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Day trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Day trip to Joshua Tree National Park

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Driving through Joshua Tree National Park

The best time to visit Joshua Tree is springtime when the desert is in full bloom. Late March sounds ideal for witnessing the valley wildflowers exploding in color. October through May are great months in general for visiting, camping, and avoiding scorching hot days.

Rock climbing, biking, star-gazing, and sunsets all make Joshua Tree a big hit for outdoor enthusiast of all ages. Base yourself in Palm Springs or Twentynine Palms if you're not the camping type.

We visited in early June at the start of our two week California road trip and it was HOT. Camping was not high on our list. From Twentynine Palms, we opted for a drive through the park after a stop at the visitor center.

Start at the Oasis Visitor Center

Get your bearings and best tips from the rangers at the Oasis Visitor Center, located at the Oasis of Mara in Twentynine Palms, California. Or visit Cottonwood Spring Visitor Center if coming in from the south.

Walk the nature trail around the Oasis of Mara. Check out the exhibits and learn about the desert and special features of Joshua Tree National Park. Grab your park map, talk to the rangers, stamp your national park passport, peruse the book store, and make sure everyone's water bottles are filled to the brim.  

Jumbo Rocks

Stop and play here even if you're not setting up camp.  Lose track of time running up and down gigantic boulders. Our kids loved it.

Jumbo Rocks is centrally located in the park. There are 124 first-come first-serve campsites located in Jumbo Rocks. Bring your own water and canopy shades. Enjoy access to Skull Rock Nature Trail and several nearby climbing areas.

Hidden Valley Trail

Play hide and seek among the rocks where cattle rustlers ran their ring. The Hidden Valley Trail forms an easy 1-mile loop around the famed hideout.

The story goes like this: in the late 1870s, the McHaney Gang was a band of cowboys who swiped horses from California and cattle from Arizona and then brought them to the naturally hidden corral called Hidden Valley. The theives then rebranded the pilfered stock before selling them in out-of-state markets.

Scamper through the rocks on this easy family friendly one mile loop.  The Hidden Valley Trail begins at the Hidden Valley Picnic Area. 

Good to know

Did you know the Joshua Tree is only found in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah?

The spiky tree belongs to the agave family. American Indians used the spiky, sturdy leaves to make into baskets and shoes. Settlers also used the core and branches to build fences to keep in livestock.  (learned from Fodor's Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West.)

courtesy of

courtesy of

Star gaze at the Observatory

Time your visit just right, and Joshua Tree at night is a whole other experience!

For the best night-time star gazing check out Sky's the Limit Observatory and Nature Center.  They have scheduled FREE Saturday night events open to the public. Learn more about their scheduled events here. Their website is packed full with all kinds of helpful information for star-gazing in Joshua.

The Observatory is just outside the North entrance to Joshua Tree National Park at 9697 Utah Trail, Twentynine Palms. 


Tips for visiting Joshua Tree

  1. Bring lots of water. When you set out on a hike, you'll know its time to turn around when a person in your group has gulped down half of their water bottle in hand.

  2. Bring snacks. Sadly, no Dairy Queen exists in the middle of Joshua Tree.

  3. Make sure your gas tank is topped off. Always wise when you're traversing a desert.

  4. Buy your national park pass online ahead of time. If you plan on visiting more than one national park this year with your family, go ahead and buy the annual pass.

Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park, or do you dream of going? Would love to hear what you think of Joshua Tree, so please comment below! Also, feel free to pass on this article to your favorite outdoor adventurer. Thanks!

All photographs, except for the night-time shot, belong to Tanya Raedeke. Do not use without written permission.  

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