This is a national park where two deserts with distinct meet, the Mojave on higher ground and Colorado on a lower elevation. This is Joshua Tree National Park. While the park is not as busy as Yellowstone or Death Valley, there is plenty to do with 2 days in Joshua Tree.
The highlights of our trip include:
- Skull Rock
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- Jumbo Rocks
- Ryan Mountain
- Barker Dam
- Coachella Valley Preserve
- Mecca Hills Wilderness
Let’s dive in!
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Where is Joshua Tree National Park?
The Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeast California, north of Palm Springs, and east of San Bernandino and Los Angeles. This park is the only park that is at the confluence of two desert ecosystems, the higher Mojave and the lower Colorado desert.
The Mojave desert is home to yucca brevifolia, the Joshua Tree which gives its name to the park. While Joshua Tree dominates the park’s landscape, the Californian Juniper, Tucker’s Oak, Muller’s Oak, and desert scrub oak are some other plants here. Colorado desert is home to Coachella Valley which is famous for its Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
The earliest known tribe which lived in what is now Joshua Tree National Park was the Pinto people. The Serrano, Cahuilla, and Chemehuevi also lived on these lands.
Pedro Fages was the first Spaniard to sight the Joshua Trees and by 1870, settlers began grazing cattle on the tall grasses that grew in the park. During the Californian Gold Rush, the Lost Horse Mine produced the most gold and silver within the park.
Joshua Tree National Park has a hot desert climate with the Pinto Gneiss being the oldest rock in the park. The rock is about 1.7 billion years old.
The park has 9 campgrounds with Black Rock and Cottonwood Campground providing water and flush toilets. There are several hiking trails with Fortynine Palms Oasis, Lost Palms Oasis, and Lost Horse Mine Trails being the longer trails.
How to get into Joshua Tree National Park?
There are several ways to get into Joshua Tree National Park. These are:
If you are coming by flight, the nearest airport is at Palm Springs which is a 40-mile drive from the North Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.
This entrance is located 3-miles south of Twentynine Palms, off California Route 62. The Oasis Visitor Center is located in Twentynine Palms and is open from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm every day.
The Joshua Tree South Entrance is near Cottonwood Springs, along Interstate 10 which is about 25-miles from Indio. The Cottonwood Visitor Center is located along Cottonwood Springs Road and is open from 8.30 am to 4.00 pm every day.
The Joshua Tree Visitor Center is located at the West Entrance and is considered the main entrance to the park. The visitor center is open from 7.30 am to 5.00 pm every day and is open all year round.
What is the closest city to Joshua Tree National Park?
The closest city to Joshua Tree National Park is Joshua Tree which is about 2 minutes from the park. The Joshua Tree Visitor Center. The closest major city to Joshua Tree National Park is Palm Springs which is 60 miles from the park.
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How many days do you need for Joshua Tree?
As Joshua Tree National Park is much smaller when compared to Yellowstone or Olympic, two days is sufficient to take in the sights, sounds, and beauty that this desert park has to offer.
Day 1: Rocks, Garden, and View
On Day 1 of our 2 days in Joshua Tree, we explore the rocks, and Cholla Cactus Garden, and enjoy the panoramic view at Keys View.
The first of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is the Skull Rock. This iconic boulder is located along the main east-west park road and is about 23 miles or a 36-minute drive from Joshua Tree Visitor Center.
The hollowed-out eye sockets were formed when raindrops began accumulating in tiny depressions in this granite rock. Over time, the raindrops eroded the rock and formed the sockets we see today.
The Skull Rock Trail is an easy 1.8-mile loop that takes you through cat’s claw acacia and desert almond trees that dominate the sandy areas. The trail has an elevation of 120 feet and takes about 40 minutes to complete.
The second of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is Keys View. From this viewpoint, you can get panoramic views of Coachella Valley, which is about 13-miles or a 20-minute drive from Skull Rock.
The trail is an easy 0.1-mile loop that takes about 3 minutes to complete. The trail is wheelchair accessible. On a clear day, you can view the San Andreas Fault and Signal Mountain in Mexico.
