19 Top Things To Do In Joshua Tree

April 15, 2023

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17 Top Things To Do In Joshua Tree National Park California

For an outdoor escape away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, there’s no better place to go than Joshua Tree National Park. Set at the junction of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts and less than an hour from Palm Springs, this desert paradise is a haven for those who want to explore the great outdoors. From majestic rock formations and scenic trails for the best hikes to backcountry roads perfect for biking, Joshua Tree National Park has something for everyone.

SEE ALSO: 31 Top Things To Do In Palm Springs

Those who want a more relaxing visit can go stargazing in the dark sky to see the Milky Way or lounge by Keys View on a clear day; you won’t be disappointed with what Joshua Tree offers. So step out of your comfort zone and see this incredible corner of Southern California!


Keys View

Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park is a breathtaking destination offering stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, and even the famous San Andreas Fault. Located at an elevation of 5185 ft., this high point is one of the park’s must-see attractions and offers the best star-filled night sky you can imagine!

At Keys View, visitors can take in incredible views while enjoying outdoor activities such as hiking, photography, and camping. A perfect spot for avid adventurers who want to experience the great outdoors, visitors can explore nearby trails that lead to popular sites like Barker Dam and Hidden Valley. Along with these trails are spectacular vistas that provide unique perspectives of the iconic Joshua trees. Even during the day, there’s plenty of wildlife to observe – from golden eagles to desert bighorn sheep that roam this area.

Despite its remote location, Keys View still offers a variety of amenities for those looking for more than just a scenic view. Picnic tables are available for lunching with family and friends or simply taking a break from sightseeing. Additionally, restrooms are also provided for your convenience. This spot is also ideal for photographers; many world-class photographs have been taken here due to its clear air and photogenic landscape– especially during sunrises and sunsets when warm shades brighten up the desert sky!

Joshua Tree, California nps.gov


Skull Rock

If you’re looking for a unique and fascinating outdoor experience, then Skull Rock is definitely an adventure you won’t want to miss! Located in the Mojave Desert, this fantastic rock formation is one of the most iconic spots in the state. It’s hard to miss this natural spectacle; rising from the desert ground like a giant skull with two eye sockets carved out by centuries of erosion, it is truly a sight to behold.

Skull Rock serves as an impressive landmark and one of the best places in Joshua Tree to explore and participate in outdoor activities. Tourists can take leisurely hikes around the rock or trek up its sides for more challenging trails and stunning views. Wildlife enthusiasts are drawn here, too, as a variety of birds, lizards, and other native creatures can be seen making their homes around the area. Visitors should also bring their cameras along for some fantastic photo ops! Whether it’s posing with Skull Rock as a backdrop or admiring its unique shape from far away, there are plenty of shots to capture that will make for fabulous souvenirs. The ambient light provided by both day and night casts a magical glow across the landscape that no photographer should miss out on!

Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 nps.gov


Joshua Tree National Park

Arch Rock

Arch Rock is one of the most stunning and memorable attractions in the American Southwest. It is located on the 0.5-mi. Arch Rock trail, this impressive natural rock formation, is approximately 30 ft. across and provides visitors with incredible views of the surrounding landscape and a unique experience in this beloved national park.

The area around Arch Rock offers plenty of activities, from hiking and nature walks to stargazing and photography. The rocky terrain and dry atmosphere make for an ideal environment for wildlife spotting and getting closer to the area’s geology. The nearby vegetation can also provide an exciting insight into how plants survive and thrive in harsh conditions. And if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s worth checking out nearby cliffs and bridges – they often offer captivating views of the surrounding desert scape that can’t be seen anywhere else!

At Arch Rock, you’ll find something special every time you visit – whether it’s simply taking in the beauty of its majestic stone features or discovering something new about your surroundings. It’s also a great place to relax and appreciate nature at its finest – from enjoying a picnic with friends or family to taking part in some of the guided tours offered by local companies. With various opportunities for exploration, learning, relaxation, and more, you’ll never be short of activities when visiting Arch Rock!

