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The Best Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the nine amazing national parks found in California. The best hiking in Joshua Tree can be found on the California Riding and Hiking Trail.

Some of the park's unusual trees and plants are found nowhere else, and the other-worldly rock formations can bring thrills by just looking at them.

There are monzogranite formations to hike on, and it is home to world-class rock climbing on large and steep faces.

Me and my son Gunnar in Joshua Tree National Park
Me and my son Gunnar
In this map, Joshua Tree is in green, covering an area the size of Rhode Island.
Joshua Tree is in green, covering an area the size of Rhode Island.

Where is Joshua Tree?

Joshua Tree National Park is found in the middle of the desert in Southern California, USA. 

It is a long way from the beaches and amusement parks that California is known for. 

The distance from Los Angeles is about 130 miles (208 kilometers), and the drive to the main entrance will take up to 3 hours. 

From Las Vegas, Nevada, it is 187 miles (300 kilometers) and is a 3.5-hour drive.  

It is only an hour away if you use Palm Springs, California, as a starting point.

A Joshua Tree
A Joshua Tree

What is a Joshua Tree?

The tree that bears the park namesake, the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, is a member of the Agave family.

The local Native Americans referred to the tree as “hunuvat chiy'a” or “humwichawa.”

However, by the 1860s, Mormon immigrants had made their way across the Colorado River, settled the area, and changed the plant's name to Joshua Tree. 

The author in the desert
Conquering the desert

Several legends about the reason for the name are held, but the biblical warrior figure named Joshua, who conquered the desert, was the most likely inspiration.

Winter hikes can be cool and cloudy
Winter hikes can be cool and cloudy

Typical Weather

While it is located in the southwest and is considered a desert, the average elevation of the park is just under 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) high. 

This classifies the area as a high desert, so the temperature variations can be vast from season to season. 

By contrast, nearby Death Valley National Park, known as one of the hottest places on earth, sits at or below sea level and is much hotter.

Climbing the rock jumbles
Climbing the rock jumbles

The hot time of year lasts about three months (June, July, and August).

In July, the average daily high temperature is about 100 degrees (38C.) 

Spring and Fall can be rather pleasant, and December through February can have cold days. 

However, the daily average high temp for those months is still a pleasant 66 degrees (19C).

Joshua Tree National Park is relatively dry. The area lacks humidity, and it will rain very little for about eight months of the year.  

Just a few inches of rain falls annually, but wild thunderstorms and, even more rarely, snowstorms can happen.

I have only visited Joshua Tree during the winter months, and it has been perfect weather for hiking and exploring.

Taking in the views
Taking in the views

Park Hours

Joshua Tree National Park is open continuously day and night every day of the year, including all holidays. 

There are three entrances to the park, and each has a visitor's center with variable hours, which are typically 7:30 am to 5:00 pm. 

Even dogs love Joshua Tree National Park
Even dogs love Joshua Tree National Park

The two north side entrances off of Highway 62 are close to the main attractions in the park. 

The south entrance is a long drive to the most popular areas, but this is the best entrance if you are coming west on Interstate 10 from Phoenix, Arizona.

The Milky Way from Joshua Tree
The Milky Way from Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree at Night

Joshua Tree National Park is known for some of the darkest nights in Southern California. 

The International Dark-Sky Association has named Joshua Tree an International Dark Sky Park. 

Many visitors get the chance to see the Milky Way galaxy for the first time in their lives.

Joshua Tree National Park is also home to the Annual Night Sky Festival. 

The 7th Annual Night Sky Festival is September 23-24, 2022. According to the organizers, the 2021 festival was a sell-out event.

For information on the next festival go to Sky's The Limit.

Campfires in designated campgrounds.
Campfires in designated campgrounds


Joshua Tree, for many visitors, is all about camping under the stars. There are nine campgrounds spread around the park. 

The National Park Service says that most of the campsites in the park fill up for most of the year, and making reservations well in advance is recommended. 

Skull Rock
Skull Rock

Some of the sites are near rock climbing areas; others are placed in convenient spots near the main roads where utilities have been run. 

You will find all types of visitors in the campgrounds, from families in tents, to retired folks in motorhomes, to van life travelers.

Bring a picnic - there are no food stops in the park
Bring a picnic – there are no food stops in the park

In addition to the campground inside the park, there are outside options. 

Several well-managed and pleasant campgrounds are spread out in the nearby communities.  

The Bureau of Land Management provides dozens of free yellow post campsites outside the park. 

Visit and look for the Barstow Field Office.

Hotel pools
Hotel pools

Hotels Near the Park

There are no lodging facilities in Joshua Tree National Park. 

However, if you are not into roughing it in the desert, there are plenty of hotels and motels in the surrounding communities on Highway 62, which are a very short drive to the park entrance.  

While you can always use your favorite online travel site, with a search for Joshua Tree National Park North Entrance will give you an excellent place to start. 

I have used the Best Western in Twentynine Palms several times, and it has always been a pleasant stay.

Sunset Hikes on Ryan Mountain
Sunset Hikes on Ryan Mountain

Hiking in Joshua

When you enter the park and pay the entrance fee, you will get an excellent map with all the roads, attractions, and simple, short day hikes.  Or, you can download one from the website

Sunrise hike in Joshua Tree National Park
Sunrise hike in Joshua Tree National Park

My favorite hikes with kids and teenagers have been random walks from our parked car to scramble around and on the rock jumbles. 

Not only is it a great playground, but the views of the park from some of these rock formations are spectacular.

Backpacking in Joshua Tree is usually done on the 35-mile long California Riding and Hiking Trail, which travels the park's entire length from east to west.

essi the Dog on a Joshua Tree Peak
Jessi the Dog on a Joshua Tree Peak

There are no advanced permits required if you plan on backpacking into Joshua Tree National Park.

However, you must park your vehicle and register at one of 13 back-country reservation boards.

This system allows park rangers to know that your abandoned vehicle does not need to be towed.

World-class rock climbing
World-class rock climbing

Climbing in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park is well known for its opportunities for rock climbing. 

All the climbs are a single pitch, and the type of rock is unique.

Joshua Tree offers climbers the rare opportunity to climb a rock next to their campsite. 

According to the National Park Service: “Joshua Tree welcomes climbers from around the world. This high desert, monzogranite-climbing mecca is famous for its traditional-style crack, slab, and steep face climbing.”  

Rock climbers will find more than 8,000 routes and over 2,000 bouldering problems to challenge all ability levels.

Joshua Tree National Park is a world-class climbing destination.

If you are new to climbing or need equipment during your visit, an excellent place to start is Cliffhanger Guides.


Whether you're planning to climb or seeking out the best hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, we hope this guide has been helpful.

If you have any questions, please share them in the comments below.

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