Is It Possible to do Joshua Tree in One Day?
With a little planning and ambition, it certainly is possible to do Joshua Tree in one day. Special thanks to my coworker Kat Mays for offering us some awesome tips to visiting Joshua Tree. While you might not get a chance to “see it all” in one day, you can definitely hit a lot of major landmarks with enough planning. Trevor and I explored the National Park for about 6 hours and had enough time to snap photos of the famous Joshua Trees, hike a trail, climb rocks, stop for a scenic view of the San Andreas fault, witness brave rock climbers, catch glimpse of horseback riders and stop for a picnic. In other words, you can squeeze a whole lot into a day if you are ambitious and adventurous enough.
The National Park comprises of 792,510 acres, includes parts of two deserts (The higher Mojave Desert & the lower Colorado Desert) and each desert has it’s own ecosystem. While you may not find 5 star hotels in this vast desert, you will find adventure, peace and tranquility if you are an outdoors type of person. One thing is for sure, Joshua Tree is a great place for a frugal adventurers day trip.
Before we headed out for Joshua Tree, my husband and I had two different opinions on what Joshua Tree was all about. I gathered that it was a desert filled with cactuses called Joshua Trees, which made perfect sense to me. He was excited and ready to take part on what he believed was an area popular for rock climbing. Lucky for us, we were both correct. I was able to experience the Hidden Valley filled with Joshua Trees and he convinced me to climb up some pretty challenging rock formations.
On the ride up 29 Palms Hwy (CA 62), we did a little research on our phones to find shorter hiking loops and activities we wanted to do. Due to our little time frame, we decided to mix a little planning & spontaneity.
Here were our goals for the day:
- Grab a map at the Entrance
- Snap photos of Joshua Trees
- Pick a neat rock formation along the way and climb it
- Find one wild flower and take a photo of it
- Take a scenic photo off the beaten path
- Find something interesting (something we didn’t expect)
- See the San Andreas Fault from up high
This list sounds ambitious for having only 6 hours right? Not so much, we were able to knock out everything in the list with spare time to grab SOL beers, carne asada tacos and get serenaded by one guy in a Mariachi band at a local taco shop. True story.
Joshua Tree Goal #1: Grab a map at the entrance
The path we took to travel to Joshua Tree led us to the west entrance. There were already a line of cars making their way into the park at 9am. Cost to enter the park is only $20.00, which is essentially a car permit and can be used for 7 days. We were given a voucher and a map for our travels. (Note: There is a bathroom at the entrance. I’d suggest using it before you head out for your hike as you might not see one for a while. Also, there is a visitor’s center where you can get all the information you need prior to your Joshua Tree excursions)
Joshua Tree Goal #2: Snap Photos of Joshua Trees
This one was easy. I didn’t realize how many Joshua Trees span this open desert. As we made our way through the West Entrance and down a mile or so, we were led into a vast open valley filled with Joshua Trees (in an area also known as Hidden Valley).
This is a Joshua Tree
This is a my selfie with Joshua Trees lol
Joshua Tree Goal #3: Pick a rock formation and climb it
Directly across the way from this open valley, we caught glimpse of a few large boulders in the distance. I had suggested to my husband that we climb them. Doing so, we would catch a nice view of the vastness of this open valley. We were glad we did…
Trevor feeling on top of the world
Joshua Tree Goal #4: Take a photo of a desert flower
With its extreme heat, it always amazes me that flowers survive and bloom in the desert. I saw images of Joshua tree flowers online, but a few websites indicated that catching glimpse of flowers was not guaranteed. It depends on time of year and amount of rain I suppose. I’m not at an expert at these things so reading through James Kaisers blog on desert plants, certainly helped me to understand the various types of flowers you can find in this desert. He even helped me to identify one of the flowers I found on my way down from a rocky hill side.
Desert Wildflower – Canterbury Bells
According to James Kaiser’s site, the wildflower I spotted above is a Canterbury bells wildflower (Phacelia campanularia). It is one of the few blue wildflowers found in Joshua Tree National Park. Native to California, the delicate fluted flowers grow up to 1.5 inches long. They are most common on rocky slopes and sandy washes in the southern Mojave Desert. Following wet winters, thousands of canterbury bells can bloom at a single location”
Joshua Tree Goal #5: Take a scenic photo off the beaten path
It’s probably best to stay on the hiking trails and avoid venturing off too far. Keep in mind that this desert spans miles and miles and it is easy to get lost if you venture far away from the main road. For this reason, we pulled off the side of the road and took a small “off the beaten path” hike up to the top of a random hill side. Goal #5 completed and it was the perfect place to just sit with our thoughts and take it all in.
