20 Things You Should Do in Joshua Tree National Park

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Joshua Tree National Park, with its distinctive rock formations and Joshua Trees against a barren desert backdrop, is one of the most beautiful and magical places on Earth. We loved exploring the abandoned mines and ranches hidden in the wilderness, stargazing under the clear night sky, and the many other things you can do in Joshua Tree National Park. We fell in love with Joshua Tree on our California trips and have compiled this list of 20 top things to do at Joshua Tree National Park. We hope you have just as much fun exploring Joshua Tree National Park as we did.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is where the two desert ecosystems, the Mojave Desert and the Colorado, meet. The western part of the park is comprised by the Mohave Desert, which is higher and cooler. It is dominated in the west by distinctive Joshua Trees as well as unique rock formations. The lower elevation Colorado Desert is the eastern portion of the park and is known for its Ocotillo, cholla, and yucca bushes. It is a beautiful landscape with an amazing array of plant life, including the Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree National Park offers a range of landscapes: deserts to mountains to rocks to the amazing Joshua Trees. It is a magical place that awaits your exploration.

20 Things You Should Do in Joshua Tree National Park

These are our top 20 favorite things to do at Joshua Tree National Park. From rock sculptures that look like skulls, hearts, and faces, to an amazing cactus garden! Joshua Tree National Park is a wonderful addition to any California road trip.

Map of Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

How to use this Google Map: Click the grey star at top of map to add it to your Google Maps account. It can be viewed on your computer or phone in Google Maps. Click on the menu button and go to “Your Places”, then select this map. These maps are very useful as you can quickly refer to the saved maps and plan your route ahead of time.

Arch Rock

Access to Arch Rock can be made via a 1.2-mile hike from the Twin Tanks/Arch Rock lot. The arch of granite measures 30 feet and is located in the middle a large boulder field. It is a flat hike that is enjoyable, with some climbing over rocks towards the Arch.

Heart Rock

Joshua Tree’s secret gem is the Heart Rock, which is largely unknown. The rock, which is shaped like a heart and located in the same park area as Arch Rock, is also there. Heart Rock is a popular spot for Instagram users in Joshua Tree.

Keys View

Keys View, which is easily accessible from Joshua Tree National Park by car, offers breathtaking views of the park from its highest point. It’s possible to see the Coachella Valley and San Andreas Fault as well as the Salton Sea. The San Gorgonio Mountain, at 11,500 feet, is the highest mountain in Southern California. Signal Mountain, Mexico can be seen on a clear day. However, it is rare due to poor air quality.

Skull Rock

The Skull Rock, with its skull-shaped rock and sunken eyes, is located just off the main Joshua Tree Road. A 1.5-mile nature trail loop runs from Skull Rock Parking Area and goes through boulder piles, desert washes, and more.

5 | Cholla Cactus Garden

Ironically, the trail’s 0.33-mile length is also the easiest in the park. The boardwalk passes through thousands upon thousands of cholla-cactus. It is also home to the largest concentration of cholla-cactus in the world. It is located in central park, but is quite far from other attractions. The park is amazing, but plan your time accordingly.

Sunrise and Sunset

Joshua Tree is a magical place where sunrise and sunset are both beautiful. There are many places to enjoy the park’s beauty. It covers nearly 800,000 acres. These are our favourite spots for sunrise and sunset:

Sunrise: Keys View on Ryan Mountain (bring your head torch to take the pre-sunrise hike).

Sunrise and Sunset

Joshua Tree is a magical place where sunrise and sunset are both beautiful. There are many places to enjoy the park’s beauty. It covers nearly 800,000 acres. These are our favourite spots for sunrise and sunset:

  • Sunrise: Keys View on Ryan Mountain (bring your head torch to take the pre-sunrise hike).

7 | Joshua Trees

It is a stunning sight to see the park’s nameake. The Joshua Tree landscape is transformed into a fairy-tale land by the towering, twisting and spiky Joshua Trees. The Joshua Tree is a unique plant that can be found in the Mojave Desert. It is only found at elevations of between 2,00 and 6,600 feet across California, Utah and Nevada, Arizona, and Nevada. The Joshua Tree is protected. It can grow up to 40 feet and has a lifespan of approximately 500 years.

