Joshua Tree National Park is a famous destination for tourists across the country as well as California locals. This national park hosts a combination of activities for both an adventurous spirit and a relaxed soul alike.
Sightseers and nature lovers can rejoice, as the park has many hiking and nature trails to explore. This scenic park boasts numerous outdoor attractions, such as rock formations, palm springs, rock-climbing mountains, and various campgrounds.
If you plan to visit Joshua Tree National Park during a group getaway, you have come to the right place.
Here is a list of the best and most exciting activities you can partake in at Joshua Tree. While not every activity is for everyone, there is a wide variety of things to do in Joshua Tree, so you should be able to find something to satisfy every type of traveler in your group.
Cottonwood Visitor Center
The Cottonwood Visitor Center is one of several visitor centers found inside Joshua Tree National Park. Open during the day from 8:30 am until 4 pm, this visitor center is located south of highway 62 and north of the 10 freeway, at the southern end of the park.
This visitor center is a small park store located inside Joshua Tree. While it is mostly just a gift shop, it acts as a logical first stop on your day of outdoor activity. The Cottonwood Visitor Center is a gateway to many different hiking trails located around the Cottonwood Springs area.
This visitor center is a hub for information on the park and serves as a means to purchase a parking pass. If you plan a trip to the south side of Joshua Tree National Park, consider stopping here first or giving the center a call.
Cottonwood Spring Oasis
The Cottonwood Spring Oasis is one of the best local wonders inside the Joshua Tree National Park.
This spring has quite an interesting backstory, as it was created due to natural earthquake activities. This strategic location has also been a hub for several wars fought by the Cahuilla Indians.
On top of its geographical advantage, this spring is a piece of gold rush history, as it served as an essential stop for prospectors heading west. In fact, Cotton Spring Oasis was a central hub for several mines during the gold rush since it offered access to water. If you are a history buff or enjoy learning about interesting land formations, this oasis is undoubtedly a spot for you.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Hiking on nature trails is easily one of the most popular activities to partake in at Joshua Tree, and the Hidden Valley nature trail is no exception to this rule.
This nature trail allows tourists to explore many of the unusually shaped but naturally-formed giant rock formations in Joshua Tree.
The Hidden Valley nature trail is especially popular because it is one of the shorter trails in this National Park. Many hiking trails take several hours, while a typical hike through this nature trail will only take 1 or 2 hours.
Rock nature trails are a popular attraction found at Jumbo Rocks. Joshua Tree National Park is full of unique rock formations that many visitors come from around the world to see.
Climbing routes such as the Arch Rock Trail and Skull Rock provide fascinating views of unique landscapes. Fortunately, these easy nature trails will only take a mile loop to walk through so it’s possible to hike several at a time if the weather allows.
Rock nature trails are also popular for those interested in rock climbing or photography. Camera lovers truly enjoy how easy it is to get a good shot here, and you’ll often see climbers bouldering along the way.
Barker Dam Nature Trail
The Barker Dam Nature Trail is another mile loop around a lovely landscape. This nature trail takes tourists past many of the titular Joshua Trees found in the Joshua Tree National Park.
The swaths of ancient petroglyphs found here have been left behind by earlier civilizations who lived in this park. These natural wonders are quite the mystery, estimated to be 2,000 years old or more, and attributed to prehistoric Native Americans.
On top of some of the history found here, the trail features some beautiful desert landscapes and local wildflowers. Make sure to look out for the park’s famous bighorn sheep while you are out here.
This nature trail suits those looking for an easy hike. The track is incredibly flat, and so many signs are posted that it would be difficult to get lost.
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail
The Fortynine Palms Oasis trail stands out as one of the more lush experiences found at the national park. Many of the nature trails found in this park are filled with rocks or desert life, but Fortynine Palms stands out because its oasis gives life to some of the only non-succulent plant life in this desert.
Gaze upon the local greenery and geometric rock formations on this 3-mile trail. This path is just outside the park gates and has an easily accessible parking lot.
Like many other attractions at this national park, this nature trail is free to explore once you are inside the park.
Note that this trail is more challenging than a casual walk. If you are bringing small children with you, this may not be the best nature walk for your party.
Cholla Cactus Garden
One of the perks of being in California is that the weather is consistently sunny and warm in the desert climate.
Cholla cacti are a product of this warmer climate. While Joshua Tree consists of many different kinds of plant life, cholla cacti are one of those that stand out due to their beauty.
The Cholla Cactus Garden has the shortest official trail found in the Joshua Tree National Park. This trail comes in at only a quarter of a mile, so it is perfect for those who may have limited mobility or endurance. Be careful to stay on the marked trail and don’t get too close to the “jumping” cholla cactus as the stems will detach when brushed to attach themselves to you or your clothes.
Contact Mine Trail
This abandoned gold and silver mine is found just a few miles past the north entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. Hikers ready to take a walk through somewhere with a little less elevation gain will do well to visit this abandoned mine trail.
This pathway provides interesting sights of rustic remains of the mine. Visitors will get to see mine carts and railways as part of the abandoned mine.
Those looking for an entry-level hike before heading deeper inside the national park would do well to stop at this abandoned mine.
Lost Horse Mine Trail
Like the Contact Mine Trail mentioned before, the Lost Horse Mine Trail shares many of the same appeals. This enormous mine is a top destination inside the park.
History buffs will thoroughly enjoy this seven-mile hike that will lead you through a historic mine and mill. This mine is well preserved, and you can easily immerse yourself in the miner’s shoes as you’re walking this trail.
Keys View is a lookout point found over the Coachella Valley. This scenic hotspot is a fantastic viewpoint of the mountains, the Salton Sea, and even Mexico. Keys Point is the perfect lookout spot because it is high atop a paved road and rests on a stable cliff in the best location in the park.
This locale is especially suitable for those looking to catch the sunset. Many visitors have claimed that watching the sunset at Keys View is one of their favorite experiences.
Keys View is undoubtedly a romantic location, so consider bringing your loved one to experience something one of a kind. Just make sure you check the weather and go on a clear day to avoid getting rained out.
If you enter from the park’s west entrance, make sure to stop at Keys Ranch. While not the most extensive attraction found in the park, Keys Ranch acts as a historical landmark to the early ranching culture found here.
Visitors can come to check out the small settlement and see all of the amenities earlier humans had used. This ranch served as a hub for the miners west during the gold rush over a hundred years ago.
Hidden Valley Campground
If you are staying in or around Los Angeles, you are only one road trip away from the Hidden Valley campground.
Those who love sleeping under the stars should look into this hotspot campground. Enjoy the Milky Way night sky free of light pollution in the typical Los Angeles area.
This campground is generous enough to provide restrooms and fire rings for its visitors. Other necessities like water will have to be packed in for the night.
White Tank Campground
White Tank Campground is an easy and enjoyable campground near Pinto Basin Road. This popular campground is surrounded by many granite formations, including Arch Rock. Popular activities at this campground include hiking and summer campfires.
Enjoy the pleasant, slow hike from your campground filled to the brim with geological history. You’ll find that the trek through the Arch Rock trail has a ton of plaques indicating interesting events found here.
If you want to check out some of the crazy geology found at Joshua Tree, this might be the campground for you.
Jumbo Rocks Campground
Of the many different campsites found inside the national park, Jumbo Rocks Campground manages to stand out amongst them with its scenery.
This campsite surrounds itself with a natural plant border, making it an attractive location for those who want to be surrounded by beautiful rocks and some greenery.
It is crucial to know, however, that this campsite does not allow for hammocks or other forms of horizontal ropes. These utilities are prohibited from being tied to Joshua trees or other local wildlife.
Black Rock Campground
Black Rock Campground is another locale in the backcountry of Joshua Tree. This campground offers many utilities that make it a perfect camping location.
The amenities included at this campground are cell phone reception, internet connection, a year-round dumping station, trash collection, portable water, and even some staff assistance on site.
The only downside to the campground is the risk of wildfires. Like most national parks, Black Rock Campground is incredibly dry and prone to wildfires. While campfires are permitted, campers must be cautious and keep their fire inside designated fire pits and on grills.
Ryan Mountain Trail is a well-known hiking spot used by visitors. Those who frequent the park will surely be familiar with its elevation jumps and vertical landscapes.
While there are a variety of mountains to quench your thirst for climbing, this particular structure is well-paved and friendlier to a casual audience.
The rock-piled spot towards the middle of the mountain serves as a great resting point. Many visitors choose to pack a lunch and go to this picnic area as a break during their hike.
Horseback riding in Knob Hill Ranch
While technically just west of Joshua Tree National Park, Knob Hill Ranch provides guided tours open to the public. These tours feature horseback riding through Yucca Valley, where you will see plenty of local scenery.
