Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Joshua Tree National Park Trip Planner

Named for the twisted, spiky trees, there’s so much more to see in this popular California national park than only the iconic Joshua Trees. Spanning two distinct desert ecosystems, Joshua Tree National Park has a fascinating variety of plants and wildlife that make their homes in this vast wilderness. With its rugged rock formations, breathtaking views, wide variety of wildlife and stark desert landscapes, this desert oasis is a must-visit for a variety of travelers. 

Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features make for a bucket-list road trip, as well as being a top destination for serious mountain climbers. And no matter what you choose to see and do, make sure to bring a good camera as you’ll get some amazing pictures while you’re here.


Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

How To Get Here

Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park is easily reached from airports in Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Interstate 10 connects LA and Phoenix, passing the southern entrance to the park, while Route 62 runs around the north side of the park. Roadtrippers on Interstates 15 and 40 will only need about an hour’s detour to reach the entrances on the north side of the park. Palm Springs is the largest city in the area.

By Plane

Los Angeles 

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the second-busiest airport in the United States, serving over 150 destinations worldwide. Roughly 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of the town of Joshua Tree (the West Entrance), Los Angeles is a good launch pad, though navigating the city’s chronic gridlock may require a dose of patience. It’s roughly three to four hours to Joshua Tree, but only two hours and change to Palm Springs, which is a good base if you’re planning on spending several days in the desert.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

San Diego

San Diego International Airport (SAN) is 160 miles (257 kilometers) from Joshua Tree, and is also a three to four hour drive. While you’re less likely to find deals here, it is nevertheless a superb springboard for desert trips and has better beaches and a mellower vibe than LA.

Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Airport, Harry Reid International Airport, (LAS) often has great deals. It’s 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of Twentynine Palms (the North Entrance); the drive takes roughly three hours, depending on the route you choose. Most apps send drivers through the Mojave National Preserve. This is the shortest route and is a great drive through the desert, but be aware that the preserve is without facilities (including cell service) and has poorly maintained roads – so be prepared and download a map ahead of time. Alternatively, Route 95 to Twenty Nine Palms or I-15 to Joshua Tree (via Route 247) are both 3.5-hour drives.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong


Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) is a bit farther than Las Vegas, but not by much. It’s located due east of Joshua Tree’s South Entrance; expect the 220-mile (354-kilometer) drive to take 3.5 to four hours.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Entrance Fees

All park visitors are required to purchase a park pass to enter Joshua Tree National Park. Passes are valid for seven consecutive days and available for purchase at entrance stations and visitor centers, as well as online in advance.

Depending on the length of your stay and how many National Parks you plan to visit in a year, it may be more beneficial to purchase the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass covers entrance fees into all U.S. National Parks as well as over 2,000 National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Historic Sites, and other federally managed lands. 

Passes are free for current U.S. military members and reduced for Seniors aged 62 years or older. Senior passes also provide a 50 percent discount at select campgrounds.

Have Kids in the 4th Grade? 
You and your family can get free access to hundreds of parks, lands, and waters for an entire year!  

Joshua Tree National Park Tour Map

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Where to Stay


Joshua Tree National Park has eight designated campgrounds, five of which are reservation only, and three of which are first-come, first-served. The park advises making reservations well in advance, as campsites are almost always full on weekends between October and May. Note that most campsites do not have water; you must bring your own. Some campsites operate at a limited capacity at the height of summer and due to the extreme heat, it is not recommended to camp here at this time.    

If you are unable to reserve a campsite, there are plenty of options outside the park, ranging from private glamping (luxury camping) to RV parks to free dispersed camping (no facilities) on BLM land. 


Joshua Tree has long been a desert getaway for Angelenos, and there are a variety of sleeping options, from chic boutique hotels in Palm Springs to spa resorts in Desert Hot Springs to the unplugged artsy charm of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. Rates range from under $100 for the most basic chain motels to upwards of hundreds of dollars for luxury rooms and rental homes. Generally speaking, Palm Springs is a resort town, with plenty of accommodation and restaurant options, in addition to some good sights, while Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms are better for a low-key, off-the-grid experience. For example, if you want to sleep in a vintage Airstream or something similarly unique, then Joshua Tree is your spot.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

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Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

When To Visit

The best time of year is spring (March to May) and fall (October and November), when outdoor temperatures are mild. Spring is the peak season in terms of visitation, while fall is considered best for hiking. Winter is cool, with temperatures in the 50s during the day and hovering around freezing at night. Summer is the low season (June to September), as daytime temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s too hot to stray far from the air-conditioned comfort of the car. One good thing to remember is that regardless of the season, it’s best to avoid Saturdays and Sundays if possible, as the park floods with weekenders.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

How Much Time Do You Need to Visit Joshua Tree National Park

One day is enough to see Joshua Tree National Park, but add another day or two and you can take in the sights in the surrounding area, from Palm Springs to Pioneertown to the art installations in Joshua Tree. An extra day will also afford you time to go on one of the longer hikes, or try out a special experience such as rock climbing. 

