- Visited Joshua Tree in January 2018
- $25 entrance fee for a 1-7 day vehicle permit (other options available)
- Joshua Tree National Park has 3 main entrances: North, South and West. While the mileage varies, all are 45-55 minutes from Palm Springs without traffic.
- We stayed at an Airbnb close to the West Entrance
- There is next to no cell phone service in the park, so have a plan when you enter
Joshua Tree National Park:
This park is one of my new favorites. If you haven't noticed the geography nerd in me come out in other posts, you will now. Give me this paragraph and then I will get to the fun stuff... Joshua Tree National Park is where the Colorado Desert and Mojave Desert meet so you'll find a unique combination of flora and fauna that don't usually cohabitate. Thats pretty neat! Additionally, the park is essentially bordered by the San Andreas Fault to the south, which is where the Pacific Plate meets the North American Plate. This sliding boundary essentially splits California into two. If the plates continue to move the way they are now, LA and San Fransisco would be adjacent to each other in 20 million years...too bad we won't be around for that. You can see the fault in the distance from the Keys View stop. Ok, I'm almost done.
I'm sure you're curious, like me, and want to know how the park got it's name. So here you go: It is said that the trees reminded Mormon pioneers of a biblical story about Joshua raising his hands up to the sky in prayer and thought the trees were a sign leading them to continue westward. The park took on the name of the trees that decorate it when it was protected as a national monument in 1936. Thanks FDR! You can check out more fun facts about the park on the National Parks Service site.
Entrances & Fees
Joshua Tree National Park is (almost) ALWAYS OPEN! The week leading up to our visit there was a government shutdown and I got worried that we wouldn't get to visit. The articles I read in a panic said that the park remained open. Luckily my neighbors in Congress got things back up and running before my trip.
The park has 3 entrance stations. We went in through the West Entrance since it was about 10 minutes from our Airbnb.
From Palm Springs: The Cottonwood Visitors Center is about 55 miles east and accessible through the South Entrance. The West Entrance Station is about 38 miles northeast and accessible via Quail Springs Road. The North Entrance is about 55 miles northeast and accessible via Utah Trail and is mostly highway driving. The best way to choose the right entrance for your trip is to pick the trails you want to hike and the sites you want to see. Below is a screenshot from the NPS site with a few edits (that wouldn't get me an A+ in a GIS class... sorry guys!) to highlight where we stopped. You can find a more interactive map of the park here!
There are a few different entrance fee options:
- Standard Entrance Fee - Auto - $25 - good for 7 days
- Motorcycle, bicycle or person (Walking) - $12
- "All National Parks" Pass (Inter-Agency) - $80/year
- Joshua Tree Annual Pass - $40/year
- Senior Pass (62+) - $10/lifetime
There are even a few FREE DAYS left in 2018:
- April 21: First day of National Park Week
- September 22: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
If you enter at a time when there is no attendant you will be expected to pay upon your departure.
Sites to see
There are SO many unique formations to see and trails to hike, but we only had a day in the park so we chose a few easily accessible spots to frame the itinerary of our day. From our little bit of research in the morning, we decided that Hidden Valley, Arch Rock, and the Cholla Cactus Garden were a good assortment of Joshua Tree's sites to start with. We also planned to stop at other "cool" places that we came across along the way & that actually turned out to be the best part.
Let me just start by saying we are not rock climbers and didn't scale any walls here. We got a little excited driving into the park and pulled off on a small dirt road just over a mile before Hidden Valley. The road lead us to a popular rock climbing destination, Freeway Wall. Initially we just walked around and climbed on a few rocks, but then the kid inside me wanted to go all the way up to the pass. So that is exactly what I did. There is no path here, it is purely just climbing over granite boulders. If you aren't very agile or you're scared of heights, this isn't the stop for you. However, the view was totally worth it and we got to see a couple climbers in action! This was probably my favorite stop of the whole day.
Apparently not where the ranch dressing got it's name (joke credit to my friend). This trail is very basic and family friendly. We were greeted by a park ranger at the trail entrance who offered us fun facts about the location and advice about other places to visit within the park. There were bathrooms and picnic tables at this stop. Between the boulders and the desert plants, this one mile loop showcases a sampling of what Joshua Tree has to offer. It is said that cattle rustlers once used the natural barriers around the valley to control their herds.
Arch Rock/White Tank Campground
Arch Rock can be found via a quarter mile trail off the White Tank campground. The campground itself seemed like a pretty great place to spend a few days and it was full when we visited. In fact all the campgrounds at the park were full the day we visited. We stopped to have our PB&J sandwiches here and had to find a boulder to cut the wind. The arch itself is tucked amongst other large boulders. I had fun climbing around here. There were also a lot of other interesting rock formations along the short trail as well.
