For us, Joshua Tree was different than any park we visited on our roadtrip and in a good way. Joshua Tree is not a park you come to hike, it is a park you come to explore. Trails are for the most part unmarked and routes made up of whichever rock you chose to scramble up next. This Joshua Tree 1 day guide will tackle what the active adventurers should do to make the most out of their chance to visit!
Disclaimer: This is not your typical relaxing, I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world travel guide. Ya it would be awesome to spend a week at Joshua Tree, but let’s be honest, no American traveler has the time to do that! So this guide and all our National Park Travel Guides are written to the frugal and practical American traveler who has squeezed this adventure into a long weekend or around a holiday. It will be short on park descriptions (you’ll learn all the same fun facts about the park while you’re there) and heavy on the hiking and efficient time planning. Little to no time is set aside for restaurants. It is assumed you’ll make one stop at a grocery store to pick up everything you need to eat on the trail or at your campsite. Our goal is to help you pack as many (usually free) fun-filled things into your cherished vacation time and make the most of potentially a once in a lifetime visit to these spectacular places. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, their are plenty of other awesome travel guides out there for you!
We’re just going to dive right into it. This itinerary assumes you have 1 full day to spend at Joshua Tree. It assumes that you drove in the night before and are camping in or around the park that night.
- Drive to Jumbo Rocks or Hidden Valley around 8AM to reserve a campsite for the night (more on camping below).
- Drive from your campsite to the Skull Rock trailhead. There is really no trail here so get lost in the rocks until it gets to hot.
- Go back and set up your tent and find some shade. From around 12-4PM, it’s just too hot/dry to be in the sun.
- Go check out the Visitor Center at West Entrance Station to learn more about the park.
- 1-2 hours before sunset, head over to Hall of Horrors rock scrambling area (the parking area is in between Ryan campsite and Ryan mountain) to do some more climbing around. Be sure to find a nice rock to sit on to watch the sunset.
- Wake up at sunrise the next morning and hike/scramble around the Hidden Valley trail (1-2 hours) before heading out!
Start your exploring as early as you can as it will get really hot and there is not much shade to be found in the park. Also, be sure to bring tons water and re-apply sun screen often. Take a long break at the middle of the day before heading out again at 1-2 hours before sunset. It’s super, super dry here and exhaustion and dehydration will sneak up on you as you won’t see much sweat.
If you are feeling the need to hike, you can hike up to the top of Mt. Ryan where the view at sunrise is supposed to be spectacular!
How to Get There
Joshua Tree National Park is roughly 5.5 hours southwest of Zion National Park, about 3 hours south of Las Vegas and 2.5 hours east of San Diego. You can rent a small, fuel efficient sedan and be just fine. There are dirt roads in/around the camping areas but they are well enough maintained!
Where To Stay
Joshua Tree National Park has plenty of campsite options in and around the park.
In The Park
Most of the camp grounds in Joshua Tree National Park are reservation only but there are a few that are first come, first serve. Jumbo Rocks and Hidden Valley are both great first come, first serve spots with plenty of big rocks nearby. If you show up in the afternoon/night on Friday or Saturday do not expect to find a open campsite. We found a campsite at Hidden Valley around 8AM on a Saturday. Campsites in the park cost ~$15/night.
Around The Park
Whether you arrive from the north or south there are plenty of free federal campgrounds around the park. If you search “campground near me” on GoogleMaps, they will pop up. We spent a night at the federal campground north of the park which was just a huge, barren patch of desert with cars and campers spread out around it. Works great if all you need for the night is a place to sleep! Remember, free federal campgrounds means no running water so bring that water cube!
Probably our favorite travel app ever made. It has all the hiking trails and walking paths clearly marked and has easy to download offline maps. Whether we are in Colombia or Glacier National park, we know we’ll never be lost with Maps.me. Plus, it’s completely free!
Be sure to open the app and download the map when you have WiFi. You download regional maps by zooming in on a certain area. There’s nothing worse than opening up Maps.Me once you’re on trail and realizing you forgot to download your map!
An app that gives you trail distances and recent reviews for hiking trails. It’s worth checking AllTrails a day or two before you do a longer hike as it is updated frequently for hikers. It’s basically Yelp for hiking. Plus, it’s free too!
You’re good to go for Joshua Tree National Park. You’ve got an itinerary broken down into a power-packed yet manageable day. Plus you’ve got all our lessons learned!
So there you have it, our Joshua Tree 1 Day guide! From us to you, happy adventuring!
All prices and information are current as of September 2020.