Joshua Tree National Park is a United States National Park that is located in the Southern California Desert. The park encompasses nearly 800,000 acres (320,000 hectares) of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, conserving two separate desert ecosystems at different altitudes. The name of the park is derived from the distinctive Joshua Tree, a tall-growing variety of the yucca genus that grows prevalently within its boundaries.
The area enclosed by the park was declared a National Monument in 1936, a Biosphere Reserve in 1984 and finally a National Park in 1994.
The name Joshua Tree was reportedly given by a band of Mormons who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century, the tree's unique shape reminding them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky.
The profile of the Joshua Tree National Park (then a National Monument) was raised significantly in 1987 with the release of the best-selling U2 album The Joshua Tree.
Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features natural gardens of creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla cactus. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the Joshua tree. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California's deserts. Five fan palm oases also dot the park, indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally and wildlife abounds.
Flora and fauna
While it may at first appear lifeless, the desert supports myriad of creatures that become active during the evening and early morning. Coyotes are commonly seen near the park roads making their rounds. Jackrabbits and the shy kangaroo rats emerge from their dens in the evenings to forage. Bobcats are less frequently seen, but a lucky traveler might catch one silhouetted against the moonlight. Birds in the park include burrowing owls, vultures, golden eagles, and roadrunners. Lizards, tarantulas, and rattlesnakes may be found among the rocks.
Days are typically clear with less than 25 percent humidity. Temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average high/low of 85 and 50°F (29 and 10°C) respectively. Winter brings cooler days, typically around 60°F (15°C), and freezing nights. It occasionally snows at higher elevations. Summers are hot, over 100°F (38°C) during the day and not cooling much below 75°F (24°C) until the early hours of the morning.
Palm Springs is also the nearest city with an Amtrak station; it is served by the Sunset Limited Los Angeles - New Orleans route.
Joshua Tree National Park lies 140 miles east of Los Angeles. It can be approached from the west via Interstate 10 and Hwy 62 (Twentynine Palms Highway). The north entrances to the park are located at Joshua Tree Village and the city of Twentynine Palms. The south entrance at Cottonwood Spring, which lies 25 miles east of Indio, can be approached from the east or west, also via Interstate 10.
Fees and permits
Entrances fees are valid for seven days, allowing unlimited re-entry for the week. Fees as of 2020 are:
- $15 - indivdual on foot/bike
- $25 - motorcycle
- $30 - private vehicle
- $55 - Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass (good for 12 months, covers the entrance fee for the pass signee and accompanying passengers entering in a single, non-commercial vehicle)
There are several passes for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot/bike that provide free entry to Joshua Tree National Park and all national parks, as well as some national monuments, national wildlife refuges, and national forests:
- The $80 Annual Pass (valid for twelve months from date of issue) can be purchased by anyone. Military personnel can obtain a free pass by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID.
- The $80 Senior Pass (valid for the life of the holder) is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. Applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and age. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities. Seniors can also obtain a $20 annual pass.
- The free Access Pass (valid for the life of the holder) is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and permanent disability. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
- The free Volunteer Pass is available to individuals who have volunteered 250 or more hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program.
- The free Annual 4th Grade Pass (valid for September-August of the 4th grade school year) allows entry to the bearer and any accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle. Registration at the Every Kid Outdoors website is required.
The National Park Service offers free admission to all national parks on five days every year:
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January); next observance is January 18, 2021
- The first day of National Park Week (third Saturday in April); next observance is April 17, 2021
- The National Park Service Birthday (August 25)
- National Public Lands Day (fourth Saturday in September); next observance is September 25, 2021
- Veterans Day (November 11)
The main roads through the park are paved and easily accessible to passenger vehicles. Several dirt roads through the park may also be passable by normal sedans, although conditions often require high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles; check at the ranger stations for current road conditions.
There are numerous trails throughout the park. Be sure to carry and drink lots of water while hiking.
