How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree

For some incredible, otherworldly scenery make your way to Joshua Tree National Park located in Southern California. The landscape here is mesmerizing and really makes you feel at peace, not to mention it’s one of the best places in the US to stargaze. And yes, one of the highlights of our trip was seeing the beautiful Joshua Trees which aren’t trees at all. They’re related to Yucca plants and happen to resemble trees in size and pattern. If you’re into seeing some breathtaking natural wonders then Joshua Tree National Park is for you

How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree
Cholla Cactus Garden…but make it gay

I recently made my way to the park during a trip that included Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Joshua Tree was definitely the cherry on top. The area is stunning and it is also dotted with a few eclectic towns which only add to its allure. If I had to describe the town of Joshua Tree, I’d definitely use the word quirky. This town is strange in the best of ways and you need to include it on your Joshua Tree itinerary. That means making Joshua Tree a major part of your trip instead of just a simple day trip. Many people visit Joshua Tree National Park and stop for a bit in town. I think this area is deserving of a bit more attention and I am certain once you’re there, you’ll find yourself wishing you could spend more time exploring the area.

To help you plan your trip, here is my guide to Joshua Tree. Trust me, it is well worth your time and effort.


Getting to Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is located about 140 miles east of Los Angeles which is an approximate 2-hour drive. The closest airport to the village of Joshua Tree is in Palm Springs which is only about 40 minutes away. The easiest and most realistic way of getting to Joshua Tree is by renting a car and driving. However, be aware that GPS systems are not always reliable when navigating to or through Joshua Tree National Park. Sometimes the GPS gets a bit confused and will route you onto backcountry roads with ruts and soft sand that may be impassable to your vehicle.

If you’re planning to visit Joshua Tree National Park, there are three entrances:

– The North Entrance is located in Twentynine Palms, three miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Utah Trail.

– The South Entrance is located near Cottonwood Springs along Interstate 10. It is 25 miles east of Indio.

– The West Entrance is located five miles south of the junction of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village.

Heading into Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park Entrance

We mistakenly made our way from Palm Springs to the South entrance of Joshua Tree National Park when we intended to head to the West entrance. That mistake ended up being a happy blessing because we were able to spend the day driving through the park and stopping off at all the nature viewing sites. Our drive through the park took us from the South entrance to the West entrance which leads right into the village of Joshua Tree where we were staying for a few days. I highly recommend taking this route during your visit.


When to Visit Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree Views
Joshua Tree National Park Views

Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can be visited any day of the year. That means you can visit and explore this approximately 800,000 acre desert wilderness whenever you desire but there are times of the year when the weather is much more agreeable. If you plan to visit the town of Joshua Tree, or any of the other surrounding towns, then the same information applies.

Spring: March to May is considered the Spring season and it is arguably the best time of the year to visit both Joshua Tree National Park as well as the town of Joshua Tree. This is a good time for hiking, rock climbing, and viewing wildflower blooms. The Joshua tree Music Festival happens during this period of time as well. The days are warm and the nights are crisps so it is perfect for lighting up a fire pit at night and watching the stars. However, you’ll likely have to contend with hoards of other tourists at this time of the year too which means it may be difficult to find a campsite if that is your goal.

Summer:  June to August is summer in Joshua Tree and it is the least popular time of the year to visit due to scorching heat which can top 100°F (38°C) during the day. Hiking and other outdoor activities become fairly uncomfortable, if not dangerous, during this time of the year and heat stroke is a very real possibility. If you plant to visit during the summer, you’ll want to keep your outdoor activities limited to early mornings or late evenings while making sure to drink plenty of water. However, visiting during summer means you can easily snag a campsite inside Joshua Tree National Park and don’t have to deal with the crowds of other seasons. It’s the perfect time of the year to visit for stargazing.

Fall: September to November is Fall in Joshua Tree and is typically split between hot and cooler whether. In September, temperatures are still fairly hot so you’ll want to follow the same guidelines as summer. Temperatures start cooling off in October and November and crowds are smaller than in Spring. Autumn’s light really makes the rock formations in Joshua Tree glow which is great for photography.

Winter: December- February is winter in Joshua Tree and temperatures can be rather chilly. However, winter is a great time for rock climbing as it rarely snows in Joshua Tree making it totally possible in winter. There are very few crowds during this time of the year and you’ll experience high desert winter environment.


