Joshua Tree is the renowned desert national park that draws campers & hikers with its geologic wonders & signature Joshua trees from all over. The national park is beyond palm springs, Indio and Coachella desert area outside of old western historical towns Pioneertown and Yucca valley, gateway to the park. There are beautiful hikes, lots of bouldering and rock climbing gold mines and cool train training in this area. This is a great weekend getaway from the LA area or makes a nice day trip. There are lots of cool camping areas, trails and wilderness beauty that is unique to this desert national park. You are bound to see lizards, scorpions and tarantulas in the desert as well as cactus, Joshua trees and cool boulders all around. This is still one of the best spots in California to have free dispersed camping that is private to enjoy the stars and have a bonfire at night camping out in the wilderness. There is great public BLM outside the park within 20 minutes. Joshua Tree has quickly become the art hippy bohemain glamp hub of the Californian desert. For those who are not the most outdoor there are plenty of new boho glamping options of cute stays in the desert to check out the park by day.
How to get there
Joshua Tree National Park is about a 2 hour drive outside of LA and Orange County area. From Orange county you take the 91 to the 60 to the 62 where you exit into Yucca Valley town before the entrance to the park. From Los Angeles you will take the 10 all the way to exiting at the 62 for Yucca Valley.
If you want to visit Joshua Tree in the more mild weather season, spring (March or April) are a great time for hiking and climbing in cooler temperatures. The bloom or years of super-bloom happen in the fall (October and November) if you are trying to catch some desert wildflowers. Winter is the least populated time with the least amount of visitors if you are looking for more peace and solitude. This is one of the most easy access and popular parks in CA and can get crowded. This means cool temperatures at night and getting access to the campgrounds that are mainly not filled in the winter. Summer time because of the scorching temperatures is one of the times people avoid the desert. June, July and August temperatures will be in the 100’s so this is another time to go to avoid the bigger crowds.
Things to do
Ryan Mountain is one of the longest trails in the national park to hike with the second highest summit in the park. The peak is in the core of the park and is an epic but tough hike. The trail is pretty steep and on narrow slippery loose rock and gravel paths. I trail ran for most of the hike and actually had a dangerous slip once. This is a better hiking trail than trail running. The hike is only 1.5 miles one way, 3 miles roundtrip but it is a tough shorter hike. The trailhead is clearly marked on the map and has its own bathroom and large parking lot. The summit of the peak is 5457 feet and has views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio of California’s Six Pack of Peaks in the distance on clear days. There is a huge rock pile on the summit with a metal box with a trail log to write your name in which is fun.
Elevation: 1200 feet gain
Type: out and back
Trailhead: Ryan Mountain Parking Area
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
This is a beautiful and easy nature trail that is a scenic desert route. The hike is a 1 mile hiking loop with huge rock formations to climb & views of Joshua trees & desert areas. This is where to get up close to Joshua trees and see their artistry against the mountain backdrop with interspersed cactus. The trail is near twenty nine palms, CA. If you go in the spring this trail is great for spotting lots of wildflowers. The trail is best March-October. There is also lots of desert wildlife that is often spotted on the loop as well.
Elevation: 114 feet
Chola Cactus Garden Trail
This is a short hike through cholla cactus garden, aka “teddy bear” cactus, for its fuzzy-looking (but sharp) spines that are cute. This is a very short and easy nature trail that is one of the most picturesque points of the park with the different mountains in the background. This area of the park is the merge of the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. Be careful of the spines if you barely brush or touch them they latch into your skin. I watched it happen to a woman on the path at the same time and she had to go get medical help from the rangers because they were stuck.
Miles: a quarter of a mile
Trailhead: The Cholla Cactus Garden is on Pinto Basin Road on the way to Cottonwood Springs (and the trailhead to Lost Palms Oasis). From Park Boulevard, take Pinto Basin Road for 12 miles. The Cactus Garden is on the south side of the road.
Skull Rock Nature Trail
This is a short nature walk through the desert to a skull-shaped desert granite rock formation with 2 depressions like eye sockets created by erosion. The trail is near Twentynine Palms and is known for wildflowers and lots of boulders to scramble along the way. The trail is best October to April. This area has some of the best large rock formations to do small bouldering and fun climbing around without ropes. This rock is right near the Jumbo Rocks area and campground.
Elevation: 160 feet
This is the best overlook point in the park of the surrounding mountains and desert with a contrast of colors and textures. This view point is only a 20 minute drive from the Northwest entrance of the park and is an amazing spot to catch the sunset or sunrise in the park. The panorama is a vista over Palm Springs, and the Salton Sea. There is a .1 mile loop from the parking lot to take a walk and see different sides and angles of the viewpoint. You can spot San Jacinto, San Gorgonio (Six Pack of Peaks in Ca), and the Salton Sea & other CA desert oddities here.
Jumbo Rocks Area
Jumbo Rocks is one of the largest campgrounds in the park with 124 sites amidst giant boulders, with views of iconic rock formations. Wether you are camping here or not this is a killer spot to hang out in the park and do some climbing or bouldering. There is a Live Oak across the road here that is huge and beautiful as well as a shaded and great picnic spot. Jumbo Rocks is near the Skull Rock nature trail hike as well.
