From a silent, vibrant sunrise over desert sands to a darkened, plum, starstruck evening- traveling through Joshua Tree National Park can be awe-inspiring. Just a few hours from Southern California, visiting is not only generally accessible but fulfilling- physically and spiritually. Before exploring this majestic desert and to better contextualize your experience, check out these cool Joshua Tree facts.
A special thank you to Hotels.com for inviting us to share our thoughts on Joshua Tree National Park.
Planning Your Visit to Joshua Tree National Park
Best Times to Visit Joshua Tree National Park
Due to its arid topography, Joshua Tree National Park’s weather can range in extremes. In the summertime, temperatures can surpass 100 F with nights dropping to 70 F. During winter months, temperatures can range between 60 F in the daytime and drop below freezing at night.
Therefore, the best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park for perfect weather is during the spring months of March and April or during the fall months of October and November. These are also excellent months for camping. But it can still be a fun American winter destination to visit as the weather varies between mid-60s F in the day time and high 30s F at night.
The weather year-round typically brings clear sunny skies with low humidity and a very rare chance of rain. However, the desert-type weather of Joshua Tree National Park can also be unpredictable, therefore it’s important to prepare for extreme variations. Also, please note that the nearby towns or regions you are staying in may also vary in weather and altitude. Source: Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide by James Kaiser.
Best Neighborhoods to Stay
You might think Joshua Tree National Park is in the middle of a barren desert. However, many colorful towns are tucked throughout and around the park. Stay in one of our three favorite neighborhoods near Joshua Tree.
Town of Joshua Tree
This funky downtown area has worked hard to keep its authenticity. You won’t find fast food here or any major chain stores. In fact, the town of Joshua Tree looks much like it did in the sixties. Additionally, everything is run by locals. Thus, products or services purchased here by tourists go to the local economy which in turn helps preserve Joshua Tree as one of the last classic desert towns.
Be sure to check out the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center, located in the town of Joshua Tree, and not found in the park itself.
The small city of Twentynine Palms sits just 16 miles to the east of Joshua Tree. Here, you can enter the park from the main park entrance, known as the North Entrance. Twentynine Palms is famous for its murals and artists. To explore, take a self-guided tour to see all the murals in town, or visit 29Palms Art Gallery.
The famous city of Palm Springs has been a resort destination since the early 1900s and boomed in the 1930s with Hollywood glamor. Today it still has the best resorts in the area. Perfect for families or travelers who want all-inclusive accommodation. Popular resorts include:
You’ll love basing your adventures in this cool, California desert small city, located just under an hour’s drive from Joshua Tree National Park.
Entrances to Joshua Tree National Park
There are three official entrance stations to Joshua Tree National Park: West Entrance, North Entrance, and South Entrance. The West Entrance is the busiest, while the South Entrance (by Cottonwood Spring) receives the least amount of visitors.
The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle ($25 for motorcycles and $15 for bikes) valid for up to seven days. Visitors can also purchase an Annual Park pass for $55 which will also grant them access to shorter entry lines.
Interesting Facts About Joshua Tree National Park
1) Joshua Trees Are Not Trees
Native to the arid Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico, Joshua Tree plants (Yucca Brevifolia) aren’t really trees. Though they resemble a tree, when you get up close you will quickly notice they are distinctly different. In fact, Joshua Tree plants are in the agave family and are a kind of succulent. This means they store their own water. In addition, they are distantly related to lilies. Also, Joshua tree flowers bloom each spring, and, if pollinated correctly, produce fruit. The fruit is edible, though best roasted or dried.
2) Joshua Trees Can Live a Really Long Time
Joshua tree plants grow exclusively in the Mojave Desert and in high elevations of 1,300 to 6,000 feet. They also grow fairly slowly; half an inch to three inches a year. But even though they grow slowly, Joshua trees have a long life span. The average age for a Joshua tree is around 150-200 years old. And they can live longer.
Though we could not find the actual source of this information, according to several articles, researchers in the 1930s found a Joshua Tree plant of over 1,000 years old, soaring 80 feet high.
3) Joshua Tree Has a Rich Native-American History
The first known human inhabitants of the Joshua Tree National Park area are known as the Pinto Culture dating back from 5000 BC. There is currently no recorded history of weather there was a connection between this native group and the other indiegenous groups that followed: the Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Cahuilla. Many members of the three latter groups still live around the area to this day.
You can see evidence of this history in the petroglyphs hiding around the park. Unfortunately, some of these artifacts were painted over decades ago in order to stand out on camera doing film shootings. Despite this, you can still feel the deep history of these indigenous cultures throughout the park. These facts about Joshua Tree National Park remind us to be respectful of the people that once and still call this desert home.
4) Joshua Tree Was a Part of Mexico Until the U.S Invasion
Following the American invasion of Mexican territories, the Mexican-American War ensued. This resulted in the U.S. further taking land from Mexico. By 1850, California became a U.S. state. Before that, California (including the area that is today Joshua Tree National Park) was a part of Mexico.