Where to Stay in Joshua Tree
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The thing you have to understand about Joshua Tree village is that it is definitely not overdeveloped. In fact, that would be an understatement; there’s hardly been any development since what seems like the 1950s. The town is very proud of maintaining its low key atmosphere devoid of almost any corporate influences and i happen to think that’s a good thing. With that being said, if you’re looking for a typical hotel in or near Joshua Tree then you’re out of luck. Simply put, they don’t really exist. You won’t find very many Hilton hotels  in the area as you would anywhere else in the world. The closest major hotel is located about 20 minutes away in Twentynine Palms. If you require a typical hotel then stay there but I suggest you try something just a little different. The area is known for being quirky so go with the flow and live your best desert life!

Here are some recommendations of places to stay in or near Joshua Tree. Alternatively, you could find a unique place to stay on Airbnb. That’s what I did and the place where I stayed was just incredible. If you’re interested in the place I stayed then it’s the first recommendation below.

Jackalope Lodge
Jackalope Lodge
Jackalope Lodge

After doing extensive searching on Airbnb, I decided to book a stay at the Jackalope Lodge because I loved the way it looked in photographs and it manifests the exact type of bohemian, desert atmosphere I want when I am in Joshua Tree. The property is very private and has a number of amenities including an outdoor game room, fire pit, fireplace, kitchen, outdoor shower, and outdoor eating area. What makes this place so special is the bedroom is located in a vintage trailer. Everything is well put together and it’s truly a unique stay. If you’re heading to Joshua Tree and want a lodging experience unlike any other than I highly recommend this place.

Click here to book the Jackalope Lodge!

Spin and Margie’s Desert Hideaway

 

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I’ve heard great things about Spin and Margie’s Desert Hideway. This lodging experience is located only a couple miles east of Joshua Tree and features colorful motifs and tons of outdoor photo-perfect artwork. Offering only 5 suites to travelers, this place can be booked up pretty quick so jump on it as soon as you decide to venture to Joshua Tree.

Book a suite at Spin and Margie’s Desert Hideaway!

The Joshua Tree Inn

 

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Built in the 1950, this hacienda-style in is located about 6 miles from Joshua Tree featuring 11 rooms and plenty of kitschy decor. The inn also boasts a pool, communal fire pit, and each room includes a private patio, refrigerator, air conditioning and heat, cable TV, and wifi. This is definitely an inn that can fit just about any budget. The property is sparse but there is something kind of endearing about it all.

Book your stay at the Joshua Tree Inn.

Mojave Sands

 

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Originally built as a motel in the 1950s, the Mojave Inn offers only 5 rooms with eco-minimalism decor. If you’re hoping for a quiet desert retreat with easy access to both Joshua Tree National park and the town then this is place for you.

Hicksville Trailer Palace

 

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For a truly different kind of stay then you need to check out Hicksville Trailer Palace. While this is certainly not the cheapest place to stay in the Joshua Tree area, it definitely is the most unique. Yes, you can stay in an actual trailer park built specifically with travelers in mind. This place features 10 themes trailers which is where you stay. You can rent one of all of them if you desire. The property also boasts a saltwater pool, rooftop hot tub, firepits, a variety of games, and lounging areas. To me, this is the epitome of the Joshua Tree area and I hope one day to give it a try.

They book up quick so make your reservations at Hicksville Trailer Palace well in advance of your trip.

Pioneertown Motel 

 

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Located in the middle of nowhere, Pioneertown was once the filming location for many of Hollywood’s most famous Western films. The motel has stood since 1946 and still maintains much of its original charm, though it boast many amenities expected by today’s standards. While it housed the stars of old Western films in the past, today it offers a unique lodging experience to weary travelers. The motel features 19 guest rooms with beautiful views, wifi, and a/c. It’s also located next to Pappy and Harriet’s known for its BBQ and live music.

Book your stay at Pioneertown Motel!


Joshua Tree National Park

Of course, if you’re visiting the town of Joshua Tree then you absolutely must visit Joshua Tree National Park. It’s probably the main reason you’re heading to that area of California anyway. The park is truly massive and, as a result, it’s totally possible to get pretty remote. At one point, we were so far into the park we didn’t see another person for about an hour. That was truly amazing. But if the remote aspect of the park isn’t enough to entice you to explore then the landscapes are stunning and will definitely take your breath away.

If you’re heading to the park then you need to know a few important things!

How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park Entrances: 

There are three main entrances to the park as I’ve laid out above. If you want to drive through the park and make your way to Joshua Tree village then enter through the South entrance. You’ll be able to drive the entire park and see pretty much all of the major sights. At the end of the drive you exit the park right into the village of Joshua Tree.

Park Size:

The park is massive so make sure to set aside enough time to explore it all. At a minimum you need 3-4 hours to see the park from the comfort of your car by driving through. Even driving through will give you a sense of the park but you’ll likely want to add time onto that to make stops because there are so many beautiful views to see. We spent 3 days in Joshua Tree which gave us more than enough time to explore the park on multiple occasions.

