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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

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With a stunningly stark, bewitching beauty, it’s easy to fall under Joshua Tree’s spell. Whether you’re looking for a sense of peace, 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.

Explore Indian Cove Nature Trail

The walking trail at Indian Cove is one of the best places to enjoy the park’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.

Hike among giant boulders on Arch Rock Trail

Millenia of whipping winds and rushing water have served to sculpt some incredible designs throughout these 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 this organically occurring cacti grove. Stay the course on this 0.25-mile loop and you’ll be treated to one of the world’s densest concentrations of the lovely-but-dangerous cholla cactus.

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 desert. Part honky-tonk, part roadhouse, part premier venue, the always-packed Palace is a truly unique experience. Fill up on the bison burger or the 18-ounce ribeye as you listen to live jams. Pappy’s has hosted everyone from Paul McCartney to Vampire Weekend 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 Valley, Palm 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.

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