While planning our road trip, I didn’t really find Joshua Tree NP appealing at first and wondered whether it was really worth visiting the park. But due to numerous positive reports, I wanted to give the park a chance. And I have not regretted it.
Overview map: Joshua Tree National Park
The park is named after the tree-like Joshua Tree, a type of yucca that can be found in many areas of the park. The curious Joshua Trees, together with the extraordinary rocky landscape, make for a particularly impressive desert landscape.
How to get to Joshua Tree National Park
The best starting point for a tour through the park is the west entrance at the village of Joshua Tree.
There is little to see at the southern entrance and you have a relatively long drive to the northern part of the park. At the Visitor Center, which you will inevitably pass, you will receive information about the weather and any warnings as well as a free parking map to take with you.
If you follow Park Boulevard into the park, you will reach the gate after a few minutes, where you have to pay the entrance fee of $30 per car. You can also buy the Interagency Pass for $80. This is valid for one year and is worthwhile if you want to visit at least four parks. So if the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion NP or Yosemite NP are still on your list, the pass definitely makes sense. On some days of the year, admission is free. You can find a detailed list here.
After passing the gate, there is little to see for a few miles. However, the number of Joshua Trees and large rocks increases rapidly, so we were really surprised by the remarkable sight. Fortunately, thanks to the numerous parking bays along the road, it is always possible to stop for a photo.
Highlights of Joshua Tree National Park
The various spots and trails are signposted. So keep an eye out on the road and don’t speed past the signs to avoid missing something interesting.
As a first stop, including a short hike, I suggest the Hidden Valley. In addition to a great picnic opportunity, this also offers unusual and large rock formations that invite you to climb on the one-mile-long loop trail. With a bit of luck, there will only be a few other visitors there. This allowed us to really enjoy the solitude and silence of the desert. Even if you are only going on a short hike, you should apply plenty of sun cream and drink enough water, especially in high summer. The 40° Celsius are relatively bearable due to the dry heat, but the sun still burns mercilessly on the skin.
The next possible stop is Barker Dam. This can also be reached after a one-mile loop trail. The dam was built in 1900 and is now a small reservoir used by the local wildlife.
One point of interest that does not require a hike is the Keys View, which is located at an altitude of 1581m. From there you have a wide view of the valley, mountains and desert as well as the San Andreas Fault. But be aware of aggressive bees! We could only stay there for a few seconds as we were besieged by them.
Then take the path back to Park Boulevard and follow it in the direction of Jumbo Rocks. There, just a few meters from the road, is the much-visited Skull Rock. The name says it all: it is a rock that resembles a skull. In addition, the large rock formations around it are impressive and you simply can’t stop climbing. The spot is hard to miss, as there are lots of cars parked in the spacious parking bay.
Once you have had your fill at Jumbo Rocks, you can continue towards the north entrance to leave the park and then head for Las Vegas, Laughlin or the Grand Canyon. All in all, you should allow at least 2-3 hours to visit the park if you want to see the most important spots.
Overnight stay in Joshua Tree National Park
If you want to spend more time in the park, perhaps even a night, camping is a good option. A campsite costs 15-20 dollars. Most places work on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are only possible for Black Rock, Indian Cove and Jumbo Rocks Campground. In terms of nature, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan and Hidden Valley Campground are said to be the most attractive. Further information and links to reservations can be found here.
If you want to book accommodation that promises an extraordinary experience, you should take a look at AirBnB. They offer the feeling of camping, but with more comfort and still at an affordable price.
Whether you decide to stay overnight or not, Joshua Tree National Park has a lot to offer for visitors. Despite our initial skepticism, we were ultimately very impressed with the park.
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