Still one of my favorite national parks in the United States, Joshua Tree sits just about a 90 minute drive from Los Angeles, and is truly "other-wordly" feeling when you're there.
Joshua Tree National Park is characterized by rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. Named for the region’s twisted, bristled Joshua trees, the park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. Keys View looks out over the Coachella Valley. Hiking trails weave through the boulders of Hidden Valley.
The park offers visitors endless opportunities for exploration and discovery. Depending on the number of hours you have to spend, your interests and energy, here are some ideas to consider
If you have four hours or less, begin your tour at a visitor center where park staff will be happy to help you plan your visit. With limited time you may want to confine your sightseeing to the main park roads. Many pullouts with wayside exhibits dot these roads. There are 12 self-guiding nature trails. Consider experiencing at least one of these walks during a short park visit. On clear days the vista from Keys View extends beyond Salton Sea to Mexico and is well worth the additional 20-minute drive.
If you plan to spend an entire day, there will be time to sample one or more hiking trails. A ranger program will add enjoyment and understanding to your visit. Or, October through May, reserve a spot in person at the Oasis Visitor Center for the popular Keys Ranch guided walking tour. If solitude is what you are after, plan an all-day hike into the backcountry. If you would like to experience the desert from the seat of a mountain bike, the park offers an extensive network of dirt roads that make for less crowded and safer cycling than the paved main roads. Joshua Tree is a popular rock-climbing area. Many visitors enjoy just watching the climbers in action.
With more than one day in the park your options increase. There are nine campgrounds and backcountry camping is permitted. For "peak baggers," the park has ten mountains greater than 5,000 feet (1,524 m) in elevation. Or make it your goal to hike to all five of the park's fan palm oases. Other trails lead you to remnants of the gold mining era, a colorful part of the park's cultural history. Whatever you choose, your time will be rewarding. The desert holds much more than what is readily apparent to the casual observer. (I always get inspired by the survival mode that the plants and living organisms must always be in to thrive in a desert setting.)
If camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of hotel and motel options close to the park in the town of 29 Palms. For an extra enjoyable evening out with dinner and drinks, head over to nearby Pioneertown to Pappy & Harriet’s , an awesome rustic decor and mason jar drinks live music restaurant/bar that seems to have been the model for the classic movie “RoadHouse”. Top name musicians sometimes stop in unannounced to perform a set, such as Paul McCartney and Robert Plant recently.
So if you’re looking for an exciting, easy to navigate and extremely interesting scenic setting to get away to, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a truly one-of-a-kind California gem.