Joshua Tree is a unique and magical place, located in the heart of Southern California’s High Desert, approximately 130 miles from Los Angeles. Planning a visit to the park? Follow our easy top tips and list of must-see recommendations of things to do when visiting Joshua Tree National Park.
About Joshua Tree National Park
The park is named after the iconic Joshua Tree, which gained a lot of popularity from the U2 album during the late 80s.
“Joshua Tree” actually comes from Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Visiting Joshua Tree National Park: Highlights
1. Hidden Valley and Barker Dam Nature Trail
The Hidden Valley and Barker Dam Nature Trails both offer easy hiking and interesting landscapes. These are great trails that accessible to anyone. Just be careful where you are walking – we ended up crossing paths with a baby rattlesnake during our hike!
2. Arch Rock
Arch Rock is a popular camping area within the park, but what makes it so cool are the number of large rocks in the area. It’s like a natural playground filled with archways, boulders, and even some small tunnels and caves.
3. Skull Rock
This is a quick stop in the park but is an interesting landmark. Skull rock resembles a giant human skull, making it a popular location to snap a photo or video.
4. Keys View
Keys View is toward the West end of the park. The views from this area of the Coachella Valley were incredible. From this location, you can see the San Andreas fault line, the Salton Sea, and the peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountain.
5. Lost Horse Mine Trail
This trail is not far from Keys View and offered a 4 to 5 mile incline hike to an abandoned mine. The mine actually fenced off, but the highlight was the trail itself. The Lost Horse Mine Trail is very secluded and offers some beautiful views of the landscape.
6. Cholla Cactus Garden
This was actually my favorite stop within the park. The Cholla Cactus Garden is home to the Cholla “jumping cactus”, which are famous for being extremely sticky and difficult to remove. There are actually signs everywhere warning visitors to be careful of the cacti.
I had seen a few YouTube videos of people getting completely covered with the cactus needles and had read stories about it being feared in the desert. Against my better judgment, I decided to test how easy it would stick to the strap of my backpack. After a couple of failed attempts, I decided to pick up one of the smaller cactus pieces that had fallen on the ground. Surprisingly, it poked deep into my finger. When I tried to get it off, it was as if it hooked onto me and I ended up getting it stuck on my other hand, even though I was trying to touch around the spines.
The spines actually have microscopic barbs which make it seem like the cactus is trying to latch onto you. Luckily, I had packed my keychain Leatherman, which allowed me to safely detach the cactus from my hand. It was definitely a funny but painful experience!
Where to Stay
In terms of places to stay for Joshua Tree National Park, we booked an Airbnb in Twentynine Palms, which is near the North Entrance Station. The house was really nice, and even had a wonderful backyard and hot tub. The town was great too, and we ended up eating a dinner at the Thai Café which is along the main road, only a couple of blocks away from our Airbnb house.
Top Tips for Visiting
If you’re planning to take a trip to Joshua Tree, here are some of our top tips:
1. Stay on the trails
Even though you may be tempted to walk off the trails, you may want to think twice. Not only are there a lot of cacti in the area, but you never know when you might encounter some wildlife – like a snake! Also, if you’re traveling with kids, just remind them to watch where they are stepping and be aware of their surroundings.
2. Bring tons of water
Joshua Tree is hot! I would double the amount of water that you would normally carry when hiking. Also, we bought a large jug of water at the store before entering the park but wanted to keep the water cool when we were hiking. We packed several Swell insulated water bottles that kept the water nice and cold the entire day. I highly recommend them!
3. Bring sunscreen and a hat
This might seem like a no-brainer, but even I underestimated the sunlight. While there were some opportunities to find shade among the rocks, there isn’t much vegetation to block the sunlight when hiking on the trails.
4. Wear proper footwear
I saw a lot of folks on the trail with flip-flops. While it may seem appropriate since it’s so warm, it’s actually quite dangerous given the number of cacti and wildlife around. And by wildlife, did I mention that we ran into a rattlesnake on the trail?!
5. Pack snacks
Once in the park, we didn’t see any opportunities to buy food or refreshments, so it makes sense to carry some snacks. Just keep in mind that your food might melt because of the heat, so I would avoid things like chocolate which can get messy.
6. Pack a first aid kit
Joshua Tree National Park is large and vast, so you won’t see the rangers in the park very often. Also, phone reception was very limited, so be prepared by carrying a first aid kit in case of any emergencies.
7. Carry a multi-tool
As you probably saw earlier in the video, I had a little encounter with the Cholla jumping cactus. I tried to remove it using my hands, but because of the way that the cactus spines are designed, it made the situation even worse. Luckily, I had packed a small Leatherman tool which allowed me to remove the cactus spine. It definitely saved the day!
8. Bring wipes or hand sanitizer
While there were bathrooms at almost every trailhead, we did notice that the bathrooms lacked places to wash your hands. I would recommend packing some sanitizing wipes or at least some hand sanitizer.
9. Bring a spare battery pack
While I always find it useful to carry a spare battery pack whenever I travel, I found that my phone battery drained especially fast in the high heat and because it was constantly searching for a wireless signal.
10. Download offline maps
This was super useful as well! We ended up downloading the maps for Joshua Tree National Park on the Google Maps app, then marked the locations that we wanted to visit. This helped us to plan out the activities based on proximity. Also, since the map data was on the phone, we could even use the navigation without a phone signal.
11. Get a National Park annual pass
Admission into the park is $25, but if you plan to visit other national parks during the year (and if not, you really should!), then I would suggest purchasing a national park annual pass. It costs $80, and you can register two people with the pass, allowing you to share it with someone else, making it an incredible deal.