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Day Trip to Joshua Tree: Tips for one day in Joshua Tree

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Hotels.com to bring forth some of the stunning wanderlust destinations in the USA. As always the opinions and ideas are my own.

Planning a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park? You will find this post useful in exploring Joshua Tree on a quick getaway from San Diego, or Los Angeles California. 

The Joshua Tree National Park showcases unique rock formations, yuccas and desert landscapes. The park straddles between the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. 

The Mojave Desert stands at a high elevation with a cooler climate and this is where you will find the Joshua trees. The Cholla cactus, on the other hand, are native to the Colorado Desert.

Joshua Tree Day trip
Day trip to Joshua Tree: How to spend one day in Joshua Tree

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Note: As travel today remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times. Things are changing by the minute, so check the official website for guidelines, shuttle services, and latest closures, and the status of local businesses.

Planning a Day Trip to Joshua Tree: One day in Joshua Tree Guide

Where is Joshua Tree National Park located?

Joshua Tree National Park is located in California, in the United States. It makes for an easy day trip option from Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and San Diego to name a few. 

If you are driving from Los Angeles, it will take you about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get there (one way). From San Diego, it takes a little longer at close to 3 hours (driving about 164 miles, one way).

When traveling from overseas, you can definitely touch down in LA, or San Diego and add this day trip as part of your overall California itinerary. The closest airport to Joshua Tree National Park is in Palm Springs. It is located about 50 minutes away from the park (about 37 miles). 

How much does it cost to go to Joshua Tree? Entrance Park Fees

Joshua Tree National Park is one of 117 in the National Park System in the USA, that charges an entrance fee. 

  • The entrance pass fee for Joshua Tree National Park is $25 USD for a vehicle, valid for 7 days
  • Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass costs $55.00 USD
  • If you are a frequent National Parks visitor, use your America – The Beautiful Pass. Buy your 2021/22 pass online here 
Road to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree Day trip itinerary

There are three entrances to Joshua Tree National Park. 

  • West Entrance Station: If traveling from Los Angeles, San Diego, or Palm Springs, use this entrance gate. It is the main entrance and goes through from the town of Joshua Tree on Highway 62 at Park Blvd. (It is about five miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village)
  • North Entrance: The north entrance is great for those traveling from Las Vegas, or anywhere in the north. Visitor Center: Cottonwood Visitor Center
  • South Entrance: The south entrance is perfect for those arriving from destinations located in the east of the park. The entrance is situated off Interstate 10, near the Cottonwood Springs area of the park and you can go through the entire park from this gate. Visitor Center: Cottonwood Visitor Center off I-10

There is a fourth center – Black Rock Nature Center, located in Black Rock Campground.

Pro tip:  Although the main entrance to the Park is in the town of Joshua Tree, this one gets very busy on weekends and holidays, leading to long wait times.  So do consider getting there early to beat the rush. 

Can you do Joshua Tree in a day?

Joshua Tree makes for a perfect day trip from Los Angeles, Palm Spring, or San Diego. You can also add a stop at the national park, as part of your West Coast USA road trip.

Apart from the driving time, we recommend setting aside 4-6 hours for sightseeing, lunch break and photo spots at the Joshua Tree. 

Extending your stay in Joshua Tree

If you plan on extending your stay in Joshua Tree National Park, consider staying inside the park, or to the north or west of the park. 

Towns that are located near the national park include Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, or west of the park in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, or Indio, and they have accommodation options or hotels for all budget levels. 

Transportation for Joshua Tree, and options for guided tours

The best way to explore the Joshua Tree National Park is by car. If you do not wish to drive, then a guided tour is the best option for you. Unlike long day tours from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon National Park, you can opt for shorter bus/jeep tours from Palm Springs and explore Joshua Tree with ease.

It is important to note that there are no park shuttles or public transportation inside the park. So your options are driving or a guided tour. 

Guided tours

  • Joshua Tree Guided Tour: Here is a full-day guided tour of the Joshua Tree National Park with lunch. Pick-up options are available from Greater Palm Springs. You can check it out here
  • Guided Hiking Tour: Explore Joshua Tree with hiking experts. Check this tour here

Parking Tips for Joshua Tree Visitors 

  • You can find parking in all of the Visitor centers, including parking for vans that require ramp access. These spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. 
  • You can also access restrooms at the center (wheelchair accessible) 
  • There are 2 roads – Park Boulevard (runs from the park entrance near the town of Joshua Tree to the entrance near Twenty Nine Palms) and Pinto Basin Road, connecting Park Boulevard in the north and south to the entrance near Chiriaco Summit. The routes are super scenic for a drive through the park
Climbing inside Joshua Tree

What is the best time of year to go to Joshua Tree?

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is March to May and October to November. 

During this time the temperatures are pleasant, and favorable to explore inside the park. 

Summer months are from June to August, and being a desert, it gets very hot in the summers (100 F/38 C), and is not a popular time to visit. Winter months are from December to February. Winters are cold, and occasionally you could sight snow at high elevation points. 

It is important to note that the park is open all year around, and late spring, and fall are popular times to visit due to temperatures. The park is also open 24/7 and you are welcome to go stargazing at night here.  