A sample two-day itinerary for someone staying in Palm Springs might look like this.

On day one, drive to the West Entrance (Joshua Tree) and follow the Park Boulevard Loop, taking time to drive to Keys View and do the hikes around Hidden Valley and Barker Dam. Make additional stops at the Hall of Horrors, Skull Rock, and Arch Rock, then leave the park via the North Entrance and Twentynine Palms. Follow Route 62 back to Joshua Tree and take the time to visit the nearby art installations, or, alternatively, drive to Pioneertown (a 1940s Hollywood film set) or Big Morongo Canyon (a desert oasis popular with birders) if time permits. Finish with dinner in Palm Springs. 

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

The next day, explore the sights around Palm Springs: take the aerial tramway 6,000 feet (1,829 meters) up to Mount San Jacinto State Park or sign up for a tour of the mid-century modern architecture and celebrity homes the town is famous for. If you’d prefer to explore the mountains at a lower elevation, check out Tahquitz and Indian canyons, both of which offer short, stunning hikes with rock art and waterfalls on the city outskirts. Other attractions include the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, the Agua Caliente cultural plaza, and the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

How to Avoid the Crowds

Joshua Tree averages three million visitors annually, and you should expect it to be busy no matter what time of year you’re there. If you want to avoid the worst of the crowds, here are a few tips to consider. 

  • Avoid weekends, especially holiday weekends, when crowds of weekenders from LA and San Diego flood the area. 

  • Get started early. Plan on getting to the main sights before 9am in high season if you want to secure a parking spot. 

  • Desert sunsets are understandably popular, so be prepared for traffic jams leaving the park at this time of day too.

  • Spring is the busiest time of year, especially when wildflowers are in bloom, followed by all winter holidays from Thanksgiving through President’s Day. 

  • As there are few roads through the park, almost all visitors are funnelled to the same places. Hiking into the backcountry is one way to get away from the crowds, as is camping. Better yet is backcountry camping, but if you go this route you need to be an experienced backpacker, register with the park service, and bring plenty of water in addition to all your own camping supplies.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Things to See and Do

Park Boulevard Loop

This scenic drive does a half circle through 34 miles (55 kilometers) of Joshua Tree’s high desert, running from the town of Joshua Tree in the west to Twentynine Palms in the east – or vice versa. You’ll hit all the major sights along the way; if you have limited time, this is the obvious choice. If you have all day to spare, even better, as you’ll be able to take full advantage of the many trailheads and superb picnic spots that are on this route. Highlights include Hidden Valley, Intersection Rock, Barker Dam, the Hall of Horrors, Skull Rock, Split Rock, and Arch Rock.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Keys View

Veer off Park Boulevard Loop near Hidden Valley for a 5.5-mile (8.9-kilometer) detour (one-way) to Keys View. This ten-minute drive climbs up to an elevation of 5,185 feet (1,580 meters) and is the highest road in the park. From here you’ll have views of the entire Coachella Valley, from the San Andreas Fault and distant Salton Sea to Palm Springs and the snowcapped peaks of San Jacinto Peak (10,834 feet or 3,302 meters) and Mount San Gorgonio (11,503 feet or 3,506 meters), two of Southern California’s highest peaks.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Cholla Cactus Garden

If you choose to leave the park via the Cottonwood Visitor Center in the south rather than Twentynine Palms in the north, you won’t want to miss the surreal sight of hundreds of teddy bear cacti gleaming softly in the sunlight. To be sure, while they may look fuzzy from a distance, these plants are most assuredly are not related to teddy bears: their furry appearance comes from the thicket of spines that cover the stems. Interestingly, because the plant reproduces through propagation – that is, parts of a stem will break off when something, or someone, brushes it – a large “forest” such as this one might actually be just a handful of individual plants that have cloned themselves hundreds of times. Don’t get too close, but do take pictures. They are nothing if not fabulously photogenic.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Joshua Tree

This offbeat town near the park’s West Entrance may not look like much when you first drive through, but we assure you there are some odd attractions hidden in the nearby desert. There are two notable art exhibits here, including the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, a freely accessible collection of sculptures by the renowned artist. Purifoy’s work is collected by major museums like the Whitney and National Gallery.