Twentynine Palms, CA 92277  nps.gov


Big Josh in Joshua Tree

Big Josh at The Station Joshua Tree

You won’t miss the 20-foot-tall Big Josh when driving down Twentynine Palms to Joshua Tree and it’s worth a stop. Once The Richfield Gas Station that was built in 1949 is now a trendy gift shop and event space.

61943 Twentynine Palms Highway

SEE ALSO: 17 Coolest Airbnbs in Palm Springs


Spaghetti Western

There aren’t a lot of good restaurants in the Joshua Tree area – there aren’t a lot of restaurants period. We stopped into Spaghetti Warehouse that looks like a hole in the wall and was surprised to walk into a vibey restaurant with a live music stage, piano, and the best spaghetti that I’ve ever had. Such a hidden gem.

50048 Twentynine Palms Highway, Morongo Valley, CA 92256


Cholla Cactus Gardens

Cholla Cactus Gardens is one of the world’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring places. Located in Pinto Basin, about a 12-mile drive from the north entrance, this stunning area is filled with vibrant cholla cacti — also known as “teddy bear” cacti — that blanket the landscape, making for a breathtaking sight. It’s easily accessible from a flat-mile loop trail, so you can take in all the views without breaking a sweat. It’s also a great place to spend some time outdoors — there are plenty of activities to do here, ranging from bird-watching to photography. Pullouts in this area, along Pinto Basin Road, are great spots to view the night skies.

The Cholla Cactus Garden has been around since 1937 and was created by nature over thousands of years. Its signature species are teddy bear cholla cacti (Cylindropuntia bigelovii), which thrive in gravel-rich soils in temperatures between 40°F and 100°F, and Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia). It’s also home to creosote bush and wildflowers.

Twentynine Palms, CA 92277  nps.gov


Joshua Tree National Park Store

Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center

The Visitor Center at the west entrance is a one-stop shop for adventurers and explorers alike. Located in the heart of the park, it’s the perfect place to learn about the wonders, diverse wildlife, and natural beauty that make this incredible place so special.

For those looking to start their journey into the park, Visitor Center offers guided hikes with knowledgeable park rangers who can answer all your questions and will provide all kinds of tips and tricks to help enhance your outdoor exploration. Whether you’re exploring on foot or by car, plenty of options are available to find the right route for your adventure. Take a leisurely stroll through some of the park’s most incredible landscapes or challenge yourself with more rigorous terrain.

In addition to guided hikes and educational resources, Visitor Center also has a wide selection of souvenirs, from postcards and patches to t-shirts and mugs – perfect for reminding yourself of your time here in Joshua Tree! All purchases benefit Friends of Joshua Tree National Park and contribute towards preserving this essential ecological reserve.

6554 Park Blvd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252  nps.gov


Keys Ranch

If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind destination in the impressive Joshua Tree National Park, look no further than Keys Ranch. This historic site is an important reminder of the area’s early settlers and the resourcefulness they embodied to make it in the unforgiving desert.

Located just three miles from Twentynine Palms Highway, Keys Ranch is easily accessed by car or on foot if you’re feeling adventurous. At the ranch, visitors can meander through many fascinating structures and remnants that provide clues about how people once lived. These include two-family homes, a barn and corral, a blacksmith shop, a commissary building once used as a storehouse and office, and multiple windmills that pumped water from underground aquifers to irrigate nearby fields. Nearby, an abandoned stone cabin built around 1890 provides further insight into the area’s history.

In addition to its historical importance, Keys Ranch has plenty more to offer visitors! Numerous hiking trails take spectacular views of surrounding mountains and valley floors and offer glimpses of local wildlife, like bighorn sheep and desert tortoises. You may be lucky to see some old mining equipment still scattered around the landscape – reminders of when gold mining was one of many sources of income for early settlers here!

