An Unforgettable Joshua Tree National Park Weekend: 2 & 3 Day Epic Itineraries

Are you looking for an unforgettable weekend adventure in Joshua Tree National Park? Wander through forests of spiky Joshua Trees, feel like a kid exploring boulders in nature’s playground, and enjoy some good food and wild west vibes with this Joshua Tree National Park itinerary.

I love exploring this National Park in my home state of California, and I’ve put together the perfect itinerary for your 2 or 3 day trip to Joshua Tree.

This guide covers the best hikes, can’t-miss spots, great food, and breathtaking viewpoints that make Joshua Tree one of California’s most visited National Parks. If you’re just getting started planning your trip, scroll down for my favorite tips on where to stay, when to visit, and how to get around this iconic desert National Park.

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links where I earn a small commission from any purchase – at no extra cost to you. This commission helps keep Brooke In Boots up and running. As always, all opinions are 100% honest and my own!

A Quick Look at the Perfect 2 or 3 Day Joshua Tree Itinerary

This 2 & 3 day Joshua Tree weekend itinerary hits the must-see highlights for your first visit to Joshua Tree National Park. Its the perfect itinerary for your first visit to Joshua Tree, whether you’re visiting for a weekend or a mid-week getaway.

Only have one day to spend in Joshua Tree? Check out this Perfect Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary guide.

Day 1

  • Sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Arch Rock & Heart Rock
  • Skull Rock
  • Barker Dam Trail
  • Desert Queen Mine Trail
  • Sunset at Keys View

Day 2

  • Hike Ryan Mountain
  • Hidden Valley Nature Trail
  • Hall of Horrors
  • Explore 29 Palms
  • Visit Pioneertown

Day 3

  • Hike: Boy Scout Trail, Lost Horse Mine, or 49 Palms Oasis
  • Rock Climbing Class
  • Keys Ranch Tour

Important Things to Know About Joshua Tree National Park

Before we get into my favorite Joshua Tree 2-3 day weekend itinerary, let’s go over a couple of important things to know about planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park.

Where is Joshua Tree National Park?

Joshua Tree National Park is in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. The nearest towns to Joshua Tree are Joshua Tree, California and Twentynine Palms, California.

Joshua Tree is located approximately 2 to 3 hours from Los Angeles, 3 hours from Las Vegas, and less than 1 hour form Palm Springs. Its convenient location makes it a popular weekend and day trip destination.

Joshua Tree is also a 4 hour drive to Death Valley National Park, another must-see stop on any California road trip.

snow and ice in Joshua Tree National Park
A snowy weekend in Joshua Tree National Park / Joshua Tree Weekend

Take this itinerary to-go! The downloadable Joshua Tree Itinerary Guide has your perfect 1, 2, or 3 day Joshua Tree trip completely planned for you! With over 20 pages of detailed hiking guides, printable daily itineraries, lodging and dining suggestions and more, you can spend less time planning and more time making epic memories! Check it out, here.

Entrance Fees, Passes, and Reservations to Joshua Tree National Park

Reservations are not required to enter Joshua Tree National Park. Learn more about which National parks require entrance reservations.

Joshua Tree National Park charges an entrance fee for all vehicles entering the park, or pedestrian/cyclist pass for all visitors entering without a vehicle:

Vehicle Entrance Fee: $30 (valid for 7 days)

Motorcycle Entrance Fee: $25 (valid for 7 days)

Individual & Cyclist Fee: $15 (valid for 7 days)

Entrance fees are included if you purchase an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. This annual pass costs $80 and includes entrance fees to all 63 National Parks and NPS managed sites.

Joshua Tree Weekend Itinerary Tips: During popular times (weekends and colder months) there can be huge wait times at the entrance stations to enter Joshua Tree. Save time by buying your entrance pass ahead of time, here. In my experience, entering at or before sunrise is the best way to avoid crowds and get the most popular trails and spots all to yourself!

Is Joshua Tree Kid Friendly?

Joshua Tree is a wonderful Park to explore with your children! There are many easy to moderate hikes inside the Park, perfect for all ability levels.

Is Joshua Tree Dog Friendly?

Hiking with my adventure-pup Coco in Joshua Tree National Park. / Joshua Tree Weekend

Joshua Tree is a relatively dog-friendly National Park.

Leashed pets are permitted within 100 feet of roads, picnic areas, and campgrounds.

Pets are NOT permitted on trails, but are permitted on all unpaved dirt roads. This Joshua Tree weekend itinerary doesn’t include any dog-friendly hikes. If you plan on bringing your pooch, check out these unpaved roads for dog-friendly alternatives!

These roads are built for off-road driving, but are a popular option for dog walking and are often just as scenic as some of the established hiking trails.

Never ever EVER leave your pet in a vehicle or unattended. Review the Park’s pet policies and tips before visiting with your furry friend!

