Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best weekend trip destinations from Southern California. Escape into nature with relaxation and chill vibes only about 2-3 hours from LA! The park itself is beautiful and unique, with huge boulders, colorful sunsets, unique rock formations, and of course – the iconic Joshua Trees scattered throughout. The eclectic town of Joshua Tree is a must-see as well, with thrift stores and art galleries galore. Keep reading for 12 of the best things to do in Joshua Tree and start planning your trip!
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Joshua Tree Info
Getting There: Joshua Tree National Park is about 2 hours east of Los Angeles, or about 1 hour from Palm Springs. If you don’t live in the area, flying into LAX or PSP is your best bet.
Entrances: There are 3 entrances to choose from, but the West entrance is the main entrance and is the one that I recommend. It’s close to town, and you’ll start seeing the iconic boulders and Joshua Trees soon after you enter!
Best Time to Go: September – May are the best months to visit, when temperatures are mild. As with any national park, try to avoid holiday weekends when it gets super crowded.
Fees: It costs $30 per car to enter the park, which is good for 7 days. Or, you can buy an annual Joshua Tree National Park pass for $55.
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree
Airbnbs/Houses: There are SO many fun, eclectic houses for rent in Joshua Tree! For example, check out this “Bungalow in the Boulders” bohemian house with eclectic 50’s memorabilia, neon signs, cool outdoor areas, and a beautiful sunset view. Can’t beat it! There’s also the iconic “Dome in the Desert” Airbnb, which looks amazing!
Hotels: If you are more of a hotel person, there are a few hotels near Joshua Tree National Park to choose from (but don’t expect anything luxury!). For instance, the Holiday Inn Express is nearby, affordable, and has good reviews.
Camping: If you love sleeping under the stars, you’re in luck! There’s plenty of amazing campgrounds to choose from in Joshua Tree National Park.
- Hidden Valley Campground: This is one of best campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park! It’s super scenic and nestled between boulders. This campground is first-come-first-serve, and there’s 44 spots.
- White Tank Campground: in a more secluded part of the park, right near the iconic Arch Rock. Also is first-come-first-serve
- Jumbo Rocks Campground: If you don’t want to try your luck at a first-come-first-serve campground, try reserving a spot Jumbo Rocks Campground (September-May). This is one of the 4 campgrounds in the park where you can reserve a spot, and it it’s located right near Skull Rock.
- If you are planning a last-minute weekend trip and there are no campsites available, check out HipCamp for some camping options right outside the park, or download the Dyrt Pro app for all the free campsites available in the surrounding area!
If you want to camp but also want the comforts of home, renting a campervan is a great option! My favorite campervan company is Travellers Autobarn. Their vans have a stove, microwave, fridge and sink, and can sleep 3 people inside of it. Also, they have unlimited miles which is something that most campervan companies don’t offer! You can pick up the van at their location in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Las Vegas.
Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
There is so much to see and do in Joshua Tree National Park – as well as in the actual town itself! I’ve narrowed it down to my top 12 best things to do in Joshua Tree for you (in no particular order):
1. Drive Around, Hop Out and Explore
This one might seem like a given, but its honestly one of the main things I love about Joshua Tree. Coming here without an agenda and just aimlessly driving through the park, stopping off on the side of the road whenever you see something that you want to go explore, is one of my favorite things to do!
You will find a lot of the famous Joshua Trees scattered throughout the North end of the park – if you’re driving around near golden hour, you can get some incredible photos of these quirky trees! They look like something out of a Dr. Seuss story.
Also, I love to stop off on the side of the road and just climb around on the boulders! (not actual rock climbing – I’m still working on that, but just rock “scrambling”). See how far up you can get, and enjoy the views!
Seeing Skull Rock is definitely one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree! It’s located right near the Jumbo Rocks campground. You can park on the side of the road and walk right up to it!
3. Keys View
Make your way over to Key’s View -the highest point in Joshua Tree National Park – to check out the panoramic view of the surrounding area. It’s breathtaking! On a clear day, you can see Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and even Signal Mountain in Mexico! From the Keys View lookout point, you can take the 1.2 mile Inspiration Peak trail for even more awe-inspiring views.
4. Arch Rock
Arch Rock is another awesome rock formation that you should definitely see while you’re in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s about a 0.5 mile hike from White Tank Campground. The hike itself has some pretty interesting signs along the way that teach you about how these rocks formed. Pro tip – once you get to Arch Rock, climb up and find a little nook in front of it to have lunch (or drink) break!
5. Cholla Cactus Garden
This spot is kind of out of the way from the rest of the sites in the park, but its worth the extra drive! This 1/3 mile garden trail features tons of teddy bear Cholla Cactuses (pronounced choy-ya). Be careful not to touch or brush up against these little guys though – they are also nicknamed “jumping cactus” because their needles break off and attach to your skin or clothes super easily!
6. Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
Honestly most of my time spent in Joshua Tree to date has been more of a chill trip, cruising around, taking photos and soaking in the scenery. However – there are definitely some great hikes in Joshua Tree National Park if you are wanting to get some exercise and explore! See some options below:
- Ryan Mountain: ~ 3 miles round trip. Centrally located in the park. Great views!