Many of the park trails and roads are excellent for mountain biking; check at a ranger station for options.
There are two visitor centers located inside the park, and two located in towns just outside of the park:
- 1 Black Rock Nature Center (in the heart of Black Rock Campground). Bookstore, water, flush toilets, picnic area.
- 2 Cottonwood Visitor Center (approximately six miles past the south entrance). Exhibits, bookstore, water, and flush toilets onsite. Picnic area nearby.
- 3 Joshua Tree Visitor Center, 6554 Park Boulevard, Joshua Tree (north of the park in downtown Joshua Tree). The first stop for park visitors headed towards the West Entrance. Exhibits, bookstore, cafe, flush toilets onsite; public telephone and showers nearby.
- 4 Oasis Visitor Center, 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms (north of the park at the Oasis of Mara in Twentynine Palms). Exhibits, bookstore, water, flush toilets, picnic tables.
Other sights include:
- 5 Hidden Valley. Located in the northern portion of the park, a short trail leads through boulders to an old cattle rustler's hideout.
- 6 Barker Dam. Built in the early 1900s to hold water for cattle and mining use, today the area is a rain-fed reservoir attracting local wildlife.
- Keys View. This overlook, with an elevation of 5,185 feet above sea level, is an extremely popular spot for watching the sunset. On rare clear days the view extends over the Salton Sea to Mexico.
- Geology Tour Road. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended (but not always necessary, check with rangers) for this eighteen mile dirt road. Along this route are numerous interesting geologic formations and trails.
- Cholla Cactus Garden, Pinto Basin Road, ☏ . A short walk leads through a thick stand of cholla cactus, noted for its especially prickly exterior.
- Cottonwood Springs. Located near the south entrance of the park, Cottonwood Springs is a desert oasis that offers a respite from the arid lands around it. Willows and birds are found in abundance near this natural spring.
- Jumbo Rocks. One of the most popular and sought-out destinations in the park. Known for its spectacular giant rock formations. Hidden canyons abound. Hiking encouraged, especially the easy-to-moderate trail to Skull Rock. Campsites available. Includes an amphitheater where Park Rangers lead science and history tours.
A great place to go! Trails within the park include:
- Boy Scout Trail. (16 miles / 25.8 km). A scenic trail through the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks that is moderately strenuous.
- 49 Palms Oasis Trail, Canyon Rd, Twentynine Palms Highway, ☏ . (3 miles / 4.8 km). A hike to an oasis surrounded by stands of fan palms and pools of water. Moderately strenuous.
- Lost Horse Mine/Mtn. Trail. (4 miles / 6.4 km). Site of ten-stamp mill. The summit elevation is 5,278 feet (1,609m). Moderately strenuous.
- Lost Palms Oasis Trail. (8 miles / 11.2 km) A canyon with numerous palm stands, with a possible sidetrip to Victory Palms and Munsen Canyon that involves scrambling. Moderately strenuous.
- Mastodon Peak Trail. (3 miles / 4.8 km). A trail offering excellent views of the Eagle Mountains and Salton Sea, with a summit elevation of 3,371 feet (1,027m). Strenuous.
- Ryan Mountain Trail. (3 miles / 4.8 km). Excellent views of Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant valleys with a summit elevation of 5,461 feet (1,664m). Strenuous. The trail is well-maintained and features stone steps for most of the way.
- 1 Keys Ranch, Keys Ranch Road. Tickets required
The odd shapes of the Joshua Tree, as well as the dramatic geology and desert scenery, make the park a great place for photographers. As with many areas, photography is best in the early morning and late evening hours.
The park is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the world with more than 4,500 established routes offering a wide range of difficulty. Note that there are differing regulations depending on whether a climb is being done within the designated wilderness area or not; check with a ranger for current regulations.