First-time horseback riders and trailheads alike are welcome on these tours. The ranch offers lessons to those interested but unfamiliar with the art of horseback travel.
The tour gives ample time for you to get settled in on your horse before beginning your trek through the valley for some scenic views.
Bird-watching at the park
Bird-watching is an inspiring and accessible activity at Joshua Tree National Park. This park is in the perfect geographical location to attract avian wildlife. Birds love the permanent waterholes found throughout this crossroads between the Colorado and Mojave Deserts.
Popular birds to look out for are cedar waxwings, juncos, and even white-crowned sparrows. These birds are a hot commodity throughout bird-watching communities, as their rare presence to city-dwellers helps them stand out.
Many of the best spots for bird-watching offer other activities as well. These locations include Cottonwood Spring, the Barker Dam, and the Oasis of Mara. Each of these has natural water sources that attract bird life to it.
Joshua Tree Music Festival
If you are less of a nature lover and more of a music festival fanatic, the Joshua Tree Music Festival is the spot for you. This live music festival offers much different music than just bands performing on a stage.
On top of the typical musical performances, this music festival stands out because it offers other activities such as a yoga class, a sound bath, a songwriting class, and even a workshop about mindfulness.
This inspiring get-together is one of the unique things you can do at the national park. This one-of-a-kind music festival attracts music lovers to the scene.
San Andreas Fault
Joshua Tree is in the middle of a cross-section with hundreds of different earthquake faults. Resting on top of one of the Earth’s tectonic plates, this giant rift stands out by maintaining its status as one of the most significant faults in the world.
The San Andreas Fault runs more than 800 miles across California, stretching from the Salton Sea to Cape Mendocino. This fault is so significant that it practically splits California in two.
Those familiar with the Grand Canyon will see many of the same rock structures at this fault.
Travelers interested in natural phenomena and fascinating geological structures should stop at the San Andreas Fault for a quick look.
The town of Joshua Tree
The town of Joshua Tree is nestled in a very small sideline of the Twentynine Palms Highway. While you might miss this town if you blink too fast, its small size is deceptive. The town is one of the most interesting locales you will see on your travels. It is filled with one-of-a-kind art and other eye-catching installations.
Joshua Tree has become a tourist attraction because of its name and sixties-themed aesthetics. This retro sixties town hosts many local businesses, such as the Grateful Desert Herb Shoppe & EcoMarket.
Make sure to pay this quirky town a visit sometime during your trip to the Joshua Tree National Park.
Travel back in time and get a taste of what it was like to be in the Old West.
This old town was created in 1946 and was used as a movie set for various cowboy films. While the town’s origins are artificial, its fully functioning businesses are not. Pioneertown is filled with small shops and restaurants to entertain you on your visit.
On top of the authentic western aesthetic, animal lovers should rejoice. One of the highlights of this small town is its Soap & Goats store. This little business sells locally crafted goods and allows customers to visit the friendly goats.
Slab City, also known as just the Slabs, is a community of desert dwellers near the Salton Sea and Twentynine Palms. Slab City is full of various artists and misfits looking to make their mark on the world in a way they know how.
Like the town of Joshua Tree, his area is filled with interpretative sculptures. Some of the more inspired pieces are made from old televisions, decorated cars, and various tires.
The obvious crown jewel, of course, is Salvation Mountain. Salvation Mountain is a relatively small man-made hill found right beside Slab City, which was made by Leonard Knight. With the message, “God Is Love,” Leonard made this as a tribute to God and the love he has for everyone. This mountain is full of colorful patterns and textures made from spray paint and other decorative materials.
The Slabs and its many artistic attractions are a popular spot for those looking to snap a photograph and spend some time enriching themselves.
Mecca Hills Wilderness
The following location calls out to climbers of southern California. The Mecca Hills Wilderness is found just south of Joshua Tree. This enormous canyon stands out among nature lovers because of its unique surface and textured pattern.
Gazing upon the Mecca Hills Wilderness, you might see walls that resemble surfaces that would exist only on otherworldly planets. The walls of the Colorful Painted Canyon will surround you and stimulate your senses with eye candy.
Be warned that the Mecca Hills Wilderness is not the most accessible hike. This canyon is vast, and many slot canyons need ladders to climb to get through.
Seasoned climbers, however, will be rewarded with one of the best hikes available in the United States.
Joshua Tree Rock Shop
It only makes sense that a park famous for its many geological formations would feature a rock store. Wander around this immense store of stones to look at the many exciting crystals one might find in the national park.
