When you first drive into Joshua Tree National Park, it feels like you’re suddenly on another planet. It’s mind blowing. And a little overwhleming. Fear not. This list of the best things to do in Joshua Tree will keep you on track.
So what makes J-Tree so epic? The Mojave and Colorado deserts meet in Joshua Tree, and these two individual ecosystems come together and create an otherworldly landscape.
Joshua Tree marks my first national park visit. I spent a week here when I was 12 and it blew. My. Mind. Of course, there’s been a few (ahem) decades that have passed since then. And several more visits.
About This Guide to Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree is jam-packed with things to see and do. In order to keep you organized, I’ve created this mega-guide to the best things to see. In this guide you’ll find:
- Tips for when to visit Joshua Tree
- Pro tips to make your visit incredible
- Quick tips for visiting Joshua Tree
When to Visit Joshua Tree
The best time to visit Joshua Tree is in the spring or fall. That’s when the weather is most comfortable, and in spring the wildflowers are in bloom. Simply amazing!
Of course, those seasons are also the most popular, so if you’re trying to avoid crowds, you could visit in winter. Though the temperatures can get quite cold, you could also get lucky with a warm day.
On the other hand, summer is extremely hot (it is a desert, after all), so it can get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly. Temps can easily reach scorching temps of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the summer. Phew!
The 13 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
Honestly, it’d be almost impossible to run out of things to do in Joshua Tree. But to get started, here are the very best things to do near Joshua Tree.
A fantastic way to fully experience Joshua Tree is by hiking one of the many trails that wind through the 800,000 acres of the park.
The list of hikes in Joshua Tree National Park is long, but some of the can’t-miss ones include Skull Rock, Mastodon Peak, and Lost Palm Oasis.
Pro Tip: Bring plenty of water! There are very few sources of water in the desert, and you are actually prohibited from collecting water in the park.
Psst…don’t head out before checking out these expert tips for hiking in the desert.
2. Rock Climbing
Joshua Tree is an absolute mecca for rock climbers. The park is strewn with boulders featuring problems of all levels to challenge beginners to professionals.
Trad climbers also flock to the granite formations for tough, old-school crack climbs. Expect sandbagged grades here.
If you’re not a climber but are interested in trying it out, you can hire a guide to show you the classics and keep you safe.
Pro Tip: The grippy granite in Joshua Tree is especially known for its friction slab climbing. It’s a great place to practice your technique and fancy footwork.
3. Horseback Riding
A fun way to traverse the trails in Joshua Tree is on horseback. Several nearby ranches offer guided horseback rides for beginners to experienced riders, so you can take a ride along the 250 miles of trails in the park that are designated for equestrian use.
Pro Tip: A sunset ride is not only gorgeous, but a great way to beat the heat in the summer.
Joshua Tree is a designated International Dark Sky Park, due to its lack of light pollution. On a clear night, you will get an amazing view of the Milky Way and more!
Some of the best places in the park for stargazing are Cottonwood Campground and pullouts off Pinto Basin Road.
Pro Tip: Use the red light setting on your headlamp to help your eyes adjust to the dark.
5. Cowboy Camping
If you want to take stargazing to the next level, ditch the tent and cowboy camp! Think about it. Wake up and star gaze all night long.
Bring your sleeping bag (and other supplies) into the vast expanse of the backcountry in Joshua Tree and spend the night sleeping under the stars for a truly special experience.
Pro Tip: In order to backcountry camp, you are required to register at one of the many backcountry boards, then set up your camp at least one mile from any road and 500 feet off of a trail.
6. Keys View Lookout
This pullout provides perhaps the best view in all of Joshua Tree, and it’s easily accessible. The lookout is located just 20 minutes or so from the northwest entrance of the park.
Head up a short ridge, and you will be able to see the Santa Rosa Mountains, San Jacinto Peak, and San Gorgonio Mountain, as well as the Salton Sea and the Coachella Valley.
Pro Tip: Come here at sunset for an extra gorgeous view with everything bathed in golden light.
7. Cholla Cactus Garden
A short (0.3 mile) loop trail takes you through a grove filled with a concentration of a variety of cacti, including teddy bear cholla.
But be careful! While these cacti are quite cute, be sure to stay far away from them or you risk getting spines in your clothes and your skin. Pack tweezers just in case.
Pro Tip: In the spring, usually March or April, the cacti bloom with colorful flowers.
8. Bird Watching
You can spot many interesting birds in Joshua Tree, due to the two different desert ecosystems that converge in the park. The roadrunner lives in J-Tree year-round, while warblers and turkey vultures migrate through.
Pro Tip: The Oasis of Mara provides a water source for birds, making it a great spot for bird-watching. Bring your binoculars.
9. Mountain Biking
Get rowdy on some sweet desert single track.
While biking inside Joshua Tree National Park itself is limited to vehicle roads, the BLM land adjacent to Joshua Tree offers a secluded single track in an area referred to as “Section 6.”
Also known as Desert View Conservation Area, it’s a perfect place to escape the crowds in the park itself and ride some adventurous trails.
Pro Tip: The trails are indistinct and not signed, so do your research ahead of time in order to navigate and stay on track.
10. Integratron Dome
For a one-of-a-kind experience, head about 20 miles outside the park to the tiny town of Landers, where you’ll find a unique dome.
The Integratron was built to harness electromagnetic forces, and you can book a “sound bath” session to experience the power of this unique place yourself.
Pro Tip: The designer of the dome, George van Tassel, claimed he received instructions from extraterrestrials that directed the construction.
Check out some of the unique things to do near Joshua Tree.
Just outside of Joshua Tree is a unique town that was designed in the 1940s to mimic an Old West movie set. Main Street in Pioneertown features actual operating shops amid several false fronts, and only pedestrians and horseback riders are allowed on the street.
Pro Tip: For a unique camping experience, there are sites available to camp right in Pioneertown.
12. Pappy & Harriet’s
Located in Pioneertown, Pappy & Harriet’s provides a special experience all its own. Serving as the cantina in the original Old West set, Pappy & Harriet’s morphed into a biker bar and eventually became a live music venue.
Pro Tip: The stage has been graced by legendary musicians from Paul McCartney to Robert Plant to Vampire Weekend, so you never know who might show up!
13. Hicksville Trailer Palace
For a quirky place to stay just outside the park, check in to Hicksville Trailer Palace. This motel is made up of separate trailers, each decorated with a distinct personality and style.
The unexpected amenities include a fire pit in a teepee, a giant ball pit, and an archery and BB gun range, as well as a saltwater pool and rooftop hot tub.
Pro Tip: The location is kept top-secret! If you book a stay here, you will be given directions the day before you arrive.
Quick Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree
Be in the know before you head to Joshua Tree. Keep the following in mind before your visit.
- Pack out your trash. The desert is a fragile place so pack out everything from fruit peels to human waste.
- Bring plenty of water. Stash extra water in you vehicle.
- Reserve campsites in advance. This place fills up!
- Bring shade. You’ll want all the sun protection and then some if you’re visiting during the warmer months.
- Consider an annual parks pass. If you’re pairing your visit with other nearby parks, such as Death Valley National Park, then consider getting an America the Beautiful Pass.
Joshua Tree National Park brings the desert to your fingertips. The unique flora and fauna combined with epic rock formations makes this a must-visit national park.
Additional National Park Resources
Planning a trip out west? Check out these must-see spots: