The Ultimate Joshua Tree Weekend Guide [2024]

Live Oak Trail at Joshua Tree

Are you planning a Joshua Tree weekend in California?  This planning guide gives you the tips to make your Joshua Tree weekend epic!

Joshua Tree is located in Southern California.  It is known for its whimsical trees, often compared to those from The Lorax in Dr. Seuss!

Joshua tree also makes for an excellent weekend trip from Phoenix.

I have taken two short trips to Joshua tree so my perspective combines my experience from both trips!

Live Oak Trail at Joshua Tree
Live Oak Trail at Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree Planning Details

Getting There

Fly into Palm Springs International Airport (45 minutes by car, or 39 miles) or Los Angeles International Airport (2.5 hours by car, or 147 miles).

Alternatively, combine a Joshua Tree Weekend with a longer US Southwest road trip.

Entrances to Joshua Tree

There are three official park entrances into Joshua Tree.  They are the North, South, and West entrances.

Cell Service

Cell service is extremely limited at Joshua Tree.  I recommend downloading offline maps in advance and using the paper map pamphlet from the ranger station.

Ranger stations always provide a complimentary pamphlet of the park with a map upon entrance during operating hours.

The closest towns near Joshua Tree are 29 Pilots and Joshua Tree.  (Joshua Tree is also the name of a town located outside of the park).  You can count on accessing cell service in these towns.


Joshua Tree National Park holds the same entrance requirements as most other national parks.

Entrance is $35 per vehicle or free with an Annual National Parks Pass.  I highly recommend the latter option if you are planning on visiting at least two national parks during the year.

Having a pass provides flexibility with planning national park trips throughout the year, and provides ease of entering and exiting the park as you please.


There are several bathrooms located throughout Joshua Tree.  Most hiking parking lots have a bathroom.  There are bathrooms located at all camping grounds.

Joshua Tree Weather

Summer is hot and winter is cold.  High seasons with the most mild temperatures are fall and spring.  Desert temperatures are generally hot during the day and drop to cooler temperatures at night.

Tip: It’s important to have warm weather camping gear with you even over the summer.

How many days

One weekend in Joshua Tree is ideal to visit the top spots, go hiking, and camping.  It is doable as a day trip if you are tight on time, but I recommend spending at least one night here to not feel rushed.

Best Hikes in Joshua Tree

Skull Rock

Skull Rock at Joshua Tree
Skull Rock at Joshua Tree

Length: 1.7 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Skull Rock is right off the road so also a great option if you are interested in seeing the rock but not down for a hike!

It’s easy to explore and climb around the rocks as well without completing the hike.

Tip: Jumbo Rock Campground is a short 2 minute drive from here.

Split Rock Loop

Split Rock Loop Trail
Split Rock Loop Trail

Length: 1.7 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Split Rock is accessed from a short drive down an unpaved road.  It’s not very bumpy and does not require 4 wheel drive.  There are about 20 parking spaces in the lot.

There are three picnic tables at the start of the trail, and a third picnic table about 30ft up the trail.  It’s a great place to stop for a snack or lunch after completing the trail.

Note: This is a Bighorn sheep zone.  Please always be respectful of wildlife as you are entering their home.  Follow leave no trace principles.

Ryan Mountain

Length: 2.9 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Currently rated as the top hike in Joshua Tree National Park, Ryan Mountain comes in at approximately 3 miles and an average of 2 hour hike time to complete.

I spent a night under the stars at Ryan Mountain Campground, but I did not have time to complete the hike.

Honorable Mention Hikes in Joshua Tree

Discovery Access Trail

Discovery Access Trail at Joshua Tree
Discovery Access Loop Hike in Joshua Tree

Length: .7 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Discovery Access Trail is conveniently located across the street from Skull Rock.  It shares its overflow street parking with Skull Rock.

Three trails connect at the starting point of Discovery Trail, so there are lots of opportunities to explore different hiking routes.

Note: This is a Bighorn sheep zone.  Please always be respectful of wildlife as you are entering their home.  Follow leave no trace principles.

Read next: Alabama Hills, Easy Hikes in Sedona, Sedona in Winter

Hall of Horrors

Hall of Horrors Trail

Length: .6 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Hall of Horrors is a popular route to access bouldering trails.  It is an entirely flat trail, so also ideal for hikers looking for an easy route with flat terrain.

Mastodon Peak Trail

Length: 2.4 miles

Difficulty: easy

Mastodon Peak Trail is an easy, terrific hiking route on mostly flat terrain.  This is a quiet hiking route with no Joshua Trees.  I loved the calm atmosphere of this trail.

It is a loop route so you can take the entire trail in a circle to get back to the parking lot.  Most hikers recommend arriving early in the morning or in late afternoon to beat the heat because there is no shade on this trail.

Other Things to do on a Joshua Tree Weekend

Keys View

Keys View
Keys View by Nick Agee via Unsplash

The Keys View overlooking Coachella Valley is absolutely stunning.  The San Andreas Fault is also viewed from here.

Exploring the Keys View is known as one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree, and I completely agree.

Drive 20 minutes from Park Boulevard to Keys View Road to reach this amazing viewpoint located on the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

The viewpoint is wheelchair accessible.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden
Cholla Cactus Garden by Tyler Casey via Unsplash

What are Cholla Cactus?  Those fuzzy looking cactus (not fuzzy, believe me) low to the ground are sprinkled all throughout Joshua Tree.  The Cholla Cactus Garden is known for the best views of them.

