19 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Looking for the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park? This stunning expanse in California sits only about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles and has so much to offer. 

You’ve probably heard that Joshua Tree is an excellent park to visit for bouldering and rock climbing, but there’s even more in store. From epic photography opportunities to scenic hikes and historic sites, Joshua Tree has it all. The park also boasts intriguing plants and wildlife, like the cholla cacti and Joshua Trees — the park’s namesake!

Joshua Tree has over 800,000 acres of desert beauty to discover, so it may be challenging to know where to start. Luckily, I’ve rounded up some of the best activities in the park for the perfect Joshua Tree itinerary. I also cover the best time to visit, how to get there, and some frequently asked questions. 

So, grab your best camera gear and hiking boots, and let’s explore!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission (for which I am very grateful for) at no extra cost to you.

Joshua Tree National Park

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  • Where to Stay in Joshua Tree | 8 Stunning Places to Stay

Best Time to Go to Joshua Tree

Below is a breakdown of what you can expect during each season at Joshua Tree. 

  • Joshua Tree National Park in spring: Springtime in Joshua Tree brings cool temperatures and blooming wildflowers. It’s a popular season to visit the park, so you can expect an influx of visitors during this time. 
  • Joshua Tree National Park in summer: In contrast with some other US National Parks, Joshua Tree isn’t very popular during summer due to the high temperatures. At the peak of the season, daytime temperatures can reach over 100°F. The advantage of this low season is that you can easily secure a campsite and expect some epic stargazing sessions. 
  • Joshua Tree National Park in the fall: Joshua Tree is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall. This season boasts milder temperatures, especially around October and November, and fewer crowds than in spring.
  • Joshua Tree National Park in winter: Joshua Tree has mellow daytime temperatures during winter, with highs averaging around the 60s (°F) and lows reaching around the mid-30s (°F). Parts of the park that sit at a higher elevation may experience the occasional snowfall.

Map Of Things To Do In Joshua Tree National Park

Where to Stay for Activities in Joshua Tree

You’ll find everything from budget-friendly motels to spectacular glamping sites near Joshua Tree. Here are some hand-picked suggestions for every budget. 

Budget | High Desert Motel Joshua Tree National Park

The High Desert Motel is an ideal option if you’re simply looking for a comfortable space to rest after days of exploring Joshua Tree National Park. With complimentary Wi-Fi and a pool, you’ll have all the essentials while only being about a 10-minute drive from Joshua Tree. >Check Rates and Availability

Mid-Range | Fairfield Inn & Suites Twentynine Palms

This colorful and contemporary accommodation offers bright and spacious suites with a complimentary breakfast to help you fuel up for the day’s adventures. Return to cool off in the outdoor pool or prepare some dinner on the barbecue. >Check Rates and Availability

Luxury | AutoCamp Joshua Tree

Looking to immerse yourself in the great outdoors while still enjoying modern luxuries? Autocamp Joshua Tree offers exactly that in the town of Joshua Tree. Sleep in comfy RVs, swim laps in the pool or use the complimentary bikes to explore the area. There’s also a play area and an on-site restaurant that accommodates various dietary needs. >Check Rates and Availability

Camping | Hidden Valley Campground

I stayed at Hidden Valley Campground during my visit to Joshua Tree and think it’s the ultimate campground in Joshua Tree. The campsites fill up fast over weekends, as it’s a popular area for rock climbers. So try to get there on a Friday to secure a spot, as it works on a first-come-first-serve basis. >Check Rates 

