Joshua Tree National Park – Visit planning

Introduction:

What? : Joshua Tree National Park is a true desert wilderness just a few hours outside Los Angeles. About 2.8 million visitors come to the park each year to enjoy activities such as hiking, camping, photography, rock climbing, and simply enjoying the serene desert scenery.

The Park highlights are probably the unique Mojave Desert Joshua Trees Forests and the rock boulders formation. The park is open year-round and the busy season runs from October through May.

 





Where? : Joshua Tree National Park located in southern California, 140 miles east of Los Angeles. From I-10, take state route 62 to the park west entrance stations via Joshua Tree village, there is another entrance (and visitor center) at the city of Twentynine Palms.

You can also enter the park from the south directly off I-10 at Cottonwood Spring Visitor Center, which is 25 miles east of Indio.

Google Map Link

 



When ? : Late fall, winter and spring is the preferred time to visit the Mojave desert, summer is hot.


 








Due note 1: Water - Always take more than what you think you need, this is desert and temperature can be hot, in summer this is extremely hot environment. There is no water available in the park.

 

Due note 2: Pets are not permitted on any trails in the park, except for the paved Oasis of Mara Trail.

 

Due note 3: There is limited cell service in Joshua Tree National Park, so make sure to have a park map on hand.

 

Due note 4: No gas service in the park, there are many options near the north and west entrance to the park, make sure you have enough gas when driving into the park especially if you are driving down to Highway I-10.

 

Due note 5: Most of Joshua Tree trails have little to no cover from the sun, make sure you are coming prepared especially at the hot summer.

 

Due note 6: Joshua Tree National Park has 24 access; you can travel in the park at night or before sunrise.

 

Due note 7: At winter evenings it can be windy and cold at the Keys viewing point, come with the right cloth.

 



My thoughts: Last time I was here was more than 25 years ago… I visit here during long weekend in mid-January 2022, and I came back with mixed feelings.

I arrived Joshua Trees after visiting Mojave National Preserve to the north, there I almost did not saw anyone, except at the large dunes (see my blog), arriving Joshua Trees mid-day starting my visit at Arch Rock Nature Trail, I can’t find a parking lot and I had to park on the side-road, and it was overcrowded at the trail. Not the solitude experience I was expecting to have.

I’m happy to see many others enjoying this amazing park but overall, it was overcrowded especially at main trails after late morning hours.

Do not get me wrong this is amazing park with many attractions, things to see or do and I enjoy my two days visit here very much.


 

 

Plan You Visit:


Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave, and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, Joshua Trees Forests, piles of boulders features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.


 

Weather:

Joshua Trees NP has the typical south California high desert climate.

Temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average high around 85°F and lows around 50°F. Winter brings cooler days, around 60°F and freezing nights. Summers are hot, over 100°F during the day and not cooling much below 75°F at night.

 


Joshua Trees:

Famous feature of the park and the park name are the Joshua trees.

Joshua trees are not actual trees, but members of the yucca family. Joshua trees only grow in the Mojave Desert.

The Mormons who named the trees thought their outstretched branches resembled Joshua raising his arms.

These trees are confined to altitude rage of about 2,500-6,000 feet above sea level, so they can’t grow in lower valleys or high mountain slopes, and they do need sandy soil to flourish.




 

How the unique rocks formations where created?

Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its unique rock boulder formation, piles of stacked boulders scutter across the park landscape.

How they were formed ?

The rock piles began underground where molten magma rose from deep within the Earth. As the granite cooled and crystallized underground, cracks formed horizontally and vertically. The granite continued to uplift, where groundwater dissolves the granite blocks, widening cracks and rounding edges. Eventually, the surface soil eroded, leaving heaps of rounded shape rocks scattered across the land.



 

Visitor Centers:

Oasis Visitor Center is in the north, right outside of the park off Route 62.

Joshua Tree Visitor Center is west of the Oasis Visitor Center in the north, right outside of the park off Route 62.

Cottonwood Visitor Center is at the southern section of the park, close to Pinto Basin Road and Highway I-10.


 

Park visitor numbers and overcrowded problems:

Located not so far from the greater LA area and being recognized as major and unique nature attraction help to establish the park popularity, the park is on the 10 Most Visited list in 2020 and the most popular national park in Southern California.

According to the NPS more than 2.4 million people visited Joshua Tree National Park in 2020, most of them during weekends.

Capacity issues and the park’s popularity continue to be a challenge.

This increase in visitor number creates many problems: Long lines of cars waiting to get into the park, at mid-day parking lots across the park at the different attractions are always full, many people park their cars park at the road shoulders, hundreds of people walking in the trails, all park 540 campsites are pre-booked.