As Keys View is the highest lookout point at Joshua Tree National Park, look out for two of Southern California’s highest summits, Mount San Jacinto at 3,302 meters and Mount Gorgonio at 3,506 meters.
Cholla Cactus Garden
The third of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is Cholla Cactus Garden. The Cholla Cactus Garden Trail is an easy 0.25-mile flat loop trail that takes you through 10 acres of predominantly teddy bear cholla cactus. The garden is about 26-miles or a 40-minute drive from Keys View.
The teddy bear cholla or “jumping cholla” is a unique cactus where its stems can easily detach and hitch a ride to new locations. Be cautious and keep your distance as the spines are very painful to remove. This species is in abundance from March to May.
And, if you want to get a photo where the lighter tops of the cactus lit up, the best time would be during sunset. The golden hour is a popular time, so you can expect large crowds.
The fourth of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is Jumbo Rocks. The Jumbo Rocks campground is one of the most popular campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park. Jumbo Rocks is about 14 miles or a 20-minute drive from Cholla Cactus Garden.
A camping fee of $20 is charged for a maximum of 6 people, 3 tents, and 2 cars for an individual campsite. The fees are to be paid within an hour once you have chosen your campsite.
As this campsite is popular, reservations are required for bookings made between September to May during the peak season.
You have to bring plenty of water as there is no potable water here. Take note that there is no cell phone reception, no internet connectivity, no food storage lockers, and no dump station.
This means you have to bring your firewood and clean up your trash, and campfires are to be kept small as due to the park’s dry temperatures, the risk of fires are high.
The fifth of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is Cap Rock. The Cap Rock Trail is an easy 0.4-mile trail that takes you through the popular rock formations at the center of Joshua Tree National Park. Cap Rock is about 7-miles or a 12-minute drive from Jumbo Rocks Campground.
As you walk along the rock, look out for the sign “G P”. This is where Gram Parson’s casket was burned. Gram Parsons was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who loved Joshua Tree National Park.
Day 2: Nature Trail, Dam, and Wilderness
On day 2 of our 2 days in Joshua Tree, we explore some easy hikes and end our day at the Mojave Desert Lava Tube.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
The sixth of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This is an easy 1-mile dirt and rock trail that takes about 30 minutes to complete. The trailhead is located just off Park Boulevard.
Some tips to make your hike easier include starting the trail in a clockwise direction, bringing walking poles as there are some steep areas within the hike, and bringing a hat or sunscreen, and a bottle of water.
Is Hidden Valley Trail dog-friendly?
Yes, Hidden Valley Trail is dog-friendly. However, dogs must be on a leash at all times when using this trail.
The seventh of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is Ryan Mountain. This mountain trail is about 3.2 miles or a 6-minute drive from the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. Ryan Mountain is a 1,663-meter mountain in Joshua Tree National Park.
The hike to the peak is a moderate to difficult 3 miles out and back trail with incredible views at the top. As the hike is on rough dirt and rock trails with steep sections, you can expect to spend about 2-3 hours hiking the mountain.
What is the elevation of Ryan Mountain?
Ryan Mountain Trail has an elevation gain of 1,050 feet (320 meters) with stone steps as it ascends to the peak at 1,663 meters. At the top, you get panoramic views of jumbled rocks and the Joshua Trees that give the park its name.
The eighth of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is Barker Dam. The Barker Dam Trail is about 4.2 miles or an 8-minute drive from the Ryan Mountain Trail. The dam is between Queen Valley and the Wonderland of Rocks, near the Wall Street Mill.
The Barker Dam Loop Trail is an easy 1.1-mile trail that takes you through monzogranite boulders, Barker Dam, and can be completed within 45 minutes.
There are interpretive exhibits along the trail which give an insight into the people, plants, and wildlife that call this place home.
Can you swim in Barker Dam?
As the lake at Barker Dam is part of the ecological preserve, swimming at Barker Dam is illegal. Hence, swimming is not allowed at Barker Dam.
