Joshua Tree National Park 22 Top Travel Tips

Looking to prepare for a desert adventure out to Joshua Tree National Park?


There are two things you need to think about before visiting. First off is what you actually want to do once you get there. For that, I have put together a helpful guide to my favorite activities that you can read here.


The second thing you'll want to do is read this guide chock full of useful tips on everything someone should know before visiting Joshua Tree National Park!


Have a specific question about visiting Joshua Tree National Park? Jump ahead using the table of contents below:


You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!

 

Where is Joshua Tree National Park located


Joshua Tree National Park is about a two hour drive east of Los Angeles.


Another great jumping off point for visiting the park is Palm Springs which is only about a 45 minute drive from the park. Palm Springs has an airport making it the closest town to fly into.


If you're looking to stay even closer to the park consider looking into the towns of Indio to the south or Twentynine Palms which sits to the north.


What is Joshua Tree National Park known for


Endless miles of harsh desert wilderness, massive rock formations and the infamous Joshua Tree! Despite being a desert you'll find the landscape and biodiversity here quite impressive.


Desert hare in california
I took the photo of this desert hare while hiking up Ryan Mountain

Not only that but this is essentially the only place in the world you can view Joshua Trees in their natural element!


Enjoy world class stargazing in the evenings


The lack of large cities in this region make it an excellent place to do some late night stargazing.


With that said, I'd venture towards the center of the park for the best stargazing since you'll still pick up a little bit of light pollution from the parks border towns if you don't work inward.


During our visit we had really good luck stargazing at the Turkey Flats pull off. We saw numerous shooting stars, satellites and even the Milky Way stripe!


If you can be flexible with your trip dates, try to visit during a new moon. It's easy to overlook the amount of light the moon puts off (especially if it's full). Stargazing during a new moon will give you the best chance to spotting celestial objects dancing around the sky.



Ryan Mountain is my favorite hike in Joshua Tree


Ryan Mountain was my favorite hike that we attempted when visiting Joshua Tree National Park. I was pleasantly surprised at how diverse the park and trails here feel despite the desert terrain and this is no exception to that.


Although the trail is fairly steep, gaining over 1,000 ft or 300 meters in a short amount of time, the relatively short distance keeps the overall difficulty in check.


This out and back trail is 3.0 miles (4.8 km) in total length so even younger visitors or those not in top tier hiking shape should be able to manage it.


If you're interested in learning more about this hike I have a full post dedicated to it that you can check out here!


Cellular service in Joshua Tree


Cell phone service within the park is extremely limited. Sometimes you can get service on top of the higher elevation locations such as Key's View or Ryan Mountain but don't count on it.


Park entry fees


Entrance fees for Joshua Tree National Park are reasonable and you can even purchase a seven day pass if you're staying longer.


Once you're in the park there literally isn't anything to spend money on so you won't be nickel and dimed beyond that making Joshua Tree National Park very budget friendly! ​ Check out Joshua Tree National Park's website for up to date entrance fee info here.


How long is enough time in Joshua Tree National Park


Most visitors will want to spend 2-3 days visiting Joshua Tree National Park. This should allow you sufficient time to hit all of the main points of interest and do a moderate amount of hiking.


Most of the landmarks in Joshua Tree are located in close proximity to the main road which means you can see quite a bit on a road trip just passing through.


Joshua Tree National Park entrance
A shot of Joshua Tree National Park's southern entrance

Additionally, there are miles of hiking trails that serpentine through the desert. If you're planning to do some longer hiking, camping and exploration of the surrounding areas I could easily see others spending 4-5 days visiting the park.


Are pets welcome in the park


Pets are technically allowed in the park. But they generally are not allowed on any of the hiking trails. You can find updated park information regarding pets at the NPS website here.


Are there restroom facilities throughout Joshua Tree


There are limited restroom facilities throughout Joshua Tree National Park. You will find an outhouse style set of restrooms at most major trailheads but not much more!


Be sure to pack hand sanitizer, toilet paper and any other personal items with you. You will thank me as the restrooms here are not consistently stocked.