Scenic Shot in Hidden Valley
Joshua Tree Goal #6: Find something interesting that we wouldn’t expect
I don’t know what we were aiming for here, but we definitely found something interesting that we didn’t expect. Check out this Joshua Tree and what I can only describe as Joshua Tree’s own art installation – a “Cactus with Eyes”.
Joshua Tree’s own Art Installation – Joshua Tree with eyes.
Joshua Tree Goal #7: See the San Andreas Fault
A great way to catch a glimpse of the San Andreas Fault from up high is to make your way up to “Keys View”. It was about a 15 minute drive from the main road.
Photo taken at Keys View – Just beyond is the San Andreas Fault
A Rock Climbers Dream
I was amazed at how daring some of these rock climbers were. I snapped the photo below from my car window. From a distance, I seen a large rocky mountain. As we drew closer, I took notice to small figures making their way to the very top. This was one of largest rocks climbed that day.
Things to keep in mind…
- It only took us 45 minutes to get to Joshua Tree from my parents place in Palm Springs. Anticipate a 2-3 hour drive from LA, Orange County or San Diego. Here is the distance in miles from these major metropolitan areas of California: 140 miles east of Los Angeles, 175 miles northeast of San Diego, 116 miles northeast of Orange County CA
Do not rely on GPS directions. Not only did we not get any signal on our phones, we also read that some GPS systems have routed drivers through ruts and soft sand that may be impassable to vehicles.
For shorter trips, I’d recommend taking the West or North entrances. You can pack most of the sights from these directions and you can save yourself a lot of time. You can approach Joshua Tree from Interstate 10 or California Highway 62 (the Twentynine Palms Highway).
- Bring 20.00 for parking (they also accept credit cards). Be sure to ask for a map on your way in.
- Make a pit stop at the Visitor’s center. Pick out the activities that interest you the most and the visitor’s guide can direct you on the right path. (It also helps to do a little research before hand). Know what to expect in terms of weather and wildlife before you make the trip. It’s always good to know what you can expect and be prepared.
- Wear tennis shoes or hiking shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking, climbing and hiking in general.
- Make sure to fill up your tank right before you enter the park. Joshua Tree National Park spans miles and miles. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere.
- Be sure to pack lots of water and food. It can get hot and you may burn through a lot of energy on your hike. It’s important to stay fueled and hydrated.
- Wear a hat and bring sunscreen. Joshua Tree is a desert and the weather will go from cold to scorching hot to cold again.
LIST OF TRAILS IN JOSHUA TREE:
Brian Eagen with Outdoor Blueprint provided this helpful list of hiking Trails in Joshua Tree:
- in White Tank Campground – A 0.35 mile loop hike to a large granite arch formation, plus information on the parks geology.
- – A 0.3 mile loop hike in northwest Pinto basin through an extremely dense stand of Teddy Bear Cholla. This hike explains why the cholla are so dense here and how animals use these spiny plants.
- – A 1.8 mile out-and-back to an old gold stamp mill. There are old cars, a wind mill, and building found along the route.
HALF DAY HIKES
- – Either a 6.7 mile loop or a 4 mile out-and-back to one of the most successful gold mines in the park. The mine is in really good shape and you get great views of Pleasant Valley and Lost Horse Valley. This is a great hike to do late-afternoon then drive up to Keys View for the sunset.
- – A 3.2 mile out-and-back to my favorite fan palm oasis. This hike is located south of highway 62 on the north side of the park, near Twentynine Palms. Bring a book and relax in the shade of the palms.
- – A 4.5 mile out-and-back north of Jumbo Rocks Campground. This is a bit of a hidden gem with lots of Mojave Desert flora and fun rock pile to explore at the furthest point.
- – A 7.2 mile out-and-back along the western edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. This hike is fairly flat and ends in a huge wash with a willow oasis. This is a great way to explore the Wonderland on a designated trail.
- – An off-trail, 6 mile loop hike south of Quail Springs. This route requires a little scrambling/routefinding and is a great way to try out off-trail travel in the park.
On the Drive Home
On the way back home, we stopped at a small Mexican Restaurant in Yucca Valley called “Las Palmas Mexican Cuisine“. It was a small spot with a lot of personality. The second we walked in, we were greeted with a smile, free chips/salsa and a musician serenading us to “it’s now or never”. We ordered some ice cold SOL beers and ate some of the best tacos we’ve ever had. I’d definitely recommend this place.
Yummy Taco Joint in Yucca Valley
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