Cell Service in Joshua Tree National Park

Do not expect to get cell service in Joshua Tree National Park. There is limited-to-no service or data coverage inside the National Park. There is reliable cell service in the towns surrounding Joshua Tree National Park, including Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree.

Looking for a way to stay connected – even in the wilderness? I always bring my Garmin InReach Mini satellite device when I travel! This little gadget allows me to send and receive texts, share my location, and contact search and rescue, even when there’s zero cell service! I highly recommend investing in one (requires a monthly subscription).

Services Available in Joshua Tree National Park

There are NO services located inside Joshua Tree National Park. Even half the Park Visitor Centers are located outside the Park. There is no food or gas inside the park. Potable water may be available at Park campgrounds.

When planning your Joshua Tree weekend trip, plan ahead and bring plenty of your own food, water, maps, hiking and camping gear, and firewood.

What exactly IS a Joshua Tree?

The spiny twisting branches of the Park’s namesake Joshua Tree are unlike any other tree on earth. These strange desert plants look like they sprang straight from a Dr. Seuss book. Joshua Trees are actually not a “tree” at all, but a large agave succulent. The Joshua Tree is found in the Mojave Desert, primarily in California and Nevada.

a spiny joshua tree and boulders
Spiny Joshua Tree / Joshua Tree Weekend

Legend says that the Joshua Tree got its name from the Mormon settlers who arrived in the mid-19th century. The outstretched branches were said to have reminded imaginative immigrants of the biblical figure Joshua, arms raised in faithful supplication and beckoning the Mormons westward.

Once widespread throughout the Southwestern United States, the Joshua Tree’s future is uncertain. Due to climate change, the Joshua Tree may not be able to survive in the Park’s ecosystem by 2100. Due to its threatened status, the Joshua Tree is protected by the California Endangered Species Act. Do not damage, kill, or take any Joshua Trees during your visit!

Joshua Tree National Park as Indigenous Land

Modern day Joshua Tree National Park is the ancestral land of the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla people. These indigenous people lived, traveled, and cultivated the Mojave Desert for many generations. Artifacts and indigenous art can be found throughout the park. Never disturb, deface, or touch indigenous and historic sites.

Many people of indigenous ancestry continue to live near the Park today, including the Twenty Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians.

The Perfect 2 & 3 Day Joshua Tree Weekend Itinerary

Before we jump into my favorite things to see in 2-3 days in Joshua Tree, a quick word about starting early. If you’re planning a see Joshua Tree, especially on a weekend, I highly recommend getting to the Park as early as possible, ideally around sunrise!

This is definitely bad news if, like me, you’re “not a morning person” but its especially important for a couple of reasons:

1. The scorching mid-day sun makes early morning and late afternoon the cooler and best time to hike and explore Joshua Tree.

2. Most crowds start arriving to Joshua Tree around 9 AM. And there are CROWDS. On a spring weekend you can expect to wait as long as an hour at the Park Entrance station just to get into the Park! If you only have 2 to 3 days in Joshua Tree, you don’t want to waste it by sitting in line!

3. Sunrise in the desert is stunning, especially at the Cholla Cactus Garden.

glowing cholla cactus at sunrise in Joshua Tree
Sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden / Joshua Tree Weekend

Day 1 – Joshua Tree Weekend

Sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden

Start your weekend in Joshua Tree with a magnificent sunrise at the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree. As the rising desert sun creeps over the Eagle Mountains, the Cholla Cactus Garden is illuminated and the spiny cactus appear to “glow.”

Don’t be confused by the name: the Cholla Cactus Garden is a naturally occurring field of fluffy-looking (but very prickly) Cactus. The Garden is located on Pinto Basin Road, in the eastern park of the Park. A 1/4 mile boardwalk and trail meanders through the cacti and the whole place feels out-of-this-world.

For the best photos, plan to arrive at sunrise and stay about 45 minutes to 1 hour to capture the full experience of the “glowing” cactus. There is a large parking lot directly next to the boardwalk.

Drive carefully through the Park’s winding roads before sunrise – we saw multiple coyotes wandering around the roads, and sunrise is the busiest time for animal activity. Don’t forget to bring a jacket and a hot cup of coffee to warm up – and you’ll definitely want the caffeine for the rest of your itinerary!

Hike to Arch Rock & Heart Rock

Arch rock in Joshua Tree National Park
Arch Rock / Joshua Tree Weekend

From the Cholla Cactus Garden head back down Pinto Basin Road towards the center of the Park. Park at the Arch Rock Trailhead, a 15 minutes drive from the Cholla Cactus Garden. Here you can explore Arch Rock and Heart Rock along an easy trail.

Arch Rock and Heart Rock Trail

Distance: 1.7 Miles

Difficulty: Easy / 100′ Gain

Trail Details: All Trails

The trail winds through a fantastical maze of boulders and Joshua Trees to a massive heart-shaped rock and delicate stone arch, some of the most famous spots in the entire park.