Read More: Where to Stay in Joshua Tree | 8 Stunning Places to Stay

Things To Pack For Joshua Tree National Park

  • Sunscreen: This is a no brainer. You need this if you are hiking or climbing. >Buy Sunscreen
  • Hiking Boots/Shoes: If you use tennis shoes you can easily hurt your toes hitting a rock by accident (Trust me I have done it so many times before). >Check Out My Hiking Shoes
  • Hiking socks: Having the correct socks helps prevent getting blisters. Smart Wool is probably my favorite brand out there 🙂 >Buy My Hiking Socks
  • Refillable water bottle: I always bring a Hydroflask on all my adventures. They are on the heavier side, but I know for a fact they will not break. I have had a few cheap water bottles break on me before. >Check Prices Now
  • Water: Bring water everywhere. Joshua Tree is pretty hot!
  • Sunglasses: It is the desert, so make sure to pack some sunglasses. >Check Out These Sunglasses
  • Snacks: The best snacks are jerky, nuts, energy bars. >Cliff Bars are great for hiking
  • Camera: I have linked the camera I used to take pictures of the Joshua Tree. The Sony A6000 is an excellent camera for people that want to start improving at travel photography.  >Buy Sony Camera Here
  • First Aid Kit: This is one of the first things I bought when I first started going on adventures. It is super portable. >Buy This Awesome First Aid Kit Here
  • Day Pack to carry all your things: The REI bag I have linked, we have had for seven years now, and it is still going strong! >Buy This Great Quality Backpack
  • Leggings or shorts: Leggings are my go-to when it comes to hiking but shorts are great in this hot climate. >Check Out My Leggings Here
  • Breathable sweat-wicking shirts: I love how breathable the Patagonia hiking shirts are >Check Out Here
  • Sports Bra: For women. >Buy Here
  • Jacket: I went in October, and it was very chilly at night. Bring a Jacket! >Buy My Favorite Jacket
  • Tripod: This is an optional item, but it is excellent for getting the ideal sunset pictures. We used this Tripod to get our bubblegum pink sunset pictures >Check out this tripod
  • Headlamp: This is part of the ten essentials and important to have when you hike. You never know if a hike will take a lot longer then you thought. >Check Out Headlamp Here
  • Joshua Tree Map: Love the National Geographic Maps! >Buy Here
  • National Park Pass:  I highly recommend getting a year-long America The Beautiful Pass. >Get It Here

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How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park, CA

One of the closest and most convenient airports to reach Joshua Tree National Park is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). From there, the southern end of Joshua Tree is about a 2-3-hour drive away.

The alternative option is Palm Springs International Airport, which sits less than an hour’s drive from the park and has less traffic. 

Note that the park has a north and south side. Our GPS directed us to the southern end of the park, which is quite remote and doesn’t have much to do. 

It’s better to enter at the northern entrance in Twentynine Palms. You can access the north entrance via Interstate 10 or California Highway 62 — also known as the Twentynine Palms Highway. 

>>>Rent A Car Here<<<

What to Do in Joshua Tree, California | Top Activities & Attractions

Ready to discover what to do at Joshua Tree? Here’s a roundup of the top activities in this stunning national park. 

Take on the Arch Rock Trail

  • Mileage: 1.4 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 89 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

Hiking to Arch Rock is one of the best activities Joshua Tree has to offer if you’re seeking an easy but rewarding hike. 

Stop at the parking lot along Pinto Basin Road and journey to the incredible rock formations. Look out for a no-longer-so-secret spur path leading to a unique, heart-shaped rock along the trail. 

Once you’ve taken some snaps at Heart Rock, proceed to the popular Arch Rock. Here, you’ll see a spectacular arch and many other beautifully rounded boulders of various shapes. You may need to scramble over a few rocks to get the perfect view and photo spot, so wear reliable shoes.  

Admire the Cholla Cactus Garden

  • Mileage: 0.25-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

Joshua Tree is home to the “Teddy Bear” cholla cactus. While the cactus’ name and appearance make it seem cuddly and soft, I wouldn’t recommend getting too close. The hundreds of thorns that give these cacti their fluffy look are quite prickly and have barbed points. 

The Cholla Cactus Garden Sits along Pinto Basin Road, and it takes a bit of a drive to get there. Once at the garden, you can stroll among the cholla cacti and snap some photos. I’ve visited the garden around sunrise and later in the morning, and I prefer sunrise. The rising sun illuminates the thorns in a beautiful golden glow that’s perfect for snapping unique photos. 

