When you enter Joshua Tree National Park, you may think you’re on a different planet. The roads are surrounded by a vast landscape full of various types of rocks, trees, and cactuses that looks different from anything else you may have seen before. As we drove through the park, I felt in awe and I could not stop staring at everything around me.
Joshua Tree is a very large park, larger in fact than the state of Rhode Island. There are plenty of areas to explore, hikes to take, and things to see. Due to the vast area that this park encompasses, it may take you a while to drive from place to place. Make sure that you budget time for driving in your plan. Since Joshua Tree is only a couple hours from San Diego or Los Angeles, it is a common spot for weekend trips. If you only have a few days to explore the park and you love to be active then this Joshua Tree itinerary below is perfect.
We went during the winter and it got pretty cold when the sun was not out. We even saw snow! Make sure that you are prepared for the weather and if you are there in the summer that you are packing a lot of water.
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Table of Contents
Joshua Tree Itinerary
- Cholla Cactus Garden and Ocotillo Patch
- Arch Rock
- Jumbo Rock and Skull Rock
- Baker Dam
- Hidden Valley Nature Trail
- Pie for the People
- Lost Horse Mine
- Ryan Ranch
- Ryan Mountain
- Joshua Tree Saloon
- Fortynine Palms
- Joshua Tree Town
Day One in Joshua Tree
You should start your trip early in the day in order to fit in as much as you can. On the first day we entered through the North Entrance Station, which is located near the town of Twentynine Palms. We wanted to get the furthest drive out of the way and work our way back towards the entrance for the night.
Cholla Cactus Garden and Ocotillo Patch
If you go down the Park Boulevard, you will get to the Cholla Cactus Garden and past that is Ocotillo Patch. The Cholla Cactus Garden is a valley full of small little cactuses where you can walk through the trails and take lots of pictures. Watch out though! These cactuses will poke your skin at the slightest touch and unfortunately for us, we were victims to these little fellows.
When you continue down the boulevard you will get to the Ocotillo Patch. There you will see the tall Ocotillo trees. We stopped quickly here before turning around to see more of the park.
On the way back from the Cactus Garden, you will see the stop for Arch Rock. The trail itself is only .7 miles to the arch rock and back. The arched rock actually sits on top of another large boulder and it’s cool to see. There are also plenty of rocks along the way that you can have fun climbing over if you enjoy bouldering.
Jumbo Rock and Skull Rock
After Ocotillo Patch, you can turn around and make your way to the Jumbo Rocks area of the park. Before you reach the Jumbo Rock campground, you will see Skull Rock on your left. This is a very popular spot to stop in the park, and so you may struggle to find parking. The Skull Rock is a large rock that eroded over time and now resembles a skull. People love to take pictures of themselves walking in front of the eye or nose.
If you continue past the rock itself, there is a 1.7 mile trail that you can take around this area. The hike provides beautiful landscapes of the surrounding area and you can scramble over various rocks. It is an easy hike and it’s worth the time.
After Skull Rock, you will continue driving until you get to Jumbo Rocks Campground. The Jumbo Rocks are aptly named for the large boulders that sit on top of each other. If you enjoy bouldering, then you will love these rocks. They provide a great place to climb around and get beautiful views of the park.
There are still more hikes to do on the first day! Barker Dam is not far from Skull Rock and this is your rare chance to actually see water in the park. The trail itself is a 1.8 loop and it is easy. There is plenty of gorgeous flora to look at on the way and it’s a very serene hike. Depending on the time of year, the dam itself may not be full of water, despite that, the hike is beautiful. This is a good option for a sunset hike.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
This is the last hike of the day on this Joshua Tree itinerary! Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a one mile loop that features boulders and lovely flowers. It’s a popular spot and so it may be crowded. We went for sunset and we saw people of all ages and abilities. There are spots where you can rock climb and find easily find your way back to the trail. There are also Joshua Trees located by the entrance to this hike. It’s a great way to end the day!
Pie for the People
After a long day of hiking, you’re probably tired and starving. You should go to Pie for the People, which is a delicious pizza place in the town of Joshua Tree. Depending on when you get there, it may be crowded as it is a popular spot to stop for dinner. We waited for twenty minutes to get our pizzas, but when the time came we devoured them. I’m also convinced that I saw Chris Pine in the restaurant, and so if it’s good enough for him then it’s clearly good enough for the rest of us! Finally, after eating your pizza you can make your way back to your home for the night.
We stayed in Twentynine Palms in a cute tepee that we found on airbnb. The tepee was decorated adorably with a fire pit, twinkly lights, and a fire pit. Additionally, there were thermal blankets and a solar heater that was necessary in the middle of winter!
Lost Horse Mine and Ryan Ranch
Both of these hikes are very easy and will not take you too long. They allow you to explore the history of this area. This mine was used during the Gold Rush period and they have plenty of signs to tell you more about the period there. Ryan Ranch is an adobe house that used to shelter the Ryan family that built the Lost Horse Mine. It feels like you are traveling back in time when you go through these places!
After we did this hike, we went to a random spot in the park to boulder and eat sandwiches at the top of the rocks. It was really fun and I recommend going off on your own while you are there.
Ryan Mountain Sunset
I had been looking forward to the Ryan Mountain hike the whole trip and it did not disappoint. The trail is 3 miles out and back, however, the whole way there is completely uphill so it can be difficult. When you get to the top of the mountain you can see for miles through the desert.
You should try to aim to get to the top before the sunset, so that you can watch as the sun goes down. If you are doing this hike in the winter, make sure that you pack warm clothes. It’s very windy at the top! You will also want to bring a flashlight for the way back down, because at that point it will be dark.
Joshua Tree Saloon
No trip to Joshua Tree is complete without a trip to the Joshua Tree Saloon. You may be tired on the first night and then you could do this a different night. My friend and I were there for New Years Eve and so of course we had to spend the night at the saloon. The bar itself has good burgers and there is live music. It’s a fun way to end your night with a drink and a great atmosphere.
Day Three in Joshua Tree
We really wanted to see the palm trees in Joshua Tree, but we did not have time for the 7 mile Lost Palms Oasis trail. Luckily, you can drive to the Fortynine Palms trail, which is a 3 mile out and back hike near Twentynine Palms.
The hike begins with a steep walk up, before you descend into a valley that will lead you to the oasis. The oasis features towering palm trees, pools of water, and various wild flowers. You can really feel that you are in the desert on this hike. There is not a lot of shade along the hike, so make sure that you pack enough water and wear sunscreen.
Joshua Tree Town
On our way out of the park, we stopped for lunch and to walk through town for a bit. We went to the Crossroads Cafe for lunch. It was a cute cafe with plenty of delicious options for breakfast or lunch food. There was a bit of a wait when we got there, but it did not take us too long to get seated.
After lunch, we walked through the town and stopped by the gift store. There were cute art installations and a funny statue garden that we found. The town is very quirky and I encourage you to spend a bit of time there exploring.
Let me know if you found this Joshua Tree guide helpful!
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