These unique formations were created millions of years ago as liquid magma cooled and formed into granite below the earth’s surface. Over millions of years, water and ice formed the boulders into the shapes you can see today.

Unlike other National Parks, exploring off trail among the boulders is allowed here in Joshua Tree. Spend some time (safely) exploring the labyrinth of stone before returning to the parking lot.

Plan to spend about 1 hour exploring this area before getting back in the car and heading to Skull Rock.

Skull Rock and Discovery Trail

skull shaped boulder in Joshua Tree
Skull Rock – no mystery how it got the name! / Joshua Tree Weekend

After Heart Rock and Arch Rock, its time to visit another of Joshua Tree’s most famous rock formations: Skull Rock. Continue along Pinto Basin Road towards the center of the Park and make a left onto Park Boulevard. The drive from Arch Rock to Skull Rock takes less than 10 minutes.

Follow signs for Skull Rock and park along Park Boulevard. This unique rock formation is located only a few feet from the main road, making it a very popular spot to visit. There’s no mistaking which rock is “Skull Rock” because, well, the name is pretty much spot-on.

Snap a few quick pics of this spooky spot and head back to the car. If you have time, consider crossing the street to walk the short Discovery Trail

The Discovery Trail is a short 0.7 mile path through boulders and washes. The trail is lined with interpretive signs exploring the geologic forces that shaped Joshua Tree. The Discovery Trail is great for families traveling with kids.

Desert Queen Mine Trail

Did you know there’s gold in them thar’ Joshua Tree hills? Thats what miners thought when “gold fever” hit the Joshua Tree area starting in the 1870s.

Miners dug hundreds of shafts throughout the area, looking for gold, silver, and other minerals. There are countless tales of shootouts, bandits, mysterious prospectors, and cattle rustlers connected to nearly 300 abandoned a mines found throughout the Park.

If you’re interested in exploring the history of the area, The Desert Queen Mine trail is a 3.4 mile moderate hike to one of the longest-running mines in Joshua Tree.

Desert Queen Mine Trail

Distance: 3.4 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate / 600′ Gain

Trail Details: All Trails

Unlike other hikes, this trail is accessed from the Desert Queen Mine Road, a dirt track popular with 4×4 backcountry drivers, but generally accessible to most sedans with 2-wheel-drive.

To get there from Skull Rock, head west on the main road, Park Boulevard. Turn right on the first dirt track road, Desert Queen Mine Road.

I took my dog Coco out on a walk along this road (he wasn’t allowed on the trail to the actual mine) and you could easily get a regular sedan down this dirt road.

The Desert Queen Mine trail winds through several gold mines and mining homesteads that once dotted the landscape. Take care around historic mining equipment and never attempt to enter an abandoned mine.

A full Barker Dam at Sunset in Joshua Tree / Joshua Tree Weekend

Barker Dam Trail

Barker Dam trail is an easy, kid-friendly loop through the desert ecosystem to a historic dam. Interpretive signs along the trail explain the human and natural history of the area.

Barker Dam Trail

Distance: 1.1 Miles / Difficulty: Easy / 60′ Gain

Trail Details: All Trails

During the rainy season, there is usually water in the historic reservoir here. But if you’re visiting during the hotter and drier months, don’t be surprised to find this place bone dry.

Keep an eye out along the way for petroglyphs carved in the rocks. This indigenous rock art is visible towards the end of the loop. Make sure to enjoy the art form a distance and NEVER deface or touch rock art.

Grab Some Lunch in Town

You’ve definitely worked up an appetite by now, so it’s time to grab lunch! Mid-day is the hottest time in Joshua Tree, and a perfect excuse to head indoors until a little later in the afternoon.

Head into the nearby towns of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms and grab lunch at some of the many cafés that cater to hungry hikers.

It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to get into town from most places in the Park on this itinerary. Plan for lunch and stop at the visitor center to take 3 to 4 hours, perfect for beating the mid-day heat.

Be aware: there are no dining options located inside the park. If you packed a picnic, you can head to one of the 8 designated picnic areas in the park, like the Hidden Valley Picnic Area.

Where to Eat Near Joshua Tree National Park

In Joshua Tree I recommend visiting:

Natural Sisters Café: This popular cafe and brunch stop serves wraps, juices, smoothies and other entrees catering to a vegetarian crowd.

Roadrunner Grab & Go: For a to-go sandwich or iced-coffee-pick-me-up it doesn’t get more convenient than Roadrunner, which is actually located inside the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center on Park Boulevard. They serve small pasties, premade sandwiches, and cold sides like pasta salad plus a full coffee bar.

