A Complete Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary
Looking to embark on a day trip to Joshua Tree? The beauty of this desert is unparalleled with rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. It’s one of my favorite national parks I’ve ever visited and combines two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado desert. How cool! Joshua Tree truly exceeds all expectations. Not to mention, it’s the perfect day trip from San Diego or Los Angeles at only 2-3 hours of driving time.
One day is enough to see all the highlights of Joshua Tree National Park but it’s very popular to camp here and stay a few days. Whether you’re into hiking, marveling at the sights, photography, or even rock-bouldering there is a little something for everyone in this national park. In this blog, I outline “A Complete Day Trip to Joshua Tree Itinerary” in order to help you plan your trip to the park!
Things to Know Before Visiting Joshua Tree National Park
- The entrance fee to enter is $30 per vehicle however if you plan on visiting more national parks throughout the year I can’t recommend the “America the Beautiful” pass enough. It costs $85 and allows entry into every single national park in the country for one calendar year.
- The main park road is easy to drive with signage to help navigate however it’s best to pick up a map from the visitor center beforehand.
- Enter at the West Entrance Station past the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. As you will drive by Joshua Tree town. Not only that but it is the best route to check off everything on your day trip. Furthermore, upon entering you are immediately greeted with rows of Joshua Trees.
- Make sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water since the majority of the park does not offer shade.
- Cell service is very spotty throughout the park so best to download a map on google maps prior to entering.
Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
Visit Joshua Tree Town
This unique and kitschy artist town is located right outside the visitor center. When visiting I would start here and grab a coffee and fresh juices from Natural Sisters Cafe. You can then drive down the road and snap pictures of the world-famous crochet museum. Finally, don’t forget to pick up sandwiches/lunch on the way into the park so you can spend the entire day exploring instead of worrying about food.
Take Photos with a Joshua Tree
Did you really go to Joshua Tree National Park if you didn’t take a picture of a Joshua Tree? It’s a must when visiting the park! Joshua Trees received their name from Mormon settlers. The tree’s unusual shape reminded them of a bible story in which Joshua reaches his hand up to the sky in prayer. The more you know!
When driving through the park there are tons of Joshua Trees on either side of the main road. We always find the best spots by driving past and seeing where our creativity takes us.
Drive up to Keys View
Sitting at over 5,000 ft above sea level, Keys View offers panoramic views overlooking the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs, and Anza Borrego. You can drive right up to this point and there is a short paved walkway that leads up the ridge for a bird’s eye view. It will take your breath away it’s so incredible but can be very windy during the winter months. Regardless, this is a must-visit during your day trip to J Tree.
Visit Skull Rock
This natural rock formation that resembles a skull is so unique. It’s located directly off Key’s View Road. You can’t miss it when driving past and are able to park on the side of the road. Furthermore, if you follow the trail to the right of Skull Rock you’ll be rewarded with beautiful boulder views.
If you prefer a short hike to Skull Rock there is a 1.8-mile trail that loops and that leads to Skull Rock. You can park at the Jumbo Rocks Campground (there is a small parking lot). And the easy trail will take you through unique landscapes including the above rock formations.
Hike to Arch Rock
Arch Rock is hands down my favorite part of Joshua Tree. It reminds me of the Tatooine desert from Star Wars. Does anyone else see it? In order to hike the Arch Rock trail it’s an easy 3/4 mile trail out and back. When you reach the fork in the trail either way will lead you to Arch Rock. Once there there is a narrow footpath you will need to climb in order to get under the arch. It’s not difficult but can be if you are not a skilled hiker.
The hike takes roughly 15 minutes each way and the scenery along the way is *chefs kiss*. Back when we visited in February 2020 we heard a pack of coyotes when hiking and I’m not going to lie, I was kind of freaked out. However, we did not see them or run into them, and even still, it is my favorite part of visiting Joshua Tree National Park.
Hike Barker Dam
If you are up for more hikes on your day trip to Joshua Tree then consider hiking the Barker Dam. Also known as the Big Horn Dam. It’s an easy 1-mile loop hike that leads to a reservoir that was created back in the 1900s. It takes roughly 1 hour to complete and it’s very rare to find water in the desert, so that’s why this is such a popular place to visit in Joshua Tree! Finally, you may even run into big horn sheep so keep your eyes peeled.
Watch a Sunset at Chollas Cactus Garden
Cholla Cactus Garden is a must-see for anyone visiting Joshua Tree. It’s made up of thousands of naturally growing Cholla cacti. It is most magical to witness at sunset, the colors will take your breath away. This garden is located right off Key’s View Road and there is a small parking lot to park in. If you’re not able to visit at sunset you still need to check this spot off your list as it’s beautiful during the day as well. Finally, these cacti are not so friendly, so make sure not to touch them when taking pictures!
An example of early settlement in the Mojave desert with small buildings showcasing what life was like back in 1910. Admission to Keys Ranch is limited to ranger-guided tours only. Make sure to check the calendar and note that tours are only available from October to May. You can learn about the history of this colorful ranch and how William F. Keys tried his hand at maintaining a ranch out in the middle of nowhere for 60 years. It costs an additional $10 to visit and the tours last 90 minutes.
Additionally, if you have more time you can hike the Hidden Valley Nature Trail which is a 1-mile loop with enormous rock boulders to climb and scenic views of the desert and Joshua Trees.
One Day in Joshua Tree Itinerary
Here is how we spend our days when visiting J Tree for the day:
- Grab coffee + breakfast from Joshua Tree town
- Visit the Crochet Museum and pick up lunch on the way into the town
- Enter through the West Entrance Station (don’t forget your annual National Park Pass)
- Tour of Keys Ranch
- Hike Barker Dam
- Drive up to Keys View
- Visit Skull Rock
- Hike to Arch Rock
- Visit Chollas Cactus Garden
So there you have it, thanks so much for reading my “Complete Guide to Day Tripping Joshua Tree National Park” and I hope you enjoy your visit to the park. If you have more time in the area make sure to visit Pioneertown a quaint western-style town near the park. Finally, forget to check out more of my California Guides or National Park Guides.
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