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Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

A haven for artists, hipster transplants, and the ascent-obsessed, this national park has an allure all its own

With a stunningly stark, bewitching beauty, it’s easy to fall under Joshua Tree’s spell. Whether you’re looking for peaceful camping, a strenuous adventure, an Old West–inspired getaway, or the best music this side of the Sonoran, Joshua Tree National Park and its surrounding area deliver plenty of delights.

Before visiting the park, check out your options for entering. In addition to the heavily used west entrance near the Joshua Tree Visitors Center, there is also a north entrance, near the Oasis Visitors Center in Twentynine Palms, and a south entrance, near the intersection of Box Canyon Road and Interstate 10, which leads to the Cottonwood Visitors Center. To enjoy your time in the park with sparser crowds, visit Joshua Tree midweek; if you’d like to have an idea of what the weather is like here, keep in mind that during summer months the temperature can enter triple-digit territory, and in winter it can drop into the high 30s.

Explore Indian Cove Nature Trail

The walking trail at Indian Cove is one of the best places to enjoy Joshua Tree’s namesake flora. Its official name is Yucca brevifolia, but it’s better known as the Joshua tree. Accessible from the east end, this 0.6-mile path is surrounded by boulder formations. Keep an eye out for wildlife, including bighorn sheep and desert tortoises.

Rock Climb at Echo Cove

With more than 8,000 known climbs and 400 unique formations, it’s little wonder Joshua Tree is a dirtbag’s paradise. Echo Cove has plenty of routes great for first-timers and advanced climbers alike. BYO gear or rent everything from shoes to chalk at Nomad Ventures. The friendly local shop has been in business since 1980.

Camp Under a Desert Sky

Joshua Tree has numerous campgrounds, most of which require advance reservations, but there are a few first-come, first-serve options. If you prefer to set up your own camp far off from any beaten path, that’s an option too; thanks to the park’s permissive dispersed camping policy, you can set up camp almost anywhere in the park’s 800,000 acres, as long as you hike one mile in and then go 500 feet off-trail.

Hike Among Giant Boulders on Arch Rock Trail

Millennia of whipping winds and rushing water have served to sculpt some incredible designs throughout the Joshua Tree deserts. One of the most miraculous, the 30-foot-tall Arch Rock, is easily accessible, thanks to a 0.5-mile out-and-back trail starting just outside White Tank Campground and the Twin Tanks parking area. There is no parking for the trail inside the campground.

Walk Among Cacti in Cholla Cactus Garden

Mother Nature’s majesty and her mischief are both on full display in the organically occurring cacti grove of Joshua Tree. Stay the course on this 0.25-mile elevated, wooden-walkway loop and you’ll be treated to one of the world’s densest concentrations of the lovely-but-dangerous “teddybear” cholla cactus, as well as the pencil cholla, desert lavender, desert starvine, and many other fascinating forms of plant life.

Book a Guided Adventure

To get the most out of a location, sometimes there’s no denying the value of guided tours or activities, led by local experts. At Joshua Tree, that means stargazing, off-roading in a Jeep or SUV, learning about local Native American cultures, and hiking to those hidden spots that otherwise might have gone unexplored.

Relax and Rewind at the Pioneertown Motel

Utilitarian chic meets Southwestern Americana at the Pioneertown Motel. A former live-in motion-picture set founded in part by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, Pioneertown still looks like it’s straight out of an old Hollywood Western. The motel allows visitors to sense the area’s history in a modern context: The rooms are outfitted with such Old West standbys as cowhide rugs and Aztec blankets. 

Kick Back to Live Music at Pappy & Harriet’s

Just down the street from the Pioneertown Motel, Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is a musical oasis in the middle of the Joshua Tree desert. Part honky-tonk, part music-biz museum (browsing the glass-encased artifacts that line the perimeter is a must), part premier venue, the always-packed Palace is a truly unique experience. Fill up on the bison burger or the 18-ounce rib eye as you listen to artists perform—Pappy’s has hosted everyone from Paul McCartney to Lizzo on its intimate stage.

Experience Sunset at Keys View

The highest point in Joshua Tree, Keys View offers round-the-clock breathtaking vistas. Nighttime serves up sparkling splendor; and during clear days, visitors are treated to sweeping views of the Coachella ValleyPalm Springs, and the surrounding peaks that stretch all the way to Mexico. But Keys View is at its very best at sunset, when bright oranges and blistering reds saturate the desert sky.

For more VCA tips and useful information, visit Know Before You Go: Joshua Tree National Park.

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