Crossroads Cafe: open daily, this popular all-day restaurant serves hearty diner breakfasts until 1:30pm including the staple of any Californian’s diet: the breakfast burrito. For lunch and dinner, pick from their sizable selection of sandwiches, tacos, and salads.

In Twentynine Palms I love:

Grnd Sqrl : Opens at 11am. Meat-eaters need to get the burger, and the rest of their food is pretty dang good too. In addition to a great beer selection, they often have live music in the evenings.

Kitchen in the Desert: Inspired by head chef Everton Gordon’s Caribbean roots, Kitchen in the Desert is one of the best restaurants near Joshua Tree National Park. A mix of New American and Caribbean inspired dishes, the food here is elevated, but the vibes are still fun and casual. Reservations are recommended for this spot. This was my favorite dinner in Joshua Tree!

Campbell Bakery: open for breakfast and lunch, you can identify this tiny but extremely popular bakery by the line that usually wraps around the block. We found everything in here is delightful and delivious! Stock up on pastries for breakfast and grab a sandwich for lunch.

Stop by the National Park Visitor Center

With a full stomach, I recommend heading to the Joshua Tree Visitor Center located on Park Boulevard in the town of Joshua Tree. There is a bookstore, water, toilets, and a great cafe and coffee shop at this Visitor Center, located a few minutes from the main Park entrance.  Collect your National Park Passport Stamp , learn a bit about the park, refill your water bottle and hit the gift shop, 

If you’re headed instead into the town of Twentynine Palms, the National Park Visitor Center (Joshua Tree East Visitor Center) is located in downtown on Highway 62/Twentynine Palms Highway. There are toilets, water, EV charging, and a bookstore at this brand new location. (Note: The Visitor Center is NO LONGER located at the Oasis of Mara on National Park Drive.)

Sunset at Keys View

After a long day exploring Joshua Tree National Park, cap off your adventure by watching sunset over the desert at Keys View. This viewpoint is known for its 360 degree views of Joshua Tree and the surrounding desert.

Keys View is a popular spot for both sunrise and sunset in Joshua Tree. Plan to arrive a bit before sunset to secure a parking spot. The road to Keys Viewpoint may close periodically when parking is full. The good news, is that sunset in Joshua Tree is stunning from pretty much anywhere. There are plenty of spots to pull over along the main road, Park Boulevard.

Important Tips for Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

Hiking is one of the best activities in Joshua Tree National Park. But hiking in the desert takes an extra level of precaution. Follow these hiking tips when planning your Joshua Tree weekend:

Hike Early: Even in winter, the desert sun in Joshua Tree is relentless! Shade is nonexistent on most hikes, so its best to hike early in the morning. Try and start any long hikes before 9AM.

Bring Plenty of Water: Stay hydrated and bring plenty of water – even on short hikes! A good rule is to carry at least 1 liter of water for every hour of hiking. Drink often, and bring more water than you think you’ll need.

Bring a Map and GPS: Always carry a map or GPS device. DO NOT rely on cell phone service (trust me, you won’t have any out here!) I always bring my Garmin InReach Mini satellite device when I hike! This little gadget allows me to send and receive texts, view & share my location, download and view maps and contact search and rescue, even when there’s zero cell service! I highly recommend investing in one (requires a monthly subscription).

To learn more important hiking safety tips, check out these hiking tips for beginners and learn how to pack for a day hike like a pro!

Day 2 – Joshua Tree Weekend

Hike Ryan Mountain

Day 2 of your Joshua Tree weekend itinerary is one of my favorite hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, Ryan Mountain. This moderately strenuous hike is pretty much ALL uphill, but the payoff is great summit views of the National Park and surrounding desert.

The trail is a relatively short but steep ascent 1.5 mile ascent of Ryan Mountain. You’ll gain just over 1,000 feet in elevation along a series of well graded switchbacks.

Joshua Tree from the Ryan Mountain Trail

Ryan Mountain Trail

Distance: 3 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate / 1,000′ Gain

Trail Details: All Trails

Be warned, there is no shade on this hike. Make sure to do this hike first thing in the morning (before 9am!). I did this hike during a particularly cold December and I really regretted starting at 10 am, the sun was that relentless!

Even so, you’ll love the views of the high-desert and San Bernadino Mountains. On a clear day, check out the imposing peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, the tallest peaks in Southern California.

A sunny summit selfie at the peak of Ryan Mountain / Joshua Tree weekend

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Next stop on your Joshua Tree weekend itinerary is one of the most popular spots in the park, Hidden Valley Nature Trail.

This easy, family-friendly loop trail circles a small valley that hides a unique desert ecosystem, and colorful history. Whenever I bring someone to Joshua Tree for the first time, I always make sure we hit the Hidden Valley Nature Trail – its got a little bit of everything that makes Joshua Tree so unique.

Hidden Valley Nature Trail in Joshua Tree

Legend has it that 1800’s cattle rustlers and bandits used the natural protection of the valley to hide their stolen herds.

