9 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a vast and stunningly beautiful park located in Southern California, covering over 790,000 acres of desert landscape. This park offers visitors a wide range of activities and attractions, from hiking and horseback riding to stargazing and wildlife viewing. In this article, we’ll highlight nine of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park, including the Barker Dam Nature Trail, visiting the Keys Ranch, exploring the Skull Rock, attending a Star Party, admiring the wildflowers, horseback riding, visiting the Cottonwood Spring Oasis, checking out the Cholla Cactus Garden, and going on a night hike. For more information on each of these activities, read on to discover the unique experiences and adventures that await you in Joshua Tree National Park.

Go on a Night Hike

Going on a night hike in Joshua Tree National Park is a unique and exhilarating experience that allows visitors to explore the park’s stunning landscapes and wildlife in a whole new way. The park is known for its dark skies, making it a great place for stargazing and night hiking.

Visitors can take a ranger-led night hike to explore the park after dark. These hikes are led by park rangers who are trained to guide visitors through the park’s trails and keep them safe during the hike. The ranger-led hikes usually take place on full moon nights, when the park’s landscapes are illuminated by the moonlight.

The night hike experience is different from a daytime hike. Visitors will need to be prepared with appropriate clothing, shoes, and equipment, as well as a headlamp or flashlight. The hike will start at the park’s visitor center, where visitors will meet the ranger and other hikers.

As the group sets off into the park, visitors will experience the park’s stunning landscapes in a whole new way. The moonlight will illuminate the rocks and trees, creating a beautiful and eerie atmosphere. Visitors may also encounter wildlife that is active at night, such as coyotes, owls, and bats.

The ranger will guide the group through the park’s trails, providing information about the park’s wildlife, history, and geology. Visitors will also have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the park’s unique features.

One of the highlights of a night hike in Joshua Tree National Park is stargazing. Visitors can see the stars and constellations in the dark sky, away from the city lights. The ranger will point out the different stars and constellations, providing a unique and educational experience for visitors.

Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the most unique and stunning areas of Joshua Tree National Park, located in Southern California. It is a must-see attraction for visitors who want to experience the beauty of the desert landscape and its unique flora and fauna.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is located in the Pinto Basin, a flat area of the park where visitors can see thousands of cholla cacti, creating a beautiful and otherworldly landscape. The garden is home to the teddy bear cholla, a species of cactus that is known for its golden spines and round, furry appearance, resembling a teddy bear.

Visitors to the Cholla Cactus Garden can take a short walk on a paved trail that loops through the garden, allowing them to get up close to the cacti and experience the unique beauty of the desert landscape. Along the trail, visitors can see the cacti up close, observing their unique shapes and textures.

The garden is particularly stunning at sunset when the golden light of the sun illuminates the cacti, creating a warm and magical atmosphere. Visitors are advised to be careful and stay on the trail, as the cholla cactus spines can be sharp and painful if touched.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is also home to a variety of wildlife, including desert tortoises, lizards, and birds. Visitors can observe these animals in their natural habitat, making the experience even more memorable and unique.

The garden is easily accessible by car and is located near the park’s main road. There is a parking area where visitors can leave their cars and start their walk through the garden. There are also picnic areas nearby where visitors can relax and enjoy the stunning views of the garden and the surrounding landscape.

Cottonwood Spring Oasis

Cottonwood Spring Oasis is a hidden gem in Joshua Tree National Park, located in Southern California. It is a stunning oasis in the middle of the desert, offering visitors a chance to see a different side of the park and its unique ecology.

The oasis is located in the southern part of the park, near the Cottonwood Spring campground. Visitors can take a short walk from the campground to reach the oasis, where they can see a lush and green area with towering palm trees and a spring-fed pond.

The oasis is home to a variety of wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, which are often seen grazing in the area. Visitors can also see a variety of birds, lizards, and other desert animals that thrive in this unique ecosystem.

The oasis is a great place for visitors to relax and unwind, away from the hustle and bustle of the park’s main attractions. Visitors can sit under the shade of the palm trees, enjoy a picnic, or simply take in the stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Visitors can also learn about the history of the area at the Cottonwood Spring Ranger Station, which is located near the oasis. The ranger station was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is now a historic site, showcasing the park’s unique history and the people who have lived and worked in the area.