Be sure to keep a conscious distance from these cacti, as their barbed spindles have a tendency to reach unexpected places. You may also encounter some insects on your visit, so consider bringing bug spray or salve in case a little critter stings you.  

Snap Photos on the Barker Dam Trail

  • Mileage: 1.3-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 59 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

The Barker Dam Trail is a lovely spring or winter national park hike when the water levels are high. The dam tends to dry up during summer and fall, making it a bit less scenic. 

This easy trail has so much to offer, but the highlight for photographers may be the beautiful dam reflecting the surrounding boulders. If you hike the trail clockwise, you’ll reach the dam near the end of the hike — making for a rewarding reveal. 

Barker Dam No Water

If you’re fascinated by history, be sure to look out for a little spur trail leading to a small cave that boasts some impressive petroglyphs. These petroglyphs are believed to be over 2,000 years old. 

The trail is dotted with various trees, including pinon pines, Mojave yucca, and Joshua Trees. When the dam is full, you’re also more likely to spot intriguing animals, like lizards, various bird species, and the occasional bighorn sheep. 

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Follow the Warren Peak Trail

  • Mileage: 6.3 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 1,237 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trail Guide: Link

Looking for more challenging things to do at Joshua Tree? The Warren Peak Trail offers a remote and quiet path that is sure to fire up your calves and thighs. 

You’ll kick off your hike at the Black Rock Canyon Campground, enjoying a relatively flat start as you approach a gradual climb among Joshua Trees and cacti. 

The real leg work starts as you approach the summit. With some persistence and breathwork, you’ll reach the top and be rewarded with endless views of the surrounding landscape and mountain ranges.

Camp in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree has about 500 available campsites, offering you an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature, admire the night sky, and wake up to breathtaking sunrises. 

These camping sites are understandably booked up quite fast, especially for spring, so be sure to book ahead. You can reserve a site up to six months in advance on the Joshua Tree recreation.gov site. You can also try to book on short notice but may face disappointment. 

The following campgrounds offer sites on a first-come-first-serve basis for around $15 per night:

  • Belle: 18 available sites near the Arch Rock Nature Trail with no water or flush toilets.
  • White Tank: 15 camping sites; close to the Arch Rock Nature Trail with no water or flush toilets. 
  • Hidden Valley: 44 sites are available near Barker Dam and the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This campsite is popular with boulderers and rock climbers but doesn’t have flush toilets or water. 

The following campgrounds offer sites by reservation only for around $20-$25 per night: 

  • Cottonwood: 62 campsites with water and flush toilets near the Cottonwood Visitor Center in the southeast area of the park. 
  • Black Rock: 99 sites offering water and flush toilets five miles from Yucca Valley.
  • Ryan: 31 campsites centrally located in the park, no water or flush toilets. 
  • Jumbo Rocks: 124 available campsites nestled among large boulders near the center of the park. No flush toilets or water. 
  • Indian Cove: Situated just off Highway 62, close to Joshua Tree Village and Twentynine Palms. No water or flush toilets. 

Hike the Hall of Horrors Trail

  • Mileage: 0.6-miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 26 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

This short trail takes you to an adult jungle gym of boulders — quite popular with climbers and non-climbers alike. Expect large boulders with plenty of caves, crevices, and a slot canyon — which can be tricky but fun to find. 

To reach the hidden slot canyon, you’ll have to make your way to the second cluster of boulders to the left of the first cluster. Be on the lookout for any shoe prints that may provide some directional clues. It’ll take some scrambling and climbing to get to the right spot, where you’ll find a tiny slot opening between the boulders. 

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Stroll Along the Cap Rock Trail

  • Mileage: 0.4-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

The Cap Rock Nature trail is a short distance from the Hidden Valley and Ryan Campgrounds. It’s a lovely, accessible trail that’s perfect for winding down and taking in the surroundings. 

The path is scattered with informational plaques to help you identify different flora. There are also public restrooms, making it ideal if you’re visiting with little ones. 