 

Reservations and Permits:

No reservations are needed to enter Joshua Tree National Park.

Reservations (recreation.gov) are required for ranger-led tours of Keys Ranch.

Some campgrounds are first come, first served, whereas most others require reservations during the peak season.

Side note: This is the first and only time I saw in National Park website that scattering Ashes is authorized with an approved permit. There is one location in Joshua Tree National Park where the park is permitted to allow this activity.


 

Backcountry Permits:

Congress has designated nearly 558,000 acres of Joshua Tree National Park as wilderness. 

A permit is not required for day hiking in the backcountry. To backcountry camp, you must park and register at a backcountry registration board. There is no fee. Your registration is your permit.
 

 

Loading and Restaurants:

There is no lodging available within Joshua Tree National Park. However, there are many places to stay in nearby communities.

I will recommend sleeping at the north side of the park at the cities of Yucca Valley or Twentynine Palms, there is only a short drive from the park to your hotel and you can enter back the park the following early morning.

If you are staying near Indio or Palm Spring than it is a long drive into the park.

There are no restaurants or grocery stores inside Joshua Tree National Park, but nearby communities provide these services.

Joshua Tree has eight picnic areas


 

Camping:

There are nine campgrounds in Joshua Tree with 500 campsites, some need reservation and other (Hidden Valley, White Tank, and Belle Campgrounds) are based on “first come first serve” system.

Reservations can be made the same day or up to 6 months in advance on recreation.gov.

Book your site before entering the park. Cell service is unreliable and nonexistent in Joshua Tree National Park.

With 2.4 million visitors every year reserving a site is highly recommended especially if you plan to camp on a holiday, a weekend, or any day of the week in the spring. The busy spring season runs from November to May.

 

There are also number of disperse camping options outside of the park in nearby BLM land:

BLM land near Twentynine Palms: link to Google Map

BLM Joshua Tree South: link to Google Map

 




Hiking Safety Tips and Equipment:

Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back

Bring plenty of food and water—even on short hikes

Don’t force fluids—drink when you are thirsty

Food - especially salty foods. Eat twice as much as normal.

Rest in the shade

Plan your day, avoid hiking between 10am and 4pm during the summer.

Cary with you a First Aid Kit

Paper Map - while many trails are well-marked, maps are helpful tools.

Flashlight/Spare Batteries - allows you to hike out during the evening or night.

Sun Protection - hat and sunscreen to keep the sun off you and protect your skin.

At winter bring warm Clothing, it can be very called at nights.

Stay away from abandoned mines.

Supervise children, particularly around cacti and climbable rocks.

Do not rock climb unless you are properly trained and equipped

 




Plan Your Visit:


Joshua Tree NP is a large park, and you can’t really cover all it highlights in one day visit,

I recommend planning for at list 2 days trip.

Most of park attractions are along the main road that cross the park west to southeast.

 

Plan your visit according your night accommodation arrangements and your park entering point.

During my visit I manage to see the below locations in less than 2 full days, but I did start my day very early before sunrise and stay after sunset....

– Keys View

– Geology Road (4x4 drive)

– Barker Dam Nature Trail

– Hidden Valley Nature Trail

– Arch Rock Nature Trail

– Cholla Cactus Garden Trail

 



If possible, I recommend visiting Cholla Cactus Garden Trail for sunrise and Keys View at sunset.

Try to do Barker Dam Nature Trail or Hidden Valley Nature Trail early morning, they are very popular, and parking can be a full at mid-day.



 

If you have only one day than I do recommend hiking at list one of the following short and easy trails Barker Dam or Hidden Valley. If you have time you can stop at the not so far Skull Rock and Split Rock Loop Trail and before sunset drive to Keys viewpoint.

– Barker Dam Nature Trail

– Hidden Valley Nature Trail

– Arch Rock Nature Trail

 


 

Additional Hikes in the Park:

This is a huge park with many different things to see and do, the below list is about hikes or locations I did not visit yet so I did not cover them in my blogs:

  • Skull Rock
  • Split Rock Loop Trail
  • Ryan Mountain Trail
  • Maze Loop Trailhead
  • Wall Street Mill
  • Desert Queen Mine
  • Lost Horse Mine
  • Keys Ranch ranger tour

 


 

Hikes Directory:

https://www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/hiking.htm

 

www:

https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm

 

Map:

https://www.nps.gov/carto/hfc/carto/media/JOTRmap1.pdf

 

Pictures:

 









































 

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