Today, the Hidden Valley Trail is dotted with interpretive signs explaining about the Valley’s unique ecosystem. The rocks that ring the valley block wind and trap moisture, creating a microclimate.

The Valley is home to Piñon pine, juniper, yucca, Joshua Trees, and other desert plants.

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Distance: 1 Mile

Difficulty: Easy

Trail Details: All Trails

Despite being one of the most popular hikes in the Park, the turn-off for Hidden Valley Trail can be a little hard to find. From Park Boulevard, follow signs for the Hidden Valley Picnic Area. The trailhead starts at the restrooms on the right hand side of the parking area.

Explore the Hall of Horrors

If you’re an experienced rock climber, you’ll want to spend at least one day at one of Joshua Tree’s many world-famous climbing and bouldering spots.

But even non-climbers can get in on some of the action. The Hall of Horrors is a well known rock formation popular with climbers. You can follow a short 0.6 mile dirt trail around the perimeter of the formation.

You can also explore off trail in this area, climbing over the labyrinth of rocks and boulders and exploring the mini slot canyons.

Make sure to explore carefully, and don’t climb the rocks when wet.

Explore Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree

Spend the afternoon exploring, shopping, and eating in the nearby towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms.

Fun and Funky art on the main street in Twentynine Palms / Joshua Tree Weekend

If you’re ready for a bite to eat, Natural Sisters Café is a popular cafe and brunch stop serves wraps, juices, smoothies and other entrees catering to a vegetarian crowd.

My personal favorite stop is Campbell Bakery. They’re open for breakfast and lunch. You can identify this tiny but extremely popular bakery by the line that usually wraps around the block. Absolutely everything in here is delightful. Stock up on pastries for breakfast and grab a sandwich for lunch.

The main streets of both Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms are lined with vintage thrift stores, quirky boutiques, and crystal shops. The high-desert Cochella-esque ✨ aesthetic ✨is on full display here – so embrace it!

Check Out Pioneertown & Grab Dinner

Embrace Joshua Tree’s movie-making past at a visit to nearby Pioneertown. This town may look authentic wild west, but actually it was built in 1949 by big-name Hollywood investors like Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry.

Pioneertown was intended as a functional western film set, one that tourists and industry workers could also enjoy. The town was used in over 50 film and tv productions, and still sees a lively shopping, dining, and tourist revival to this day.

No visit to Pioneertown is complete without dinner and drinks at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneetown Palace. This lively Saloon serves classic West Texas BBQ with a side of live music

Pappy and Harriet’s is open Thursday – Monday until 11pm. They serve brunch Saturday and Sunday.

Pioneertown is located about a 20 minutes’ drive from the Joshua Tree visitor center.

Planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park? The downloadable Joshua Tree Itinerary Guide has your perfect 1, 2, or 3 day Joshua Tree trip completely planned for you! With over 20 pages of detailed hiking guides, printable daily itineraries, lodging and dining suggestions and more, you can spend less time planning and more time making epic memories! Check it out, here.

Day 3 in Joshua Tree

Are you spending an extended 3 day weekend in Joshua Tree? Having 3+ days to spend in this park is an amazing opportunity to try some off-the-beaten-path hikes, cool tours, clip in to some rock climbing, or maybe explore more exciting things to do in the area.

If you have longer than 2 days to visit, consider adding these to your Joshua Tree National Park itinerary:

Take Another Hike

With 3 days in Joshua Tree, you’ll have time explore some of the longer and less visited hikes in Joshua Tree. If you need more inspiration, check out my post, Hiking Joshua Tree: 17 Memorable Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.

Check out some of these ideas for longer hikes in Joshua Tree:

TrailDifficultyDistanceTrail Notes
Boy Scout TrailEasy to Hard16 Miles Round Trip (You don’t have to do it all!)For a longer hike into Joshua Tree’s backcountry, check out part or all of the moderately difficult 16 mile Boy Scout Trail. For the first couple of miles, the flat trail snakes through Joshua Trees and eventually climbs into a rocky area known as the “Wonderland of Rocks” before ending at the Indian Cove campground at the far north end of the Park.
The Boy Scout Trail is a popular backpacking area, and I highly recommend staying the night out there, especially for beginning backpackers.
If you want to hike the Boy Scout Trail as a day hike, consider hiking a few miles out to the Wonderland of Rocks before returning to the trailhead. Or if you have 2 cars, park 1 at the Indian Cove Campground and hike 8 miles one way.
49 Palms OasisModerate3 Miles / 650′ GainA moderate and remote canyon trail leads to a splendid oasis of palms. This trail is hot and exposed, bring plenty of water! NOTE: This trailhead is only accessible from 49 Palms Canyon Rd, outside the town of Twentynine Palms. You cannot access this trail from the rest of the Park.
Lost Horse Mine Moderate / 530′ Gain4 Miles (2 Hours)The trail is mostly flat, with some rocky sections leading to the abandoned Lost Horse Mine, once one of over 300 gold mines located in Joshua Tree. The area’s rich history is filled with gun slingers, cattle rustlers, bandits, and cowboys. The mine is one of the most well preserved mines in any National Park.