Cost:

You do have to pay to enter the park and admission is $30 per vehicle. That costs covers however many people you can fit in your vehicle so it’s actually a pretty good deal. Additionally, you can come and go for a few days with your admission so that makes an even better deal.

Visiting at Night:
How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park at Night

Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year so you can visit anytime of the day or night. One of the best times to visit is at night because there are fewer crowds and you’re more likely to see wildlife. Additionally, the view of stars from the park is a bit mind blowing. Try to make the time to visit at night.


Joshua Tree Village: How much Time Do You Need?
Joshua Tree Village
Art Galleries in Joshua Tree

When you’re planning your trip to Joshua Tree National Park, you may plan to visit as a day trip from Los Angeles or Palm Springs. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do…especially if you’re short on time. In a day, you can drive through the national park, maybe go on a short hike, see the town, and then head out. But I would definitely not recommend doing this.

Joshua Tree National Park is pretty incredible and deserves a bit more of your attention so I recommend spending at least 2-3 days in the area. This will give you time to experience the park verses just driving through. Additionally, by spending just a little more time in the area, you can experience the village of Joshua Tree and all it has to offer. Trust me, it is unlike any other place you’ve visited. The town hasn’t changed much since the 1950s and first glance you might think there isn’t much to do in Joshua Tree but there are so many unique places to explore and things to check out.

By adding time to your trip to Joshua Tree, you also give yourself the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the laid back, desert atmosphere of the town and region. For me, that was probably the best aspect of our trip. During the day we explored the park and the local attractions. At night we hung out at our Airbnb around a fire pit, played card games, and stargazed. It’s such a romantic notion and really gives you the chance to unwind. If you’re really up for an adventure, you can visit the park at night when you’ll see a lot more wildlife and incredible views of the stars.


Where to Eat in Joshua Tree

As I’ve said before, Joshua Tree village is not a very big place and things can often be spread out. When it comes to restaurants, you have only a few choices. Of course, you can drive to nearby Yucca Valley and find a lot more restaurants including chain eating establishments. But since this article is about Joshua Tree, I am going to focus only on those that are in the town.

I highly encourage you to eat at the restaurants in Joshua Tree to support local businesses. But if you rent an Airbnb, you’ll likely have a kitchen with cooking supplies. As a result, cooking for yourself is also an option. But if that is not something you want to do then these are the restaurants I recommend in Joshua Tree.

How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree Saloon

Joshua Tree Saloon: This is a great place to go for live entertainment and great food. It’s set up to resemble an old western saloon and has a stage inside. The place is pretty big and the food is delicious. On Friday nights, Joshua Tree Saloon hosts Karaoke on the Desert which is a lot of fun and has live music most weekend nights. There are even a few pool tables inside for your entertainment. If you decide to eat here, I highly recommend the ribs. They were absolutely delicious.

Address: 61835 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Pie for the People: If you’re craving pizza then Pie for the People is definitely the place for you. You can get all the typical food items you’d find at a pizza joint here including calzones, salads, and specialty pizzas.

Address:  61740 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Country Kitchen: For a bit of home cooking, head to Country Kitchen. Their motto is Home Cook’n for Your Soul and you can expect to find all the comfort foods you might desire here. Burgers, omelettes, and other diner style foods is the name of the game.

Address: 61768 Twentynine Palms Highway #2301, Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Natural Sisters Cafe: This small restaurant serves salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and breakfast. It’s a menu is vegetarian so you can feel good knowing you are eating something a bit healthier than other options. Natural Sisters Cafe also offers a few vegan items on their menu.

Address: 61695 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Joshua Tree eateries
La Casita Nueva

Las Casita Nueva: While not actually in Joshua Tree, this Mexican restaurant is relatively close to town. Offering your typical Mexican food, this is a great place to grab a margarita and just chill.

Address: 57154 Twentynine Palms Highway, Yucca Valley, CA 92284

Royal Siam Thai Restaurant: If you are in the mood for something a but more complex and need to take a break from burgers and pizza then Royal Siam Thai Restaurant offers excellent Thai food. The restaurant also offers some vegan/vegetarian items on their menu.

Address: 61599 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252


What To Do in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is a relatively peaceful and quiet place and that’s part of the beauty of this town. Even when there are loads of tourists visiting, you can find a special moment all to yourself with the desert. With that being said, there are number of things you should definitely make the time to see and do. Let’s dive right in.

