Joshua Tree National Park is a vast protected area in southern California. It's characterized by rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. Named for the region's twisted, bristled Joshua trees, the park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. Keys View looks out over the Coachella Valley. Hiking trails weave through the boulders of Hidden Valley Our favorite attractions in the park were the Cholla Cactus Garden, Arch Rock, Keys View and Hidden Valley. Definitely plan to hike, bring plenty of water and lunch for a day trip.
Fee NameCurrent FeeProposed Fee
Single Vehicle Entrance Fee (7-Day Pass) per vehicle$15
Joshua Tree Park is so beautiful and rugged, with it's expansive landscape and hills of stacked boulders, dotted with Joshua trees and other desert vegetation. You can climb the rounded boulders, go on the numerous trails, or simply drive through stopping at different spots to enjoy this unique park. We found the best rock formations and trees along the Park boulevard from west entrance, going up to Keys Point, then through the Hidden Valley and Sheep Pass and Jumbo Rocks. We then went south on Wilson Canyon to the very pretty Cholla Cactus Garden that pops up suddenly on the barren landscape. We then came back up through the North entrance where the oasis are. You can also go out through south entrance. They are very friendly at the Visitor's center, and give you maps and point out best spots. This is a great park, just two hours from Los Angeles.
Plan on taking this in and spending most of a day doing it. We drove ourselves and is easy to do as basically only one main road in that exits on I 10 east of the desert cities. There is a fork most of the way through that will take you back east of the entrance you come in on. The park visitor center and park employees have loads of information, a great 20 minute movie that runs continuously. I see no reason to pay for a tour unless you just don't have a car. The endless rock formations, places to have lunch, which you must take as there are no places to buy anything in the park but plenty of bathrooms, climbing although we are and were not climbers, one road that branches off the main to a lookout over the desert cities, I 10 and views all the way to the Salton Sea is also a must. Also if it is hot in the desert cities it is generally 10 to maybe 15 degrees cooler in the park. Enjoy
As you travel through the park, several distinct desert landscapes emerge, each with different flora, fauna, and rock formations. We approached the park from the south, so we didn't see the famed Joshua trees until near the end of our route. We were here just for the day -- not for camping -- and we took a slow, leisurely drive through the park. Be sure to pick up a map at the ranger station, because it's quite easy to make a wrong turn and end up on a dead end if you don't know where you're going. They say that most GPS are useless in the park -- I guess some of the roads and trails aren't shown on the GPS maps.
We visited Joshua Tree in late October, when the temperatures were in the 80s, which was very pleasant, although I can imagine the temperatures would really soar in the summer, so bring water with you if you plan to visit the park in the summer months.
Being from eastern Pennsylvania, we don't get to see the kinds of rock formations near home like we saw there. At times, they almost seemed contrived, as if some giant had built them from a set of huge building blocks. This experience kind of reminded my wife and me of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, with its lunar landscape, and Utah's Arches. Skull Rock was one of the more intriguing formations.
There are abandoned mines and other sites of historic significance to see in Joshua Tree National Park if you have the time and are willing to take a few detours (and have a good map). Some of the roads leading to those sites are unpaved trails that probably aren't suitable for 2WD passenger cars, although a 4WD could easily handle them.
There are signs here and there warning of rattlesnakes, so we didn't venture far from the lookouts and paved roads on foot. We traveled along a road through some numbered campsites in the Big Rocks area where there were lots of campsites and active campers, so I suppose the critters aren't too dangerous after all. The literature at the ranger station said that the park is a great place for viewing the starry sky if you want to stretch your visit beyond dusk.
Of all the places to see in the Palm Desert area, I would rate this #1 with the Palm Springs Tramway as #2. Joshua Tree charges an entry fee by the carload, but a senior National Park pass plus a photo ID will get you and members of your party in for free.