Coachella Valley Preserve
The ninth of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is Coachella Valley Preserve. This preserve is about 63 miles or a 2-hour drive from Barker Dam. Coachella Valley or Greater Palm Springs is an arid rift desert and is home to several species of rare wildlife.
Among the wildlife, you can find here are the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, the giant red velvet mite, the giant palm-boring beetle, and the flat-tailed horned lizard.
The area is also known for several oases with the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis being a must-visit here.
What is Coachella Valley known for?
Coachella Valley is known for the largest music festival in the United States, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Coachella Valley is also known as a “Spa City” with Desert Hot Springs being built above a natural hot spring.
Are dogs allowed at Coachella Valley Preserve?
No dogs or pets are allowed at Coachella Valley Preserve as they may disturb the rare wildlife and may pose a danger to the environment. The pet-friendly trails in Greater Palm Springs are Mission Creek Trail, Whitewater Preserve, and La Quinta Cove Oasis.
Mecca Hills Wilderness
The tenth of our 2 days in Joshua Tree is the Mecca Hills Wilderness. These hills are about 38-miles or an hour’s drive from Coachella Valley Preserve. These badland labyrinths of narrow and small canyons are located just south of Joshua Tree National Park.
These rock formations are one of the most unusual, thanks to the San Andreas fault line. Each layer in the rock tells the story of the past, with the oldest being about 600 million years old.
Where is Mecca Hills located?
Mecca Hills is located in Riverside County, about 15 miles southeast of Indio. To get here, use the east entrance from Box Canyon Road (South Highway 195) via Interstate 10. Alternatively, enter from the south via State Highway 111.
BONUS: Mojave Desert Lava Tube
The eleventh and last of our 2 days in Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert Lava Tube. This volcanic tunnel illuminated by a skylight is an Instagrammer delight. While the surface seems ordinary, as you walk down a set of metal steps, you find yourself in a dark cavern.
Bring a torchlight as you enjoy your respite from the heat of the desert. The walls of the cavern are made from hardened lava that has cooled down. The lava in the Mojave Desert only stopped flowing about 10,000 years ago.
How do I get to the Mojave Desert Lava Tube?
The Mojave Desert Lava Tube Trailhead is located about 5 miles east of Kelbaker Road, on the unpaved Aiken Mine Road. You would need a high-clearance vehicle to get to the trailhead.
Aiken Mine Road is narrow, sandy, and has rough and large stones. There are no pit stops, toilets, or trash cans here. Take note that the lava tubes are not maintained by the National Park Services. The rocks here are loose and can pose a danger.
Be careful of snakes as you descend into the cavern. Also, always remember to take your trash back with you.
How was the Mojave Desert Lava Tube formed?
The Mojave Desert Lava Tube was formed when basaltic lava once coursed through the region. As the hot lava flowed and continued moving below, the top of the lava begin to cool and hardened.
As the volcanic eruptions ceased, the lava flowed out and left a lava tube that we see today.
Is the Mojave Desert Lave Tube still forming?
No, the Mojave Desert Lava Tube stopped forming about 10,000 years ago. And, it has been at least 7.6 million years ago since the first cinder cones burst upwards in the Mojave Desert.
What are the best places to stay near Joshua Tree National Park?
These are, in our opinion, the three best places to stay near Joshua Tree National Park for 2 days in Joshua Tree. Our first choice is the best place for sunrises in the United States while our last choice, Yucca Valley is at the highest elevation of the Mojave Desert.
This small town has a population of fewer than 10,000 people and is at a low elevation of 820 meters above sea level. Some artsy places to visit in this town are the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, the Giant Rock, and the Simi Dabah Sculpture Garden.
The Cherokee House
The Cherokee House is a 3-bedroom holiday home that comes with a fireplace, a flatscreen television, and a fully equipped kitchen. The home was designed with a Native American vibe which adds to its beautiful aesthetics.
