Weekend Wanderings: Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by Jennifer Liu.

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. 

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by Jennifer Liu.

Getting there

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. 

Ocotillo desert plant. Photo by Jennifer Liu.

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

Sunset shot of a Joshua Tree on the Barker Dam trail. Photo by Jennifer Liu.

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. 

Cholla Cactus Garden. Photo by Jennifer Liu.

Barker Dam 

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.

Heart & Arch Rock 

On this short loop at White Tank campground, you visit a natural arch within the granite formations. It’s a 0.3-mile hike fairly easy enjoyable stroll. There’s also this amazing heart rock 0.5 mile from Arch Rock. Arch Rock coordinates: 33.9857576,-116.0172477

Heart Rock.

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. 

Helpful tips: 

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.