Hike in Joshua Tree National Park: 
Hiking in Joshua Tree
Hiking in Joshua Tree

As I’ve said before, you cannot visit Joshua Tree village and not visit Joshua Tree National Park. It’s one of the most magical places I’ve ever had the opportunity to see and experience. The geological formations are stunning and the Joshua Trees are simply beautiful. There is a spiritual ambiance in this park that you can’t find anywhere else. You can easily take the scenic drive and see all the major sites or have a deeper experience by going on a hike or two. The choice is yours. Just be sure to include the national park in your trip plans.

Explore Joshua Tree’s Art Scene
How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree Street Art

The town of Joshua Tree is known for being the home of a quirky community full of artists. It’s something this town is proud of and they should be. You’ll find a concentration of artists and art galleries in town and then you can also find art installations scattered all around the area. I’ll cover a few of these installations later down this list. Most these galleries are open everyday of the week and you can actually meet a lot of the artists themselves. Quite a bit of the artwork is desert-inspired which is something I love. The desert definitely does something to stir up one’s creative juices and it’s on full display in Joshua Tree.

Visit the World Famous Crochet Museum
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
World Famous Crochet Museum

Artist Shari Elf loves all things crochet and amassed a sizable collection. In the 1990’s she purchased a 1-hour photo processing booth, slapped some neon green pain on, and dubbed it the World Famous Crochet Museum. This became the new home for her collection of crochet items that includes everything from animals to abstract designs, food, and crazy creatures and monsters. It’s free to visit and is open 24/7. While you’re there make sure to check the entire grounds which is covered with various gallery spaces, installation art, and other objects of interest.

Address: 61855 Hwy 62 Joshua Tree, California

Wander through the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum

When I heard about a giant outdoor sculpture garden in the middle of the desert, I knew I needed to visit. What I did not expect was to find the otherworldly ambiance of the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. This place is nuts in all the right ways. The sculptures are what is referred to as “assemblage” artwork which means they are all made from salvaged and found materials. The outdoor museum is located on 10 acres of land near the town of Joshua Tree and contains over 100 works of art, many of which are statements about societal and environmental issues, created by the artist from 1989-2004.

It is free to visit and is open every day of the year from sun up to sundown.

Address: 62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Take a Sound Bath at The Integratron

 

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Built in 1954 by ufologist George Van Tassel who claimed the building is based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla, and telepathic directions of extraterrestrials, The Integratron was built to serve as an electrostatic generator for the rejuvenation and time travel. It is said to be situated at the intersection of a powerful geomagnetic forces which, combined with the geometry of the building, concentrate and amplify the earth’s magnetic field. Today it is owned by three sisters who work to preserve it as it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can make an appointment to take a 60-minute sound bath which is said to be of a healing nature. During the bath, you rest in a multi-wave sound chamber while a series of quartz singing bowls are played. The bath is supposed to help participants experience waves of peace, heightened awareness, and relaxation of mind and body. There’s no better place to try something outside the box!

Address: 2477 Belfield Blvd, Landers, CA 92285

Watch a Movie Under the Stars at Smith’s Ranch

 

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Located a short 20 minute drive from Joshua Tree in the town of Twentynine Palms, Smith’s Ranch Drive-In Theater throws it back the days of watching great cinema in the open air. The theater is open Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with showtime to starting at 7:30 pm. So make the drive to watch a movie and enjoy some great concessions.

Address: 4584 Adobe Rd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

Learn about a Parallel Universe at Krblin Jihn Kabin

How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree
Krblin Jihn Cabin

Yes, you can totally learn about the war and history of another dimension in Joshua Tree and, really, are you even surprised. The Krblin Jihn Kabin was constructed by artist Eames Demetrios and is dedicated to the religious leader named Krblin Jihn who apparently lived in this cabin under house arrest. You can learn all about the very detailed history of these fictional people and check out the interior of the abandoned house. It’s a really interesting art exhibit and I love all the detail that went into it.

Address: 5880 Border Ave, Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Dig Your Own Cactus at the Cactus Mart

 

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If you’re like me and love plants then you need to add a stop at the Cactus Mart to your itinerary. This plant shop serves up a plethora of native desert plants including cacti in two greenhouses. It also is home to an art gallery and a pretty fish pond. The best part of the Cactus Mart is the “Dig Ur Own” cactus bar. For less then a dollar per cactus, you can acquire a variety of cacti to add to your collection back home.

Address: 49889 Twentynine Palms Highway, Morongo Valley, CA 92256


Are you ready for your Joshua Tree adventure?


J. Harvey

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How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Joshua Tree

J. Harvey

J Harvey is a travel writer based in North Carolina. With two masters degrees, he decided to forget working a normal 9-5 job and instead create a travel blog focusing on travel for a more inclusive community. He hopes to increase LGBT representation within the travel industry while inspiring others to travel in whatever capacity.

J. Harvey has 178 posts and counting. See all posts by J. Harvey

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