We recommend utilizing this one day in Joshua Tree itinerary during the spring or fall months for the same reason. Depending on the time of arrival/departure from the park, do carry a light jacket with you (we have included a detailed packing list below).

Day Trip to Joshua Tree: Things to do in one day in Joshua Tree Itinerary

Joshua Tree National Park gets its name from the unique trees – Yucca Brevifolia – found on its northern side of the park. As part of your day trip itinerary to Joshua Tree, you must stop by and take photos of the cute Yuccas and gardens full of cacti, and insane rock formations.

Enter through the main gate, and check off the following attractions as part of your day trip Joshua Tree itinerary 

Wander the Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus Garden

Located about 12 miles from the Joshua Tree National Park’s main entrance is your first stop – Cholla Cactus Garden. These cacti are unique to the park’s Colorado Desert side and are characterized by their fuzzy structure. 

Cholla Cactus Gardens in Joshua Tree
Cholla Cactus Gardens in one day in Joshua Tree

They look magical in the morning, and sunrises here are breathtaking. You can go on a quick .25 mile loop trail and explore the 10 acre Cholla Cactus garden. 

Rock formations – Skull Rock, Arch Rock, & more

Other than the cactus, the massive rock formations will blow your mind at the Joshua Tree. These are some of the most popular landmarks inside of the park, and does get quite crowded and busy in the peak tourist season as everyone tries to take pictures, climb or go on hikes at the rocks

The Skull Rock is one of the most unique, and like the name suggests it looks like a skull! It is located right along the main road and is worth checking out.

skull rocks in Joshua tree
Skull rocks in Joshua Tree

Arch Rock is one of the popular arches at the park. You can embark on a .5 mile hike to check out the formation. The trail starts at the White Rock Campground, but you can also head from the Twin Tanks Backcountry Board/Arch Rock Nature Trail lot.

Other notable rock formations include the Split Rock, Cap Rock and the Keys View, which offers views of the Coachella Valley. 

For a day trip to Joshua Tree, include Skull Rock and the Arch Rock to your itinerary. Short hikes to explore the formations will take about 45 minutes to 2 hours. From the Skull Rock trail, you can also hike further through the 1.7 mile Jumbo Rocks nature trail. 

Go on the Hidden Valley Trail

Hidden Valley is one of the popular areas of the park, which gives you a great insight into the park’s stunning landscape. You can enjoy a one mile trail, (which is one of the scenic hiking trails) and capture the massive boulders and the desert. 

This is also a popular rock-climbing area, and perfect to stop and admire the beauty of the national park. 

Barker Dam

Barker Dam is located just two miles from Hidden Valley. There is a popular 1.1 mile loop trail (which is a crowd puller),  and it takes you to an old reservoir and dam. The view of a small lake amidst the rocks makes for a stunning capture.  

reflections at the Barker Dam
Barker Dam

Sunset views at the Keys View

Finally end the one day Joshua Tree itinerary with sunset views at the Keys View. Situated at 5185 feet in elevation, Keys View showcases mesmerising panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs, San Andreas Fault, and all the way to Signal Mountain in Mexico. 

When you head down Keys View Road you can stop at lookout points for photos as well. 

Note that due to its elevation, you can expect it to be windy (and cold sometimes). This is also the highest point inside of the Joshua Tree National Park. 

Sunset views at Keys View Joshua Tree
Sunset at Keys View Joshua Tree

Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park (Overnight stay)

If you are planning to stay overnight, you can enjoy stargazing at the Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree is classified as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association, and inside the park you can soak in those starry skies over the rock formations, by roadside and even from your accommodation (especially when you stay in a campground, or go glamping). 

Packing for Joshua Tree Day itinerary

Here are some essential packing tips for your day trip to Joshua Tree 

  • Comfortable hiking shoes: There will be a lot of hiking and walking at the Joshua Tree National Park, so we recommend wearing a comfortable pair of hiking shoes. These KEEN shoes have a good grip so when you are climbing the rocks you should be fine (although they won’t work for extreme climbers). 
  • Sandals: If traveling in the warmer months, wear one of these sandals – Teva Hurricane XLT2 Sandals or Chaco Z/1 Classic Sandals. Both are great options for exploring all day, they provide good arch support and are comfy to wear for prolonged outdoorsy activities. 
  • Lightweight jacket: Because the temperatures vary a lot (at certain times of the year) we recommend carrying a lightweight jacket, preferably with a thin insulated lining in the late fall months.
  • Cotton tops and bottoms: When visiting in the summer, or late spring months the weather can get very hot and harsh, so wear lightweight and airy cotton tops and bottoms or shorts
  • Don’t forget your sunscreen, sunglasses, and sunhat
  • Water bottle: When you are out and about exploring you need to stay hydrated. Use this Hydro Flask to keep your water cool on the trails for long hours. 

We are sure you will love Joshua Tree National Park for a quick day trip from one of the major cities in California. You can also combine other parks inside of California for an epic road trip exploring the Death Valley National Park, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia, and the Kings Canyon. 

Don’t forget to check out the following USA travel posts for your upcoming trip

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