California has a heap of gorgeous national parks to visit. From the gorgeous spots in Yosemite to the desert landscapes of Death Valley, California has such a diverse mix of national parks to visit. And guess what, Joshua Tree is no exception! There are so many stunning and best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park that you really can’t miss.
Around a 3-hour drive from the city of San Diego, it’s technically possible to visit Joshua Tree for a day but I’d definitely recommend longer. The whole area is incredible to explore, especially with the iconic trails, rock formations and, of course, all those yuccas!
So, to help you get the most outta your time in this desert paradise, I wanted to share some gems you really shouldn’t miss.
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. Have an amazing time visiting California!
1.) Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Around 1-mile long, the Hidden Valley Nature Trail is an easy and scenic loop route that is totally stunning.
Long ago, before Joshua Tree National Park was founded, cattle rustlers had used Hidden Valley to conceal their herd. Thankfully, you won’t need to worry about any charging cattle nowadays!
Honestly, the rock formations and landscape is just so stunning here.
Also along the Hidden Valley Nature Trail is the “Giant Burrito”, a monolith popular to climbers and hikers. While you won’t see that many Joshua trees in the area, the different boulders and rock formations are still a commanding sight to nature lovers and photography enthusiasts.
If you fancy a longer hike, join the Hidden Valley-Barker Dam Connector Trail and then head over to the Barker Dam Nature Trail. This will add on around 2.5 extra miles but is still relatively easy.
2.) Cholla Cactus Garden
Nestled on the side of Pinto Basin Road, the Cholla Cactus Garden is a great little stop to stretch your legs.
With thousands of cholla cacti sprawling before you, it’s a spot that’s well worth a gander along your road trip in the park.
Though I wouldn’t make a dedicated trip for the Cholla Cactus Garden, it’s certainly worth a gander along your route.
Just watch out for the wasps, no one likes getting stung!
3.) Skull Rock
Can ya tell why it’s called Skull Rock?
Around a 15-minute drive from the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Skull Rock is really easy to see whilst in Joshua Tree National Park and a spot that’s pretty cool.
From afar or up close, you can see exactly why Skull Rock is named that way. The most fascinating fact about this rock formation is that it wasn’t man-made but rather naturally sculpted by nature over thousands of years!
Also, don’t forget that the whole area surrounding Skull Rock is totally gorgeous too. You can join the 2-mile, or so, Split Rock Loop Trail (nearby). It’ll take you to some incredible rocky vistas that really show what the park is all about.
4.) Keys View
Pink bubblegum sunsets in Joshua Tree National Park are stunning, and they are best spotted from Keys View. Well, in my opinion at least!
The highest point in the whole park, Keys View offers 360° vistas over Palm Springs, Coachella Valley, and Salton Sea. On a clear and crisp day, you can even see the mountain peaks of Mexico.
Not only that, If budding geologists and geographers will totally love this area. You see, it’s a spot where you’ll see the San Andreas Fault spanning the south side of the park.
Before sunset, make sure to also ramble the loop trail to the nearby Lost Horse Mine. It’s just off Key View Road and pretty easy.
5.) Barker Dam
While Barker Dam is just a short 1.3-mile loop trail, it’s the kind of hike that’s small but mighty! In my opinion, it’s one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park and well worth it for the views.
With huge Joshua trees sprinkling the landscape, it’s a totally unique spot to take in the views of the park itself.
Once upon a time, cattle ranchers lived around the Barker Dam area, too. Along the trail, you’ll even see remnants of a water tank can still be seen.
If you continue on the loop beyond the dam, you’ll be rewarded with a sight of some of the largest trees in Joshua Tree National Park.
6.) Ryan Mountain
Fancy more of a challenge? Then the Ryan Mountain summit is for you!
Yes, the hike to the top is relatively challenging, around 3-hours to fully complete, but you’ll realise how worthwhile it is as soon as you join.
Along this three-mile hike, you’ll traverse lots of dips and turns along a barren hillside, but all your effort will be rewarded as you reach the peak of Ryan Mountain.
Just remember to take plenty of water and head coverings. There’s no shade on this route and it can get unbearably hot around midday.
7.) Hall of Horrors
The Hall of Horrors might sound terrifying, but it’s not quite as bad as it sounds; trust me.
Filled with vast and strewn boulders, it’s the kind of place that’s pretty dramatic to see and you might even come across some of the narrow passages that can be found along paths and trails.
The best time to go to the Hall of Horrors is early morning or late afternoon just before sunset; you’ll be endlessly fascinated with the shadows and silhouettes that drench the landscape from this point of view.
Just remember, it can get a little busy here, especially at weekends.
8.) Geology Tour Road
First up, the Geology Tour Road is best accessed with a four-wheel drive. This means you shouldn’t attempt the drive without being on a guided tour if you’re unsure.
Once here, you’ll be taken into the park’s backcountry, featuring sceneries that will make you feel like you’re in a Wild West movie! Well, it was for me at least.
Along the 18 mile route, you’ll get to take in the dreamy landscape and spot the small dam (around the nine-mile mark).
9.) Cottonwood Spring Oasis
While many of the old settlers in the area were cattle herders, there were also some miners and prospectors that got attracted to the region.
Cottonwood Spring Oasis is one particular area in Joshua Tree National Park where miners took camp years ago.
Today, you can still find concrete ruins and the remains of metal processing equipment used in mining. But the most important point is the oasis itself – an abundant spring gushing about 500 gallons of water per day.
Because of the Cottonwood Spring Oasis, birds of all kinds are attracted to Joshua Tree National Park. Bird watching is a popular activity in this area, with plenty of sightings of hummingbirds, Gambel’s Quail, and American bushtit.
10.) Arch Rock
Arch Rock is easily one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park if you want to see some epic rock formations. It is one of the most iconic rock formations in the park and well worth a gander.
Best of all, hikers of all skill levels will have fun exploring the area as it’s really easy to get to.
Plus, the White Tank Campground is just beside it, and you can stay the night for an out-of-this-world stargazing opportunity.
11.) Heart Rock
Not heavily signposted or technically easy to find, Heart Rock is very close to Arch Rock and really easy to visit at the same time.
Now, to scout out Heart Rock, you will need to have some eagle eyes to the ready! As you stroll through the trail that takes you to Arch Rock there will be a juncture, just keep hiking beyond this and get yourself towards the hills.
You will need to keep your eyes peeled as there are loads of boulders strewn around. It can be difficult to pinpoint and kinda frustrating too.
Also, what I would say is that this is a kinda off-track hike that you have to take great caution on. Plan your route with the rangers and never take any risks as there is little phone or communications in this area.
It might be less than a mile from Arch Rock but it’s very remote. If you’re not 100 per cent sure, don’t go as it can be dangerous. I can’t stress that enough!