Cholla Cactus Garden
This is somewhere I imagine would be even more beautiful in the spring when the cacti are in bloom. The quarter mile loop leads you through a patch of the valley that has an abundance of cholla cacti. There was a park ranger greeting visitors at the entrance of this stop as well. This was the southern most stop we made.
Hall of Horrors
There was a picture of a trail that ran between pointed boulders that I saw on Pinterest and I was set on finding it. Since I didn't have internet to double check the location of the trail within the park, I had to wing it and search like an old time explorer. While I wasn't successful in my quest, I'm glad I stopped at Hall of Horrors in search of it! Joshua trees line the paths leading to the boulders. By this time in the day we were all slap happy from being in the sun. We shared some belly aching laughs here. One of which included my friend's failed attempt at climbing up an angled boulder and being scared for her life even though she was one foot off the ground... This was my second favorite stop of the day. We wanted to make it back to our house in time for an outdoor bath before dusk, but this would be a pretty place to watch the sunset!
You can see this formation from the road. We were all wiped out from a day in the desert sun so we decided not to stop here, but we appreciated natures art from the road.
Quick Facts if you're skimming
- Three main entrances: West, North, and South
- $25 entrance fee for 7-day vehicle pass (other options available)
- No cell phone service
- No water sources in the park, so pack enough hydration
- The more popular trails within the park had bathrooms, like Hidden Valley
- Stopped at Freeway Wall, Hidden Valley, Arch Rock, Hall of Horrors, and the Cholla Cactus Garden
- Plan your own stops with this map
- There was a line at the West Entrance to enter the park right before sunset, so if you're trying to get the perfect sunset Insta get there a little early.
- Drones are prohibited in the park
We stopped at the grocery store and picked up ingredients for avocado toast for breakfast (because what would be a more Californian breakfast?), PB&J sandwiches for our day of hiking, dips for snacks, and pasta for dinner. We threw in a couple bottles of wine and bubbly too...
We rented a house just north of Joshua Tree National Park through Airbnb. It was closest to the West Entrance of the park.
The two bedroom adobe house was perfect for our group of four girls. The desert scenery that surrounded the house was perfect for the serene weekend getaway we had planned. Large windows in each room frame the beautiful desert flora. The view you wake up to in either room is calming. Since our body clocks were still on EST we woke up both mornings to see the colors of the sky change over the mountain ridges as the sun came up. We even saw coyotes and jackrabbits in our front yard. My favorite part about this place was the OUTDOOR BATHTUB! We put it to proper use with a post hike bubble bath.
We flew in and out of LAX, but Palm Springs has an airport as well. We rented a Jeep through Turo and rode around with the top down trying to soak up all the California sunshine we could get. We spent the last night of our long weekend in Venice Beach so we didn't risk missing our flight with the unpredictable LA traffic. Pickup and drop off from LAX was easy with our Turo host. Other than the fact that the brake pads needed to be replaced, we felt like the car was clean and in good condition. LA traffic lives up to its notorious reputation so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get anywhere. Maps will say it should take 2.5 hours to get down to Palm Springs, but it took us about 4 hours...just a heads up.
Joshua Tree is a pretty affordable place to visit. Here were my main costs:
- Park Entrance Fee: $25 ( I got to divide by 4)
- Car Rental: $65 per day for a Jeep + Gas (I got to divide by 4)
- Airbnb: $200 per night x 2 nights (I got to divide by 4)
- Food/Wine: $40 (we bought too much wine)
What to Pack:
- Water- The park doesn't have a place for you to get water so make sure you pack enough. The NPS suggests at least a gallon of water per person if you're spending the day in the park, more if you're planning to be active.
- Snacks- Just like they don't have water, there are obviously no places to grab food in a national park. I packed an energy bar, a PB&J, and an orange for the day.
- Sunscreen- The desert sun will get you if you aren't careful so protect that beautiful skin! I use A Perfect World moisturizer by Origins that has SPF 40 in it.
- Day-pack- A small backpack was perfect for holding my food, water and sunscreen as we hiked. I have this small Osprey pack.
- Sweatshirt/light jacket- I visited in the winter so the temperature was a little cooler (around 60°F).Plus desert temps go down at night so you'll want something heavier if you're going to stargaze. In the summer I imagine you won't need a sweatshirt, but you'll probably want to double the water you take with you!
When I go back:
When I go back I WILL find the slot canyon trail that I apparently just missed when I visited Arch Rock...It is a mission now. I will also make time for Keys View and some longer hikes. I would want to visit in the spring to see the cactus flowers in bloom. I also think it would be fun to camp among the rocks.
Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments about your experience in Joshua Tree! I'd love to hear from you!