Last year, we enjoyed Joshua Tree National Park so much that we vowed too return to it again. The park hosts an amazing array of terrain, plants and wildlife. Its' intriguing Joshua Trees, and huge boulders, are warmly inviting as are the mild temperatures. Whether you're a solo, couple or family travelers, this national park should be high on your bucket list.
Joshua Tree National Park hosts an array of amazing desert features as well - from the course-grained Monzogranite boulders, to the plump Chuckwalla. However, it's a no-brainer that the Joshua Trees are the star of the show.
Before we continue on with our recommendations, know that pets are not permitted on any trails in the park with the exception of the paved Mara Trail. If you have any questions, seek one of the rangers on duty.
Here are the five amazing things to see and do at Joshua Tree National Park:
1. The Joshua Trees and Desert Flower Viewing
In February, the desert awakens from it's winter nap and starts to show some vivid color. Along the southern park boundary, and lower elevations of the Pinto Basin , you'll notice smaller flowers emerge. By March and April, in the higher elevations, bright blooms emerge almost instantaneously. Even as late as June, the bloom will continue up into the higher elevations above 5000 feet.
Spring temperatures and precipitation levels during the fall and winter months dictate whether it will be to be a "good" year to view the desert bloom. From September to December, the desert annuals germinate; thus, needing an ample soaking rain to begin. Of course, the plants require warmer temps for the stalks to grow - which is why you may see green ground cover in the firsts months of the year while the tall flowers wait until spring.
During Spring, Joshua Tree National Park volunteers and staff set out in the desert to compile their weekly sightings. Then, they share the locations with the park visitors.
2. Wildlife Viewing and Birding
While we were there, we saw the Tall-eared Jackrabbits, Cottontail Rabbits and Ground Squirrels. We also observed the frequent Cactus Wren.
Being that we stayed on the beaten paths and trails, we didn't get to see any Bighorn sheep, bobcats or mountain lions. There have been several reports of Mule deer and tortoise but again, hiking on the populated trails and being the park was busy, they seemingly avoided us. Make no mistake though, they are there as there have been sighting reports of several species of wildlife.
If you camp within the park, you'll be gifted by a serenade of coyotes that live in the distant outskirts.
If you're a birder, Joshua Tree National Park will be one of your favorite meccas for birdwatching. There are several southwestern desert species. Year round, you will most likely see the Roadrunner, Mockingbird, Cactus and Rock Wrens, Mourning Dove, and Phainopela. You may also get a good viewing of the Le Conte's Thrasher and Gambel's Quail.
Looking overhead during their mealtime hunting, you might get a glimpse of the American Kestrel, Cooper's Hawk, Prairie Falcon and the beautiful Red-Tailed Hawk.
The winter birds you may see are: the common American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Sage Sparrow, White-Crowed Sparrow and Dark-Eyed Junco. In March, they migrate while other bird species like Orioles, Bluebirds, Flycatchers and Thrashers arrive for spring and summer nesting.
3. Boulder and Rock Climbing
Joshua Tree National Park is a climber's, and rock scrambler's paradise! The park offers climbing challenges for all skill and ability levels - with more than 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 boulder problems, and hundreds of natural gaps to explore! If you're into playing on the boulders, make this your climbing destination.
However, before climbing to the higher levels, you'll need a permit. We recommend a climbing guide and/or taking a class if you're new or not as experienced. Either way, make certain your rock guide is certified through the PCGI, AMGA, or similar organizations. Make sure they are also certified in Wilderness First Aid and CPR; and carry insurance. You can purchase a climbing guide or hiking map at park visitor centers. They are also available at outdoor shops in the surrounding communities of Joshua Tree National Park.
4. Hiking & Backpacking
This amazing national park is a backpacker's and hiker's dream! 85% of it's almost 800,000 acres is managed wilderness. Because of the region's milder climate and temperatures, cool rock formations and desert life, it's no wonder that outdoor-minded people flock here. Make sure you acquire your permit before trekking off into the backcountry. And remember - it's a good idea to talk to the park rangers as they are there to help and keep everyone safe.
There's nothing more fun than camping at national parks and Joshua Tree is no exception! There is camping available inside the park or surrounding areas. Because of our Landmark fifth wheel length and our yearning to boondock, we chose to stay right outside the park's south entrance on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)land.