Speaking of toilet paper, you're probably low and should order some via Amazon now!


Do I need to pack any special hiking gear


I'd recommend bringing a decent pair of hiking boots along with you for this trip to traverse the rocky desert terrain in. Your feet will thank you!

If you're doing some hiking I'd also bring a hydration back pack, you're going to be drinking a lot more water than usual given the arid climate and hot sunny afternoons.



If you heed prior advice and visit Joshua Tree outside of the summer - be sure to pack layers. Temperatures can drop rapidly in the desert when day turns to night. Also, some points of interest are at higher elevations that can be significantly cooler.


Doing a lot of hiking during the day? Be sure to pack a light long sleeve layer with UV protection to cut down on excessive sun exposure.


When is the best time of day to visit Joshua Tree


The best time of day to visit Joshua Tree is the early morning. There are a few reasons for this.


Parking can be an issue later in the day so you’ll want to arrive early at the more popular areas like Ryan Mountain.


Depending on the time of year you’re visiting it can be extremely hot later in the day. Mornings are reliably on the cooler side.


Not only are the mornings cooler but getting an early start will also help cut down on sun exposure!


Visiting during the evening is also a great experience due to the quality of stargazing in the desert. Just be mindful that it will be VERY dark during your drive out of the park late at night.


Is there a tour you can schedule


We didn't book any tours during our visit to Joshua Tree, but that doesn't mean there aren't great options out there!


GetYourGuide is always a great place to look, as is Airbnb or Viator.


I have a tendency to book guides more when I travel internationally and less when I travel domestically. You certainly don't need a guide to explore Joshua Tree. Many of the parks major points of interest are conveniently located along the main road.


But that doesn't mean a guide won't add value. They're a great way to further immerse yourself in the area and you'll have a useful resource to ask for information on the park and surrounding towns.


Where can I purchase food or water


There isn't anywhere inside Joshua Tree National Park to purchase food or water. You'll need to stock up before entering the park. When it comes to water, you really can't pack enough. Which brings us to my next tip..


Large Joshua Tree
Many of the Joshua Trees within the park are absolutely massive!

Pack plenty of water each day


The number one rule of visiting Joshua Tree is to drink as much water as you can. All of it. Leave no water behind. This is especially important since there aren't any shops inside the park.


Don’t forget that this National Park is basically a giant desert which means it’s extremely dry and arid. That dry desert air will really take it out of you as well!


Even during the cooler months it can be very hot here during midday when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.


Where is the best place to purchase souvenirs


Most National Parks in the United States have a (or multiple) visitor centers within the park. These facilities are generally great places to stop for souvenirs.


The visitor center for Joshua Tree sits in the appropriately named town of Joshua Tree. The town of Joshua Tree immediately precedes the parks western entrance station. Joshua Tree (the town) sits between the towns of Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms.



Don't expect to find anywhere to purchase souvenirs within the park! Facilities are pretty scarce once you make it out into the desert.


What is the best time of year to visit


The best time of year to visit Joshua Tree is any season other than summer. It's a desert after all so it can be scorching hot here during June, July and August.


Temperatures will often exceed 100 degrees (38 celsius) during these months which isn't just unpleasant, it can be outright dangerous to hike in that kind of heat!


Even the shoulder months can be on the toasty side. If you plan to do a lot of hiking during your visit plan to visit during the winter season.


Camping permits and reservations


Anyone looking to do backcountry camping needs a permit. The actual campgrounds are a combination of first come first serve and those requiring a reservation with the National Park Service.


If you're looking for backcountry camping or other permits you can find those at the NPS website here.



Campground reservations can be made at Recreation.gov.


At the time of this writing Joshua Tree did not require a timed entry reservation during peak season, but that's always subject to change and I bet the NPS will move more and more in this direction as time goes by.


If you're visiting the park, you need to check in with the NPS to ensure they haven't switched over to that system. If you aren't familiar with the National Park Timed Entry System I have an entire post dedicated to the topic you can read here.


Plan to drive off road


Joshua Tree has miles of dirt roads - there's nothing like getting off the main road and checking out the desert roads less traveled.