Split Rock and Face Rock

The 2.5-mile loop takes you through Split Rock and Face Rock. This trail features some incredible rock formations. It allows you to wander among huge boulders while enjoying the beauty of the desert vegetation.

10 | Geology Tour Road

Pleasant Valley is 18 miles off-road. You will see many unique geological features in the park, as well as desert landscapes and occasionally wildlife. You can take short hikes to see the rock formations. You will need a 4×4 vehicle, as it can be very difficult to navigate after rain.

Rock Climbing

Joshua Tree is known for its slab, crack and steep face climbing. The park has over 8,000 routes that range from easy to difficult. This is a top-notch climbing destination. Even if you don’t intend to climb, it is fascinating to see the climbers in action.

Cap Rock

The Cap Rock trail, named after the flat rock that is capped by a large boulder, is a 0.4-mile loop located at Keys View. Hikers will pass Joshua Trees, desert plants, and piles of boulders on the loop. The shaded trail offers a great way to escape the afternoon heat.

Cottonwood Spring Oasis

This area of the park is located near the south entrance and shows the Colorado Desert landscape. Cottonwood Spring was created by earthquake activity. It was an important stop for gold processing and other goods. This area is famous for its fan palms, which can reach 30 feet in height. There are several other trails that can be used to explore the area south of the park.

  • Bajada, another easy trail that showcases the Colorado Desert plants, is also available
  • Mastodon Peak is a moderately strenuous trail that passes an old gold mine.

Lost Palms Oasis, a 7.5-mile hike that leads deep into a canyon with an isolated fan palm oasis, is challenging. The hike out of the canyon can be strenuous and should not be done in extreme heat.

Desert Queen Mine

Desert Queen Mine, once a profitable mine that operated on land now part of Joshua Tree National Park, was once profitable. It was first discovered that gold had been found in the area in 1894. The mine was in operation from 1895 to 1961. The mine’s turbulent past includes stories of murder, robbery, and foreclosure by banks. All of these are said to have contributed to the ownership changes over the years.

The Desert Queen Mine trail has two options. One is a 0.7-mile round trip that leads to an overlook just beyond the mine. You can also cross the canyon to get to the mine, which increases the hike to 1.6 mi.

The trail crosses the canyon and passes through abandoned mining machinery.

15 | Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain Trail is one of the most well-known hikes in the park. It leads to Ryan Mountain’s summit, which is a 5,457-foot peak at the park’s heart. Although the hike is only 3 miles, it can be difficult due to the elevation gain of 1,000 feet. Amazing views of Joshua Tree National Park are the reward.

Hall of Horrors

Park Boulevard is close to Ryan Mountain Trail. The Hall of Horrors can be reached from Park Boulevard. These boulders form a series of corridors that you can walk through.

Barker Dam

The Barker Dam Trail is the best way to see water in Joshua Tree National Park during spring and winter. Barker Dam was built by early cattlemen in 1900 and is a short, easy trail that showcases desert wildlife. You will find a wall of petroglyphs as you go. The trail is surrounded with boulders.

Keys Ranch

Key Ranch is a remote, rocky canyon that was home to Bill and Frances Keys for nearly 60 years. In the early 1900s, Bill was hired to manage the Desert Queen Mine. He remained in Joshua Tree even after it closed. He and his wife built Keys Ranch together. The ranch was a sprawling property that included a ranch house and a school room. It also had a store and fruit orchard. A prearranged guided walking tour takes you to the ranch between October and May. The Keys Ranch tour takes 90 minutes and includes a 0.5-mile walk through the historic buildings and mining equipment.

Samuelson’s Rocks

Samuelson’s Rocks is one of the park’s most unusual sights. These remote boulders are adorned with political insults and philosophical musings that were directed at Herbert Hoover, the former president. John Samuelson, a Swedish immigrant living on a nearby homestead, wrote them. Samuelson lived a turbulent life full of tales about shipwrecks and murder. The rocks are the only evidence of his existence.

20 | Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley Trail is a 1 mile loop that runs through a rock-enclosed valley. It is believed to have been once used by cattle rustlers. This trail is an excellent introduction to Joshua Tree’s animal and plant life. There are many signs that will help you know what to watch out for. You can watch rock climbers from the park and participate in rock climbing.

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