5) American Pioneers* Lived and Worked in Joshua Tree…
In the 1800s, American pioneers* from out east set their sights on new futures in the west, and many tried to settle in this region. Thus, the Joshua Tree area became very popular for homesteading and cattle-ranching. Of course, some of the draws came from the possibility of gold due to the California Gold Rush that began in 1848. So, there was gold and silver mining in Joshua Tree as well.
* The term “pioneer” refers to European American and African American settlers who migrated west into Native American and Mexican-owned land.
6) … and You Can Still Visit Where They Lived and Worked
Lost Horse Mine is one of the remaining ruins left by the pioneers. The mine is still easily accessed via a 4-mile hike. While in operation, it produced $5 million worth of gold!
Visitors can also hike to Keys Ranch, a listing on the National Historic Register. The Keys family called this place home and built the Desert Queen Mine, a stamp mill, a schoolhouse, workshop, and store. Many of these buildings are still standing. You can take a tour led by a knowledgeable ranger, who will give a detailed history of the grounds.
7) The Pioneers Gave the Joshua Tree Its Name
Another group of pioneers that came through Joshua Tree were the Mormons. Its common belief that the Mormons gave Joshua tree plants their name. To them, the strong, gnarly branches of the tree resembled the outstretched arms of the Biblical Joshua, reaching up to heaven to pray. Before this, the tree was often referred to as a yucca palm.
8) Joshua Tree National Park was Started by a Woman
As the popularity of the desert grew in Hollywood in the 1930s, desert vegetation became very desirable for Los Angeles homes. Many residents began ordering plants to be moved out of the Mojave desert and into their own backyards. This startled Minerva Hoyt, and in 1936, she began efforts to protect the land’s plants. This led to the formation of Joshua Tree National Monument, which was elevated to the rank of National Park in 1994.
9) Joshua Tree is a Year-Round Park
Wondering when the best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is? Really, Joshua Tree is a great destination year round. There is hardly ever rain in the forecast. So, you can expect clear, breathtaking blue skies on your trip. However, May through September do reach highs in the 90s, and often soar over 100 degrees. During these months, Joshua Tree can get so hot that trails close. So, while you can visit year round, be sure to plan the right activities. Save longer, more gruelling hikes for cooler months, where highs are in the 60s.
10) Joshua Tree has Epic Hikes
Whether beginner or advanced, visitors can experience Joshua Tree’s unique features by hiking. One of the easiest is Arch Rock Trail, a .6 mile trail through rocky terrain to an arched rock. While short, this hike can take awhile, depending on how long you want to explore the rocks. Another great hike, about the same distance, is Indian Cove Trail. As you walk, enjoy informational placards about how Native Americans used this land.
A longer loop, the Hi-View Trail takes you through a Joshua tree forest. Or, hike a 375 foot elevation gain to the top of craggy Mastodon Peak.
A more challenging hike, not to be attempted in summer heat, is Fortynine Palms Oasis. You’ll hike beyond a ridge full of cactus to a canyon full of palms. You can also hike to the summit of Ryan Mountain, at 1,050 feet.
11) Joshua Tree Has More Plant Life Than You Think
This National Park is made up of two deserts, the high Mojave and the low Colorado. Joshua trees thrive in the high Mojave desert climate. The Colorado desert is home to other plants, like
- Ocotillo, a spiky shoot of scarlet
- Desert saltbush, a thick, intricate shrub
- Cholla cactus, a thin cactus known to seemingly “jump” onto passerby
You’ll also see wildflowers throughout Joshua Tree National Park, if you visit at the right time between February and June.
12) Joshua Tree has Some of the Best Star-Gazing
One of Joshua Tree’s main attractions happens after the sunsets. You’ll be amazed at the number of stars in the sky. If you plan to stargaze, use red lights instead of flashlights. Red lights will help your eyes adjust more quickly to the darkness. Camp at one of Joshua Tree’s nine campgrounds to enjoy a full night under the stars.
13) Highest and Lowest Points of Joshua Tree National Park
The highest point in Joshua Tree National Park is the summit of Quail Mountain which soars over 5,800 ft. And the lowest point is the southeastern boundary of the park at 536 ft. Source: The History of Joshua Tree National Park by Thomas Crochetiere.
Visiting Joshua Tree National Park: Safe Travel Practices
While traveling through the Joshua Tree National Park region, remember to follow healthy travel practices like washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask, and keeping a safe distance from others. Due to Covid-19, some businesses may be closed now so be sure to call ahead of time. The US National Park Services website can provide the latest updates on local policies in the area.
Please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times. When you are comfortable traveling, please do so mindfully and respect local regulations. And finally, consider booking a hotel with free cancellation options in the case that you may need to change your travel plans at the last minute.