Joshua Tree National Park encompasses more than 500,000 acres of California desert. It's a starkly beautiful landscape, filled with Joshua "trees," which really aren't trees at all, but tree-like members of the yucca family.
Several earthquake faults (including the San Andreas) criss-cross the park, their action forcing water to the surface and creating oases that support the native desert fan palm.
Scenes from Joshua Tree
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Joshua tree Photo Tour
Things to Do at Joshua Tree National Park
Start at one of the park's three visitor centers. Consult a ranger there to help figure out the best things to do for your interest and abilities.
- Auto Tour: If you're just driving through, start at the south entrance, 25 miles east of Indio, just off I-10 at exit 168. You can get a preview of what you'll see in our photo driving tour. From the Cottonwood Spring Visitor Center, follow Pinto Basin Road north into the Mojave Desert, turn onto Park Boulevard north of Bella campground and exit through the town of Joshua Tree. A leisurely drive, stopping only for short walks and taking photographs will take at least 4 hours. Allow more time if you want to take longer hikes. It's also possible to take this drive in the opposite direction, but entering from the south allows a gradual climb from the Colorado Desert into the Mojave and ends among the spectacular granite boulders and Joshua trees the park is famous for.
- Keys Ranch Tour: Park rangers give guided tours of what was once a working ranch. Reservations required.
- Hiking: Joshua Tree has 12 nature walks and hiking trails for every level of ability.
- Rock Climbing: You'll find more than 400 climbing formations and 8,000 climbing routes at Joshua Tree, something for climbers of all abilities. Local outdoor stores sell climbing guides and are also a good place to get practical information. You can also buy the guides at any park visitor center. Be sure you not only know what you're doing, but where you can do it. If you're a rock-climbing novice and want some instruction, you can take an all-day climbing course at Joshua Tree National Park.
Seasonal and Occasional Events at Joshua Tree
- Star Parties: Away from the city's light pollution, you can see more stars than you may have known existed. To learn about them, attend a "star party," held on Saturday nights close to the new moon. The 1.5-hour programs begin shortly after dark. Check their schedule.
- Wildflower Watching: Spring bloom depends on rainfall and temperatures, but in general, you'll find things blooming between February and April, lingering in the higher elevations through June. Check the current year's conditions.
- Birding: Spring brings feathery visitors to join those who live here year-round, such as cactus wrens, roadrunners and Gambel's quail. The visitor center has a checklist which will detail species most likely to be sighted during your visit. It doesn't happen every year, but some springs, 200 or more turkey vultures roost at the Oasis of Mara.
Where to Stay in or Around Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree has 9 campgrounds with almost 500 campsites. This table describes them all in detail. You'll find RV-compatible spaces and dump stations, but no hookups.
Some campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis, but others can be reserved from September through the end of May. Call 877-444-6777 up to six months in advance or make reservations online. If you get there and find the park campgrounds full, the Bureau of Land Management operates a couple of camping areas nearby. This pdf file shows where they are.
Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree
- Weather: Summer temperatures soar to more than 100°F and don't get much below 75°F at night. Spring and fall highs run about 85°F and lows around 50°F. Winter days reach 60°F (15°C) with freezing nights. It snows occasionally at higher elevations.
- Temperature Changes: Elevation changes within the park cause temperature differences of 10°F or more. Palm Springs may be as much as 15 to 20°F hotter than Keys View.
- Watch Your Step: Those sturdy-looking desert plants grow in fragile soil, which contains micro-organisms that hold the sand in place and nourish the plants. Even one step kills the organisms and ultimately, the plants. Keep your feet on the trails.
- Bring It With You: There are no concessions inside the park. Bring food and water with you. For a campfire, bring your own wood - and burn it only in designated spots.
- Going Off-Road: Four-wheel-drive vehicles and mountain bikes can get to more places than a family sedan, but they still have to stay on the road. ATVs and off-road vehicles are prohibited.
- Hours: Open 365 days a year
- Cost: National park entry fee - exceptions below1
- Location: About 35 miles east of Palm Springs. Driving directions below
- How Long: A few hours to two days
- Best Time to Visit: Spring and fall have the best weather
Where Is Joshua Tree National Park Located?
Joshua Tree National ParkJoshua Tree is east of I-10 near Palm Springs. It's 140 miles east of Los Angeles, 175 miles northeast of San Diego, and 215 miles southwest of Las Vegas.
Twentynine Palms, CA
Joshua Tree National Park Website
Enter through any of 3 entrance stations:
- West entrance: Coming from Palm Springs or on I-10, exit on CA Hwy 62 east and turn south onto Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village
- North entrance: Three miles south of the town of Twentynine Palms and CA Hwy 62
- South entrance: Exit 168 from I-10 east of Indio
Within the park, the roads are all connected.
If you're staying in Palm Springs and see tours offered that say they're going to Joshua Tree, be sure to ask lots of questions about exactly where they go. Some may only take you into a small portion of the park and not give a full tour of it.