This is also the best way to get up close and personal for some photo ops with the Joshua Trees or Cholla Cacti!


Cholla Cactus Garden
Close up within the Cholla Cactus Garden

Vehicles with higher clearance will fare much better on the dirt roads. Keep that in mind when planning out your vehicle for this visit.


Joshua Tree is a hikers paradise


Most of Joshua Tree is free for you to roam. Park your car and head off into the desert where ever you please but be sure to take the appropriate safety measures if doing free style hiking.


Otherwise there are an endless amount of marked trails located throughout the park. ​ If you haven't used it before - be sure to check out the AllTrails app for doing research on hikes!



What is the best airport to reach Joshua Tree National Park


The best option for flying into the Joshua Tree region is through Palm Springs which has a decent sized airport. If you've never been, much of the airport is open air which is a nice touch when you're hanging out waiting for your departing flight on the way out.


The second best option is Los Angeles since it's only about a two hour drive from the park and boasts and endless amount of flight times.


If neither of those options are attractive based on your travel constraints, other major airports in this region include San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix if you don't mind a longer drive.


By the way if you're looking for tips to save on airfare I have a complete guide dedicated to the topic you should check out here!


Is hiking in Joshua Tree National Park dangerous


This is a valid question for Joshua Tree National Park visitors.


If you are hiking midday under the desert sun when temperatures are high, you risk excessive heat and sun exposure. You can counter these risks by packing a light top layer, bringing plenty of water, applying sunscreen and avoiding long hikes during the hottest parts of the day.


Additionally there aren't any facilities in the park for purchasing food, water or fuel. Cellular service is extremely weak out here as well. You'll need to enter the park each day with sufficient food, water, fuel and other supplies.


It takes a very long time to drive across the park


When planning out your day - make sure to budget for the 90 minute trip across the park if traveling from top to bottom.


Joshua Tree National Park is quite large and the logistics of getting from one side to the other can easily be overlooked.


On that note be sure to enter the park with plenty of fuel. Gas stations are sparse and you could easily find yourself an hour away from the nearest refueling station.


Looking for ideas on where to go within the park?


This post was geared towards helping you plan, pack and orient yourself before a visit to Joshua Tree National Park.


If you're more interested in learning about my favorite activities to do within the park you can check out a helpful post I wrote on that topic here!


Be sure to check out my video guide on YouTube


Looking for a little more information on visiting Joshua Tree National Park? I've also put together a helpful YouTube video highlighting many of my favorite spots in the park complete with video taken during my visit.

 

Looking for hiking gear recommendations?


Finding gear that's functional, not overpriced and still looks great can be a challenge.


For your convenience I've laid out some of my favorite hiking apparel below. All of the gear I link to below are items I personally own and have tested out on the trails.


  • Hiking day pack - If you're in the market for a hiking day pack I'd suggest browsing REI's selection. If you've never owned one before you can go into a retail store and they'll ensure you find one that fits properly with any of the bells and whistles you may require!

  • Water reservoir - I have reservoirs from Platypus and Gregory that I really like. While these come in a variety of sizes I wouldn't bother with those smaller than 3L. You can always just fill up the larger ones part way if you're concerned about weight since they collapse to the same size.

  • Moisture wicking t-shirts - Patagonia makes really great hiking t-shirts that keep you dry all day long. They also perform well under multiple layers of clothing.

  • Hiking socks - I absolutely love the FEIDEER brand of hiking socks. I've tried some other hiking sock brands, but I think these take the cake! They make great socks for women and men.


There's nothing worse than missing out on a great hike because you didn't come prepared, don't be that person!



Be sure to read our guide on reducing airfare costs


One of those most unavoidable and dreaded travel costs is airfare.


Even if you budget carefully for food, accommodations and find budget friendly activities the cost of airfare can make many destinations prohibitively expensive.


But if you're a savvy traveler like me then you know there are ways to beat the airlines! I have a full post dedicated to all of the tips and tricks I use to pay the absolute minimum for airfare when I travel.