Living in Southern California, Joshua Tree is one of the closest National Parks to me! I vaguely remember going as a child, but I appreciate it so much more now.
Planning & Basic Info
Before heading to the park, I wanted to get a guide book. It had been so long since my last trip there, I figured it would help me gain a better idea of what was in the park. So I purchased “Joshua Tree, The Complete Guide” by James Kaiser. The book was very informative! I spent a few days before the trip reading up on the history, different plants, & nature trails in the park! Learning about Joshua Tree, got me even more excited to visit!
Once you enter the park you must go to one of the visitor centers for a pass. Valid for 7 days, the entrance fee is $25.00 per vehicle (& passengers). You also have the option to get an annual pass. The Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass costs $40.00 & is valid for 1 year, an option I learned of after my second visit. 😦
Joshua Tree has several campgrounds inside the park. To ensure your spot, it is best to make a reservation online before you arrive. The price per night ranges from $10-$20 a night. Most campgrounds are tent camping only but some can accommodate RV’s & tailors. For more information or to reserve your site check our their website.
A friend of mine booked us one of the group campsites at Cottonwood Campgrounds. Located near the Cottonwood Visitor Center, this campground is the first one you will pass when entering the south entrance, about 30 miles from Indio, CA (like where Coachella is).
I was a little worried about camping in the heat, but thankfully our group spot had a large shade structure that made it bearable. I am not sure if other campgrounds had these same structures, but I would stay there again for that reason alone. The sites also had picnic tables, fire pits, running water, & restrooms.
But be sure to put all of your food away! We mindlessly left out a bag of chips & some hot dog buns before a hike, & by the time we returned a little rat had devoured them.
What To See & Do:
Coming from the South Entrance off Interstate 10, I suggest seeing the sights in the order they are listed!
I would also bring 1 gallon of water per person & a lunch or snacks!
The Ocotillo Patch was a little more sparse than I was expecting, but this highly unusual Mexican Tree was very interesting. These spindly plants can grow up to 30 feet tall & flourish with bright green leaves after it rains. In spring time, they grow fiery red flowers on the tips of each branch. But for most of the year they appear thorny & dead. You can walk through the Ocotillo patch in about 10-15 minutes.
Cholla Cactus Garden
Beware the Cholla Cactus! Located just down the road from the Ocotillo Patch, the Cholla Cactus Garden is one prickly place. The self-guided nature trail is a short .3 miles walk, but I spent quite a bit of time photographing these fuzzy looking cacti. You can also grab an informative pamphlet at the start of the trail. Just be sure to watch your step & stay away from the Cholla’s. It has tiny barbed hooks on its spines that can easily cut you or, in my case, get stuck in your shoes!
I spent about 30 minutes walking through & photographing the Cholla Cactus Garden.
Arch Rock Nature Trail
Located in White Tank Campground near Campsite 9, this 0.5 mile loop is pretty easy, as long as you stay on the path. We followed some other people for several minuets in the wrong direction before we realized the trail markers & Arch Rock were nowhere to be found. After a little backtracking we found the trail & were quickly at the 25-foot Arch Rock!
We spent about 45 minutes here!
You can actually see Skull Rock from the road but there is a 1.7 mile nature path around the rock looping back to Jumbo Rocks Campground. When I first went, this was the busiest area, but during my second trip I didn’t see a single soul there. The difference a month makes [June vs. July]!
We spent about 30 minuets at Skull Rock but we did not do the full nature path.
Out of the nature trails I’ve done in Joshua Tree, Hidden Valley was the best! Enclosed by towering rock formations, it is rumored that two outlaws in the 1800’s hid stolen cattle in the secret valley before selling them to unsuspecting California Ranchers.
I think we spent about an hour & 1/2 (maybe longer) doing the 1 mile loop.
This 1.3 mile trail winds through rock canyons along the southern edge of Wonderland of Rocks. The Dam does hold a small pond of water! Some photos i’ve seen make it look much larger than it is. If you follow the trail to Piano Valley, you will find a rock overhang with Indian Petroglyphs. In the 1960’s a movie crew painted over the petroglyphs so they would appear better on camera. I still thought they were cool, but it is considered a tragic loss of the park’s native heritage.
It took about an hour & 1/2 to check out Barker Dam & the surrounding area.
Other Places To See
I spent two weekends in Joshua Tree checking out these places. A few spots I went back to for a second time, but they could all be seen in two days. However, there are still several areas of the park I want to experience. I’d love to spend an afternoon jumping around Wonderland of Rocks, drive (with an of road vehicle) along the Geology Tour, & check out some of the longer hikes like the Boy Scout Trail once the temperatures drop. And if your just looking to see the Joshua Trees, enter through the West Entrance. You’ll find way more of them on that side of the park (where there is a slightly higher elevation)!
Outside The Park
Pappy & Harriets
If you like BBQ, you have to stop at Pappy & Harriets in Pioneertown! The town its self was once an old western move set! The classic restaurant has some of the best ribs & mac n’ cheese I have ever had. They also have live music!
About 20 miles from Joshua Tree, in Landers CA, you will find Integratron. At this odd geometric dome, you can have a sound bath! See all the details in my upcoming Integratron post!
Thanks for reading! I hope you get a chance to check out this amazing park! I’d love to hear what your favorite places are!