National Parks are one of America’s most unique treasures—sprawling protected lands that encourage adventure and exploring nature for everyone. Welcome to Joshua Tree, an area of desert wilderness named after the native yucca brevifolia in southeastern California. Winter does bring cooler temperatures, but there’s still quite a bit of sunshine.
You can fly into San Diego, Los Angeles, or Palm Springs. Depending on the time of year, prices will fluctuate for flying to each. Tickets to Palm Springs were over $500 versus less than $200 to LAX when we booked. And you’ll need to rent a car. Palm Springs is the closest to Joshua Tree—it’s a one-hour drive while San Diego and LA are each about three hours away.
Where to stay
You can camp in the park, rent an Airbnb, or stay at a hotel nearby in Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley or Twentynine Palms.
Here are some of our favorite picks for an Airbnb nearby:
There are also some adorable airstreams at Joshua Tree Acres.
Joshua Tree offers reserve ahead campgrounds as well as first-come, first-serve campgrounds. They run from $15 – $20 per night. More information here.
What to do
There is plenty of hiking to choose from and they are all pretty accessible without too much elevation. Think of it as “trail walks”.
Cholla Cactus Garden
This is a must. The flat loop leads you through nearly 10 acres of landscape dominated by the teddy bear cholla. It takes anywhere between 20-30 minutes to wander through.
If you visit after the rains, you’ll find an oasis creating an enchanting scene in the middle of the desert. There are rock formations and it’s a gorgeous setting to catch the sunset.
Ocotillo Patch in Pinto Basin
The ocotillo is a thorny, multi-stem shrub (not a cactus). Unlike other deciduous shrubs, which normally grow leaves in the spring and drop them in the fall, the ocotillo may grow and drop leaves as often as five times during the year. Its leaves are rain dependent and it can even bloom orange flowers in the spring between March and June.
What to eat
Pappy & Harriet’s offers classic American fare in an old-school setting with live music. Worth a visit.
La Copine is the perfect high desert brunch spot. It’s open Wednesday – Sunday 2:00 – 7:00 pm.
Joshua Tree Coffee Company roasts their organic coffee on site. They’re open daily from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. It’s basically the only coffee shop in the area and it’s legit, so it’s popular. There can be a line out the door during peak coffee times from 9:00 – 11:00 am.
There aren’t a ton of choices for going out to eat, so we opted to buy things at the grocery store and make most of our meals. We visited Von’s and Stater Bros. Market (comparable selection to a Safeway) and Joshua Tree Health Foods for local, vegan, and gluten-free items.
1. Service is spotty, so make sure you have a map and download the stuff you need before entering the park.
2. Bring layers! It’s the desert so it can be warm during the day (December highs are 60’s), but it drops to the 40s at night.