Joshua Tree National Park Visit
Situated in the high desert just north of Palm Springs, Joshua Tree is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts interested in camping, hiking, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding and more. It is known for its picturesque landscape of unusual boulder formations and plateaus of Joshua trees and yucca plants standing tall like soldiers in formation. The name ‘Joshua Tree’ came from the thousands of Joshua tree plants that exist throughout the park. Over the years, it has been inhabited by Native Americans, gold miners and ranchers. It was declared a National Monument in 1936 and achieved National Park status in 1994. Being one of the newest National Parks, Joshua Tree offers few amenities compared with other parks. This also benefits the park with serenity and lesser crowds. You won’t find a single restaurant, general store, gas station or hotel within the park. The only options for overnight stay include 9 campgrounds – most without running water. Visiting the park is all about leaving your stresses behind and getting close with the beauty of nature.
Camping and hiking are the most common activities in Joshua Tree. There are 9 available campgrounds within the park offering nearly 600 campsites. Black Rock and Cottonwood are the only two campgrounds with flushing toilets and running water. All others have vault toilets. Cottonwood includes an RV dumpstation that’s available to any RV campers staying within the park. Black Rock is the only campground that offers reservations – all others are first-come, first-served. Jumbo Rocks is the largest campground in the park. It’s one of the most popular and our personal favorite for boulder stacks that back almost every campsite. Jumbo Rocks offers some of the best boulder climbing in the park. All nine campgrounds feature a picnic bench, fire pit and barbeque. Group campsites are available at Sheep Pass Campground. A multitude of hiking trails branch out from campgrounds and trailheads throughout the park. They vary from short nature trails to the California Riding and Hiking Trail that spans a large portion of the park. Each is magnificent in its own way.
There are many points of interest throughout Joshua Tree National Park, both man-made and natural. Some are accessible by vehicle while others require hiking. Sites that we feel shouldn’t be missed, and can be done in a day, include Keys View, Barker Dam, Jumbo Rocks and Cholla Cactus Garden. Keys View is a lookout point situated at 5,185 feet and offers panoramic views of the entire Coachella Valley below. From Keys View you can see San Jacinto peak, Palm Springs, the Santa Rosa Mountains and all the way down to the Salton Sea on a clear day. The drive to Keys View passes through some of the most picturesque plateaus of Joshua trees in the park. Barker Dam is accessible by a short loop trail. The dam was constructed in the early 1900’s by cattlemen and today contains a small lake. Native American petroglyphs are also located near the dam. Jumbo Rocks is located off the main park road and features some of the best boulder formations in the park. You could easily spend several hours climbing and exploring at Jumbo Rocks. The Cholla Cactus Garden is located near the southern entrance to Joshua Tree and features a large patch of fuzzy-looking Cholla Cactus. Visitor Centers are located at both the northern and southern entrances to the park where you can find maps, souvenirs and helpful park rangers willing to answer any questions.
Joshua Tree National Park is an unspoiled natural environment with abundant animal and plant life. Visitors can expect to see many types of wildlife during their visit and some may even spot bighorn sheep or the elusive cougar. Other more common characters you may encounter include the coyote, jack rabbit, roadrunner, bobcat and several species of raptors. Creepy crawlers include several species of snake, lizard, scorpion and tarantula. Rattlesnakes and scorpions are the only creatures that are venomous enough to use caution to avoid but chance encounters are very rare. Common plants throughout the park include the Joshua tree, yucca, juniper, ocotillo and several species of cactus. All of these plants produce beautiful, vibrant blooms in the spring.
Joshua Tree is less than one hour from Palm Springs and 3 hours from Los Angeles. Its elevation hovers around 4,500 feet. Joshua Tree can be brutally hot during the summer with cool nights. It’s not uncommon for there to be a 40 degree difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Winter gets cold enough for rare snow falls. Visitors planning on venturing out should be prepared with plenty of water and appropriate clothing for the harsh desert environment. Additionally, vehicle coolant, tire pressure, belts and hoses should be checked prior to departure since getting to Joshua Tree requires a moderate climb in high heat conditions.
Strap on the hiking boots and fill the water bottles for an adventure to remember in Joshua Tree. Like any desert destination, the best times to visit are in the spring or fall. A spring trip can reward with an explosion of wildflowers when normally spiny and uninviting plants sprout blooms so striking you can’t help but capture a digital shot. If camping isn’t your thing, a day trip from Palm Springs gives plenty of time to drive through the park and still stop and explore several of the major attractions. Whether planning a trip for the day or overnight camping, you’ll find plenty of entertainment climbing boulder stacks, sightseeing and walking desert trails in Joshua Tree National Park.