Next to Joshua Tree at Joshua Tree National Park, California

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park in California

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most unique places in California. Here are things you should see on your visit there and some tips from a local.

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As someone who lives in California it took us a while to make our way down to Joshua Tree National Park and get familiar with it. But once we went, we have been going back when ever we are close by.

We have been to Joshua Tree multiple times with our kids and we have always enjoyed it. If you are looking for a park that is easy to get to and is not too crowded, this is it! It might not be as famous as Yosemite or Sequoia National Park but it is very unique and definitely worth a visit!

Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National PArk

Joshua Tree National Park is the most southerly of the nine national parks in California. A visit to Joshua Tree is easy to combine with a trip to Los Angeles as it is only a couple of hours drive away. Palm Springs is also close by and can be a great home base for the visit. It is only 40 miles (64 km) from the park. A drive from both Las Vegas and San Diego is about 3 hours.

The park is very versatile as it is the meeting point of two different deserts; Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert. You can notice it from the elevation as the Mojave area is higher than the Colorado desert. That makes the Mojave side usually a little bit cooler when it comes to weather.

In my opinion, the Mojave side is the more interesting part of the park. There is more to see and better hiking trails. Also the Joshua trees that the park is named after, grow in this area. Many people come here for rock climbing, camping or photography.

Mojave Desert expands all the way from California to Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Another great place for hiking there is the Mojave National Preserve which we visited couple years ago.

The east side of Joshua Tree Park is part of the Colorado Desert and lies lower. Especially in the summer months this side gets very hot and dry. Plants are mostly shrubs and cacti. The Cholla Cactus Garden is the most popular place to stop here and it for sure worth it too.

We didn’t see very many animals in Joshua Tree Park but the most common things to see are birds, squirrels and lizards. There are also some snakes so make sure to check where you step! We did spot a coyote in between the trees and there are some Bighorn Sheep living up on the mountain side and the luckiest ones will run into a desert tortoise.

Joshua Tree National Park has southern and northern entrances which makes it quite easy to just drive through. There are three visitor centers by each entrance. There are not many other services, so it’s best to get gas outside of Joshua Tree and bring some food and water for your stay. Good hiking shoes, a hat and sunscreen are a must!

Joshua Tree National Park has a nice Junior Ranger program for kids. You will get the activity book from the visitor center.

A sign at Joshua Tree National Park.
Our daughter with all her junior ranger merch in Joshua Tree National Park.

What is a Joshua Tree?

The Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) is a unique tree that belong to Agave family. It mainly grows in the Mojave Desert in California, but is also found in small amounts in Arizona, Nevada and Utah where Mojave expands into. Some have also been found in the Sonoran Desert where the saguaro cactus grows.

The Joshua tree can grow to be 49 feet (15 meters) tall and they can live up to 200 years old. They will not bloom every year but when they do ,yucca moths will pollinate them. A new tree will grow about 3 inch per year (7,6 cm).

It is believed that the Joshua tree got its name from Mormon settlers who were crossing the desert. When they saw the tree they thought of the story of Joshua from the Bible. Joshua kept his hands high up in order to guide the Israelites just like the trees now guided them through the desert with their branches high up.

The Cahuilla tribe of Native American people who lived in the area used Joshua trees for various things. They weaved sandals and baskets out the Joshua leaves for example.

Joshua trees are suffering from climate change and it is likely that in the future they will become even more rare.

Road at Joshua Tree National Park with trees along it.

Best time to visit Joshua tree National Park

The Best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is spring, fall and the winter months. At spring; March, April and May you will be able to see some desert flowers blooming as well as the Joshua Trees themselves. The bloom varies from year to year and depends on how much it rains during the winter.

At the winter months the weather can be unpredictable, so it is always good to check the forecast before going. The park can sometimes experience high winds, flash floods, hail and even snow. If there is no rain in the forecast you are generally good to go with no problem.

Summer months can be quite hot and not ideal for hiking. If you go during the summer, it is best to go out very early in the morning or late in the evening. Joshua Tree has a lot of bees which are more active during summer so if you are allergic, this might not be the best time to go. Also rattle snakes are more active during summer.

