Geological formations, other-worldly in their contortions, rise like desert gods toward an empty sky, the earth’s history rich in their dusty red rock. Sudden pools, silent and still, appear and disappear along the landscape, as mystical Joshua Trees, twisted branches beautiful and strange, trace a slow dance against the skyline.
This is a place of legend and mystery; a place where pioneers, wandering through dust and sand, saw prophets in the trees; where constellations, ancient and never-ending, explode across the night sky; a place that is both inspiring and wild, that captures the imagination and heart of every person who steps inside its dusty borders.
There are nearly endless opportunities here to discover the park, whatever that may mean to you, as there are miles and miles of hiking and backpacking trails, backcountry roads waiting to be explored, and thousands of rock climbing opportunities. Or, perhaps, you simply want to sit still, and take in the timelessness of the park around you. Whatever your style, you can find it at this truly stunning national treasure, and, we expect, you might just find yourself as well.
Rock climbers, there are two spots that have great climbing accessible by car: Indian Cove area around a campground roughly 3 miles south of Highway 63, and the Hidden Valley area near the center of the park.
It’s a little known fact, but some of the absolute best bands in the country roll through nearby Pioneer Town. Check out the schedule at Pappy & Harriet’s to see who will be there when you are.
A good desert hiking kit is made of two liters of water for every mile (more if it is hot), protein bar, nuts, and electrolytes.
Because the weather can change rapidly in a desert, it is always a good idea to let someone know where you will be going, and when you should be back.
Water, water, water. A good rule of thumb is two gallons per-person, per day. And don’t forget sunscreen!
Imagine this: It’s the evening, the silhouette of the iconic trees from which the park gets its name stand stark against the sunset, and stars begin to take their hold on the sky as day merges gently into night. With no living soul for miles, the only sound is your heartbeat, your steps on the sandy trail in front of you, and the stirrings of a desert slowly coming to life.
Joshua Tree National Park is, by admission of the NPS itself, a “backpacker’s dream”, stretching more than 794,000 acres, of which 585,000 are wilderness. There are 13 backcountry registration boards available for exploration, which, as long as you follow the rules and be sure to register, provide a truly comprehensive way to explore this stunning national park. Check out some of the best here, grab your pack, and get to exploring some of the most epic scenery in the United States.
Biking in this park provides some pretty jaw-dropping views, but is also restricted to vehicular roads (i.e., if a car or OHV can go there, so can a bike). But don’t worry, cyclists: that still offers ample opportunities to explore the park, as some of those trails provide pretty sick vistas and most don’t, in general, tend to be too busy.
Check out a few awesome trips through the park and surrounding area, and get to cyclin’! It goes without saying that, since you are in a desert, you should definitely be drinking water, but we’ll go ahead and say it again: bring and drink water. Keep in mind too that there is no potable water in most of the park, so be sure to pack enough to last you the length of your trip.
We see you, climber, explorer of boulders, scaler of mountains. While everyone else is standing, jaw agape, iPhones out, you can’t believe they are holding still, somehow able to resist that craving for the summit.
You, however, are a different story. You can already feel that craggy foothold under your boot, a perfectly molded rock warm under your palm as you leverage and pull your way to the top, and, oh yes, you can already imagine that epic, hard-won view. Thankfully, here, that is an itch you will be able to scratch, as Joshua Tree National Park embraces climbers and boasts some of the most amazing climbing routes in the world (yup! As in, the entire planet).
Ready for the stats? They are pretty jaw-dropping, as there are more than 400 climbing formations and 8,000 climbing routes, meaning there is truly something for everyone. Get started with these and then, who knows? Maybe you will discover route 8,001; or 8,002; 8,003 or….well, you get it. The sky is, quite literally, the limit. For some great comprehensive info on climbing in the area, check out the page at Mountain Project.
Always wanted to learn how to climb? There are a bazillion spots in and around the park that offer everything from guided climbs to rental gear. Check out the list here, and we’ll see you at the top!
Rich with breathtaking landscape that feels like a forgotten land on another planet, there are miles and miles of trails for exploring this park on foot.
