How to Spend One Day in Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary
Joshua Tree has become a popular National Park and it’s easy to see why! From unique landscapes and easy hiking trails to boho-chic accommodations, many have been flocking to this California Park! So, in this Joshua Tree itinerary, I am covering the best things to see and do with one day in Joshua Tree National Park!
Additionally, you will find Joshua Tree travel tips, a FREE map, and practical information that will help you plan an epic day trip!
Joshua Tree was recognized as a National Monument in 1936 and finally became a National Park in 1994. The park consists of 792,512 acres of both Mojave (high desert) and Colorado desert (low desert).
People have been living on these lands for at least 5,000 years. The first people to inhabit the area was the Pinto Culture, followed by Native American tribes including the Chemehuevi, the Serrano, and the Cahuilla.
The park is most well known for… you guessed it, Joshua Trees, along with giant granite boulders, and stargazing.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- How to Spend One Day in Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary
- Joshua Tree Quick Facts
- Is One Day in Joshua Tree Enough Time
- Getting Around Joshua Tree National Park
- One Day in Joshua Tree National Park – Day Trip Itinerary
- Joshua Tree at Night
- Honorary Joshua Tree Attractions
- Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree
- Where to Stay With One Day in Joshua Tree
- One Day in Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary Wrap-up
Joshua Tree Quick Facts
Location: Joshua Tree is located in Twentynine Palms in Southern California.
Entrance: Joshua Tree has 3 entrances to the Park. The West Entrance is located 5 miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village. The North Entrance is in Twentynine Palms (also located on Highway 62). The South Entrance near Cottonwood Spring has an access point along Interstate 10.
Admission: Joshua Tree Day Entrance Fee per vehicle is $30 USD. It can be paid for at the visitors center. If you plan on visiting 3 National Parks, consider getting the National Parks Pass called America The Beautiful Pass. It is $80 USD and offers entrance into all of the National Parks for 1 year.
You only need one America the Beautiful National Park Pass per car for up to 4 adults. Children under 15 are free. Additionally, two different people can use this National Park Pass.
Joshua Tree Visitors Center: There are 4 Visitor Centers in the park. Joshua Tree Visitor Center, Oasis Visitor Center, Cottonwood Visitor Center, and Black Rock Visitor Center. They offer exhibits, Ranger-led programs, a bookstore, and more.
Lodge/Camping: There are camping sites within the park. Lodging is available outside the park. 5 of the campsites require a reservation and 3 are first come first served. To find more information on campsites, check the NPS here!
Joshua Tree Climate: Subtropical, hot desert climate. The air is very dry. In higher elevations, Joshua Tree can see snow during the winter.
Closest Airports: The closest airport is Palm Springs International Airport (PSP). Other airports nearby are San Diego International Airport (SAN), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR), and Las Vegas McCarran Airport (LAS). Check Skyscanner for flights!
Nearest Cities to Joshua Tree: Palm Springs, 43 miles to Joshua Tree (1 hour); Los Angeles, 146 miles (almost 3 hours); San Deigo; 160 miles (almost 3 hours), Las Vegas, 180 miles (almost 3 hours).
Wildlife: Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Kit Fox, Desert Big Horn Sheep, Kangaroo Rat, Rattle Snakes, and more.
Operating Hours: Joshua Tree is open 24/7 All Year Round.
Best time to visit Joshua Tree: November – April. Temperatures can range from 71 high / 35 low.
Restrooms: The Park has many restroom areas, especially near popular trails.
Dog-friendly: Dogs are not allowed on most trails.
Is One Day in Joshua Tree Enough Time
With one day in Joshua Tree, you will easily be able to see most, if not all the main attractions. Joshua Tree is also a perfect place to take a day trip from Palm Springs, San Diego, Los Angeles, or even Las Vegas.
Palms Springs is the closest major city to Joshua Tree which is about an hour away. Other major cities are around 3 hours or less, giving you plenty of time to take a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park!
If you plan on doing a lot of long hiking trails, you may want to extend your Joshua Tree itinerary an extra day, however, most find one day to be enough.
Getting Around Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is best explored by car. If you are flying in from out of state, check Rental Cars for the best prices. If you have a vehicle with 4×4, there are additional roads you can explore.
Furthermore, there are no gas stations, food, water, or lodging inside the park. Make sure to fill up your gas tank and bring snacks and at least a gallon of water per person.
Joshua Tree also has little to no cell phone reception in the park. Therefore, you will want to make sure to download offline Google Maps and/or bring an old-school Satellite GPS.
Make sure to download your maps well before getting into the park since the service is spotty. I would also recommend getting the All trails app and downloading the hiking maps as well. During our visit, the trails were not always marked great making it hard to follow.
One Day in Joshua Tree National Park – Day Trip Itinerary
Now that you are more oriented with some of the basic information you should know for visiting Joshua Tree National Park, here are the best attractions to see in the park in one day!
FYI: This Joshua Tree itinerary has been designed to reduce any backtracking and optimize your time in the park. However, feel free to do the itinerary in reverse.