Enjoy Some Stargazing

Stargazing is one of my favorite Joshua Tree activities. Boasting an official Dark Sky designation, Joshua Tree experiences minimal light pollution, so the heavens are on full show on clear nights. 

You can enjoy stargazing near your campsite if you’re staying overnight. Or, find a safe roadside pullout where you can park and observe the night sky. One of the best places to park is along Pinto Basin Road, which experiences minimal traffic and light pollution. 

Tip: The best time to spot the milky way is during the summer — on a moonless night. 

Follow the Lost Horse Mine Trail

  • Mileage: 4.1 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 528 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Guide: Link

The Lost Horse Mine Trail starts near Ryan Campground and is one of the more unique Joshua Tree National Park things to do if you’re a fan of the Wild West. The hike will lead you to one of the best-preserved Gold Rush-era mine sites in the park. 

As a bonus, the path on the way to the mine is equally stunning, with yucca and Joshua trees along the trail. You may also encounter wildflowers adorning the surroundings during spring. 

The roughly three-hour hike is best enjoyed counter-clockwise, so you can look forward to concluding your hike with the highlights. Once you reach the mine, of course, be sure to keep a safe distance. The mine closed in 1937, and a few tunnels have collapsed since. 

If you’d like to extend your hike, you can follow the 6.5-mile Lost Horse Loop instead. 

Take the Hidden Valley Trail

  • Mileage: 1-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

This easy trail starts in the popular Hidden Valley area, frequented by climbers and campers. Because it’s such a popular area, you can expect to encounter more foot traffic. Try to come early to avoid large crowds and secure a parking spot. 

The trail is lined with jutting rock formations, Joshua trees, and shrubbery. You may also spot a reptile or two basking in the sun. It’s an excellent trail if you’re short on time or seeking an easy-going, family-friendly hike. Nearby, you’ll also find a picnic area. 

Stop by Keys View

One of the best things to see in Joshua Tree is Keys View, a panoramic vista point on the Little San Bernardino Mountains. The spot offers breathtaking views of the Coachella Valley and San Andreas Fault. 

To get there, you’ll take Keys View Road off Park Boulevard until you reach a small parking lot. From there, it’s a short and easy walk to the viewpoint. The trail is also wheelchair accessible, so everyone can admire this stunning view. 

This viewpoint is quite popular around sunset, and the parking may fill up fast, so try to get there early. 

Walk the Skull Rock Nature Trail

  • Mileage: 1.7-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 161 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

One of the most intriguing Joshua Tree attractions is Skull Rock. The 1.7-mile Skull Rock trail sits along Park Boulevard, near the Jumbo Rocks Campground. It leads you past many fascinating boulders, but the real attraction is, of course, the eerie-looking skull rock. 

This boulder has deep sockets and hollows that give it the appearance of a skull. It’s a great place for some memorable photos and some fun scrambling. You can further extend your hike by exploring the nearby Split Rock loop and the spur that leads to Face Rock. 

Tip: Short on time? Skull Rock is easily visible from the main road, so you don’t have to hike the full trail. 

Hike Up Ryan Mountain 

  • Mileage: 2.9 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 1,063 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Guide: Link

Hiking the Ryan Mountain Trail is one of the best things to do at Joshua Tree if you’re looking for a bit of a challenge that won’t take too much time. The trail is relatively short, but it does take a bit of leg work.

After a steep climb and some stairs, you’ll be rewarded with a dreamy panorama of the cracked desert, surrounding mountain ranges, and the occasional snowy peak.

Tip: This steep trail is completely exposed, so it’s not an ideal option for a summer hike. If you do choose to hike it during summer, bring plenty of water and avoid hiking around midday. 

Test Your Photography Skills at Sunset

Joshua Tree has some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. Wind down after your day of exploring by setting up somewhere scenic and waiting for the sun to set. The Joshua Trees and boulders look incredible, with a dramatic sunset as their backdrop. 