Twentynine Palms, CA 92277  nps.gov


Ryan Mountain

If you’re looking for a thrilling outdoor adventure, look no further than Ryan Mountain. Standing at 5,456 feet tall, this hike is not for the faint of heart. Along this 1.5-mile nature trail, there will be an elevation gain of 1,050 feet with breathtaking views of Pinto Basin, Lost Horse Valley, Queen Valley, and Pleasant Valley. But don’t worry – your effort will be well worth it as you are rewarded with stunning panoramic vistas at the peak. If you need to rest, there’s a picnic area halfway up the mountain surrounded by rock piles.

The seemingly endless desert scapes and jagged rock formations make this mountain an unforgettable sight and experience. The various cacti and shrubs that dot this area create an interesting visual contrast between the scorched land below and the gentle clouds above. Those feeling particularly adventurous can also take a rock-climbing excursion to reach even higher elevation points.

Twentynine Palms, CA  nps.gov


Palm Oasis

If you’re looking for a stunning outdoor adventure that packs in history, nature, and plenty of activities, look no further than Palm Oasis. This 7.2-mile day-hike trail is located in the southernmost part of the park and takes you through some of its most beautiful terrains. The trail is a loop, winding around rock formations, cacti, and other desert plants that make up the scenery here – creating a unique oasis atmosphere to explore.

Along the way, visitors will feel like they are taking a step back in time as they witness petroglyphs left behind by Native American cultures, birds, and other wildlife. Guided tours can be arranged with rangers who can teach hikers more about the ancient history found here. Depending on how much time hikers have to spare on this journey, longer hikes may include exploring nearby abandoned mines or sandy stretches where guests can take picturesque photos of the surrounding views.

Multiple camping sites are available for overnight stays, making Palm Oasis an unforgettable experience for adventurers looking to explore what Joshua Tree offers.

Joshua Tree National Park nps.gov


Cottonwood Spring Oasis

Cottonwood Spring Oasis is a stunning retreat offering a wide array of outdoor activities and adventures. From old gold mills to hiking trails and campsites, this oasis showcases the spectacular beauty of the desert in all its glory.

The natural wonders of Joshua Tree have made it a popular destination for adventurers seeking an unforgettable experience. The majestic scenery here is truly awe-inspiring and makes for an idyllic environment to take in the area’s beauty.

Those staying overnight can take advantage of the many campsites throughout the park – from secluded spots along scenic routes to more well-established sites with amenities such as picnic tables and fire pits. For those wanting to explore further, many miles of hiking trails lead visitors through some of the most breathtaking regions. Along your journey, you will come across historical artifacts, such as abandoned gold mills, that provide unique insight into the area’s past.

At Cottonwood Spring Oasis, there are ample opportunities for wildlife watching – keep your eyes peeled, and you can spot coyotes, bobcats, roadrunners, and other desert species that call this place home. If you’d instead relax in nature, sit back and marvel at the amazing sunsets or enjoy some stargazing after dark! Regardless of what type of adventure you seek, Cottonwood Springs is sure to provide an unforgettable experience that will stay with you forever!

Lost Palms Oasis Trail, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277  nps.gov

 Pioneer Town California

Pioneer Town

A short drive from Joshua Tree National Park, Pioneertown, California, is an unincorporated desert community in the Morongo Basin of San Bernardino’s High Desert region, but it is much more than that. This unique town has been transformed from a western movie set to a bustling tourist attraction and cultural hub for those wishing to explore California’s history. Pioneertown offers visitors a variety of activities and sights to see that make it a fantastic spot to avoid the hustle and bustle of city life. From restaurants like Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace to movie and TV history at the Pioneertown Film Museum, there is something for everyone in this charming town. There are plenty of bird-watching opportunities for those wanting to experience nature as multiple species flock between Big Bear Lake and the Morongo Valley. 

