California has a bunch beautiful national parks to visit. From beautiful places in Yosemite into the desert landscapes of Death Valley, California has such a diverse combination of national parks to visit. And guess what, Joshua Tree is no exception! Joshua Tree National Park has so many amazing and best things you really can’t miss.
Approximately 3 hours drive from the city of San Diego, it is technically possible to visit Joshua Tree for one day, but I would definitely recommend longer. The whole area is amazing to explore, especially with the famous trails, rock formations and, of course, all these yuccas!
So to help you get the most out of your time in this desert paradise, I wanted to share some gems you really shouldn’t miss.
Check out the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park below. Have fun visiting California!
1.) A natural trail of a hidden valley
About 1 mile long, A natural trail of a hidden valley is an easy and picturesque loop route that is completely stunning.
Long ago, before the Joshua Tree National Park was established, cattle foresters used the Hidden Valley to hide their herd. Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about any cattle stuffing today!
Honestly, the rock formations and scenery here are just as stunning.
Along the natural trail of the Hidden Valley, there is also the “Giant Burrito”, a monolith popular with climbers and mountaineers. Although you won’t see as many Joshua trees in the area, the various boulders and rocks are still a commanding sight for nature lovers and photography lovers alike.
If you want a longer hike, join the Hidden Valley-Barker Dam trail and then head to the Barker Dam natural trail. This will add an extra 2.5 miles, but is still relatively easy.
2.) Chocta Cactus Garden
Located on the side of Pinto Basin Road, Cholla Cactus Garden is a great little leg stretch station.
With thousands of cholla cacti spread out in front of you, this is a place worth seeing during your trip to the park.
While I wouldn’t travel purposefully to the Cactus Cholla garden, it’s definitely worth taking a tour of your route.
Just watch out for wasps, no one likes to be stabbed!
3.) Skull Rock
Can you tell why it’s called Skull Rock?
About a 15 minute drive from the Hidden Valley Natural Trail, Skull Rock is really easy to see while in Joshua Tree National Park and a place that is pretty cool.
From afar or up close you can see exactly why the Skull Rock is so named. The most fascinating fact about this rock formation is that it was not created by man but was naturally carved in nature for thousands of years!
Also, don’t forget that the whole area surrounding Skull Rock is also beautiful. You can join the 2 km distant Split Rock Loop. It will take you to amazing rocky lookouts that really show what the park is all about.
4.) Display keys
The sunsets of pink chewing gum in Joshua Tree National Park are stunning, and are best spotted from Keys View. Well, at least in my opinion!
The highest point in the entire park, Keys View offers a 360 ° view of Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley and the Salton Sea. On a clear and fresh day you can even see the mountain peaks of Mexico.
And not only that, if novice geologists and geographers will completely like this area. You see, this is where you will see the San Andreas Fault that stretches along the south side of the park.
Before sunset, be sure to walk the loop path to the nearby one The Lost Horse Mine. It’s right next to Key View Road and it’s pretty simple.
5.) Barker dam
Although the Barker Dam is only a short 1.3-mile trail, it’s the kind of hike that’s small but powerful! In my opinion, it’s one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park and it’s worth it because of the view.
With huge Joshua trees sprinkling the landscape, it’s a completely unique place to look at the view of the park itself.
Cattle breeders also once lived around the Barker Dam area. Along the trail you will even see that the remains of a water tank can still be seen.
If you continue the loop behind the dam, you will be rewarded with a view of some of the largest trees in Joshua Tree National Park.
6.) Ryan Mountain
Want more challenges? Then the top of Mount Ryan is for you!
Yes, hiking to the top is relatively challenging, about 3 hours to complete completely, but you’ll realize how much it pays off as soon as you join.
During this three-mile hike, you’ll cross a multitude of falls and turns along a barren hill, but all your effort will be rewarded as you reach the top of Ryan Mountain.
Just remember to take plenty of water and headgear. There is no shade on this route, and it can get unbearably hot around noon.
7.) Hall of Horrors
The Hall of Horror may sound scary, but it’s not quite as bad as it sounds; Trust me.
Packed with spacious and scattered boulders, it’s a place that’s pretty dramatic to see, and you might even come across some narrow passages that can be found along paths and trails.
The best time to go to the Hall of Horrors is early morning or late afternoon just before sunset; you will be endlessly fascinated by the shadows and silhouettes that flood the landscape from this point of view.
Just remember, it can be a little busy here, especially on the weekends.
8.) Geological bypass
First, the Geological Bypass is best approached with all-wheel drive. This means you shouldn’t try driving without a tour if you’re not sure.
When you get here, you’ll be taken to the hinterland of a park with landscapes that will make you feel like you’re in a Wild West movie! Well, it was at least for me.
Along the 18-mile route you will enter a dreamy landscape and spot a small dam (around a nine-mile mark).
9.) Cottonwood Spring Oasis
Although many of the old settlers in the area were pastoralists, there were also some miners and seekers who were attracted to the region.
Cottonwood Spring Oasis is one particular area in Joshua Tree National Park where miners camped a few years ago.
Today you can still find concrete ruins and remnants of metalworking equipment used in mining. But the most important point is the oasis itself – abundant spring that leaks about 500 liters of water a day.
Due to the spring oasis of Cottonwood, Joshua Tree National Park attracts birds of all kinds. Bird watching is a popular activity in the area, with lots of sightings of hummingbirds, Gambel quail and the American shrub.
10.) Arch Rock
Arch Rock it is easily one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park if you want to see some epic rock formations. It is one of the most famous stone formations in the park and is worth a visit.
Best of all, hikers of all skill levels will have fun exploring the area because it is really easy to get to.
In addition, the White Tank camp is right next to it, and you can spend the night outside of star-watching opportunities.
11.) Heart Rock
Not hard to mark or technically easy to find, Heart Rock is very close to Arch Rock and at the same time easy to visit.
Now, to explore Heart Rock, you’ll need to have eagle eyes ready! As you walk down the path that leads you to Arch Rock, there will be a junction, just keep walking away from it and head towards the hills.
You will have to make sure that your eyes are peeled off because there are piles of stones scattered around. It can be difficult to determine and somehow frustrating.
Also, what I would say is that this is kind of a hiking trip that you have to be very careful about. Plan your route with the guards and never take risks because there is little telephone or communication in this area.
It may be less than a mile from Arch Rock, but it is very far away. If you’re not 100 percent sure, don’t go because it can be dangerous. I can’t stress that enough!