However, if you're RV is smaller (under 25 feet), there are campground options within the park. We recommend doing extensive research before making your reservations or plans.
Campgrounds that require reservations:
Black Rock- This large (100 site) campground is located in the northwest corner of the park. Also available are equestrian sites.
Cottonwood- Has 62 sites, portable water and flush toilets. The Campground is near the Cottonwood Visitor Center in the southeast part of the park.
Indian Cove- Has 101 sites, including thirteen group campsites. There are vault toilets and no water. Campers register at the ranger station located at the entrance to the Indian Cove area. Water is available there. Located off of Hwy 62, 13 miles east of Joshua Tree Village and 10 miles west of Twenty-nine Palms on the north side of the Wonderland of Rocks.
Jumbo Rocks- Has 124 individual/family sites and is centrally located and offers great views of rock formations.
Campgrounds that are first-come first-serve:
Belle- Has 18 sites and is at an elevation of 3,800 ft (1,158 m). There is no water available here, so make certain you have plenty. There are pit toilets at this location. Belle is a great campground to see dark night skies.
Hidden Valley- Has 44 sites, pit toilets and no water. This campground is located along Park Boulevard and is surrounded by large boulders and Joshua Trees.
Ryan- Has 31 campsites. Ryan is centrally located in the park and is adjacent to the California Riding and Hiking Trail. Though this is a first-come, first-serve campground, there are 4 designated equestrian sites that will need reservations. There is no water available at this location so come prepared.
White Tank- Is located off Pinto Basin Road in the northern end of the park nestled among immense granite boulders. RVs and trailers may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet (both tow vehicle and trailer). There is no water available so bring plenty. This campground has excellent night sky viewing and is located near the darkest section of the park.
If you are looking to reserve ADA accessible campsites, please look into Jumbo Rocks Campground, site 122 and Black Rock Campground, site 61 - which are ADA accessible. If you're looking for wheelchair access, be advised that roads are not paved, nor are campgrounds. Though most campsites are relatively flat, the terrain can be uneven and deemed unsafe for wheelchair movement.
There are day-use picnic areas within the park as well.
Be advised that campgrounds usually fill on weekends October through May. During holidays and mid-February to mid-May, Joshua Tree Nation Park campgrounds usually fill throughout the week. We recommend reserving a site to improve your chances of getting a site. You can also look to plan your visit during the park's off-season from June through September. However, know that during those times, campsites are first-come, first-serve with no reservations. Also, some sites close during the summer due to the hot desert temperatures.
Lastly, know that there are camping options outside the park as well. Like previously mentioned, there are also boondocking opportunities outside the south entrance (near I-10) and north entrance (near the town of Joshua Tree).
5 more amazing things you can do within the Joshua Tree National Park boundaries are:
Horseback Riding- There are over 253 miles of equestrian trails and corridors that traverse open lands, canyon bottoms, and dry washes throughout the park. The two most popular areas of the park for equestrian users are Black Rock Canyon and the areas near the West Entrance.
King Ranch Tour- Listed as a National Historic Register Site, the property is located in a remote, rocky canyon in Joshua Tree National Park. To preserve its historic character, admission to the ranch is restricted to guided walking tours. The tours are a half-mile in length and last 90 minutes. You'll need to sign up for the tour with one of the rangers on duty.
Geology Motor Tour-This 18-mile motor tour leads through one of Joshua Tree National Park's most intriguing landscapes. The tour takes about two hours round trip and includes 16 stops along a dirt road.
4-Wheel Backcountry Off-Roading- Mountain bikes and 4-wheel-drive registered and licensed vehicles are welcome in the park. Off-roaders must remain on the established roads for your own safety and to protect the natural features. Important note: OHVs and ATVs are not permitted in the park.
Stargazing- On a clear moonless night, stargazing anywhere in the park is magical. Boasting some of the darkest nights in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park offers many visitors the chance to admire the Milky Way for the first time in their lives. Be aware, some areas of the park are darker than others based on the locale of nearby communities.
We hope this resource encourages you and your family to pack up your fifth wheel or travel trailer and head for the Joshua Trees. This park will provide you and your family memories that will last a lifetime. And, if you're like us, you'll love it some much, you'll want to return for another visit.