Also here is the unusual Krblin Jihn Kabin, which is artist Eames Demetrios’s portal to a parallel universe. The Kabin is just one installation of many scattered across six continents. Many love the oddity known as the Integratron: an anti-gravity generator used for … time travel? Engineer George van Tassel built this white dome in the late 1950s after being contacted by extraterrestrials from Venus. Partially financed by Hollywood mogul Howard Hughes, it’s still open to the public – sign up for a 60-minute sound bath for the full experience. Finally, those looking for a new do will want to make an appointment at the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, an ode to the 1940s beauty salon.


In the 1940s, Hollywood stars such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers helped finance the construction of this 1880s frontier town, which doubled not only as a film set, but also as a tourist attraction. Over 50 Westerns were shot here in the 1940s and 1950s, but these days it’s not just the mock shootouts on Mane Street that draw the crowds, but its indie status as a one-of-a-kind music venue.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Palm Springs

No trip to Joshua Tree would be complete without a stopover in Palm Springs, the stylish home of mid-century modern chic. Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, and, Frank Sinatra are just some of the celebrities who have spent winters golfing or lounging by the pool here. Whether you’re touring the art galleries or escaping the heat in the desert canyons, there’s plenty to do here no matter your tastes.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Big Morongo Canyon Reserve

This desert oasis on the west side of Joshua Tree supports 263 species of birds, plus a variety of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Of all the desert oases in the area, this one is the largest and most lush, with 20 acres of marshland, formed by the Morongo Fault, which forces the water flowing underground back up to the surface. Trails take in a variety of ecosystems; come at sunrise or sunset for the wildlife. It’s located off Route 62.


Best Hikes

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

A one-mile (1.6-kilometer) loop guides visitors through this former hideout for the McHaney Gang, outlaws and cattle rustlers who were active in the 1870s and ’80s. Brothers Jim and Bill would drive their pilfered cattle and horses into this secret spot, 55 acres protected by rock walls on all sides, where they would rebrand them. Jim eventually served 17 years in jail (he was caught counterfeiting gold coins), though Bill continued to live nearby, even after his rustling days were over. Interpretive panels guide hikers through the secluded valley, and some scrambling is required.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Baker Dam Trail & Wall Street Mill Trail

Head to the Barker Dam parking lot for a pair of great hikes. Both skirt the southern edge of the Wonderland of Rocks – a natural labyrinth known affectionately by rock climbers as Wanderland. The Barker Dam trail is a 1.3-mile (2.1-kilometer) loop, with some easy scrambling and interpretative panels. The trail passes an old petroglyph site as well as the dam itself, built in 1902 to improve water storage for cattle ranchers. Nearby Wall Street Mill is a 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometer) out-and-back trail to a stamp mill, which was built during the Great Depression to process ore for nearby miners. Both trails take roughly an hour to hike. The parking lot is located near Intersection Rock, on Park Boulevard.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Arch Rock Nature Trail

Head here at sunset for one of the park’s iconic photo-ops: a gorgeous 30-foot (9-meter) span of granite beneath a pastel-hued sky. It’s a mere 1.4-mile (2.3-kilometer) out-and-back hike to the arch, but we recommend you tack on a second formation: Heart Rock. Although a bit lopsided, this formation really does resemble its name, and is an understandably popular place to snap a photo with a loved one. In total, hiking to both Arch and Heart Rocks is only 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers). The Arch Rock trailhead is located at the Twin Tanks parking lot, off Pinto Basin Road.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Ryan Mountain Trail

Peak baggers, this one’s for you. At 5,458 feet (1,664 meters) above sea level, Ryan Mountain is one of the five tallest peaks in the park. The summit trail gains a quad-busting 1,000 feet (300 meters) over 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers), and is quite steep. However, due to its relatively short length, most people are able to complete the hike in two hours. If you like challenges, this is a good one, and you’ll be rewarded with great views over the Wonderland of Rocks and the Ryan Ranch ruins. Make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection for this trail.  