- Warren Peak – 5.5 miles round trip. West side of the park. Views of Mt San Gorgonio and San Jacinto
- Fortynine Palms Oasis – ~ 3 miles round trip. One of the most unique hikes in Joshua Tree – this one leads to a cluster of magnificent palm trees!
7. Sound Bath at the Integratron
One of the coolest things to do in the Joshua Tree area is visit the Integratron for a sound bath. For those of you who don’t know what a sound bath is – it’s a sort of meditative experience where you lay down while someone in the middle of the room is plays crystal bowls that create a sound that reverberates throughout the room. The result – a super relaxing, rejuvenating experience that is said to make you more balanced and focused. And the Integratron is one of the BEST places in the world to get a sound bath, as it is built to be an acoustically perfect wood dome.
This unique structure was built in the 50’s by George Van Tassel, who said that he was instructed by aliens to build the dome this way on this exact plot of land. You’ll learn more about the history when you visit, but this is just one of the unique and eclectic experience available to you in the Joshua Tree area! I highly recommend it. It costs $45 for a one-hour sound bath and you need to book in advance on their site.
8. Explore the Town of Joshua Tree
Exploring the unique nature at Joshua Tree National Park isn’t the only thing to do in the area – the town of Joshua Tree is also worthwhile to check out! Spend some time walking around, popping into stores, checking out the art and murals, and appreciating the eclectic vibes (there’s a lot of that here!)
9. Get Food in Town
After a long day of exploring outside in the park, it’s always nice to sit down for a great meal. A few of my favorite spots to eat in Joshua Tree are:
- Crossroads Cafe – diner restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a Latin twist. There’s normally a wait, but it’s worth it! Make sure to try their cookies – they’re SO good!
- Natural Sisters – 1 block away from Crossroads Cafe – this is the place to be for some healthy wraps, salads and smoothies!
- Pie for the People – Great pizza and good vibes. Also, Joshua Tree Coffee Roasters is right next door if you need a pick-me-up
10. Check out the Joshua Tree Thrift Stores
One of my favorite things to do in Joshua Tree is to go thrifting. This whole town is made up of artists and hippies with eclectic taste, and the thrift stores are no exception! There are quite a few that you will see off the main street in town, but they are a bit on the expensive side (but still fun to peruse). One hidden gem of a thrift store is actually right next to the visitor center, called Hi-Desert Medical Auxiliary Center. Because of the name, the first few times I visited Joshua Tree I never stepped foot inside, as I didn’t realize it was a thrift store. However once I did, I was pleasantly surprised! You can find some great stuff in here for super cheap prices.
Also, on your drive back to LA, there are a bunch of thrift stores in the Yucca Valley that are worth stopping at! You’ll see them lining the main road – literally stop in any of them – they’re all great!
11. The Crazy Cool Disco Ball Art Installation (and Crochet Museum)
I don’t know the official name of this art piece in Joshua Tree, but it’s right next to the World Famous Crochet Museum (which is also super unique). This disco ball art piece looks like something that would be at Burning Man! When its bright and sunny outside, the disco balls make the light glisten off of all of the surfaces. Climb up inside the tower and hang out at the top! Chill vibes all day long.
After you’re done hanging out in this super cool art structure, pop in the tiny crochet museum next door, which is actually located inside an old photo booth. There’s a bunch of random crocheted animals/objects inside! (Oh, the things you see at JT)
12. Pappy & Harriets
No visit to Joshua Tree is complete without a stop at Pappy & Harriets. What started as a Western movie set in the 40’s is now a legendary indie music venue, where acts such as Robert Plant, The Pixies and Modest Mouse have performed. Around the time before and after Coachella, artists playing the festival have been known to play surprise or last-minute shows here as well. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree (although it’s technically about 30 minutes away from town). Come here for a night of BBQ, drinks, and great live music!
Need help packing? Check out my camping packing list below:
- REI Joule Sleeping Bag (this is the one that I have and I love it)
- Inflatable Sleeping Pad (this is the one that I use)
- Portable Rocking Chair (This thing is AWESOME!)
- REI Flexlite Chair – low profile camping chair that’s a big space-saver
- The COLDEST Water Bottle (seriously – stays colder than Hydroflask or Yeti!)
- Decathlon 2-Second Tent (I love this one – it’s super easy to setup and you can sleep longer because of the blackout material)
- Hiking Boots (These are my favorite!)
- Camping String Lights (these are the ones I have and I love them!)
- Travel Towel
- Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket (I bring this on EVERY camping trip. It packs up small and keeps you warm!)
- Sunski Polarized Glasses
- Camping Cooler
- Portable phone charger
- Cliff Bar Energy Chews (love these things for a boost of energy!)
- Kuhl Softshell Pants – These are my favorite pants to wear hiking or camping when the weather gets chilly!
- Periscoping Roasting Sticks – these come in handy when you want to roast smores or hot dogs over the fire!
- Camping Grill – this is the one I have, and I love it!
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