Some positive reviews of the property include the location being close to the Joshua Tree Visitor Center and is close to town. Other reviews mention the gorgeous yard, fantastic kitchen, and communicative host.
The Sacred Sands
The Sacred Sands is your private oasis in the desert. With only two rooms, your privacy is guaranteed. This property is 1 mile from the West Entrance of the Joshua Tree National Park.
Some positive reviews include the property being a fantastic retreat for couples, beautiful scenery, a relaxing atmosphere, and a great open-air tub and air bed for stargazing. Other reviews include comfortable rooms and friendly hosts.
Marbella Lane – The Moon Designer Home
The Marbella Lane – The Moon Designer Home is a 3-bedroom holiday home that comes with a fully equipped kitchen, dishwasher, and washing machines. The property also has a laptop-friendly workspace and a hot tub.
Some positive reviews include this is a beautiful home with modern features, a great place to stargaze, a peaceful and quiet property, and the Joshua Tree National Park is just 10 minutes away.
Our third choice for the best place to stay for 2 days in Joshua Tree is Twentynine Palms or 29 Palms in San Bernandino County. A major attraction of this town is the 26 outdoor murals that depict life in the desert.
Our recommended places to stay at Twentynine Palms are:
The Cactus Adobe is a 2-bedroom holiday home that is equipped with a kitchen, patio with garden views, a dining area, a flat-screen television, and free WiFi throughout the property. Pets are allowed with no extra charges.
Some positive reviews mention that is a home away from home that is perfect for couples. Other reviews mention that the staff was helpful, responsive, and informative. The place is also described as clean, quirky, and fun as it is decorated with interesting art and tiles.
The Roadrunner’s Roost is a 2-bedroom holiday home built in 1972 by the Wellock family. The home is currently managed by the Dunn family whose ancestors were the earliest settlers of 29 Palms.
The positive reviews of this property include the location having exceptional views of the mountains, the house being well equipped with modern facilities, and being an extremely clean property close to Joshua Tree National Park.
Rancho Deluxe is a 1-bedroom retro desert homestead with peaceful surroundings and breathtaking views. The property comes with a large double bed and a sofa bed in the living area. The bathroom features a walk-in shower and an outdoor hot tub.
The positive reviews of this property include clean, peaceful, and easy access to the town center. The location is about 2.7 miles to the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail, 4.3 miles to the Boy Scout Trail, and 10 miles to Hidden Valley.
Our third choice for the best place to stay for 2 days in Joshua Tree is Yucca Valley. At an elevation of 3,300 feet, Yucca Valley lies at the center of the Morongo Basin with the Joshua Tree National Park at its southern border.
The Little San Bernandino Mountains are at its western border. The United States Marine Corps Twentynine Palms Base is located east of Yucca Valley.
As Yucca Valley is closest to the base, the town is a temporary home to the residents of the Marine Base.
Some of our recommended places to stay are:
Our first choice is Ventana Cove. This luxury desert oasis is a 3-bedroom holiday home that comes with a 6-person hot tub, 2 hammocks under a Joshua Tree, and a fully stocked kitchen with utensils, pots, and pans.
This home is pet-friendly and has a swimming pool. Free WiFi is also available. Some positive reviews include the place is exactly as advertised, the place being clean, and is located close to amenities. The host is also thoughtful and communicative.
The Desert Bloom Desert Oasis is a 4-bedroom holiday home that comes with a fully stocked kitchen, bright and airy interiors, and a beautiful brick fireplace. The nearby attractions include Sky Village Outdoor Marketplace and the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.
Some positive comments include an amazing backyard for relaxing and stargazing, the customer service being helpful, and a clean and nice home.
Yucca Valley Stargazing Oasis
The Yucca Valley Stargazing Oasis is a 3-bedroom holiday home that is about 11 miles from the Joshua Tree National Park entrance. The property has a yard with mountain views and hammocks, a patio with a gas fire pit, and a laptop-friendly workspace.
