How to spend a day in Joshua Tree National Park

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My week in California was not restricted to Los Angeles alone. Located about 3 hrs from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree is the top destination for rock climbers, hikers, campers and nature dwellers in the Southern California area. Although to truly explore Joshua Tree National Park you need at least a few days, there are some pretty impressive things to see in just one day. Better yet, if you are not a hiker, most of these locations are right off the road.

We left L.A. at 9 a.m. the morning, stopped to grab an In-and-Out Burger and arrived at the park around 1 p.m. We dined and stayed the night in Palm Springs nearby and returned to L.A. the next morning. If you don’t mind long hours on the road, you can make this a day-trip to Joshua Tree National Park.

How to spend a day in Joshua Tree National Park

The park has three main entrances with most of the attractions on the northern part of the park. We started at the Oasis Visitor Center and drove down Park Boulevard to the White Tank Campground. From there we hiked the 0.3 miles to Arch Rock for some pictures. We then got back in the car and drove to the Cholla Cactus Garden.

Backtracking, we took the road towards Keys View. Since no one wanted to see Skull Rock, we bypassed it and drove straight to the observation point for an amazing sunset.

If you are into Night Photography, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the few locations where you can find pitch dark skies with enough foreground interest to make amazing pictures. The park stays open 24hrs, which means you don’t have to trespass – not that you would anyway!

Arch Rock Trail

This trail was our introduction to the desert and Joshua Trees. For someone used to green pine, high altitude and chilly air when I hike, this was the polar opposite. It was hard sun and soil, rocky and flat, but it was still beautiful. If you enjoy bouldering or rock climbing this park is your playground.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Joshua Trees are pretty much everywhere along the roads of the park, but once you get close to Cholla Cactus Garden, the landscape starts to change to these shorter and spikier cacti. Because blooming season in the desert starts early, we were able to see many of the newly bloomed pink flowers, but the Cholla Cacti were still not in bloom. It’s a short loop walk from the parking where you can find yourself completely surrounded by spikes.

Keys View

The jewel of this itinerary, Keys Views provides an unparalleled look at the San Bernadino mountains. It’s a great place to watch the sunset!

Unfortunately, we were all too starving and tired to stay for a night shot, but there were several locations along the park’s road that would work great for some Astro Photography. I will have to take an extended trip to Joshua Tree National Park in the future and see what else the park has to offer.

For more information on the park click here. To print a map of the park, click here.

For hotels in Palm Springs, consider these:

Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? What were your favorite sites?


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