Walk The Hidden Valley Nature Trail
To start off your one day in Joshua Tree, enter from the West Entrance Station and make your first stop at Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This very popular 1-mile loop was said to be legendary for rustlers to hide stolen herds of cattle.
It was said two brothers, Jim and Bill McHaney formed a cowboy gang and would steal cattle from Arizona and horses from California.
The trail starts off with a walk through giant boulders and then opens up to a valley. It is very popular to rock climb at Hidden Valley, so if you look up, you may see little dots of people!
You will also see tons of Joshua Trees through this trail. The west side of the park is where you will see the most Joshua Trees due to the higher elevation of the Mojave Desert.
Joshua Tree Fun Fact: Did you know Joshua Trees are not really trees? These Dr. Suess-looking plants are actually a species of Yucca which is a succulent plant. Joshua trees can grow over 40 ft. tall and researchers believe they live up to 150 years old, however, there are older Joshua Trees in the park.
Explore Barkers Dam
Another must-see with one day in Joshua Tree is Barkers Dam. The dam does not always have water, however, the trail is a lot of fun, water or not. Your best chances to see water are in the winter after a storm. During our trip, there was no water lol.
Barkers Dam Nature Trail is a 1.3-mile loop and another very popular trail to explore in Joshua Tree. The Dam was actually built in the late 1800s and early 1900s for cattle, which was a big business at the time.
A hundred years ago, the Desert saw more rainfall (around 8-10 inches) making the area lusher for cattle. Joshua Tree now sees around 2-3 inches of rainfall annually.
When water is present in the dam, you are more likely to see wildlife including birds and even Desert Big Horn Sheep.
Depending on how you are doing with time, you might also want to check out Wall Street Mill Trail which is right near Barkers Dam. The trail is 2.2 miles and will bring you to an old Gold Mill. We did not have time to see it.
Joshua Tree Fun Fact: Wonder how the rocks in Joshua Tree piled up and look so unique? It happened eons ago from molten due to volcanic activity. The Monzogranite rose and intruded the overlying rock. When the granite cooled, cracks formed vertically and horizontally while the soil eroded bringing these massive rocks to the surface. It’s these massive boulders that bring so many rock climbers to the park.
See the Hall of Horrors
Next, you will drive back down Barker Dam Road to Park Blvd, bringing you to the Hall of Horrors. This was one of the places I had wished I downloaded offline trail maps since there was no trail signage, however, the views were still lovely.
The trail is a .6 mile loop and what you will want to do is follow the middle little rock path and make a loop around the giant rocks (either to the left or right) in the distance. Doing so will bring you through little slot canyons, which from the pictures I saw, looked really cool.
Because there were no trail signs and we were running short on time, we didn’t actually make it through the cave walls.
Joshua Tree Tip: If it is before 1:30 PM, go to Keys View before heading to the Hall of Horrors. It is about 16 minutes (8.7 Miles) from Barkers Dam down Keys View Road. The viewpoint looks over the Coachella Valley. It is also known as a popular/crowded place to watch the sunset, however, I have a Joshua tree sunset recommendation below!
Visit Skull Rock
Likely one of the most unique rock formations in Joshua Tree is Skull Rock! As you may have guessed, the Rock definitely looks like a skull and it is very easy to get to! It is located on Park Blvd a little past Jumbo Rocks Campground on the right-hand side. You will be able to see the Rock right from the pull-off.
Depending on the time, there are also hiking trails around Skull Rock. We actually hiked from Jumbo Rocks Campground to skull Rock which was about a mile one way.
Instead of hiking from the campground, I’d recommend pulling off by skull Rock and then leisurely walking around the area!
Arch Rock in Joshua Tree
This was one of my favorite places during our one day in Joshua Tree! The start of the hiking trail is located a little down and across the main road, but the Arch Rock is actually right in the back of the White Tank Campground (about a 2-minute walk).
Unfortunately, there is no parking in the campground unless you reserved a spot. However, the walkover is about 1.2 miles out and back.
There was also no signage for the trail, so make sure to check or download the trail before going. So why was it my favorite? Well seeing the arch was really cool and the trail leading past the arch was also pretty epic!
It felt like you were walking through a rock canyon. Just trust me on this and add it to your Joshua Tree itinerary!
Heart Rock is also nearby depending on how you are doing with time. As you may have guessed, the rock looks like a heart.
Cholla Cactus Garden Sunset
For an incredible sunset in Joshua Tree National Park, you will want to continue down to the Cholla Cactus Garden! In order to catch the sunset, you need to leave Arch Rock no later than 4:30 PM when visiting during the winter months.
The Cholla Cactus Gardens are about 13 minutes (7.8 miles) from Arch Rock on Pinto Basin Road.
The reason you have to get here a little early is because the sun goes behind the Hexie Mountains. We arrived at 5:10 PM and the sun was already gone, however, we were still greeted with beautiful pinks, oranges, and yellows surrounded by 10 acres of Cholla Cactus!
