13 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree

02/28/2024 | by hello@buildupbookings.com | Joshua Tree

The arid expanses of Southern California are home to the majestic Joshua Tree National Park, a treasure trove of natural splendor and unique geological formations.

This park is renowned as the sole habitat of the iconic Joshua Tree and offers a plethora of activities for adventurers seeking to immerse themselves in the beauty of the desert. Go on intrepid hikes to unique rock formations, climb craggy cliff walls, discover abandoned gold mines, and visit towns plucked right out of Old Western films.

Whatever you choose, Joshua Tree is a destination that promises an unforgettable experience. While you’re planning your stay in Joshua Tree, here are a few of our favorite things to do in the area.

1. Explore Hiking Trails

Did you know that there are more than 300 miles of hiking trails in Joshua Tree? Hiking is one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree to experience a one-of-a-kind landscape. Trails for all skill levels take you to some of the park’s most beautiful scenery.

Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree

The Barker Dam Trail (1.1-mile loop) is the best place to see the historical Barker Dam that cattle ranchers built during the early 1900s. You’ll also see the Barker Dam Petroglyphs left by Native Americans and possibly bighorn sheep along the route.

The Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail (1/4 mile out and back) is a sandy route to a landscape dotted with thousands of Cholla Cactus. Even though they call them Teddy-bear cholla, these prickly plants are the last thing you’d want to snuggle!

The Oasis of Mara (0.5 miles out and back) is an excellent opportunity to view the postcard perfect palm trees in a desert oasis setting. This short hike will take you to one of the park’s palm gardens. It’s also where Twentynine Palms got its name.

A Challenging Hike in Joshua Tree

The Ryan Mountain Trail (3 miles out and back) will take you to one of the park’s most prominent mountains. The challenge comes from hiking narrow paths and an elevation gain of 1,050 feet above sea level. It’s the second-highest point in Joshua Tree, with a great panoramic view overlooking the park.

2. See the Famous Joshua Trees

You can’t visit Joshua Tree National Park without seeing its namesake plant life. After all, the Mojave Desert is the only place in the world where Joshua Trees grow! Named by Mormons who thought the tree’s distinct branches resembled the outreaching arms of Joshua from the Bible, the high desert climate is ideal for these succulents that store water to get them through dry periods.

Best places to see Joshua Trees:

  • Hidden Valley
  • Barker Dam
  • Boy Scout Trail Zone

3. Go Rock Climbing

Joshua Tree National Park is a call to the wild for rock climbers. With so many large boulders decorating the park, there are more than 8,000 identified routes and likely more to be discovered. From traditional climbing to ‘no strings attached’ fun while bouldering, this park has plenty of ways to elevate yourself from the ground.

Mojave Guides is a great outfitter for expertly guided rock climbing tours throughout the park that cater to all skill levels.

Best places for rock climbing:

  • Popular Routes: Find the most popular climbing routes just outside of the Hidden Valley Campground
  • Intermediate Routes: Hikers with mid-level experience can scale the single-pitch routes at Echo Cove
  • Advanced Routes: The Wonderland of Rocks is a playground for advanced hikers. This backcountry area has tons of boulder piles and rugged walls.

4. Snap Pics of the Rock Formations

Joshua Tree always amazes with its natural creations. You’ll encounter tons of iconic rock formations while hiking and others worth stopping on the road pullover for a photo opportunity of its most photographed landmarks.

Must-see rock formations:

  • Skull Rock: A hauntingly awesome rock that looks like a giant skull near Jumbo Rocks Campground
  • Arch Rock: A naturally formed arch seen via the Arch Rock Trail near White Tank Campground
  • Cap Rock: A smaller rock balancing on top of a giant boulder. It’s accessible by road with a loop around the rock structure.

5. Explore the Cottonwood Spring Oasis

The natural spring-fed grounds of the Cottonwood Spring Oasis make it one of the most lush areas of the desert. Tall California Palms shade the trails, and the desert brush hides tons of wildlife.

Uncover the abandoned gold mine ruins, ascend to the summit of Mastodon Peak, and discover hidden dry falls. You can also participate in ranger-led hikes and programs to learn about how the Cahuilla Indians lived off this distinct desert ecosystem and its history in gold mining.

6. Enjoy the View at Keys View Viewpoint

If you’re lucky enough to find parking, you can take in the sights from the best overlook in Joshua Tree National Park—and no hiking required. Walk the short paved path from the parking lot, and you’ll get breathtaking views of the California Desert at Keys View.

This stunning viewpoint sits atop the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Gaze over the vast desert landscape to see Palm Springs, Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, and the Salton Sea from the overlook. Wake up early to reach the viewpoint in time for sunrise, or stick around for the evening for the best scenic sunset in the park.

7. Go Stargazing

There are tons of earthly wonders to ogle at during the day. As for the night, it’s time to witness the beautiful night sky decorated by our universe. It’s designated as an International Dark Sky Park. The desert’s remote location away from light pollution reveals the true beauty of the dark sky.

Look up and count the stars, look for constellations, or catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. Don’t forget to dress warmly because it gets cold in the desert at night.

Best places for stargazing:

  • The comfort of your vacation rental home
  • Cap Rock
  • Ryan Mountain
  • Quail Springs
  • Hidden Valley
  • Roadside pullouts on Pinto Basin Road

Lucky for you if you booked a stay in one of our vacation rental homes, you don’t need to travel far for incredible stargazing. Just head to your outdoor patio or swimming pool and nature’s twinkling lights will be all you can see.