Pioneertown can appear as a ghost town on weekdays at first glance due to its sparse population. However, with shops open on the weekends and varying hours during the week, visitors will find plenty of attractions to explore here. Those who visit on Tuesdays or Wednesdays can take advantage of discounted tickets at Pappy & Harriet’s and other special offers throughout town. Whether you’re looking for rugged outdoor activities or an educational trip through time, Pioneertown has something for everyone. Experience what this desert oasis has to offer!

Pioneertown, California pioneertownsun.com 


Horseback Riding

Horseback riding in Joshua Tree National Park is one of the top ways to enjoy the unique beauty of the desert. Over 253 miles of equestrian trails and corridors are available to explore, winding through open lands, canyon bottoms, and dry washes. It’s a great way to take in this incredible park’s beautiful scenery. With plenty of safety considerations taken into account, it’s an enjoyable and rewarding experience for all involved.

Joshua Tree is known for its stunning night skies, where riders can watch shooting stars streak through the air as they slowly make their way around the park. Horseback riding on these trails offers spectacular views of Joshua Tree’s famous rock formations, cacti-dotted landscapes, and incredible wildlife. This is also an excellent opportunity to encounter some of the many species that call this area home, such as coyotes, jackrabbits, roadrunners, and over 250 species of birds!

When planning your horseback ride in Joshua Tree, remember that desert ecosystems are fragile and require special care. The desert soils are slow to heal if disturbed; therefore, it’s best practice to stick to established trails wherever possible. Additionally, due to limited natural or man-made water sources within the park, riders must plan ahead by bringing enough water supplies for themselves and their horses.

Whether you’re looking for a leisurely day ride or something longer lasting like an overnight camping trip – Horseback riding in Joshua Tree National Park should be at the top of your list! With unbeatable views framed by stunning sunsets across its vast desert scape, there’s no better way to get up close with everything this majestic landscape has hidden away – waiting just for you!

Joshua Tree National Park nps.gov


Rock Climbing

Rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park is an adventure like no other. Located in California’s high desert, the park is known worldwide for its pristine monzogranite climbs and boulders. It is an ideal destination for experienced climbers looking for a challenge and beginner climbers hoping to hone their skills. With more than 2,000 boulder problems, 8,000 climbing routes, and plenty of natural gaps to choose from, there is something here for everyone.

Joshua Tree offers traditional-style crack and slab climbs and steep face climbing that will make your heart race. The park’s unique landscape provides a breathtaking backdrop for any adventure — from towering spires to hidden coves — you’ll never forget your experience. The sports routes range from five-minute slabs to multi-pitch challenges that take a day to complete. Whether you want to push yourself on technical crack climbs or simply enjoy the view from atop a boulder outcrop, Joshua Tree has something for every skill level.

The park also offers plenty of unique activities outside of rock climbing. Joshua Tree has everything from hiking and camping to stargazing and bird-watching! For visitors who don’t plan on scaling any heights, there are numerous trails suitable for all abilities; or you can take advantage of the abundance of wildlife and plant life inhabiting the area.

Joshua Tree National Park joshuatree.guide


Cottonwood Visitor Center

Cottonwood Visitor Center is an excellent place for those looking to experience the area’s natural beauty and participate in various activities. It is located in Cottonwood Spring and is a gateway to some of the most stunning trails considered to be part of the more remote areas of Joshua Tree. It provides access to these incredible sights and offers visitors a unique opportunity to shop at its gift shop and gain insight into the park displays.

At Cottonwood Visitor Center, you’ll find abundant outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and rock climbing. The center also offers engaging educational programs for adults and kids alike. While exploring the majestic trails within Cottonwood Spring, visitors can observe the unique wildlife that inhabits the area, including bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and desert tortoises. This is truly an unforgettable experience everyone should have on their bucket list!

The center itself has much to offer as well. Its gift shop has a variety of souvenirs, from postcards to tee shirts, that make fantastic reminders of your visit. Additionally, there are interactive park displays featuring facts about local geology, plants, and animals so you can appreciate more about this fantastic environment.

