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7 Things You Need to Know About Joshua Tree National Park

By Nick Nolan, guest writer.

Some History of Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is a National Park near 29 Palms in Southern California. The Park was established in 1994, and 3 million visitors come to check out the unique rock formations and desert life.

Joshua trees, which are also called Yucca Palms, look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, with oddly twisted branches.

Even though the Joshua Tree area has been populated for 5,000 years, it’s commonly believed that as Mormons were heading to the West Coast, they gave the yucca palms the name Joshua, after the Biblical figure who entered the promised land.

Along with the Joshua trees, the National Park is known for majestic rock formations. These rocks formed over hundreds of millions of years and continue to offer park-goers a unique scenery.

Getting in and around the park

Joshua Tree is a few short hours away from Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. There are three entrances into the park, from the North, West, and South sides. You’ll be able to drive from one gate to another in about an hour, so you can enter through any entrance.

The main entrance is on the west side, but there can be long lines on busy weekends, so the other two entrances may be faster.

I recommend getting a physical map of Joshua Tree before entering because cell phone service is limited throughout the park. There are a few offroad trails like Geology Tour Road where you’ll need a jeep or 4×4 to make it. You can still see the majority of the park in any type of car.

Getting around the park is easy because there are only a few roads. Along the roads, you will see signs for various points of interest and trailheads.

There are miles and miles of trails you can explore. You can go hiking all day on trails of varying difficulty. Some trails are flat and short, while others are more challenging and should be avoided during the hot summer days. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites spots next.

Like most National Parks, there is a one-time entry fee for Joshua Tree. The $30 fee will get you a pass that’s valid for seven days. With that, you can go in and out of the park as needed. You can also get a 12-month National Park pass that costs $80. This is a great deal if you plan on visiting other National Parks.

What you need to see​

Despite being in the middle of a desert, there’s a lot to see in Joshua Tree, other than the trees. Throughout the park, there are 32 different trailheads. You can spend days going on various hikes through the park. I’ll highlight a few favorites:

Keys View: This is a lookout point with an elevation of over 5,000 feet. Keys View road will take you all the way up the mountain and offer a spectacular lookout over the desert oasis. Keys View is also the perfect spot to see the sunset to the west.

Barker Dam: This dam was built over 100 years ago and holds seasonal rainwater. There is a 1-mile loop that you can easily hike around.

Ryan’s Mountain: This is a more challenging hike to the summit of Ryan’s Mountain. It’s 3 miles to the top and back and offers great views of the park.

Star Gazing: If you’re staying for more than a day, you need to check out the night sky. Away from the cities, you will be able to see stars like never before.

When is Joshua Tree Open?​

The park is open 24/7 all year long. With that said, note that it gets sweltering hot during the summer months with temperatures over 100℉ (38℃). From May to October, expect temperatures during the day to be 80–100℉ and 50–70℉ at night. From November until April, temperatures cool down to the 50’s and 60’s. It only rains about 1-2 times per month, so you likely don’t need to bring your umbrella.

From September to May, some of the campgrounds require a reservation, and others are first-come-first-serve. These are the busier months and the campsites will be booked, so make sure to get a reservation on Recreation.gov.

You can make a campsite reservation for up to 6 months in advance. 

How long should you stay in the park?​

You can see the main attraction at the park in a single day. If you make it a day trip, make sure to stick around to watch the sunset. Keys View offers one of the best spots to watch the sunset. And if you don’t need to drive far, stay in the park until it gets dark. Joshua Tree is one of the best places to see the night sky.

There are nine different campsites in Joshua Tree. Most are limited to 25 people, and some spaces limited during the summer months. There are also RV campsites around the park, and public land you can camp on.

If you want to see everything and go on some longer hikes, we recommend staying for 2-4 days to get the whole experience.

If you don’t want to camp in the park, there are a few hotels and plenty of Airbnb’s available near the West gate in the city of Joshua Tree. There is a cafe located in the main visitor’s center, but I recommend bringing food and plenty of water for your trip. There are picnic tables and campfire sites around the park to cook and eat.

Things to do around Joshua Tree​

As I’ve mentioned, Joshua Tree is within a few hour’s drive of big cities, but there are a few destinations worth visiting that are closer to the park. You can easily stay around Joshua Tree hiking and taking in the views. If you want to take an extended trip, there are some fun things to do around the area.

Unless you want to drive into the bigger cities in California, most places around Joshua Tree are small towns and miles of wilderness. There are plenty of opportunities to explore nature, go camping, enjoy sand dunes, and see desert wildlife.

Desert Hot Springs: This is a city of around 25,000 that’s a 40-minute drive west from Joshua Tree’s main entrance. Desert Hot Springs is one of the few places where there are naturally occurring hot and cold mineral springs. You can visit up to twenty mineral spring lodgings throughout the city.

Sheephole Valley Wilderness: This is a nature preserve located just northeast of Joshua Tree. Be sure to get gas before heading here because there’s not much around. It’s a great place to avoid crowds and go camping.

Salton Sea: The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California, which can seem odd in the middle of the desert. It’s about a 30-minute drive south of Joshua Tree. You shouldn’t expect to go swimming here, but drive by and take pictures of abandoned structures and the unique (somewhat odd) culture. Slab City and Salvation Mountain are a few minutes southeast of Salton Sea and offer some cool photo opportunities of an adobe mound covered in colorful folk art.

FAQs about Joshua Tree National Park​

Can I stay in an RV in Joshua Tree?

Yes. Some campsites allow RVs, trailers, camper vans, and fifth wheels. Other campsites only allow tents.

Do I need a reservation?

If you’re planning on staying overnight we recommend making a reservation. Some campsites require reservations between September-May.

When is the best time to visit?

The first few months of the year are busier. If you don’t mind the heat, visiting in the summer months can be enjoyable and you’ll avoid the crowd. You won’t be able to go on longer hikes during the hotter months.

What is the closest airport?

The Palm Springs Airport (PSP) is about a 45-minute drive from the park entrance.

Is there public transportation available?
Public transportation to the park is limited. You can check the Morongo Basin Transit website for updated bus schedules and routes.

Fun facts about Joshua Tree​

  • Joshua Trees typically grow 2 or 3 inches per year and have an average lifespan of 500 years. 

  • Over 350 species of mammals, reptiles, and birds have been observed in Joshua Tree.

  • The biggest Joshua Tree was 80 feet tall. They typically grow to 20–40 feet tall and take around 50 years to mature.

  • Joshua Tree averages 1 inch of snow per year.

  • The highest recorded temperature was 118℉ and the coldest was 10℉

  • U2’s album cover for The Joshua Tree wasn’t photographed at Joshua Tree.

  • There are more than 190 miles of trails in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is a unique getaway that most people aren’t used to. The scenery, peacefulness, and spectacular views make the visit a must.

After you visit, make sure to check out the great puzzles that highlight the Joshua Tree scenery. This can make the perfect keepsake and reminder of your trip

Nick Nolan is a content creator based in San Diego, California. Living in San Diego has provided the opportunity to explore the outdoors and weekend getaways to the numerous National Parks a few hours away. Nick has had opportunities to travel and write on-the-go to provide tips, firsthand insights, and travel guides to readers.