Bouldering/ Rock Climbing
Joshua Tree is the landmine near LA for bouldering and rock climbing with thousands of pitches. There are specific places to top rope and endless areas to boulder in the park. Indian Cove Campground below is one of the most popular spots for climbers. Jumbo Rocks is another huge main area for bouldering with lots of different routes that you can find online and in guidebooks.
This is the bouldering guide we used here.
Indian Cove Campground
This is one of the top places to rock climb and boulder that is outside the park and main fight for space. This campground has climbing behind your tent as you wake up in the morning creating a natural and more desolate experience a couple miles outside the park. This is the area that is the secret gem of climbers since the park can be so crowded. This is the other largest campground in the park (well outside of the park). This is the most private campground that is separated farther from the rest of the park. There are 101 camping sites and has pit toilets and fire grates and no water access. Indian cove is the most expensive camp sites for $20 a night as compared to $15 a night campgrounds in the rest of the park.
We are all about dispersed camping which is our favorite. It is free, natural out in the nature without neighbors and no privacy in the usual cramped campgrounds. You sacrifice the comfort and convenience of a toilet, showers or other amenities and you need to pack in all your own water. However there is very little water in the park in general and it is best to pack ing all your own water for the weekend anyways. This is one of the national parks with the least public and free water usage. There is a paid machine for water at the entrance. Our favorite spot is a BLM spot outside the south farther entrance to the park. This spot is a dusty desert field of public land about a 25 minute drive outside the park but is a beautiful star gazing desert private camping area. This is way cheaper than paying for campgrounds inside the park and way easier than reserving spots. The spot we love is called Bureau of Land Management Dispersed Camping Area in Chiriaco Summit shown below. Dispersed Camping is a great legal way to be on public land in the outdoors and not have to pay and be in more genuine nature than cramped campgrounds.
Campgrounds in the park
There are three main campgrounds in the national park and one outside of the main park called Indian Cove Campground that I mention above in the bouldering section. There are not many campgrounds or sites and lots of people always trying to book here. It is hard to get a camping spot inside the park and best to reserve far in advance. I always stay outside of the park using free dispersed camping on public land as I spoke of above.
Hidden Valley Campground
This is a first come first serve campground with 44 sites. The sites are $15 per night with pit toilets, tables and no water access. There are three other first come first serve campgrounds in the park, Belle, Ryan and White Tank. They all have 15-44 campsites and are all $15 a night. These are great to know since you don’t have to reserve in advance and can head there and grab one for a weekend. Be sure to bring cash and exact change to be able to pay for camping. This is the campground closest to the first northern entrance.
Sheep Pass Campground
This is a campground centrally in the park located in Twentynine Palms. This is a group site that is reservations only. This campground is still located in the northern half of the park. There is not a lot of camping in the southern part of the park.
Jumbo Rocks Campground
This is a reservations only campground so be sure to call and reserve beforehand. The reservations normally need to be made at least 24 hours in advance up to 6months- a year. This is one of the largest and most crowded camping spots in the park and is the most centrally located in the middle of the park. There are 124 sites that are $15 per night. There are pit toilets, tables and fire grates. There is not water available at this campground.
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Around the time this pic was taken it occurred to us that the year prior we spent in the abandoned ghost town of Bodi, we’re sensing a theme here. . . . . . . . #pappyandharriets #palmdesert #pioneertown #desertrock #joshuatree #honkytonk #reverendhortonheat #thanotaurism
Pioneertown was built in the 1940s as a live-in Wild West movie set with housing for cast and crew. It was the site for a few old T.V. shows. It is fun to walk around its old western roads that feel so right in the desert surroundings. There is a bowling alley, a reconstructed jail, bathhouse, bank, filled with dummies and fake crows as well as dynamite to add to the mini western town character. This is a fun spot to walk around and check out after some hiking and climbing to come rest and cool off.
Pappy & Harriet’s Bar
This is a staple historic bar of Pioneertown that is known for its live music experience and shows for entertainment at night in the desert. By day this is an oasis from the desert heat in a cool dark saloon cove with a wall of bottle stained glass with the desert sun shining rainbow beams into the room. This is one of the hippest places in the high desert to check out local bands.
Hours: Mon 5-9:30pm, closed Tues and Wed, Thurs-Sun 11am-9:30pm
Dome in the Desert
This hipster glamping dome in the middle of the desert is beautifully decorated and filled with window views of the desert and lots of natural light streaming in. This is a 2 bedroom home that fits 4 guests. There is a natural wood burning stove and is filled with books and board games for cold desert nights and has AC for the heat of the desert days.
Price: $165/night, book here
The Shack Attack
This bohemian bungalow in the desert boasts an old school tub out back as well as an outdoor patio seating area. The house is filled with beautiful wood, and the second Joshua tree home of the same couple who made the dome as seen above. This one is a bit more popular now because of the outdoor tub that is lit up at night with a patio area to hangout. This is another beautiful glamping home.
Price: $160/night, book here
Cabin Cabin Cabin
This is a cozy bohemian little desert casa that is decorated beautifully and has an outdoor oldschool tub. They call it a modern bohemian cabin in the Joshua tree village. This space is filled with the best textiles, color palette and asthetic. This is by the power couple who designed the first two bungalows as well.
Price: $140/night, book here