- Cliffhanger Guides, 61716 29 Palms Hwy Joshua Tree (2.5 hours from either LA or San Diego), ☏ . Custom guided rock climbing for adults and children. Gourmet food provided. Locally owned and operated.
- Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School, HCR 3034, ☏ . 8AM-8PM. Year round rock climbing instruction, open enrollment basic to advanced classes offered weekly and customized private guiding in Joshua Tree National Park, California. All levels of climbing instruction, all ages. Groups, family outings and scouting merit badge programs. Three hours from Los Angeles and San Diego and one hour from Palm Springs, California. $85.
- The Climbing Life Guides, 61117 Navajo Trl, Joshua Tree, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 8 AM to 5 PM. Offers rock climbing guiding and instruction in Joshua Tree National Park. They hold a permit to guide in the park and hire certified guides as their instructors and guides. They are a local climber-owned and -operated business. They also have a rental space available for rent for those interested in staying overnight near the park entrance in a stand-alone casita.
Due to its dark night time skies and the relative clarity of its air, Joshua Tree National Park is a popular spot for amateur astronomy, stargazing, and astrophotography.
A number of classes are conducted in the park through the Joshua Tree National Park Association's Desert Institute. They include topics such as painting, photography, wildlife, wildflowers, and geology.
Springtime wildflowers come in numerous varieties and can produce extraordinarily colorful displays, especially following wet winters. The flowers can include vast fields of flowering shrubs or tiny flowering plants right at your feet.
Services within the park are limited, but food, gas, and supplies can all be purchased just outside of the park in the City of Twentynine Palms. Park visitor centers all offer book stores selling postcards, posters, and books of local interest.
There are no restaurants or stores in the park, but numerous options are available along Highway 62, north of the park, or in towns such as Twentynine Palms, located to the east and west of the park along Interstate 10. Joshua Tree Village has a variety of cafés and restaurants. There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options in the Village. Every Saturday, year round, the Village holds a farmers market.
Water is available from all visitor centers and a few of the campgrounds, and the Oasis Visitor Center also sells beverages. Towns, such as Twentynine Palms, located outside of the park borders offer additional options for refreshment.
There are nine camp grounds within the park, but they will often fill well before sunset, especially on weekends. Sadly, as least since 2005 there are no longer any free sites. All camp grounds are open year-round. Some of the campgrounds must be reserved in advance through the National Park Service Reservation System. There are also 13 staging areas for backcountry camping trips in the park, they are free but requires registration in advance.
- 1 Belle Campground (near the North Entrance Station). 18 sites. All sites are first-come, first-served. This small (18 site) campground is at an elevation of 3,800 ft (1,158 m). Pit toilets. No water so bring plenty of your own. Belle is a great campground to see dark night skies. $15 Campsite Fee (2020 rates).
- 2 Black Rock Campground (just south of Yucca Valley). 99 sites. This large (99 site) campground is located in the northwest corner of the park, but it is not accessible from the main park roads. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring with rest rooms and water nearby. Shopping facilities are only five miles away in the town of Yucca Valley. Campsites vary in size and can accommodate both tents and RVs. A day-use picnic area and a dump station are also available. For horse owners, a separate area is provided for camping or for staging a ride. $20 Campsite (2020 rates).
- 3 Cottonwood Campground (next to the park's south entrance). 62 sites, 3 group sites. The Cottonwood Campground is reservations only during the busy season (September-May) and has 62 sites, potable water and flush toilets. $20 Campsite Fee, $40 Group Campsite Fee (2020 rates).
- 4 Hidden Valley Campground (near Barker Dam and the Hidden Valley Nature Trail). 44 sites. All sites are first-come, first-served. The Hidden Valley Campground has pit toilets and no water. The campground is located along park boulevard and is surrounded by large boulders and Joshua Trees. Motorhomes and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not permitted. $15 Hidden Valley Campsite (2020 rates).
