Sitting at the intersection of two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most-visited national parks in California. It draws over 2 million visitors every year. The main attractions of Joshua Tree National Park are its huge boulders, numerous rock formations and an impressive variety of desert plants and wildlife.
It has been a protected area since 1936 when it was first established as a national monument and then as a national park in 1994. The park is also listed as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. It encompasses a total area of 1,235 square miles including a designated wilderness of 671 square miles.
Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia), the park’s namesake flora, are commonly found in the higher Mojave Desert. The lower elevation Colorado Desert features diverse vegetation including creosote bush, yuccas and chollas.
Are you planning a trip to this beautiful park and wondering about the must-visit attractions? In this post, you will find out about the 10 best attractions in Joshua Tree National Park that shouldn’t be missed.
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A Quick Glance Through
- List of Attractions
- Where To Stay
- How To Get There
- Best Time To Visit
Best Attractions in Joshua Tree National Park
1. Cholla Cactus Garden
Cholla Cactus Garden is located in the southern part of the park along the Pinto Basin Road.
Dotted with a variety of cholla cacti, the garden embraces about 10 acres (4 hectares) of desert wilderness. It is a short 0.25-mile nature trail that can be covered in 20-30 minutes.
The most commonly found cholla in the garden is the fuzzy-looking teddy bear cholla, also nicknamed the “jumping cholla”.
Their stems are covered with spines that easily detach and latch on to anything in close contact. So, watch out when you are ambling through the garden.
Cholla Cactus Garden is irresistible with its stunning landscapes and is definitely one of the must-visit attractions in Joshua Tree National Park.
It is about a 20-mile drive from the park’s South Entrance and a 12-mile drive from the park’s North Entrance.
2. Arch Rock
Set amid a boulder field, Arch Rock is a 30 feet wide rock formation near the White Tank Campground. It is an easy short hike for families.
The parking for Arch Rock trailhead is at the Twin Tanks Parking lot. From the parking area, it is roughly a 1.3-mile round trip hike. The rock is located halfway along the loop trail.
If you are camping at White Tank Campground, the total hiking distance is even lesser, about 0.5 miles.
Arch Rock is one of the most popular attractions in Joshua Tree National Park and draws many day hikers.
It gets fairly crowded midday. So, plan an early morning visit when there is hardly any crowd.
3. Hidden Valley
Hidden Valley is a well-marked 1-mile long loop trail in the northern part of the park.
The trail begins from the Hidden Valley picnic area which is about a 14-mile drive from the park’s West Entrance. There is a parking area close to the trailhead.
Once a favourite haunt of cattle rustlers, Hidden Valley became a part of the protected land in 1936 when Joshua Tree was declared a national monument.
It is a unique terrain within the park where you can see Joshua trees as well as woodland vegetation including junipers and pines.
The valley is surrounded by huge boulders and is amongst one of the major attractions in Joshua Tree National Park for rock climbers.
The trail is mostly flat beside a few rocky steps at the start. However, it is not wheelchair-friendly. Whether you do it clockwise or anticlockwise, the trail can be completed in about an hour.
4. Keys View
Tucked in the Little San Bernardino Mountains at 5,185 feet, Keys View is a popular vantage point in the park.
From the summit, you can see jaw-dropping vistas of the Salton Sea, the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, the San Jacinto Peak (10,800 feet) and the snow-draped peak of San Gorgonio Mountain (11,500 feet).
Occasionally, Mexico’s Signal Mountain is also visible from this viewpoint.
Without any doubt, Keys View is one of the most amazing attractions in Joshua Tree National Park.
It is accessible through a motorable road that goes right to the viewpoint parking lot. Enjoy the views from there or take a short 0.1-mile trail to the lookout point.
5. Skull Rock
Skull Rock is a wonderful rock formation, located just off Park Boulevard.
The rock bears a close resemblance to the human skull. Such interesting rock shapes are created due to the continuous erosion of granite by rainwater and wind.
The rock is easily accessible from the parking area located on the side of the road. If you don’t find parking at the Skull Rock, there is a parking area at Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Furthermore, you can hike the Skull Rock trail that is about 1.7 miles long. The nature trail winds through boulders and fascinating desert flowers.
6. Keys Ranch – One of The Historic Attractions in Joshua Tree National Park
Located in one remote corner of the park, Keys Ranch is an interesting spot where time stands still.
It was built by rancher and miner William F. Keys who lived here with his family for 60 years, until his death in 1969. A tour of this site offers a peek into the Keys family’s fascinating journey of life in the harsh Mojave Desert.
Inside the complex, there are ranch buildings, old mining equipment, vintage wagons and numerous artifacts of that time.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can book a ranger-led tour to explore the ranch. Check Recreation.gov for booking and tour instructions.