Some positive reviews include the house being as advertised, it is clean, and the hosts being helpful and responsive. Other reviews mention spacious rooms and easy access to grocery and convenience stores nearby.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Joshua Tree National Park?
Are you looking for more answers to your questions on Joshua Tree? Look no further, find your answers in our frequently asked questions on Joshua Tree below.
Which Joshua Tree entrance is best?
With 3 entrances, deciding the best Joshua Tree entrance would depend on where you are coming from. However, each route offers scenic views and majestic landscapes.
If you are coming from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Palm Springs, the best Joshua Tree entrance would be the West Entrance which is the main entry to the park.
The North Entrance is best for those coming from Las Vegas while the South Entrance is best for those coming from Phoenix, New Mexico, and Indio.
Does it cost money to get into Joshua Tree?
Yes, it does cost money to get into Joshua Tree. The entrance fee is $30 for a 7-day vehicle permit. A motorcycle entrance permit is $25 for 7 days while those who walk in on foot or a bicycle are $15 per person.
The Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass is $55 per person and is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase. The America The Beautiful National Parks Lands Pass costs $80 per person and provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas.
What is so special about Joshua Tree National Park?
The Joshua Tree National Park is special because of its diverse landscape, beautiful sunrises, and sunsets, abundant wildlife, and unique rock formations, and is a famous spot for rock climbing, hiking, and camping.
What is the best time of the year to visit Joshua Tree National Park?
The best time of the year to visit Joshua Tree National Park is between March and May when the wildflowers start to bloom and between October and November when pleasant weather which is perfect for hiking and climbing.
Is Joshua Tree a dark sky park?
Yes, Joshua Tree is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association as the park is located in a high desert which is about 5,000 meters above sea level.
The best side for stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park is on its East end which is far from the city.
Can I enter Joshua Tree at night?
Yes, you can enter Joshua Tree at night. The Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, there is no cell service throughout the park and it is best to keep an ample supply of water. Protect yourself with sunscreens, hats, and sunglasses.
How long does it take to drive around Joshua Tree National Park?
It takes about 2 hours to drive around Joshua Tree National Park. The drive around starts at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms. It ends at the Joshua Tree National Park Entrance signage at the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway.
Can you just drive through Joshua Tree?
Yes, you can just drive through Joshua Tree in less than 2 hours and still have time to stop and visit 5 popular sites. We begin our journey at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center at the West Entrance which is the main entrance.
Our first stop is Cap Rock which is an easy hiking trail with minimal elevation. Followed by Skull Rock and the Arch Rock Nature Trail. After that, we proceed to Mojave Desert Viewpoint before ending our road trip through the park at Morten’s Mill.
Is Joshua Tree National Park worth visiting?
Yes, Joshua Tree is worth it! Here’s why you must visit it at least once in your lifetime.
- The two distinct desert ecosystems. Joshua Tree is a combination of the higher elevation of the Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. The Mojave Desert is home to yucca brevifolia or the Joshua Tree.
- Best stargazing experience. If you want to see the Milky Way, this is the best place to see it. As this park is about 300 miles from the closest major city, there is no light pollution here. The best time to come for stargazing at Joshua Tree is in winter.
- Best hiking trails on the West Coast. Joshua Tree has more than 100 miles of hiking trails. The best easy hiking trail in Joshua Tree is the Arch Rock Trail, the Barker Dam Trail, the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, and the Skull Rock Nature Trail.
- Stunning sunsets and sunrise. The park is at its most beautiful when the sun sets over the horizon, illuminating the desert floor. Some of the best photos you can take are when the skies turn a beautiful shade of ombre, purple, and red.
- Something new each time you visit. In spring, the temperatures are moderate as wildflowers bloom. Summer means less crowd as it is the hottest time in the park. While winter brings cooler days, the pleasant weather of autumn is suitable for hiking and camping.
Joshua Tree National Park bewitches everyone that enters its land. From starry nights to unique rocks, and amazing viewpoints, there is something for everyone here. So, if you haven’t been to Joshua Tree, now is the time to make that trip.