Pinto Basin Rd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 https://www.joshuatree.org/visitor-centers/cottonwood-visitor-center.html


Hidden Valley Campground

Hidden Valley Campground is a unique and special place that offers a one-of-a-kind camping experience. Located along Park Boulevard, Hidden Valley is surrounded by large boulders and Joshua Trees, providing an incredibly picturesque setting for visitors to enjoy. The campground features 44 sites with pit toilets, though there is no water. Campers must pre-pay the fee at the entrance station before entering, and each site is first-come, first-served.

If you’re looking for a truly immersive outdoor experience where you can escape civilization and reconnect with nature, Hidden Valley Campground is just the place for you. Enjoy hiking along winding trails that take you up close to rocky peaks and down into narrow washes as you explore the diverse landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. Keep your eyes peeled on your adventures—you may even spot some of the animals that call this area their homes, like desert bighorn sheep or kit foxes. For those who seek starry nights sky gazing, look no further than Hidden Valley, thanks to its remote location far from light pollution. You’ll be able to see brilliant constellations clear as day!

Whether it’s fishing at nearby lakes or horseback riding through the vast open desert, Hidden Valley campground provides plenty of ways to get outdoors and active while visiting Joshua Tree National Park. Relax in the afternoon with a picnic lunch beneath one of the park’s many scenic overlooks before heading back to your campsite for an evening spent around a crackling campfire under a blanket of stars.

74485 National Park Dr, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277  nps.gov


The Oasis of Mara

The Oasis of Mara is a haven for wildlife, making it one of the best birding locations and the only trail where pets are allowed. People love visiting Mara Oasis not just because of its natural beauty but also because of its long history with an earlier settlement. The area was first settled by the Serrano tribe, who planted 29 palm trees to represent each successful birth of a baby boy in their tribe. Those palms still exist today, and the oasis is one of the most accessible places to view the California fan palms.

74485 National Park Dr, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 nps.gov


Barker Dam Nature Trail

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is a popular 1.1-mile loop hike in Joshua Tree National Park. Trailhead is located at the Barker Dam parking lot along Park Boulevard in the northern part of the park. Hikers can enjoy beautiful boulder formations along the route and witness birds like American coots, Western grebes, ducks, and herons. The trail is suitable for all skill levels, making it great for families with kids and adults. Wildlife sightings are also quite common on this trail, and hikers will likely encounter some of Joshua Tree’s diverse fauna.

Barker Dam Nature Trail California 92277  nps.gov


White Tank Campground

White Tank Campground, located near Pinto Basin Road, is the perfect location for outdoor lovers who want to experience the desert beauty of the area and take in some of the most stunning views you’ll find in the Southwest. The campground has direct access to Arch Rock, allowing visitors to explore this unique feature up close. Pets are allowed with restrictions so that you can bring your furry friends along for your next camping adventure. In addition, there are plenty of other attractions nearby, such as Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park – giving you easy access to some of the nation’s most impressive sites.

2 White Tank Campground Rd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 nps.gov


A road trip to Joshua Tree National Park is a great way to experience USA’s diverse and vibrant landscape. Whether coming from San Diego or Las Vegas, the journey is filled with stunning desert landscapes and picturesque views. If you want to stay the night, you can check out Knob Hill Ranch in Yucca Valley, Black Rock Campground, and Jumbo Rocks Campground. A visit to the town of Joshua Tree is also a must-see for art lovers. From here, it’s just a hop across the border into Mexico for those seeking even more adventure and exploration! The possibilities around Joshua Tree National Park are endless; it’s no wonder why so many people make it part of their annual road trip itinerary!


Jane Ko is the Austin blogger behind A Taste of Koko, Austin's top food and travel blog featuring the hottest restaurants and weekend getaways. Jane has been a speaker at South by Southwest (SXSW), Texas Conference for Women, BlogHer, and more on entrepreneurship and social media. She lives in Austin Texas with her dog and cat.