Joshua Tree National Park - What To Do When You Only Have A Day

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Joshua Tree Visitor Center

For a very long time, we have been wanting to visit Joshua Tree National Park.  Finally, a group of six of us decided to travel there in early February to check it out. We only had the weekend to explore because it was a fast trip being only two days. After booking an Airbnb for two nights in the town of Twentynine Palms, we were all excited.  Finally, we knew that we were going to Joshua Tree.

The drive from San Diego to Twentynine Palms is about 175 miles or just under 4 hours. We found the perfect Airbnb location just outside the northwest entrance to the park.  This made it easy to get up early in the morning and head over to the Park to start exploring.

The Cost to Joshua Tree National Park

The entrance fee into the Park is $30 and it is good for seven days. If you want an annual pass, it’s only $55 and is valid for 12 months from the month you purchase it.  It just depends on which option you want and if you plan on coming back. The park is only a few hour’s drive from Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas or Phoenix, making it centrally located.

Good-To-Know Tips

Most noteworthy, the Park offers a free RoadRunner Shuttle Bus. You can catch the bus at Twentynine Palms Transit Center and Oasis Visitor Centre every hour. Once you are inside the park, buses run every 30 minutes. This is a good thing to know for future trips because if you are riding the bus you don’t pay an entrance fee, so you don’t have to worry about parking and you skip the lines.

To be quite honest, we didn’t do a lot of research about the park and found out most of the information after arriving. Therefore, we started off at the Visitor Center to get a map. Once you are inside the Park there is no GPS signal so don’t plan on using your cell phone for directions.

The ranger gave us a map and suggested 5 easy hikes since we had limited time to explore. The hikes range from easy, moderate and strenuous and these ones can take up to 6 hours to hike. If you want to hike longer distances, then you will want to plan on spending a couple of days in the park so you get to experience all the trails.

Suggested Easy Hikes When You Are Short On Time

Hidden Valley:  Easy 1 mile loop. A rock-enclosed valley rumored to have been used by early cattle ranchers

Barker Dam:  Easy 1.1 mile loop. Explore and view a historic dam built by the early cattle ranchers. You might see bighorn sheep.

Skull Rock:  Easy 1.7 mile loop. An easy hike where you can explore desert washes and boulder piles. The trail goes through Jumbo Rocks Campground.

Keys View:  Easy 0.25 mile loop. This takes you on a short, paved steep path. You will see breathtaking views of Mt. San Jacinto, Salton Sea, Mt. San Gorgonio, and the San Andreas Fault.

Cholla Cactus Garden:  Easy 0.25-mile loop. Make sure you wear closed-toe shoes and stay on the path so you don’t step on the prickly cactus. You will view densely concentrated growing cholla cactus.

A Few Trails We Visited

Since it was February, we thought it would not be that busy but we were wrong. Parking can be limited in many areas. So, if there is no parking in the lot, you have to move on as there is not always available parking on the side of the road. We learned this after wanting to go hike Barker Dam but we were told we had to loop around and get back in line until parking spots came available. Unfortunately, because of the traffic, we were not able to get out and hike this spot. It was also very very windy which made the temperature very cold in the mid-forties. We had a few hours of nice weather but then most of the day was in and out of the car very quickly.

We saw Ryan Ranch, Skull Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden and Bajada which was a small loop walk that had a variety of plants and blooms to see.

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Remains of Ryan Ranch Homestead
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View of the valley from Ryan Ranch - breathtaking!
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Joshua Tree - Cholla Garden
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Joshua Tree - Skull Rock

We took a guided hike at Skull Rock with a park ranger and it was very informative. We stopped along the way and looked at the different rock formations and how they were formed, the different wildlife in the area, and plant species. I had no idea that the park was 800,000 acres. They also have a program that you can participate in and share information on how to preserve the park.

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Joshua-Tree-National-Park-Ranger-Tour
Trail on the guided tour

On exiting the Park, we stopped at Bajada, which was an easy 0.25-mile loop where you will find different plants of the Colorado Desert. There were flowers just coming into bloom that sprinkled the landscape in pretty purple and yellow hues.

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Flowers in bloom on the Bajada loop

Things To Know Before You Go

  • There is no cell service in the park.
  • Don’t rely on your phone for navigation or emergency calls.
  • Make sure you have a park map for getting around.
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather. You may want to layer your clothes in the colder weather.
  • Wear shoes that are comfortable to hike in.
  • Make sure you have a full tank of gas for driving the park.
  • Wear sunscreen and reapply as needed.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and glasses, especially in the hotter months.
  • Carry a flashlight in your car if you get caught on the road at night.
  • Don’t wear sandals or flip flops as I saw numerous people wear them. If you step on a cholla cactus you will know why, believe me. I wore runners once in a different park and yes, the prickles from the cactus went right through the sole of my runners. Not fun!
  • Pets are not allowed.

How did Joshua Tree get its name?

A group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert gave the tree its name Joshua tree.  The unique shape of the tree reminded them of a story from the bible when Joshua stretched his hands up to the sky in prayer.

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Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park certainly has much to offer for all types of thrill seekers. Whether you seek adventure, solitude, rock climbing, camping, bird watching, studying plant life or just stargazing at night.

Fun Fact – Did You Know?

Did you know that the night skies at Joshua Tree National Park are very very dark and one of the best places on the planet to stargaze? This is because the Park is located in the High Desert about 3000-5000 feet above sea level. In addition, it is also far away from the big cities so you won’t get the light pollution that bigger cities create. We drove down and watched the stars for a short time but it was extremely cold so we didn’t stay long.

Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful place to visit and a must see for everyone.

If you have been to Joshua Tree and have any tips to share, we would love to hear from you?

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