trail

This is one of the shorter, flatter hikes in the park, and therefore you can usually expect a lot of crowds. The loop is about a mile along a path, but there are some areas to veer off onto boulders. Overall it is a great introduction to what the park has to offer, and is perfect for extra hot days when you don’t want to climb.

There is a great picnic area by the trailhead.

Distance: 1 mile loop, easy

Elevation Gain: none

49 Palms Oasis

This is easily one of the most beautiful hikes in the park, and easily one of the best hikes. I first completed the 49 Palms Oasis hike on my first visit to Joshua Tree NP in 2012 and it has remained a favorite ever since. 

My favorite part of the hike is when it opens up to a small palm tree oasis, a beautiful sight in the middle of the desert.

You’ll find some challenging, diverse terrain throughout the trail, and a few areas that require scrambling. Unlike many of the easier hikes on this list, I’d definitely recommend proper hiking boots and poles if you have them.

Distance: 3 miles round trip, moderate

Hidden Valley Trail
Hidden Valley Trail
49 Palms Oasis
49 Palms Oasis

Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden Trail is another beginner-friendly hike in Joshua Tree. The trail, located near the south entrance of the park, is short and flat, making it appropriate for any fitness level. It is really more of a stroll than an actual hike, but it is absolutely gorgeous nevertheless since the garden is filled with Cholla cacti.

I recommend visiting for either sunrise or sunset, when the sun lights up the sky behind the cacti.

Distance: 0.2 miles

Elevation Gain: flat trail

Cholla Cactus Garden at sunrise
Cholla Cactus Garden at sunrise
Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree
Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree

Key’s View 

To reach Key’s View you will actually need to drive up most of the way. Once you reach the lot there is a 0.2 mile easy loop.

Key’s View is great for sunrise since it is south facing, with views of Coachella Valley down below. But it is also a popular spot for sunset.

Distance: 0.2 miles roundtrip, easy

Indian Cove

Indian Cove is less of a clear trail, and more just a fun area to play around in. You’ll find tons of large rocks to boulder and hanging around on.

I recommend coming for sunrise for a beautiful view of the park.

Ryan Mountain

If you’re looking for a hke that will get your heart racing, Ryan Mountain is for you. The hike up Ryan Mountain brings you to one of the tallest points in the park, with over 1,000 ft of elevation gain.

At the top you’ll be rewarded with beautiful 360 degree views of the park down below. It is easily one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree in my opinion.

There is minimal shade throughout the hike with a continuous uphill climb, so I’d avoid hiking in the middle of the day.

Distance: 3 miles roundtrip, moderate-difficult

Elevation Gain: 1,069 ft

Ryan Mountain Hike, Joshua Tree
Ryan Mountain Hike, Joshua Tree

Where to eat and drink in Joshua Tree 

JT Saloon – a fun, lively spot for dinner and drinks with tons of outdoor seating

The Natural Sisters Cafe – great for healthy breakfast options and delicious smoothies 

Pappy & Harriott – located 30 minutes away in Pioneertown, this is one of the most popular restaurants, with weekend live music. Be sure to make a reservation.  

Local markets and souvenir shops
Local markets and souvenir shops

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