Also known as jumping Cholla (Choy-ya) or teddy bear Cholla, these guys are sharp due to their barbs and very painful to remove, so be careful walking near them!
The Cholla Cactus generally only grow in the eastern part of the park which is a part of the Colorado Desert (which is a part of the much larger Sonoran Desert). Here, the elevation is under 3,000 ft, allowing the Cholla to flourish.
This desert plant plays an important role to animals including the Cactus Ren and Desert Woodrat.
Joshua Tree at Night
Once the sun goes down, don’t leave the park in a hurry. Joshua Tree is known as an international dark sky, meaning there is very little light pollution. Because of this, you can experience incredible stargazing.
Arch Rock is a very popular place to do Astrophotography and Cottonwood Campground has the darkest sky. Learn more about stargazing in Joshua Tree here.
Joshua Tree Tip: Make sure to bring layers/jackets with you. It gets chilly at night in Joshua Tree!
Honorary Joshua Tree Attractions
As you can see, a lot can be done in Joshua Tree in just one day, but you can’t always see it all. In case you decide you want to switch one of the above Joshua Tree attractions out or travel at a very fast pace, here are some additional things to do in Joshua Tree that are quite popular.
- Desert Queen Mine: This is a 3.4 mile out and back hike leading you to an abandoned gold mine.
- Ryan Mountain Trail: A popular moderate 3-mile hike with a gain of 1,050 feet of elevation leads to panoramic views of the Pinto Basin. The hike takes around 2 hours to complete.
- Split Rock: Near Skull Rock, this is a 1.9-mile loop of cool rock formations.
- Pioneer Town: Located outside the park, Pioneer Town is an old western town that was built as a 1940s Hollywood set. More than 50 tv shows and films have been done here! Many do this when leaving Joshua Tree the next day.
Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree
The best time to visit Joshua Tree is during the fall, winter, and early spring months. During this time you can enjoy cooler temperatures since Joshua Tree is a desert.
The summer in Joshua Tree is very hot and there is little to no shade in the park. Temperatures in summer can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Additionally, I would also suggest visiting during the weekday if possible. We visited in February during the week and felt like we had the park “almost” to ourselves.
No matter what time of year you visit Joshua Tree, it is important to have a lot of water and snacks since there are no stores in the park. I would also suggest bringing sunscreen (this is my go-to for sensitive skin and mineral-based) and bug spray.
Where to Stay With One Day in Joshua Tree
Since Joshua Tree does not have hotels inside the park, you will be lodging in nearby towns/cities, unless you decide to camp. Some of the best campgrounds in Joshua Tree are:
- White Tank Campground: This campground has 15 sites (the smallest in Joshua Tree), so it is nice a quiet. It is also right next to Arch Rock. They have pit toilets, fire grates, and tables but no water. First come, first serve.
- Jumbo Rocks Campground: This is the largest campsite with 124 sites. It is located near Skull Rock and has a lot of cool trails nearby. They have pit toilets, fire grates, and tables but no water. Needs to be reserved in advance. The link for reservations is under the quick facts at the top of this article.
Palm Springs to Joshua Tree
A day trip from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree is one of the most popular options and what we decided to do. Actually, our day trip started from San Deigo to Joshua Tree, however, we stayed in Palm Springs overnight. You can check out my detailed San Diego Itinerary here!
Palm Springs is a lively area with lots of good food options, entertainment, and hotels. It is located an hour west of the park. Some places to consider staying are:
Courtyard by Marriott Palm Desert: We Stayed here and were happy with our overnight accommodation. The room was large, clean, and had a balcony. Since we were here for such a short amount of time, we didn’t check out the pool, but it looked nice. It was perfect for our day trip to Joshua Tree and moderately priced.
Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs: If you are looking for a resort that has a little extra pizazz, this 4-star resort is a great place to be. Palm Springs has a lot of great dining options, but if you don’t feel like leaving the hotel, they have two dining options, a spa, and more.
Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa: Planning on spending the week/weekend in Palm Springs? The Omni is located in Palm Desert, a little south of Palm Springs, and is a beautiful property. It is especially popular for families since they have a lazy river, and kid waterpark.
Palm Springs is a very popular destination to visit in the winter, so make sure to book in advance.
Food tip: If you have been following me for a while, you know I try pizza everywhere I go! I was pleasantly surprised to find pretty decent pizza at Bills Pizza in Palm Springs.
Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms
If you want to be closer to Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree (town), and Twentynine Palms are towns all North of the Park entrance. Additionally, if you are planning to visit Death Valley National Park from Joshua Tree, I’d recommend staying North to be closer.
Around this area, you will find a lot of cool boho desert chic vacation homes to rent. Properties in this area go quickly, so book well in advance!
One Day in Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary Wrap-up
This covers our One Day Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary! I hope you have the best time exploring this unique desert park.
Find additional Joshua Tree National Park tours here.
If you have any questions about this Joshua Tree Itinerary or think I forgot something, please let me know in the comments below!