Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. With spectacular sunsets, huge boulders, namesake trees, and a star studded sky, a couple days in this desert makes for a most surreal and memorable experience. Located 130 miles east of LA, it’s an easy weekend trip from Tinseltown, and the numerous outdoor activities make it a fun trip for both kids and adults. Though I wouldn’t recommend backpacking in the summer (which I did), I would recommend everything else the park has to offer.
When to Visit
Though the park is open year round, some seasons are definitely better than others. In winter, nighttime temperatures drop below freezing; in summer, the thermometer can go above one hundred degrees. Therefore, the best time to visit is during the spring and fall. During these times the average high and low is 85 and 50° F (29 and 10° C), respectively.
In addition, wildflowers begin blooming in February and last through the spring. The Joshua Tree, Oasis, and Cottonwood visitor centers are open year round, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What to Do
There’s no shortage of hiking in Joshua Tree. One of the easiest and best is the 1.5-mile loop around Skull Rock, which has tons of boulders for kids to climb on, and a nature trail detailing interesting and useful plants. Keep an eye out for jackrabbits and other friendly mammals.
If the kids aren’t averse to hiking a bit longer, the 49 Palms Oasis is a three-mile roundtrip hike to—you guessed it—an oasis. Though I’m not sure if there were actually 49 palm trees around the pool of water, there were some, and it was pretty amazing to have a cool, tropical respite in the middle of the dry earth.
For many kids growing up underneath the city lights, stars, constellations, and the Milky Way are things found only in storybooks. Not so in Joshua Tree. The dark night sky is filled with twinkly lights. And once a month—on the Saturday night closest to the new moon—the Andromeda Astronomical Society hosts a star party at Hidden Valley picnic area. It’s not like the star parties in Hollywood, but it’s close.
Keys Ranch Tour
Mining, cattle ranching, and homesteading are on show at this high desert ranch. Your kids will be happy they weren’t one of Bill Keys’, the hardworking father who spent sixty years working the remote land to raise his five kids.
There’s also wildflower viewing, birding, rock climbing, campfire talks, and mountain biking.
Where to Stay
Camping in Joshua Tree allows you to truly experience the desert at what I think are its prettiest moments—sunrise and sunset. You also get to see the bats swooping overhead at night, and hear the coyotes howl while falling asleep, which older kids especially will love.
There are nine campgrounds in Joshua Tree. Prices range from ten to fifteen dollars per night; this does not include the seven-day vehicle permit ($15) which is available for purchase upon park entry. Each campground has a picnic table and fire grate. Most camp spots are first come, first serve, although you can make reservations for Black Rock and Indian Cove.
How to Get There
Joshua Tree is 140 miles east of Los Angeles, in Twentynine Palms, CA. You can reach it from Interstate 10 and highway 62 (the Twentynine palms highway.) There are three entrances to the park (north, west, and south).
For more information, visit Joshua Tree National Park or call the visitor information line at 760-367-5500.