Joshua Tree NP

6 best things to do in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park offers some of the most unique desert landscapes. With its abundant Joshua trees, awe-inspiring rock formations, and fiery sunsets, this national park promises a truly unforgettable experience. Although there isn’t much variety in terms of scenery, we really loved to explore this remarkable national park. It’s so big that you’ll most likely be alone wherever you go. We really loved this feeling of freedom, it’s something we didn’t experience in any other national park during our road trip! Join us as we uncover 6 best things to do in Joshua Tree.

1. Cholla Cactus Garden Trail

6 best things to do in Joshua Tree: Cholla Cactus Garden Trail

The Cholla Cactus Garden Trail is a 0,4 km loop between teddybear cholla cacti. It is one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree, and one of the most unique sights. The walk itself only takes 10 minutes on a predefined path, but since it is so beautiful and unique here, we walked around for half an hour taking pictures and admiring the cacti. Make sure to not touch the cacti or try to go inside the fields. These cacti are known to “come alive” when you get too close, so watch out if you don’t want to get spiked!

Pro tip
We arrived a little before 8 AM, but we’ve heard that Cholla Cactus Garden is a beautiful place to visit at sunrise, too! If you plan on visiting for sunrise, make sure to do your due diligence at least the day before. Check how long it would take you from your accommodation to this point itself, not “Joshua Tree National Park” in general. Once you enter the park, it’s at least another 15 minute drive! You don’t want to wake up that early and still miss the sunrise.

2. Arch Rock Trail

Arch Rock Trail

Our favorite hike in Joshua Tree was definitely the Arch Rock Trail. It is a short and popular trail where you get to see a beautiful natural arch. The hike itself is quite fun too, along the way you’ll encounter countless rock formations that you can climb on. It was so fun to be able to explore on your own, without having to follow an actual path. If you wanted to take a detour and climb on some rocks, you could!

If you don’t go exploring, this hike should take you no more than half an hour. But if you’re like us, you could easily spend multiple hours here! It just depends on how adventurous you’re feeling. 😉 Even though it is a short and easy hike, we still recommend doing this hike in the morning. In addition, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat. It can get very hot here and there is almost no shade!

3. Skull Rock

Skull Rock

Skull Rock is another iconic rock formation in Joshua Tree, and probably one of the most photographed rocks in the park. Water drops have slowly eroded two large holes into the rock, making the rock now resemble a skull. It is really easy to find, there are a few parking spots just across the road. We just visited Skull Rock and walked around for a bit, without doing an actual hike. The rock is quite visible from the start, and according to us that was the best part so we didn’t want to do another hike.

If you’re looking to do an actual hike, you can start 2,7 km nature trail just across from the entrance to Jumbo Rocks Campground. Skull Rock is one of the most unique things to see in Joshua Tree, and definitely worth making a quick stop for!

4. Barker Dam Trail

6 best things to do in Joshua Tree: Barker Dam Trail

The Barker Dam Trail is a 1,8 km loop through the heart of the desert landscape. It is a fun hike where you can explore the rocky desert landscape of Joshua Tree. Along the way you’ll find countless Joshua trees and the historic Barker Dam. Since we’re in the desert, don’t be surprised if you come across countless lizards on the trail. We saw one of those little ones maybe every 2 minutes, some even in very flashy colors! Lizards like this cannot (easily) be found in Belgium, so whenever we spot one we’re happy to see them.

What truly sets this trail apart are the numerous information signs thoughtfully placed along the route, offering fascinating insights into the area’s geology, flora, and fauna. It was so fun to stop and read all about the surroundings, the plants, or even just the history of the trail and the location. We just love an educational hike. 😉

Make sure to bring plenty of water, even though the trail is rather short. This is the desert after all, and temperatures can rise here to above 38 °C/100 °F, with not much shade along the trail.

5. Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Another easy but fun hike is the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This is a short 1,6 km loop through a mesmerizing display of intricate rock formations. The thing we like about this trail is that it is very scenic, without a lot of effort. The trail is easy but still really spectacular, so we recommend it for everyone that wants to experience Joshua Tree’s beauty in not a lot of time! What this trail lacks in “having a dam”, it sure makes up in fascinating rock formations along the way. The trail is filled with boulders and the famous Joshua Trees, which makes for a fun experience. Make sure to keep an eye out for some of the “inhabitants” of the trail too. Numerous lizards playfully dart amidst the rocks, adding a touch of wildlife wonder to your journey!

6. Sunset at Keys View

6 best things to do in Joshua Tree: Sunset at Keys View

Keys View is perhaps our favorite viewpoint in Joshua Tree. First, let’s get the details out of the way. Yes, there is a (somewhat big) parking lot nearby and yes, the path is easy and completely paved. According to us, those are some nice reasons to why you SHOULD visit. Easy accessible, with the best view as a reward. At Keys View, you can enjoy panoramic views over the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs, truly amazing! On a clear day, you can see as far as Mount Signal in Mexico, more than 200 km away! 

But for the most magical experience, we recommend visiting Keys View at sunset. The sunset here just hits different! It was one of the most fiery sunsets we’ve ever seen, truly breathtaking. We couldn’t believe our eyes with how beautiful it was. So surreal.

We arrived an hour before sunset to secure the best spot, we definitely wanted to be on the front row! But even if you arrive half an hour or even 15 minutes before sunset, you’re bound to find a (semi-) good spot. If you’re crazy about securing a spot like we were, make sure to bring at least a jacket to keep you warm. It can get quite windy here and as the sun is going down the temperature falls. But once that sunset hits, you’ll completely forget about the cold and just focus on the beauty in the sky. We stayed for at least 20 minutes after sunset, we just couldn’t get enough of it!

Sunset at Joshua Tree

After that, we decided to drive back home and the road home after this sunset was simply magical. An orange and pink sky, Joshua trees everywhere,… a moment of pure happiness! Happiness really is in the small and simple things. 🥹 Along the way, we stopped numerous times to grab some photos and take our surroundings in even further.

Keep in mind that this is a popular spot, so it can get very crowded here. As mentioned before, we arrived almost an hour before sunset and were able to pick a great spot. We saw a lot of people going over the railing and standing on the edge of cliffs, though. This is really dangerous and not recommended! There are plenty of safe spots available, no need to do anything crazy.

Pro tip
The entrance fee per vehicle for Joshua Tree is about € 27. If you plan on visiting multiple national parks, we recommend purchasing the America The Beautiful pass! For € 70, you have access to a lot of national parks, including Joshua Tree, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and so many more!

Where to stay in Joshua Tree

More helpful United States posts:

Unforgettable Zion hiking adventures
Top 5 best things to do in Death Valley 
The ultimate Bryce Canyon guide
The best Grand Canyon views at the South Rim
Our favorite things to do in Yosemite

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