Keys Ranch Guided Tour

Cowboys, miners, con artists, pioneers, and murder – the history of Joshua Tree is the history of the Wild West!

Learn the story of the Keys Family, one of the Mojave Desert’s most famous founding families on this guided tour of Keys Ranch. Built by William Keys starting in 1910, the Keys Ranch is a large homestead in Joshua Tree preserved by the National Park Service.

You can only access the Ranch through an official guided tour. The tour costs $10, takes about 90 minutes and reservations are required. Learn more and book your Keys Ranch Tour here.

Boulders and Cacti in Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park
Hidden Valley is a popular climbing spot in Joshua Tree

Rock Climbing

One look at the boulders of Joshua Tree and you’ll understand why this Park is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the West! Rock climbing and bouldering are extremely popular activities in the Park. On any given day you’ll often spot climbers around many rock formations.

Advanced and intermediate climbers can take advantage of the over 8,000 routes established within the park. But beginners can get in on the fun too!

Check out a beginner group rock climbing class with an officially licensed guide, like Mojave Guides, who can teach you the ropes – literally!

Where to Stay for a Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park

Whether you prefer camping, trendy AirBnBs, or chain hotels, there are plenty of options for where to stay during your weekend in Joshua Tree. Most of your options are located in the nearby towns of Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree, and Yucca Valley.

If you only have a weekend in Joshua Tree, it helps to stay as close to the Park as possible. But if you’re looking to save a little cash, the further you are from a Park entrance, the cheaper the hotels and rentals.

Camping in Joshua Tree National Park

There are no lodges or hotels inside Joshua Tree National park, but there are eight campgrounds, and camping is a very popular activity here.

A tent and camping setup at Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree
Jumbo Rocks Campground

Reservations are required at Black Rock, Cottonwood, Indian Cove, Jumbo Rocks, and Ryan campgrounds. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance on Recreation.gov. Reservations sell out during peak seasons November – May, so make sure too book in advance – especially for weekends in Joshua Tree!

If you want the best views and most convenient location for following this weekend in Joshua Tree itinerary, the Jumbo Rocks campground is my pick for the best campground in Joshua Tree.

Don’t have a reservation? Hidden Valley, Belle, and White Tank campgrounds are first-come-first-served. These spots are highly competitive, so arrive early in the day, and early in the week if you want to score a spot during the weekend in Joshua Tree.

Hotels and Rentals Near Joshua Tree

There are plenty of chain hotels near Joshua Tree National Park, mostly in Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley.

Most of these spots are in the 2-to-3 star range and cost between $100 – $250 per night. Nearby hotels include: Holiday Inn Express Twentynine Palms (from $150; book on Expedia) (I stayed here when it was too cold for backpacking in December); Motel 6 in Twentynine Palms (from $70; book on Expedia); and SureStay by Best Western Yucca Valley (from $150; book on Expedia).

If you want more of a luxury hotel experience, I strongly suggest heading to Palm Springs, about 45 minutes from the Park.

If you’re looking for a place to stay beyond the basic chain hotel, I recommend staying in one of the may AirBnBs and vacation rentals found throughout the Joshua Tree area. These places range from essentially glamping to all-out luxury pads.

In Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, check out:

  • Relax and watch the stars from the backyard of the Village House (from $190; book on VRBO). The groovy vibes match the 1960s bungalow and include a hot tub, outdoor fire pit, and cold plunge pool.
  • The Dome on the Range includes a hot tub, sunken fire pit for nights spent stargazing, and climate-controlled geodesic dome in the yard for relaxing with friends. (from $300; book on VRBO)
  • For a dog-friendly chic spot in Twentynine Palms, we stayed at Desert Blush by The Joshua Tree Cabin (from $144 book on AirBnb) and had the loveliest stay.
Goldendoodle in a chic retro AirBnB in Joshua Tree
Coco loved our AirBnB in Twentynine Palms

Backpacking and Wilderness Permits

Beginning March 1, 2023 Joshua Tree National Park will require wilderness permits for all overnight wilderness camping and backpacking within the park.

Dispersed camping is permitted in designated wilderness zones. Camping must be 1 mile from any Backcountry Trailhead, 1/2 mile from a road, and 200 feet off a trail.

Backpackers along the Boy Scout Trail must camp in one of 14 designated campsites.    

