Spending an afternoon at Joshua Tree National Park
A day trip to the Joshua Tree National Park is a must if you are visiting Los Angeles, after two and a half hours of drive, you will be transported to a true desert wilderness like no other! I visited the park mid of July, which is actually not the best time to visit the park, since it is the peak of summer, the heat almost made it impossible for me to survive outside of my car, nonetheless, i managed to hike three trails!
The Joshua Tree National Park is named for the park’s twisted, bristled Joshua trees which are dotted along Colorado Desert. The park has two distinct desert ecosystems, the Colorado and Mojave, which is higher and cooler. The Colorado desert is a more popular option and it’s a better option in my opinion if you only have an afternoon to explore to park.
The park has three entrances:
|•||The West Entrance is located five miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village.|
|•||The North Entrance is in Twentynine Palms, three miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Utah Trail.|
|•||The South Entrance near Cottonwood Spring is an access point along Interstate 10, 25 miles east of Indio.|
You should take either the West and North Entrance if you choose to explore the Colorado Desert zone. On this trip, i stayed at a hotel located at Twentynine Palms but i took the West Entrance as my starting point since i wanted to see the downtown Joshua Tree Village before heading out to the park. I dropped by at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center as well which is around 5 miles away from the park’s West Entrance to get a guide map. The pass can be bought at the entrance gate.
Here are the photos i took from the roadside while driving along the Park Boulevard which is the loop that connects the West and North entrances:
If time or the strong heat means you only have the chance to do short hikes at the park, here are the top three great choices i would recommend:
Hidden Valley -Sample the best of Joshua Tree park on this short 1 mile nature trail loop within one hour. This is a rock-enclosed valley that was once rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers. The nature trail takes you around some of the most prominent features of the park, including interpretive guides to the area’s diversity, plant life and geology.
Skull Rock – An easy hike to explore boulder piles and desert washes, this 1.7 mile trail can be completed in 1-2 hours. Located along the main east-west park road, Skull Rock is a favorite stop for park visitors. A parking spot is located just across the road from the rock. The trail begins either just across from the entrance to Jumbo Rocks Campground or inside the campground, across from the amphitheater.
Cholla Cactus Garden – this is definitely my favorite! Continuing at the Park Boulevard, you have to turn right onto Pinto Basin Road (which is the first and only intersection) and start driving down into the Mojave Desert zone. The first stop would be the Cactus garden. The course is about 0.25-mile loop and you’ll be up-close to one of the world’s densest concentrations of the lovely-but-dangerous cholla cactus. This garden is spectacular during sunrise or sunset – the needles on the cactus glow in the light, and it was such a beautiful sight! I went to the garden twice, during daylight and just before sunset.
Photos of cactus garden at daylight
Photos of cactus garden at sunset
After my visit to the cactus garden, I continued my drive along the Mojave Desert and here are the roadside photos:
Some photos of me soaking in into this desert wilderness:
PRO tip: There is no cellular signal inside the park so download an offline map of the park in advance. Otherwise, the road was easy to navigate and the starting point of the trails are clearly marked along the road. There are also plenty of parking spaces.
The only water pump is located at the entrance of the park so bring bottles of water to keep you hydrated during your hikes.
There are interpretative guides along the trails describing the area’s plant life and geology so make sure to allot sometime to read through these guides to learn more about the park’s wildlife.