Some good spots include Hidden Valley, Keys View, and the Cholla Cactus Garden.

Tip: Have a look at these photography tips and tricks to help you capture the perfect shot.

Journey Along the Willow Hole Trail

  • Mileage: 7.2 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 243 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy-moderate
  • Trail Guide: Link

Seeking a more lengthy trail without an intense elevation? Explore Joshua Tree’s flora and fauna on the relatively flat Willow Hole Trail. 

The trail starts via the Boy Scout Trail and has all the classics; Joshua trees, boulder stacks, and all sorts of desert shrubbery. You can also keep an eye out for creatures like bobcats, jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, and lizards.

Follow the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail

  • Mileage: 3 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 636 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Guide: Link

When it comes to what to see in Joshua Tree, the Fortynine Palms Oasis is an unmissable attraction. The contrast of the lush oasis among the desert landscape is quite spectacular, and the palm trees offer some welcome shade at the end of your hike. 

The trail kicks off near the town of Twentynine Palms and involves some scrambling and stairs but it isn’t too challenging. Be sure to keep a distance from the oasis as the ecosystem is very fragile, and remember to practice the principles of “Leave no Trace” to help preserve the area.  

Try Bouldering or Rock Climbing

Joshua Tree is one of the most incredible places to put your bouldering or climbing skills to the test. With over 2,000 boulder problems and 8,000 climbing routes, you’re spoilt for choice. So, if you’re an avid climber, grab your chalk and gear and stop by the Visitor Center to pick up a climbing guide. 

If you’re not an experienced climber, don’t stress. There are plenty of opportunities to scramble over large boulders on many hiking trails. You can also book an excursion with a certified climbing guide who’ll teach you the basics of climbing and provide all the necessary equipment.

Hike the Mastodon Peak Trail 

  • Mileage: 2.4-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 407 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

This lovely loop trail starts near the Cottonwood Campground and the Visitor Center. You can customize your trail to be as short or long as you like. Either follow the short Cottonwood Spring Trail or continue along the Mastodon Peak Trail, which leads to, you guessed it, Mastodon Peak. 

The trail is dotted with all sorts of plants, like ocotillos and wildflowers that bloom around April. You’ll also come across the Lost Palms oasis and spot a variety of wildlife. 

Take on the Wall Street Mill Trail

  • Mileage: 2 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 75 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Guide: Link

Another exciting route in Joshua Tree that combines natural beauty with history is the Wall Street Mill Trail. The relatively flat path leads to the site of an old crushing mill built in 1933 by Bill Keys. 

The area is also dotted with dilapidated buildings, railroad tracks, and rusted vintage cars — which make for incredible photo opportunities and are fun to inspect. There’s even a sign marking the exact spot where Bill Keys killed a man in 1943. 

The trail starts near the Barker Dam Trailhead and parking lot and is one of the more family-friendly trails due to the flat terrain. 

Things to Do: Joshua Tree | FAQs

Still have some questions about the fun things to do in Joshua Tree, California? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions. 

How Long to Spend in Joshua Tree National Park?

You need about 2-4 days to enjoy Joshua Tree at a comfortable pace. But, with careful planning, you can see most of the park’s highlights in one day. 

What is the Best Season to Visit Joshua Tree National Park?

The best time to visit Joshua Tree is during spring and fall when temperatures are milder. Opt for a fall visit if you’d like to avoid the crowds but still enjoy the moderate weather. 

Do You Need a Car in Joshua Tree?

You definitely need a car to get around Joshua Tree. The park is vast, and some attractions are miles apart. If you’re flying in, you can easily rent a car from LAX.

Joshua Tree Things to Do: Wrapped Up

From unique scenery to epic hikes in Joshua Tree, this national park does not disappoint. ​​Whether you’re drawn to its natural wonders or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, this desert paradise has it all. 

Joshua Tree is a great destination for a weekend trip from Las Vegas. If you’re looking for more interesting national parks in California, have a look at this guide on the best activities in Point Reyes or the top things to do in Visalia.

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