Our daughter looking at wild flowers at Joshua Tree Park.
Wild flowers at Joshua Tree National Park.

What to see at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees

Joshua trees are of course the main attraction of the park. If you drive in to the park from the northern entrance you will see some pretty much right away. The best ones are along the main road right at the beginning and and they slowly get less and less.

There are plenty of places to stop and take photos, and even to hike in between the trees. Behind them you might see some rock formations and people even walking on a tightrope.

Tighrope walker in Joshua Tree National Park.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden is a very interesting quick stop along the main road. You can walk between the chollas and see them from very close. The trail at Cholla Cactus Garden is only about 0.2 miles (400 m) long so walking around it takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes.

Chollas are very typical to this area, but it is best not to touch them when you see them. They are also known as “Jumping Chollas” because they drop little balls on the ground and if you kick them, it looks like they almost jump back at you.

The tiny spines on Chollas are hollow and when they get attached into something the end of the spine bends like a hook. That makes them get stuck extremely well and removing them is painful. The little balls from chollas get moved around by animals and winds.

This is a place where you don’t want to wear sandals in case you accidentally step on those cholla balls. Having proper shoes here is a must! Keep you little ones close or hold their hands so they wont touch the chollas. There are also a lot of bees in this area.

Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park.
Cholla Cactus from close at Joshua Tree National Park.
Me in Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park
A lizard at Cholla Cactus Garden.
Cholla balls seen here with a lizard will jump right back at you if you kick them.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock is a natural arch you can see while hiking at Joshua Tree. Start the Arch Rock Trail from Twin Tanks Parking lot and follow it about the halfway on the loop. Getting to the arch requires a little bit of rock scrambling but you can also just look at it from further away.

This trail is 1.4 miles (2 km) long and great for kids. It took us about an hour to walk it through. It is mostly a sandy path, but once we reached the rocks, our kids just ran over to climb on them.

Arch Rock at Joshua Tree National Park.
Me and or kids at the trail going to Arch Rock.

Skull Rock

Skull Rock must be the most photographed rock in Joshua Tree National Park. As you probably could have guessed it looks very much like a skull. It got its shape due to erosion over the years.

Skull rock is right along the park’s main road, so you don’t have to do a hike to see it. But there is a popular hiking trail that leaves from the the same area, so it can be a little challenging to find parking.

Along this trail you can find more interesting rock formations. It is 1.7-mile (2,7 km) long, so it takes about 1 to 2 hours to complete depending how fast you walk.

Where to stay at JOshua Tree National Park

If you are planning to camp at Joshua Tree, there are several areas for that. One of them is right by Skull Rock aS seen in a photo above. Joshua Tree National Park is said to be one of the best places in California to see or photograph the stars, so make sure to reserve your spot early since they fill up fast.

There are many Airbnb cabins IN the desert close to the park. Also airstreams and luxury tents are popular.

There are several places close by where you can get a hotel room and stay at. We have stayed at Twentynine Palms at the Holiday Inn.

However, if you like to stay in quirky hotels like we do sometimes, you might want to check out America’s Best Value in Yucca Valley and ask for their Cave rooms or Rockin’ Fifties rooms. It is not as cool as the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, but still unique and fun!

Last time we ended up staying in Palm Springs which also offers a lot of other entertainment. With a bigger group we chose this great condo with a pool in Indio, but in downtown Palm Springs, Alcazar Palm Springs is our favorite hotel.

From Palm Springs and Indio, it was easy not only to visit Joshua Tree National Park but also Indian Canyons for hiking, Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain. We also drove to see some Desert X art installations which was great fun.

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Joshua Tree National Park is a great park to visit! You can easily see all the main things in one day or you can stay longer and keep exploring the desert. It is very unique and different from for example Yosemite National Park.

It is also great fun for kids! Here are all our tips for going hiking with children.

Enjoy this beautiful park!

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Have you visited Joshua Tree National Park? Do you have any tips what to see there?

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