The oasis is also a great starting point for a variety of hiking trails in the southern part of the park, including the Lost Palms Oasis Trail, which takes visitors on a 7.2-mile round-trip hike through the desert landscape to a stunning palm grove.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is an excellent way to experience the beauty of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. The park’s rugged terrain, stunning vistas, and unique flora and fauna make it a prime location for horseback riding.

There are several companies that offer guided horseback riding tours of the park, allowing visitors to see some of the park’s most beautiful areas while on horseback. These tours are suitable for riders of all levels, from beginners to experienced riders.

Guided horseback riding tours typically last between 1 and 2 hours and take visitors through the park’s stunning landscape, including the rocky outcroppings, desert washes, and Joshua Tree forests. Visitors can see a variety of wildlife on their ride, including desert bighorn sheep, lizards, and birds.

One of the most popular trails for horseback riding is the Black Rock Canyon Trail, which takes riders on a 6-mile round trip through the heart of the park’s unique desert landscape. The trail offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and takes visitors through a variety of ecosystems, from high desert to palm oases.

Visitors who bring their own horses can also explore the park on their own. The park has several designated horse trails that are open to riders, including the Boy Scout Trail, which is a popular 7-mile round trip trail that takes riders through the heart of the park’s stunning Joshua Tree forests.

Horseback riding is a great way to experience the beauty and diversity of Joshua Tree National Park. Visitors can see the park from a unique perspective and explore some of its most stunning areas on horseback. With guided tours and designated horse trails, the park is an excellent location for riders of all levels to enjoy a memorable and unique experience.

Wildflower Viewing

Springtime is an excellent time to visit Joshua Tree National Park if you’re interested in viewing wildflowers. The park’s unique desert environment is home to a variety of beautiful wildflowers, which bloom in abundance during the spring months.

The best time to view wildflowers in Joshua Tree National Park is typically between February and April, depending on the weather conditions. Visitors who plan their trip during this time can expect to see a variety of wildflowers in bloom, including desert dandelion, lupine, poppies, and desert marigold.

One of the most popular areas for wildflower viewing in the park is the Mojave Desert section, which is known for its stunning displays of wildflowers in the springtime. Visitors can take a leisurely hike through the desert landscape, taking in the colorful blooms and the stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Another popular area for wildflower viewing is the Cottonwood Spring Oasis, which is home to a variety of native plants and trees, including cottonwood and mesquite trees. Visitors can take a short walk around the oasis, admiring the unique desert ecology and the stunning displays of wildflowers that bloom in the area.

Visitors who are interested in learning more about the park’s wildflowers can attend one of the park’s ranger-led wildflower walks. These walks are typically offered in the springtime and are led by knowledgeable rangers who can provide insights into the park’s unique ecology and the different types of wildflowers that can be found in the area.

Attend a Star Party

Attending a star party in Joshua Tree National Park is a unique and memorable experience. The park offers visitors a chance to view the stunning night sky from a dark location with minimal light pollution, allowing for unparalleled views of the stars and other celestial objects.

Star parties are typically held on weekends during the summer months, from May through September. They begin after sunset and last for several hours, allowing visitors to take in the beauty of the night sky at their leisure.

The star parties are hosted by the park’s rangers and members of the local astronomy community. Visitors can participate in guided stargazing sessions and learn about the different constellations, stars, and other celestial objects that are visible from the park.

In addition to stargazing, visitors can also participate in educational presentations and workshops that cover topics such as astronomy, astrophotography, and night sky conservation.

To find out more information about upcoming star parties in Joshua Tree National Park, visitors can check the park’s website or contact the park directly. The park’s website typically provides a schedule of upcoming events, including dates and times for star parties, as well as information on how to register and participate in the event.

Visitors should note that star parties are weather-dependent, and may be cancelled or rescheduled due to inclement weather or poor visibility. It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast before attending a star party and to dress appropriately for the cool nighttime temperatures.

Visit the Skull Rock

One of the most iconic landmarks in Joshua Tree National Park is Skull Rock, a unique rock formation that looks like a human skull. This popular spot is a must-visit for anyone exploring the park, and offers visitors a chance to experience the park’s unique desert landscape up close.

