One-Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

I can hardly believe it took me nearly my whole life of living in SoCal to make it out to Joshua Tree. Only last year I got out to Death Valley National Park! I am such a loser. Anyways! Here is a quick and easy guide for a day trip itinerary to Joshua Tree. It’s definitely possible to see Joshua Tree in a single day, depending on how much you love the desert. Frankly, the less you love the desert, the more doable it is to see Joshua Tree in a day. Personally, I felt this was one of those “you see them once, you’ve seen them all” types of things. Very beautiful and really cool history in this national park with the way these rock formations were created, but I think I’ve had enough desert and joshua trees forever.

*Note: Each heading, if relevant, has a hyperlink to the AllTrails site for more info.

Visitor’s Center

As I’ve learned, always visit a national park’s Visitor’s Center! I got my stamps in my book and a map of the area, which will be helpful since there is hardly any signal here.

Ryan Mountain Trail

This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and I figured we (my friend Lauren and I) could tackle it earlier in the day to avoid the heat. There is hardly any shade on this almost completely uphill hike with tons of steps, but has great views at the top! It does get chilly if it’s windy, so I highly recommend both sunscreen and a light longsleeve layer. We started our hike around 9:50am, and the parking lot was already full when we got there. I’m guessing it’ll start to get packed by 9am, but we were able to snag a spot after about 10 minutes of waiting.

Be sure to make room for hikers passing by!

Key’s View

This popular viewpoint, which shows sweeping views of Coachella Valley, doesn’t take long at all to get to from the parking lot. People have recommended coming here for sunrise or sunset, but we don’t have too many of those to go around.

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

This is a highly recommended 1 mile loop nature trail that shows all kinds of terrain and flora within the park. We hit this trail for a nice post-lunch walk. There is also no shade.

Barker Dam

This manmade dam was created by the early cattlemen in the area, and one of the only places in the park with water. Literally an oasis in the desert. EXCEPT it was completely dry when we went! This nature trail loop also features some petroglyphs, though I’d probably avoid coming on this walk if it’s not wintertime.

Skull Rock

Just as its name suggests, this rock formation looks a bit like a skull. You can go on another nature trail to get here from Jumbo Rocks Campground, but most people just parked along the side of the road and the skull is right next to it.

Arch Rock

Also just like its name suggests, arch rock is an arch made of rocks. This one was a bit tougher to find because while there’s a parking lot for the Arch Rock Nature Trail, it’s quite far from the actual site itself and the trail is hard to follow. There’s no public parking in the White Tank Campground, so we parked along the side of the road across from the campground entrance, and went behind campsite #9. Since this trail isn’t clearly marked, we had to ask quite a few people if we were going in the right direction. Overall, a ton of rocks to hippity-hop over and worth the trek!

Cholla Cactus Garden

Our last stop of the day was the Cholla Cactus Garden. I felt this was a little underwhelming, but you can wander through paved trails here. We were supposed to stick around for golden hour, but that would have been waiting another 2 hours or so. My friend and I thought that while golden hour pictures would look prettier than the shot I got, it wouldn’t have made it beautiful lol. Please don’t take offense.

And that’s a wrap on Joshua Tree!

We had our lunch at Cap Rock as there were some picnic tables there, and skipped some other attractions like Split Rock and Live Oak. Lauren joked that we were perfectly content with imagining what a rock with a split down its middle should look like haha! We were both exhausted from a long day of driving and the brightness of the sun did not help. Overall, I’d recommend visiting to knock this off your bucket list!

xx Sam

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