7. Barker Dam
A dam, perhaps, is the most unusual sight in a desert but the Mojave Desert is home to the quaint Barker Dam. It was built in the 1900s by some local cattlemen and one of them was C. O. Barker. The dam is named after him.
Approximately 50 years later, ranchman William F. Keys raised it higher. Today, the reservoir supports wildlife in the area.
An easy 1.1-mile nature trail loops you around here. The trail is mostly flat and offers captivating views of the granite rock formations and Joshua trees.
Additionally, you can see petroglyphs (rock art) and pictographs painted by Native Americans.
8. Lost Horse Mine
The Lost Horse Mine is a well-preserved stamp mill in the park. It was set up by Johnny Lang, a cattle driver and then developed by a wealthy Montana rancher, J.D. Ryan.
Touted as one of the richest mines of its time, it produced more than 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver between 1894 and 1931.
Today, the Lost Horse Mine is one of the popular attractions in Joshua Tree National Park for hikers. From the Lost Horse Mine trailhead, it is a 4-mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of around 550 feet.
You can marvel at the remains of the mill from a distance because it is encircled by a chain-link fence.
9. Split Rock
Split Rock trail is one of the most picturesque hikes in the park. It is a 2-mile loop trail with an elevation gain of 150 feet.
There is a parking lot at the trailhead which is located right off Park Boulevard.
The trail meanders through impressive rock formations and varied desert vegetation including pinyon pines, oak and yuccas.
When you get there, you will find a giant rock, split in two, yet standing tall facing one another. It features amongst the coolest attractions in Joshua Tree National Park.
10. Desert Wildlife
This is an outlandish addition to the list of attractions in Joshua Tree National Park. Looking at the park’s arid landscape, it is hard to believe that life abounds here.
A treasure trove of wildlife, the park is home to over 50 species of mammals, many types of reptiles, birds and butterflies. Coyotes, rabbits, foxes and chipmunks are amongst the commonly seen animals in the park.
Most desert animals stay active at night. So, early mornings and evenings are the best time to spot desert wildlife.
The greater roadrunner, mockingbird and red-tailed hawk are some of the resident birds that can be seen year-round. Moreover, the park is also a nesting ground for several migratory birds.
Keep an eye out for wildlife when you are exploring the park, particularly Barker Dam trail and Hidden Valley trail. Though there is absolutely no certainty, you may see wildlife anywhere in the park.
In addition to Joshua Tree, if you are planning to visit Southern California’s other national parks, then read our posts:
Where To Stay
You can either camp inside the park or base yourself in a nearby town.
Twentynine Palms and the town of Joshua tree are situated just north of the park. From hotels to vacation rentals, there are several lodging options available.
Budget-friendly choices in Twentynine Palms: El Rancho Dolores at JT National Park, Motel 6-Twentynine Palms, Harmony Motel, Americas Best Value Inn – Joshua Tree. Book your stay in Twentynine Palms.
Affordable Vacation rentals in Joshua Tree: Casa De Frank, Joshua Tree Village House, Center Street Villas, Bungalow in the Boulders. Book your stay in Joshua Tree.
Besides these, you can look for accommodation in Yucca Valley. It is located about 8 miles west of Joshua Tree Visitor Center.
If you are planning to camp inside the park, check campground availability on Recreation.gov.
Advance reservation is required for Indian Cove, Black Rock, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan and Cottonwood campgrounds. The first-come, first-served campgrounds in the park are Belle, Hidden Valley and White Tank.
How to Get There
Joshua Tree National Park is a short 1-hour drive from Palm Springs, a 2.5-hour drive from Los Angeles and a 3-hour drive from San Diego.
Palm Springs International Airport is the closest airport, approximately 40 miles from the park. Other nearby airports are located in Los Angeles (150 miles), San Diego (160 miles) and Las Vegas (200 miles).
There are three entrances for visitors. Choose an entrance depending on where you are coming from.
- West (main) Entrance – if driving from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
- North Entrance – if driving from Las Vegas.
- South Entrance – if driving from Phoenix, New Mexico, and Indio.
Best Time To Visit
Late fall (October to November) and early spring (March to April) are the best for visiting Joshua Tree National Park when temperatures are moderate.
In springtime, wildflowers also bloom in the desert. You can find out more about wildflowers bloom in Joshua Tree National Park on the NPS website.
Winter days are pleasantly cool but nights are freezing. In summer, the desert reels under intense heat with day temperatures averaging over 100°F.
The park is open for visitors throughout the year, but summer months from June to August are not ideal for hiking and camping.
Over To You Now…
So, this is our overview of the 10 best attractions in Joshua Tree National Park. Which are your favourite attractions in this park? Let us know in the comment section below.