Skull Rock is located along the park’s main road, and is easily accessible by car or on foot. Visitors can park at one of the nearby parking areas and take a short hike to reach the rock formation, which is surrounded by other interesting rock formations and desert plants.

The rock formation gets its name from its distinctive shape, which resembles a human skull when viewed from a certain angle. Visitors can walk around the rock and take photos, and can even climb on top of the formation to get a better view of the surrounding landscape.

Skull Rock is particularly beautiful at sunset, when the warm colors of the desert landscape are accentuated by the fading light. Visitors can watch the sun set behind the rock formation, casting the desert landscape in a beautiful glow.

In addition to visiting Skull Rock, visitors can also explore the surrounding area, which is filled with other interesting rock formations, hiking trails, and wildlife. The park offers a variety of hiking trails that range in difficulty from easy to challenging, allowing visitors to explore the park at their own pace.

Visit the Keys Ranch

A visit to the Keys Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park is a fascinating experience that takes visitors back in time to the early 20th century. This historic homestead, which was once the home of the Keys family, offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived and worked in the area during the early 1900s.

To visit the Keys Ranch, visitors must sign up for a guided tour, which is led by a park ranger and lasts approximately two hours. During the tour, visitors will have the opportunity to explore the ranch’s historic buildings and learn about the family that lived there, as well as the unique challenges and opportunities of life in the desert.

The tour includes visits to the Keys family’s home, schoolhouse, and workshop, as well as a look at the ranch’s gardens, orchards, and other agricultural features. Visitors will also learn about the ranch’s unique history, including its use as a hideout for notorious outlaws and its role in the early development of the Joshua Tree area.

Throughout the tour, the ranger will provide insights and information about the history and culture of the area, as well as tips for exploring the park’s other attractions. Visitors can ask questions and engage in discussions with the ranger and other members of the tour group, making for an interactive and engaging experience.

Visitors should be prepared for a moderate amount of walking and hiking during the tour, as well as exposure to the desert environment. It’s a good idea to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as well as a hat or other protective gear.

Barker Dam Nature Trail

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park. This relatively easy trail, which is approximately 1.3 miles round trip, takes visitors on a scenic walk through the park’s unique desert landscape, offering stunning views of rock formations, wildlife, and historical features.

The trail begins at the Barker Dam parking lot, which is located off of the park’s main road. From there, visitors can follow the well-marked trail, which is accessible for hikers of all skill levels. Along the way, visitors will see a variety of interesting features, including desert plants, unique rock formations, and the Barker Dam itself, a historic water source that was used by early settlers and ranchers in the area.

The trail is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, lizards, and birds, making it an excellent spot for nature lovers and photographers. Visitors are encouraged to take their time and enjoy the scenery, and to keep an eye out for signs of wildlife and other natural features.

One of the highlights of the Barker Dam Nature Trail is the opportunity to see examples of Native American rock art, which can be found along the trail. These petroglyphs, which were created by indigenous people who lived in the area centuries ago, offer a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of the region.

Visitors should be prepared for the desert environment, which can be hot and dry, particularly during the summer months. It’s a good idea to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as well as a hat or other protective gear. Visitors should also stay on the designated trail and avoid disturbing the natural environment, including any wildlife or historical features.

Where to Stay at when visiting Joshua Tree National Park

  1. Camping: Joshua Tree National Park offers several camping options, including tent camping, car camping, and RV camping. There are nine campgrounds within the park, with over 500 individual campsites available. Reservations are recommended during peak season, and can be made up to six months in advance.
  2. RV Parks: There are several RV parks and campgrounds located near the park, offering amenities like full hookups, showers, and laundry facilities. Some popular options include Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground and Sam’s Family Spa Hot Water Resort.
  3. Hotels: For those who prefer more traditional accommodation, there are several hotels located near the park, including the Joshua Tree Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Twentynine Palms-Joshua Tree, and Holiday Inn Express & Suites Twentynine Palms.
  4. Vacation Rentals: There are also several vacation rental options available in and around the park, including cabins, cottages, and private homes. These can be found through websites like Airbnb, Vrbo, and HomeAway.
  5. Vanlife: For a more adventurous and off-the-grid experience, some visitors choose to stay in a van or RV that they have converted themselves. There are several areas within the park where overnight parking is allowed, but visitors should be prepared to be self-sufficient and follow park regulations.

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