Joshua Tree National Park

Why should you choose Joshua Tree National Park as your next vacation spot or road trip?

As an important part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, Joshua Tree National Park is very scenic.  It is home to many wildlife species that are indigenous to the region, including mammals, birds, lizards, and insects.  The vastness of the park reminds us that people have not yet encroached on this critical natural wonderland that is home to so many creatures.


Joshua Tree National Park is located in the southeastern part of California near Palm Springs. The name is derived from the Joshua trees that are native to the Mojave Desert.  The park was originally designated a national monument in 1936.  In 1994 the designation changed to a national park when Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act.

The park spans 790,636 acres or 1,235 square miles.  Of this, 429,690 acres is wilderness.  The park is a part of two deserts.  The Mojave Desert is located at the highest elevation, whilst the Colorado Desert is located at the lower part of the park.  Mountains also border the park at the southwestern edge.  This mountain range is the Little San Bernadino Mountains.

How to get to Joshua Tree National Park

If you are coming from outside California, there are two major airports close to the park.  You can fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)  or the Palm Springs Airport.  From there you can rent a car.

There are three entrances to the park.  The main entrance to the park is the West Entrance.

It is the closest to the park and is located in the town of Joshua Tree. The visitor center is located at this entrance.  It is located on Park Blvd at Hwy 62. Stop there and get a parking pass before continuing further into the park.  This entrance is accessed by visitors coming from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Because the lines here may be exceptionally long, you may want to head for the North Entrance.  Visitors coming from Las Vegas use this entrance.  This entrance is located off Hwy 62 in 29 Palms. Most generally, the lines here are shorter through the week and on holidays.

The third entrance to the park is the South Entrance and is located off Hwy 10.  The South Entrance is used by visitors coming from New Mexico, Phoenix, and Indio.

The South Entrance is the least used and will allow you to see the entire spans of the park.  Since the southern part of Joshua Tree is more barren than the north, it is very interesting to see the change in climate and the terrain from this direction.

Activities at Joshua Tree National Park

The main reason for visiting Joshua Tree National Park is to camp and hike. Joshua Tree National Park has eight campgrounds located inside the park. It is best to make reservations at one of these campgrounds.  Some of them are first come first served. Others require reservations during certain months.  It is always best to plan your trip and claim your spot before you come.

If hiking is on your itinerary, there are ten hiking trails within the park. Each has its own unique scenic view:

  1. Ryan Mountain – This trail is considered a difficult trail to traverse.  It is a three-mile trail out and back with a steep elevation.  It is one of the most popular trails with panoramic views. It leads to Pinto Basin.  Be sure to have plenty of water and good hiking shoes.
  2. Cholla Cactus Garden – This trail is a quarter-mile loop that provides access to the dense cholla cactus growing in the park.
  3. Cottonwood Springs – Several hikes begin here.  It was an important watering hole for gold prospectors.  There are remnants of gold mills still located here.
  4. Arch Rock – Campers will find a trail to Arch Rock from within White Tank Campground.  It is only a short distance from the campground and easy to spot.  Placards along the way give some history, so stop and read them as you go.
  5. Skull Rock – Located along the main east-west park road, it is a favorite stop for park visitors. A parking spot is located just across the road from Skull Rock.
  6. Barker Dam – Barker Dam was built over a century ago by ranchers eager to save one of the desert’s most vital resources, water.  The trail leading to the dam is an easy 1.5-mile hike from the trailhead.
  7. Hidden Valley Nature Trail – This trail is an excellent source of wildlife and birds for nature lovers.  It is an easy trek to get to Hidden Valley, thus it is popular with visitors.
  8. Key’s View – This popular destination is perched on the crest of the Little San Bernadino Mountains. It provides panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. It is well worth the 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard down Keys View Road.
  9. Forty Nine Palms Oasis – The trail to Forty Nine Palms Oasis is located away from Park Boulevard (the main road through Joshua Tree National Park). Red barrel cacti line the trail. At the halfway point, the trail begins descending toward the oasis. Enjoy grand views across  Forty Nine Palms Canyon.
  10. Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail – You will find the ten-stamp mill at the end of Lost Horse Mine Trail.  The trail is a 4-mile round trip ending at the mill. The mine produced around 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver.  It is very well preserved and is under the protection of the National Park Services.

The trail is easy to navigate and is well worth the trip to the mine. The trailhead is accessed by taking Park Boulevard and then Keys Road south for 2.4 miles.  Turn left onto a dirt road that leads to the trailhead for Lost Horse Mine.

What to Bring With You to Joshua Tree National Park

Since hiking and camping are the two main reasons that bring visitors to the park, several essential items should be included in the camping gear. A daypack is necessary for hiking excursions.  There are essential items that should be a part of the daypack. The most important item is water.  Allow at least one gallon per person per day of hiking or camping.

An ice chest filled with ice is recommended for extended stays at the campgrounds. Bring more than enough food to last the entire stay.

A sun hat and sunscreen are necessary due to the desert sun.  The Mojave Desert can reach temperatures of 100 degrees F during the day.  Many of the hiking trails wind through the desert. Be prepared to minimize exposure to UV rays. Sunglasses are optional but recommended to protect the eyes against sun exposure.

Good quality hiking boots are essential.  The terrain can be rugged.  Normal sneaker footwear will not hold up under rough terrain.

It is a good idea to bring a first aid kit that is equipped to handle most accidental injuries.

An emergency flare gun or sticks should be a part of the gear as well.  Should the need arise to alert someone of your location, the flare will be vital.

Campgrounds Located at Joshua Tree National Park

There are around 494 campsites located in the park. The majority of these are reservations only.  It is highly recommended to reserve a site.  Reservations can be made six months in advance. The busiest times of the year are holidays, weekends, and during the spring season.  The spring season runs from February to May.

Reservations are required at the following campgrounds:

  1. Jumbo Rocks – 124 campsites available
  2. Indian Cove – 101 Campsites
  3. Black Rock – 99 campsites available
  4. Cottonwood – 62 campsites available
  5. Ryan – 31 campsites available

First come, first served campsites are:

  1. Hidden Valley – 44 campsites available
  2. Belle – 18 campsites available
  3. White Tank – 15 campsites available

There is camping available outside the park, located on the Bureau of Land Management property.  There are also private campgrounds and lodging available.  Contact the Chamber of Commerce in the area you will be visiting for information on these alternatives.

Whether you enjoy bird watching, beautiful views, wildlife, horseback riding, hiking, or climbing, you will find it all in Joshua Tree National Park.