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Indian Cove Nature Trail

Tucked away between Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, most visitors zip right by Indian Coves Campground without a second thought. This is a mistake, however, as the scenery here is sublime (this is the northern edge of the Wonderland of Rocks), and there are three good trails to check out here, including this short 0.6-mile (1-kilometer) loop, dotted with interpretive panels. The access road is off Route 62.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Boy Scout Trail

This tough 8-mile (13-kilometer) hike links up with the popular Indian Cove campground. One of the park’s more famous backcountry hikes (constructed by the Scouts back in the 1960s following a historic route used by local Chemehuevi and Serrano), it passes though some fabulous topography and is a good way to experience the natural labyrinth known as the Wonderland of Rocks. Committing to this hike also requires a car shuttle – you’ll leave one car at Indian Cove, and the other at Boy Scout trailhead. You’ll also want a topographical map and compass.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Family Fun Adventures

Joshua Tree is an amazing place for kids based on the landscape alone. The giant rocks, the fantastical vegetation, the elusive wildlife – everything about this place screams adventure. As a parent, you’ll need to balance your protective instincts with your kid’s desire to treat the park like one giant, never-ending jungle gym. There is definitely an element of danger here, but there is also a lot of fun to be had and unique learning opportunities. How will you strike the right balance between safety and adventure?

One good way to get acquainted with the desert is to sign up for a ranger activity. Check to see if there are any junior ranger hikes the day you’re visiting; if not, you can always sign up for a junior ranger badge, which will help add some structure and motivation to keep exploring. If you have older kids, then definitely see if they’re interested in rock climbing. The park has over 5,000 routes and is internationally renowned; classes are easy to arrange, so long as you reserve in advance. 


Kids will love the Wild West show, held every other Saturday. Shop for souvenirs at the General Store after checking out the baby goat petting zoo.

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The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, about 45 minutes southwest of Palm Springs, features an array of fascinating animals, from Arabian oryxes to banded mongooses and bat-eared foxed to the caracal. Special programs include giraffe feeding sessions to a rhino encounter to the wildlife hospital.

Air Museum

Tour the collection of historic World War II era aircraft at the Palm Springs Air Museum, with plenty of cockpits to crawl into and aircraft to explore – there’s even a flight simulator for older kids. It’s located next to the Palm Springs Airport.

Aerial Tramway

The rotating tramcars that climb up 6,000 feet (1,829 meters) out of Palm Springs are a delight and provide awesome views of the surrounding landscape. In summer, cooler hiking opportunities abound at the top, while in winter you might even be able to cross-country ski or snowshoe, depending on the conditions.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Awesome Experiences 

Keys Ranch Tour

This is the park’s only guided tour of a historic site, and offers a fascinating look at how settlers at the turn of the century relied on ingenuity to survive in unusually harsh conditions. William Keys established this property in 1910 as a base for mining and ranching; he lived here with his wife, Frances, and their children until 1960. Slots on this popular tour must be reserved in advance. The ranch is located off Barker Dam Road; tours last ninety minutes and involved half a mile of walking. 

Geology Road Tour

If you’ve got a 4WD vehicle and you enjoy a bit of unpaved driving, this 18-mile geology tour, complete with interpretative pullouts and scenic stops is a fun and somewhat remote adventure. You can do the first six miles or so to Squaw Tank (the remains of an old dam) in a passenger car, but don’t go any further unless you have the right truck. The primary hazard in the desert is sand, and if you don’t have 4WD you will get stuck. While Subarus and other AWD vehicles are great in the snow, they don’t fare as well in sand. If you get stuck, be forewarned that towing a car is very expensive.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Rock Climbing

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a total newbie or a seasoned climber – signing up for a guided day of rock climbing is an awesome way (some would say the only way) to experience Joshua Tree. Options range from easy top-roped climbs next to the parking lot to multi-pitch excursions in the backcountry to classic bouldering problems. Choose your fun.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong


For some visitors, Palm Springs is a treasure trove of mid-century modern architecture that’s like no place on earth. Sign up for a tour and live out your Mad Men fantasies, or simply swing by the Annenberg’s luxury snowbird pad, Sunnylands. This 25,000-square-foot home is where the media mogul, philanthropist, and former diplomat Walter Annenberg entertained US presidents, visiting royals, and La La Land celebs. It’s big enough to have its own golf course, plus there’s plenty of local lore: heck, Frank Sinatra even got married here once. Reservations are essential for the ninety-minute tour. 