Thought of as a “backpacker’s paradise,” you can only imagine how freaking awesome it is to hike here, and those endless acres are there for day-trippers and camp-tenters as well. Trails range in length from a few miles to an extensive 11 mile sojourn. There are also several day hikes available as well as ones that can easily be done in an afternoon.
Because you will be venturing into a desert (and there is no potable water), you should be absolutely certain to only go as far as you can stay hydrated, and bring more water than you think you will need.
Sometimes, a strikingly beautiful place is just made better by the presence of a good friend. We believe this absolutely applies to horses, and there many paths open to equestrians and their four-legged friends at Joshua Tree. Riders can come for the day, camp at one of two campgrounds that have facilities for horses, or acquire a special permit for camping in the backcountry with livestock. Personally, we think falling asleep under the stars in one of the wildest places in the country with your favorite non-human sounds pretty epic. Check out the trails open for exploration here and, if you are interested in renting horses for the afternoon, you can head over to Joshua Tree Ranch, which offers tours in the park.
You KNOW those endless stretches of California desert are calling your name, and you can feel your fingers itching at the thought of revving up the four-wheel drive and hitting those dusty paths. There are, quite literally, nearly 100 miles of road available for exploring this forlorn and mystical land, giving you extensive opportunities to reach toward that horizon and take in some of the truly striking scenery surrounding you. Check out some of our favorite treks , then pack up the 4-wheeler and get some mud (well, dust) on those tires.
Joshua Tree is almost as well known for its truly spectacular rock formations as for the Suessical vegetation that gives the park its name. Those who want to learn more about the rich geological history should absolutely check out the Geology Motor Tour , which takes you through 18 miles of desert and has 16 stops featuring the park’s most fascinating landscapes. Keep in mind that, in good weather, sedans and vans can make it as far as stop #9 on the trip, then four wheel drive is required. But even if you can only make it halfway, it is absolutely worth the journey to see some of California’s most striking geological formations.
It is estimated that a staggering 90% of the US population is able to see the sky in its natural, unpolluted state. Remove yourself from that statistic and go experience the night sky in a way you never have, a blanket of constellations and the universe stretched out before you like a forgotten Van Gogh. In Joshua Tree, miles and miles away from any kind of light pollution, you can see spinning skies dizzy with stars and more constellations than you ever knew existed. This park is also one of the only spots in the country where you can truly bear witness to majesty of the Milky Way Galaxy.
You can take a tour of the Milky Way, or just bring a constellation map and a telescope and chart your own course across the stars.
The desert is full of secrets, and one of the biggest ones is the abundance of life that finds home in the nearly 800,000 acres that encompass the park. In addition to holding three separate ecosystems—the Colorado Desert, the Mojave Desert, and the Little San Bernardino Mountains— you can find (of course) Joshua Trees, California juniper and pinyon pine, as well as herds of desert bighorn, six species of rattlesnakes, and many different kinds of migratory birds that rest here on their way to the Pacific. Lizards and ground squirrels are also easy to spot, while many residents (including the sheep and snakes) come out at night, including the kangaroo rats, coyotes, and black-tailed jack rabbits. The best time to catch a glimpse is dusk or dawn. If wildflowers are your thing, springtime is a wonderful season to head to the park, as they are in full bloom. Be sure to check out a the wildflower guides when you go.
Humans have occupied the area encompassed by Joshua Tree National Park's nearly 800,000 acres for at least 5,000 years. The first group known to inhabit the area was the Pinto Culture, followed by the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla.
In the 1800s cattlemen drove their cows into the area for the ample grass available at the time and built water impoundments for them.Miners dug tunnels through the earth looking for gold and made tracks across the desert with their trucks. Homesteaders began filing claims in the 1900s. They built cabins, dug wells, and planted crops.
Each group left its mark upon the land and contributed to the rich cultural history of Joshua Tree National Park. The park protects 501 archeological sites, 88 historic structures, 19 cultural landscapes, and houses 123,253 items in its museum collections.
After the area became a national monument in 1936, local and regional residents were the primary park visitors. As Southern California grew so did park visitation; Joshua Tree now lies within a three-hour drive of more than 18 million people. Since Joshua Tree was elevated from national monument to national park status in 1994 however, greater numbers of visitors from around the nation and the world come to experience Joshua Tree National Park.