Permits are released 6 months in advance and are required year-round. Same-day permits are available online up to 2PM through recreation.gov , and in-person until 4pm at the Permit Office. The Permit Office is located at 74485 National Park Blvd, Twentynine Palms, CA, 92277, Bldg. 100.

Reserve Joshua Tree Wilderness Permits here.

The Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree National Park

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is November to May. In my experience, you do NOT want to be visiting Joshua Tree during the summer! During the winter and spring, temperatures are warm, even chilly, and the Park occasionally sees snow at higher elevations!

The most popular times to visit Joshua Tree are March and April, when the weather is warm, sunny, and mild.

snow and ice on a Joshua Tree
Snow in Joshua Tree

Weather in Joshua Tree National Park

Check current conditions and forecasts for weather in Joshua Tree National park, here.

Keep in mind that Joshua Tree covers a huge range of elevations. The lowest elevation in the Park is at 536 feet, and soars to mountain summits over 5,000 feet.  Temperatures can vary widely within the Park, and campers and nighttime visitors should be prepared for very cold conditions. Expect temperatures at the higher elevations to be at least 10 degrees cooler than posted conditions.

Below is a quick overview of what you can expect when visiting Joshua Tree National Park in each season:

Visiting Joshua Tree in Spring (March – May)

Average High: 80℉

Average Low: 55℉

Cholla Cactus Garden and boardwalk in Joshua Tree
Cholla Cactus Garden in April

Spring is the most popular time to visit the park, and the best season to plan a one day Joshua Tree itinerary.

The weather during this time is usually warm during the day, and chilly at night. However, it can be anywhere from mid-90’s to even snowing, especially during March.

This is also the driest time of the year, averaging less than 1 inch of precipitation each month.

But with good weather comes big crowds. March and April are the busiest times at the Park. There are usually long lines at the Park entrance stations and parking lots fill early. Plan to visit the park very early in the morning (before 8am or earlier) or in the late afternoon (after 4pm) to avoid the worst crowds.

Campgrounds will be fully booked during this time, so arrive very early if you’re hoping to score a walk-in site. In nearby towns, hotels, airbnbs may be fully booked, and expect a decent wait at most restaurants.

Visiting Joshua Tree in Summer (June – September)

Average High: 99℉

Average Low: 72℉

If you’re thinking about visiting Joshua Tree for one day in the summer, my advice would be: “don’t.”

The Mojave Desert is the driest, hottest place in the United States. During summer, temperatures routinely hit triple digits throughout the Park. In July 2021, the temps reached a record-breaking 119 in nearby Twentynine Palms. Yikes.

The absolute lack of shade plus heat make sunburn, heat exhaustion, and dehydration real dangers during this time of year.

If you insist on visiting Joshua Tree during the summer months, you need to carefully plan your trip and avoid doing anything outside during the hottest times of the day. Drink plenty of water (at least 1 gallon per day), eat salty snacks or hydration beverages that replenish electrolytes lost from sweat.

Learn more about safety in Joshua Tree National Park, here.

Visiting Joshua Tree in Fall (October – November)

Average High: 76℉

Average Low: 52℉

Fall is another incredible time to visit this desert Park, and a great season to plan your Joshua Tree one day itinerary.

Temperatures range from 50s to 80s during the fall. The Park also sees slightly more precipitation in the Fall than in the Spring seeing on average .3 inches of rain a month during this time. Keep in mind that the whole Park only sees on average 4 inches of rain per YEAR, so don’t let the occasional storm scare you off from visiting.

Nighttime temperatures can be chilly, and downright cold in late November. Campers and backpackers should be prepared for cold nights, especially at higher elevations inside the Park.

Visiting Joshua Tree in Winter (December – February)

Average High: 62℉

Average Low: 42℉

Winter in Joshua Tree is one of my favorite times to visit!

Snow? In the desert? Winters in Joshua Tree can get pretty cold. In fact, the Park occasionally sees an inch or two of snow over the course of the winter.

Nights are cold, and days are warm but not hot, making for ideal hiking conditions. Winter is a great time to plan a Joshua Tree itinerary if you’re hoping to avoid the crowds and tackle some of the longer hikes in this itinerary, like Ryan Mountain.

Campers and backpackers should be prepared for sub-freezing conditions, especially at higher elevations in the Park. In fact, I once had to abandon a December backpacking trip in Joshua Tree because my 20 sleeping bag just couldn’t hack it!

The moral: don’t underestimate winter cold in Joshua Tree.

How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park

This section covers some of the basics of how to get to Joshua Tree, whether you’re driving or flying, and how to get around once you’re there.

Map of Joshua Tree & Major Highways / NPS

If you need to book transportation to Joshua Tree, check out my in-depth guide to the Closest Airports to Joshua Tree & How to Get There.

Joshua Tree National Park’s is conveniently located between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The Park is accessible from several major Interstate Highways.

Use the map on the right to check out the major highways and cities near Joshua Tree National Park.