Joshua Tree is one of the premier spots in Southern California for stargazing. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve never seen the Milky Way before or you regularly sleep out in the open – there’s something so instinctively familiar about gazing up at the heavens that transports us straight back to another time. Although stargazing is most convenient for campers, because the park remains open 24/7, it’s possible to pull up to an empty parking space anywhere in the park and walk a little ways into the desert for an immersive dark-sky extravaganza.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Here are a few stargazing tips: 

  • Check what phase the moon is in, and when it rises and sets, so you can experience the darkest sky possible. (If the moon is out, then be sure to bring binoculars.)

  • Bring warm clothing and a chair

  • Don’t use flashlights or headlamps unless they have a red light in order to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. 

  • If you have a camera, be sure to read up on the proper settings to use when photographing at night. 

The Skies the Limit Observatory near the North Entrance (Twentynine Palms) sometimes hosts starwatching events on Saturday nights that are open to the public. If you’ve never had the opportunity to gaze through a high-powered telescope, this is your chance, just check the schedule online ahead of time.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Sunrise or Sunset

The desert does not disappoint when it comes to painting the sky in pastel shades. There are plenty of favorite spots – such as the Cholla Cactus Garden for sunrise and Keys View for sunset – but simply following any trail on a clear day with a view of the horizon and a few spiky Joshua trees in the background should afford you a spectacular show. 

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Joshua Tree National Park Packing List

Extra Layers: Desert temperatures can vary considerably. It’s best to prepare for extremes (windier, drier, hotter, and colder than expected), so dressing in layers is the key to staying comfortable. A fleece and a lightweight jacket should do the trick.

Swimwear: If your hotel has a pool or natural spring, don’t forget to bring a swimsuit and sandals.

Footwear: Grippy soles are best. A good pair of trail runners or lightweight hiking boots are an excellent choice for exploring most trails. Don’t make the mistake of wearing flip-flops or open-toed sandals, however; there are plenty of prickly plants and animals around, so keep those feet protected. 

Daypack: A comfortable pack makes all the difference. In addition to carrying an extra layer, water, and headlamp, it’s a good idea to throw a few snacks in there as well.

Sun Protection: This essential includes a broad-brimmed hat, sunblock, and sunglasses.

Water Bottles: There is no water in the park. Always bring your own, and make sure you drink it! No matter what time of year you visit, dehydration is always a risk – even if you’re not doing much physical activity. It’s recommended that you drink at minimum one gallon a day, but always bring more than you think you need. Electrolyte tablets are excellent – not only do they add some flavor, but they also replenish the natural salts lost when you sweat.

First Aid Kit: Ibuprofen, different sized band-aids, antiseptic ointment, tweezers or knife (for removing cactus spines), medical adhesive tape, emergency whistle, and an EpiPen if you are allergic to bees (Joshua Tree has a high rate of bee stings).  

Hiking Poles: Light-weight hiking poles are like having a third leg. They help maintain balance and can get you into a rhythm while walking. 

Headlamp: You never know when a hike is going to take longer than planned – we always throw a lightweight headlamp in our daypack just in case.

Portable Phone Charger and Cable: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities. A DC car charger is best, so that you can charge your phone while driving.

Plastic Bag: We always carry a plastic bag, so we can do our part and help keep the beaches and waterways clean. If you see some trash along the way, pick it up, drop it in the bag. When you get back to the parking lot, simply drop your bag in the recycling or trash bin and voila! You’ve helped keep the area beautiful for everyone who visits.

Joshua Tree National Park Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Top Tips for Joshua Tree National Park

  • Avoid Weekend Travel If Possible: Try to either schedule your trip for midweek or tack on an extra day and make it a long weekend.
  • Fill Up The Tank – And Your Water Bottles – Before You Enter The Park: There are no services, food or water in Joshua Tree.
  • Get Up Early: If there’s a certain destination that’s high on your priority list, make sure you get there before 9am to ensure you get a parking spot.
  • Desert Hiking: If you are not an experienced desert hiker, do not leave the trail to go exploring. It is easier than you might think to get lost in the desert, and the consequences – heat stroke, dehydration, and even hypothermia – are severe and will quickly pile on. Always bring a whistle with you when hiking.
  • Bees: Joshua Tree bees will aggressively seek out water, particularly in the summer. While this affects hikers, it is particularly of note to campers. Don’t leave water bottles, jugs, or pots uncapped or uncovered, and beware of taking open cans of soda outside of the car.
  • Cell Service: The is little to no cellular network available in the park. Download any maps (and your tour!) before entering.
  • Phone Charger: Bring a portable charger or power bank to keep your phone up and running all day long.