8. Learn at the Dynamic Visitor Centers

When arriving at Joshua Tree National Park, it can be tempting to jump right into the action. Instead, take some time to explore the exhibits, programs, and tours organized by the National Park Service at the park’s four visitor centers for more engaging experiences in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center

  • Open: 8:30 am to 5 pm
  • Address: 6533 Freedom Way, Twentynine Palms, CA

Let the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center be your starting point for your outdoor adventures. It features permanent exhibitions about the park’s geology, history, and ecology of how the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet. You’ll find park rangers inside kicking off ranger-led programs, but they are always excited to help point you in the direction of the best hikes and famous rocks.

This is a great place to pick up souvenirs from the bookstore and refill your water bottle to prep for your next hike.

Cottonwood Visitor Center

  • Open: 8:30 am to 4 pm
  • Address: Pinto Basin Road. Approximately 7 miles north of Interstate 10, Exit 168

Cottonwood Visitor Center serves as a hub for the southern region of the park. It’s located near the entrance and trailhead to many popular hikes in Cottonwood Oasis Springs, like the Palm Oasis and Smoke Tree Wash.

Although small, this visitor center has information displays, a gift shop, and visitor facilities. Check out the small plant trail outside or enjoy a snack in the picnic area.

Joshua Tree Visitor Center

  • Open: 7:30 am to 5 pm
  • Address: 6554 Park Boulevard, Joshua Tree, CA

Early risers ready to kick start their morning adventures in the park will get their fix at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. It opens the earliest of all the centers at 7:30 am.

You’ll find this visitor center on the main drag in the town of Joshua Tree. Beat the day crowds with info on nearby hikes, or join a guided hiking tour by rangers. The displays inside will prove to you that Joshua Tree National Park is much more than just a monotonous desert. Instead, it’s home to many exciting plants, landmarks, and activities.

Black Rock Nature Center

  • Open: Daily 8 am to 11 am and 12 pm to 4 pm; hours may fluctuate depending on staff availability, especially in the summer.
  • Address: Black Rock Campground, 9800 Black Rock Canyon Road, Yucca Valley, CA

Unlike the other visitor centers, this location serves as an in-depth nature center about the Joshua Tree NP. You’ll find this center tucked within the Joshua Tree forests of Yucca Valley in the northwestern part of the park. It’s on the Black Rock Canyon Campground but open to all visitors to explore inside.

One of the best things about this nature center is that it hosts tons of events for educational fun for the many visitors staying in the area. Attend a session to learn about wildlife, insects, reptiles, and more. Even days without events are fun to drop by. It features exhibition displays, a starting point for the High Point Trail, and a bookstore filled with books about Joshua Tree.

9. Stroll Through the Town of Joshua Tree

Many people confuse Joshua Tree National Park with the town of Joshua Tree. The town is about 5 miles outside the park.

Go for a casual stroll down Twentynine Palms Highway (California State Route 62), the main drag in town. You’ll pass Old Western-style buildings repurposed as art galleries, antique shops, and boutiques selling western style threads.

Pick up souvenirs at the Joshua Tree National Park Store, order lunch at the Crossroads Cafe, check out a show at the Joshua Tree Saloon, and attend the Joshua Tree Certified Farmers Market every Saturday.

10. Go Back in Time at Lost Horse Mine

More than 300 mines dot the vast landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. Lost Horse Mine is by far the most successful of the bunch. Hike the 4-mile Lost Horse Mine Trail to retrace the steps of miners on the original road to this site that produced gold worth nearly $20 million today!

The Lost Horse Mine was active between 1894 and 1931. Today, you can see the rusted remains of the mine shaft and mechanisms used to retrieve 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver from below the desert.

11. Go On Set at Pioneertown

As soon as you arrive in Pioneertown, 20 minutes west of the town of Joshua Tree, you’ll feel like you walked on the set of your favorite Western film. That’s because this town was built as an actual movie set back in the 1940s.

Pose like a movie star in front of faux Western buildings lining Mane Street. Dance to country tunes from live bands at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Get a taste of the Wild Wild West with a comedic gunfight reenactment at the Mane Street Stampede Wild West Show held every 2nd and 4th Saturday.

12. Feel Rich at Wall Street Mill

Joshua Tree experienced a mining boom long before becoming a national park in 1994. Sites like the Wall Street Mill were literally pressing money. Follow the path to money on the Wall Street Mill Trail to this landmark.

Miners throughout the desert used this gold ore crushing mill back in 1933. It’s now designated as a National Register of Historic Places and the final stop on its 2-mile hike. When you arrive, you’ll get to walk the grounds littered with the weathered mill, rusted cars, and 19th-century milling machinery.

13. Take a Day Trip from Joshua Tree National Park

Got a few extra days during your trip? Stay near Joshua Tree National Park, and you can plan a road trip to some of Southern California’s top destinations. It gives a chance to check out California’s desert scenery along the way.

Here are a few of our favorite day trips from Joshua Tree National Park:

  • Los Angeles: 131 miles away (approximately 2.5-hour drive)
  • Palm Springs: 40 miles away (approximately 1 hour drive)
  • Las Vegas: 218 miles away (approximately 4 hour drive)
  • Death Valley National Park: 228 miles away (approximately 4 hour drive)

Enjoy All the Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree

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