- 5 Indian Cove Campground. 101 sites, 13 group sites.This campground is not accessible from the main park roads and may be reached only via Highway 62 and Indian Cove Road, between the North and West Entrance Stations. Indian Cove Road dead-ends at this secluded area. There are vault toilets and no water. Water is available there. $20 Individual Campsite at Indian Cove, $50 Group Campsite at Indian Cove (2020 rates).
- 6 Jumbo Rocks Campground (located along Park Boulevard. The campground is approximately 12 miles from Twentynine Palms and 21 miles from the town of Joshua Tree.). 124 sites. There are 124 individual/family sites in Jumbo Rocks Campground. Reservations are required during the busy season, September to May. The largest campground in the park, located near the junction of the park roads in the northern part of the park. Sites are surrounded by scenic granite formations. $15 Jumbo Rocks Campsite (2020 rates).
- 7 Ryan Campground (located along Park Boulevard. The campground is 17 miles from the town of Joshua Tree and 18 miles from Twentynine Palms.). 31 sites. All sites are first-come, first-served. The campground is centrally located in the park and is adjacent to the California Riding and Hiking Trail. There are 4 designated equestrian sites and reservations are required. For more equestrian campsites, see Black Rock Campground. There is no water available at Ryan Campground. There are 3 bicycle sites available at $5 per night, with no more than 3 tents and 3 people per campsite. $15 Ryan Individual Campsite (2020 rates).
- 8 Sheep Pass Group Campground (located off of Park Boulevard, 16 miles from Twentynine Palms and 18 miles from the town of Joshua Tree.). Sheep Pass Group Campground has 6 group campsites and is easily accessible to hiking trails and rock climbing routes. All campsites are by reservation only. It is one of three group campgrounds in the park. Towering rock formations and uniquely-shaped Joshua trees surround the facility. There is no water available in the campground. $50 Group Campsite at Sheep Pass (2020 rates).
- 9 White Tank Campground (located off Pinto Basin Road in the northern end of the park, close to the North Entrance Station). 15 sites. All sites are first-come, first-served. White Tank Campground is nestled among immense granite boulders. RVs and trailers may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. There is no water available, bring plenty. White Tank has excellent night sky viewing and is located near the darkest section of the park. $15 Individual Campsite at White Tank (2020 rates).
Permits are required for all backcountry camping and can be obtained at the visitor centers. Backcountry campsites must be located at least one mile from the road and 500 feet from any trail. Camping in washes is not recommended due to possible flash flood danger. All water must be carried in as natural water sources are limited and reserved for the local wildlife population. Open fires are also forbidden, and all cooking should be done over portable camp stoves.
By far, the greatest danger in this park is the weather. Due to the high desert environment, it will be blazing hot during the day and temperatures may drop to freezing during the night. Do not hike without adequate water. One gallon per person per day is the minimum recommended amount. Wear sunscreen, dress in layers, and take all other precautions when dealing with a desert environment. Be aware that even a tiny amount of rain can cause flash flooding; avoid canyons and drainage areas during severe weather.
Other dangers within the park include rattlesnakes, abandoned mines, and the numerous prickly and thorny desert plants. In general, snakes can be avoided by being careful when in rocky areas. Mines can be found throughout the park, and while most have been sealed over, open mines can still be found. Do not enter mines — most of these areas are over 100 years old and are extremely dangerous.
- Salton Sea. California's largest lake formed when an irrigation canal burst in 1905 and flooded the Salton Basin for more than a year. This unusual area is home to geothermal features, a wildlife refuge, the partially built resort community of Salton City, and the "profoundly strange" artwork of Salvation Mountain in the squatter town of Slab City.
- Twentynine Palms. Located on the park's north border, this town provides a source of lodging, food and supplies for park visitors.
- Palm Springs. A desert oasis located south of the park, Palm Springs offers resorts, golfing, dining, and other escapes for travellers.
- Mojave National Preserve, in the Mojave Desert north of Joshua Tree.