If you can’t make it here, you are sure to find several pull-out locations throughout Joshua Tree with lots of Cholla Cactus!

Arch Rock

Arch Rock is a part of a 1.2 mile trail.  It is just .3 miles to get from the parking lot to the arch.  It is conveniently located directly outside of White Tank Campground.  (Alabama Hills also has lots of cool arches!)

Rock Climbing

Joshua Tree is a rock climbing paradise.  It has over 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 bouldering routes.  It attracts rock climbers from all around the world.

One of the best places to begin rock climbing from is the Hall of Horrors Trail.

If you don’t have your own climbing gear or are not experienced with climbing, there are several group climbing tours available for booking.


Searching for bouldering routes at Hall of Horrors

Bouldering is similar to rock climbing.  It is a lower distance from the ground and does not require ropes to set up.  I always feel more secure on ropes so I prefer traditional rock climbing, but that’s just me!

Joshua Tree National Park is a rock climbing and bouldering paradise.

I recommend renting a bouldering crash pad for safety.

Other Adventure Activities

Adventure activities in Joshua Tree extend beyond rock climbing and bouldering!  If it is in your budget, consider a guided tour for the following adventure activities:

  1. Rappelling
  2. Jeep Tour
  3. ATV Tour

I think it’s fully doable to experience the best of Joshua Tree without booking a tour.


The incredible photography spots in Joshua Tree are limitless.  Some of the best views are galaxy photography overlooking the whimsical Joshua Trees in the night sky.  I strongly recommend camping for this experience!


Stargazing in Joshua Tree
Milky Way at Joshua Tree by Elijah Hiett via Unsplash

During a clear night, you should be able to stargaze from anywhere within Joshua Tree.  I stargazed from my campground at Ryan Mountain and had a fully clear experience.  It was magical to say the least.

Things to do near Joshua Tree


Pioneertown is approximately 20 minutes northwest of Joshua Tree National Park.  I have not visited myself, but it tends to be a recommended stop from many travelers.

Crochet Museum

I love to crochet.  And I cannot knit.  Like, at all.

Anyways, I love finding quirky spots in towns throughout the world and I think the Crochet Museum would live up!  I have not personally visited, but definitely plan to stop here next time.

Palm Springs

Enjoy exploring a different town near Joshua Tree.

I have only driven through Palm Springs but would love to make some stops in this small town.  Top things to do in the town of Palm Springs include the Aerial Tramway and Tahquitz Canyon.

Camping in Joshua Tree

There are a whopping 500 campsites within Joshua Tree National Park. But don’t be fooled by this number!

Joshua Tree has become an extremely popular national park over the years, and camping availability can be scarce depending on time of year.

It is highly recommended to reserve your campground in advance during any holidays, any time during the spring, or any weekend.

The following campgrounds operate on a reservation basis:

  1. Black Rock
  2. Cottonwood
  3. Indian Cove
  4. Jumbo Rocks
  5. Ryan

The following campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis:

  1. Belle
  2. Hidden Valley
  3. White Tank

The gates never close at the campgrounds so you can enter 24 hours a day.  There is no check-in process.  Simply proceed to your registered campground number and set up your tent or begin car camping.

I stayed at Ryan Campground and enjoyed my experience.  The campsites were spacious, the bathroom was easy to find, and the galaxy views were marvelous.

Other Places to Stay near Joshua Tree

I highly recommend camping in or near Joshua tree for an other-worldly galaxy experience!

If camping is not your thing, there are a variety of accommodations near the park to choose from.

Glamping has also become increasingly popular at Joshua Tree.  However, luxurious options like this come with a price tag.

Towns outside of Joshua Tree like 29 Pilots have plenty of options.

Where to go after Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree Packing List

Trail Shoes– I cannot stress the importance of comfortable shoes or Hiking Boots.

First Aid Kit– Safety first.  Never know when you’ll need a first aid kit!  Always be prepared on the trails.  Band-aids, gauze wrap, motion sickness medication, etc.

Water Bottle– Hydration is key during all hiking trips, but especially in the desert sun.

Hydration Backpack– Hydration backpacks like  Camelback or similar has have limited strain on my back during hiking trips.

Packable Backpack– This is my favorite alternative to a Camelback.  Packable backpacks are one of my favorite things to bring on a trip because they take up almost no space in a suitcase.

Puffer jacket– Puffer jackets are ideal for the winter season at Joshua Tree.  A hooded sweatshirt works great during the day, but a puffer jacket is essential for winter camping.

Is it worth visiting Joshua Tree?

Joshua Tree is a national park like no other.  Its whimsical trees and unique rock formations create an unforgettable visit.

Some tourists find it to be underwhelming in comparison to parks like Zion and Yellowstone with dramatic landscape and geothermal features.

Joshua Tree wins the prize in my book for peaceful, surprising, and calm.

Its lowkey atmosphere is peaceful, the unique Joshua Trees are surprising, and its extremely vast landscape creates a calm space.

No, it doesn’t have towering mountains or hot springs but its peaceful desert landscape makes it unlike other national parks and absolutely worthy of a visit.

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As a full time employee who loves her job, learn how I honor my wanderlust while working a 9:00-5:00 (because I want to!) This blog welcomes all, and specifically provides resources for those seeking travel intertwined into a busy schedule (3 days to 5 weeks).