If you only have a weekend in Joshua Tree, it helps to stay as close to the Park as possible. The towns of Twentynine Palms orJoshua Tee are the nearest to the Park.

TownDistance to Joshua Tree Visitor Center in Joshua Tree, CAServices Available
Joshua Tree, CAVisitor Center and Main Park entrance located here.Lodging, Gas, Food & Great Vibes
Twentynine Palms, CA15 Miles / 20 Minutes. Additional Park Entrance located here. Lodging, Gas & Food
Yucca Valley, CA8 Miles / 12 MinutesLodging, Gas & Food
Desert Hot Springs, CA27 Miles / 40 Minutes Lodging, Gas, Food, Hot Springs resorts

Joshua Tree also makes an easy day trip from the nearby vacation destination of Palm Springs, California.

The closest major cities to Joshua Tree National Park are:

CityDistance to Joshua Tree Visitor Center in Joshua Tree, CA
Palm Springs, CA35 Miles / 45 Minutes
Los Angeles, CA127 Miles / 2 Hours
San Diego, CA 148 Miles / 2 Hours 45 Minutes
Las Vegas, NV239 Miles / 3 Hours 45 Minutes

Nearest Airports to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is conveniently located near several major airports. Don’t forget to rent a car and be prepared to drive to the Park. There are no public transportation options in Joshua Tree!

Palm Springs International Airport1 Hour / 43 Miles
Ontario International Airport2 Hours / 112 Miles
Los Angeles International Airport3 Hours / 143 Miles
Las Vegas International Airport3 Hours 15 Minutes / 194 Miles
*All Distances are to Joshua Tree Visitor Center in Joshua Tree, California.

Getting Around Joshua Tree National Park

If you are planning a Joshua Tree itinerary, you will need your own vehicle. There are no shuttles or public transportation options to Joshua Tree National Park.

The major roads in and around Joshua Tree are paved and well maintained. Most visitors to Joshua Tree will be perfectly fine in a 2-wheel-drive sedan.

Most major trailheads and all the stops on this itinerary have a small parking lot. If parking is full, (which it usually is after 9AM in Spring) you can usually park on the side of the road a short distance away. Be sure to obey all posted traffic signs, and arrive early to avoid the crowds!

If you want to explore some of Joshua Tree’s many off-road driving trails, make sure you are driving an off-road capable vehicle. Learn more about driving on Joshua Tree’s backcountry roads, here. A four-wheel or high-clearance vehicle is not required for any stops on this itinerary.

Check out this guide for more tips for planning a National Parks road trip – including important safety tips and suggestions for rental cars.

Map of Joshua Tree Entrances & Visitor Centers

Joshua Tree National Park Entrances

There are 3 entrances to Joshua Tree National Park.

The West Entrance is located on Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree, California. The Entrance is located 5 miles south of Highway 62 (Twentynine Palms Highway). From the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, continue on Park Boulevard to the West Entrance Station.

This is the most popular entrance station into Joshua Tree, and during peak visitation seasons, the line can be an hour (or more) to enter the park from the West Entrance. Consider entering the Park through the North Entrance station, in Twentynine Palms, approximately 30 minutes away.

The North Entrance is located in Twentynine Palms, California. From Highway 62/Twentynine Palms Highway, follow Utah Trail Rd south to the North Entrance Station.

The South Entrance (or Cottonwood Springs entrance) is located at the southern end of the Park, and is the most convenient entrance for visitors traveling along Interstate 10 and visitors staying at the Cottonwood Springs campground. From Interstate 10, take exit 168 – Cottonwood Springs Road and follow the road North into the Park.

Note that some areas of the Park, like the 49 Palms Oasis, Indian Cove Campground, and Black Rock Campground and Nature Centers are not accessible from other areas inside the Park. Consult a map, like the one above, before leaving on your trip and always carry an offline map for directions!

Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Centers

There are four Visitor Centers located in and near Joshua Tree National Park.

The Joshua Tree Visitor Center

The Joshua Tree Visitor Center is located on Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree. There is a bookstore, water, toilets, and a great cafe and coffee shop at this Visitor Center, located a few minutes from the main Park entrance.

The Cottonwood Visitor Center is located inside the National Park next to the Cottonwood Campground, near the South Entrance. The Cottonwood Visitor Center is approximately 7 miles from Interstate 10. There is water, a bookstore, toilets, and a picnic area at this location.

The National Park Visitor Center (Joshua Tree East Visitor Center) is located in downtown Twentynine Palms on Highway 62/Twentynine Palms Highway. There are toilets, water, EV charging, and a bookstore at this brand new location. Note: The Visitor Center is NO LONGER located at the Oasis of Mara on National Park Drive.

The Black Rock Nature Center is located at the Black Rock Campground, in the northwest corner of the Park, outside Yucca Valley, California.

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