This one-day highlights tour through Joshua Tree National Park is great for those who are limited with time. If you are looking for a short day trip idea from Los Angeles or San Diego, or just want a quick detour on your road trip from or to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon than keep reading!
We recently took a road trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Unlike most of our other trips where we usually have an unlimited amount of travel time, this was only a short getaway due to new work commitments.
Believe it or not, we lived in Los Angeles for a year and a half and never got around to visiting this park! Now that we had moved two states away I was itching to explore the Joshua Tree area. When I received a low airfare alert from Skyscanner for flights to Long Beach I jumped on the opportunity. We booked car hire in advance online and you wouldn't believe the rate we scored... $80 for 4 days!!! Hell yeah!!!
Flying into Long Beach turned out to be a really good decision. It was a small and easy airport to navigate. And there was no traffic! No traffic on the way out to Joshua Tree on a Sunday morning on the Presidents Holiday Weekend!! Also, on our return during the week we were going against the traffic. I have included a list of the nearest airports below if your are flying in to visit Joshua Tree too.
From LAX or Long Beach airports you will need to get on the I-10 and then onto CA-62, also known as the Twentynine Palms Highway to get to Joshua Tree.
If you are coming from San Diego, you could do this driving tour in reverse and begin your trip from the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.
There is an entrance fee which goes towards funding for the park. The entrance fee is $25 per vehicle and allows for a stay of seven days. If you plan on visiting more national parks you should consider buying a National Parks Annual Pass which is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.
The Weather In February & Best Times To Visit Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree's peak season is from October through May, the cooler months of winter, fall and spring for obvious reasons. Expect campgrounds to be full on weekends during these times of the year.
It will be really cold during the winter nights so come prepared. Also, the months of March and April are known to have high winds. We visited Joshua Tree National Park at the end of February and this is exactly what we experienced.
Honestly, I wish we had waited until summer (I am a hot weather kind of gal) but I was really looking forward to getting away. Also, I had been checking the weather for Joshua Tree for a few weeks beforehand and temperatures had been in the high 70's and low 80's which was what made me want to head to Joshua asap. Of course when we got there they had a cold weather snap. It was below thirty during the night and snowed on our first morning there for fifteen minutes. The takeaway from this is that the weather is not predictable!
Of course there is a lot more than you can see in one day at Joshua Tree National Park!
There is a lot more to Joshua Tree than the highlights mentioned below. There are a number of old mines to explore, great hiking trails, and other cool trips to take such as the Geology Tour. If you have more time to spend here then see a complete list of things to do and see in Joshua Tree N.P.
If you are limited with time, the one day highlights itinerary below allows you to see the parks most popular attractions, provides enough time to stop and have lunch, take many pictures and stop at some of the turnouts throughout the park. Make sure you do!
You can also download a free copy of our highlight's checklist and take with you to make sure you don't miss the must see's! Just click on the button below to get your copy.
Begin Driving Tour Through Joshua Tree National Park
This driving tour begins at the north-west entrance station from the town of Joshua Tree. On your drive into this national park, you will notice you are much higher in elevation than the town of Joshua Tree and other surrounding desert towns.
From the entrance you will head south on Park Boulevard (the main road through Joshua Tree National Park) into Hidden Valley. Get a Joshua Tree National Park map.
The area known as Hidden Valley is filled with countless jumbles of HUGE boulders as far as the eye can see! The landscape here is studded with Joshua and Yucca Tree's.
First stop on your driving tour is Barker Dam. To get here, you need to keep an eye out for Barker Dam Road which will be on your left as you drive south on Park Boulevard from Hidden Valley.
Even though Barker Dam is a short hike from the road, it is well worth it. The hike itself is only a mile and a half which is done as a loop. The trail cuts through a canyon past huge boulders to Barker Dam. The Dam was built at the turn of the 20th century by settlers to hold water for their cattle and mining use. We were there in February and the dam was like a small lake with lots of bird life. You can learn more about hiking Barker Dam and viewing the petroglyphs. Head back out to Park Boulevard after your hike.
Second up on your driving tour through Joshua Tree National Park is Keys View. From Park Boulevard you want to take a right turn on Salton View Road. In about 5 miles you will reach Keys View which sits at an elevation of 5,185ft. From here you can see expansive views of the Coachella Valley below including San Jacinto Peak and San Gorgonio Mountain. On a clear day, you can also see the Salton Sea.
Skull Rock is located right beside the road. Literally, you don't even have to get out of the car to see it if you don't want to. Heading south it will be on your right-hand side. It's pretty cool and really does look just like the shape of a skull complete with nose and eyes.
In three miles from Skull Rock you will reach Pinto Basin Road. Turn right here and head south. In a few miles you will see the White Tank Campground on your left. Park here and take the short Arch Rock Nature Trail through some boulders to a granite arch.
Cholla Cactus Garden
Heading south on Pinto Basin Road, you will begin to descend into the Pinto Basin. This is where the Mohave Desert transitions into Colorado Desert and as a result you will see the landscape change dramatically. The Joshua Tree's disappear making way for creosote bush scrub and cacti.
The Cholla Cactus Garden is the next stop on the driving tour. The Cholla Cactus Garden has a dense concentration of these prickly plants which you can view up close. Be careful though, these cacti have a tendency for finding their way into spiking through your shoes. It is not a pleasant feeling!
There is a small parking lot located right in front of the garden and a short trail loops through it for your viewing pleasure. The Cholla Cactus are beautiful and so is the backdrop of mountains in the distance.
About a mile after the Cholla Cactus Garden is the Ocotillo Patch. There are only a few of these plants in this patch but still worth a quick stop to see these interesting desert species up close. If you're lucky enough to be here after a rainfall, you will get to witness these tall shrubs explode with bright crimson colored flowers.
Last stop on your driving tour through Joshua Tree National Park is Cottonwood Springs. This is the location of the Cottonwood Springs Visitor Center. If you need anymore information, want to purchase books or top up on your water supply, do it here.
The real attraction here though is a short one mile hike from the Visitor Center to a fan palm oasis at Cottonwood Springs. Cottonwoods, palms and other plants thrive in this area. It is hard to believe hundreds of years ago, this area use to be lush with plant life after the glaciers receded.
End of the driving tour
After the Visitor's Center it is about a seven mile drive to the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. From here, Pinto Basin Road joins up with the I-10 where you can head back north towards Palm Springs.
However, if you do have time we recommend driving south on Box Canyon Road to visit the Salton Sea and Bombay Beach.
Looking for accommodation in Joshua Tree and don't want to camp?
If you're not interested in camping and would prefer to stay in hotel accommodations you can use the search bar below to find hotels in the area.
Budget - 9 Palms
Popular - Fairfield Inn & Suites By Marriott
Unique - Pioneertown Motel
If you want to make your trip to Joshua Tree memorable you can rent a desert-chic style home on airbnb or for a unique experience go glamping at one of the many properties available in the area. If you haven't used airbnb before you can get $40 off your first night's stay!
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