While the energy of these minerals might not resonate with everyone, you will undoubtedly find phenomenal shapes and colors while browsing the wares.
Joshua Tree Saloon
Come and enjoy a refreshing drink at the Joshua Tree Saloon. Take yourself back to a simpler time when there were fewer forms of entertainment and a saloon acted as the local hub for fun.
The Joshua Tree Saloon is only a few minutes from the park’s west side entrance. It is the perfect location to come for a bite to eat during your day out and about. This well-preserved eatery has indoor and outdoor seating to serve everyone in different forms of weather.
When choosing traditional bar food such as burgers and fries, it’s hard to go wrong. These simple dishes pair well with the many delicious drinks on the cocktail menu.
Algoberto’s Taco Shop
If you’re heading to Joshua Tree National Park and are not from the area, you will have to make it a point to try some authentic Mexican food. While the most authentic food from this culture would naturally be found in Mexico, restaurants in southern states such as California and Texas are your next best bet.
Feast upon the many tasty options, such as the titular tacos or meaty enchiladas. These delicacies are even made especially tastier with the knowledge that they are also incredibly cheap.
For some of the tastiest Mexican food you can find in the United States, you will want to stop at Algoberto’s Taco Shop. This taco shop is only a ten-minute drive from the park entrance.
Natural Sisters Cafe
If you are looking for something more natural and healthy, consider visiting the Natural Sisters Cafe. Alternative diets of many kinds will be satiated through these healthy plant-based food options offered at this cafe.
Classic cafe items such as a veggie wrap, smoothie, or salad are offered here.
This cafe also features the famous “Welcome to Joshua Tree” mural. This painting on the side of the building is perfect for an Instagrammable photograph and is a landmark in its own right.
After their day of history and travel, those looking for a more modern-style restaurant would do well to top their night off here.
Oasis of Mara
The Oasis of Mara is another rare commodity, as it is one of the few places in the park with natural surface water.
This oasis was quickly settled in by the Serrano. These earlier settlers named the oasis directly after its grass and spring water. The Serrano planted 29 notable palm trees when first settling, each representing a successful birth of a baby boy from their tribe. These palm trees are so important because they provided settlers with clothing, food, cooking ware, and housing.
After the early settlers, later people who lived in this area, such as cowboys and miners, continued to utilize the oasis’s water. This natural wonder has served as a lifeline to those who have lived nearby over the centuries.
Today, this oasis is mainly filled with tortoises and other wildlife.
Hall of Horrors
The Hall of Horrors found in Joshua Tree National Park is a set of close quarters between large rock walls. These hallway-like structures are naturally formed and make for some of the most exciting perspectives one can look through. It’s a spine-tingling experience.
Although this location is unique and fun to look at, beware of claustrophobia, these halls are incredibly tight-fitting.
While Park Boulevard is not necessarily a location, this road can be a great way to check out what the park offers.
While it is great to be able to explore each inch of the park, not everyone has that kind of time. Driving down Park Boulevard can serve as a terrific compromise to see a lot of different locales at once.
This road traverses many of the most interesting structures in the national park. Those seeking just a few glances before moving on to the next stop will do well to drive down Park Boulevard for some sightseeing.
Annual Night Sky Festival
Last but not least, we have the annual Night Sky Festival. This annual get-together is for those looking for a more relaxed experience.
This festival focuses more on relaxation than the extensive hikes and learning activities offered around most of the park. Sit back and take in the panoramic views as you look out at the clear, flat landscape and admire the horizon. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you feeling refreshed.
The Joshua Tree National Park is certified as an International Dark Sky Park. Light pollution or the abundance of light makes it difficult to stargaze effectively, particularly around big cities. Areas such as national parks that are further away from large metropolitan areas allow for the luxury of top-notch stargazing.
Stargazing is accessible anywhere in the park during any time of year, but the annual Night Sky Festival provides a more communal experience under a unified theme.
In the end, there are so many things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. This treasure of a park contains hundreds of scenic views and tourist attractions to appeal to all sorts of interests and hobbies.
People who enjoy warmer climates such as the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, or the Colorado Desert will be particularly at home in this warm and hospitable climate.
The NPS, or the National Park Service, considers Joshua Tree National Park one of the fascinating clashes in a distinct desert ecosystem. Plants and animals make their home here in a land sculpted by dry heat and the occasional sight of rain.