Each season adds its personality to the desert’s character.
Three entrances to the park—Oasis Visitor Center, open all year 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.; Cottonwood Visitor Center, open all year 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.; and Black
Rock Nature Center, open October through May, Saturday through Thursday 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. and Friday noon to 8:00 P.M.
The Joshua Tree National Park charges a $15 fee per car entering the park and allows unlimited entry and exits for seven days. Persons with a Joshua Tree National Park card or a Golden Eagle Pass can enter the park without paying the fee. The JTNP card is $30 per year and is only valid at this park. The Golden Eagle Pass is $50 per year and is valid at all U.S. national parks.
Motels, stores, restaurants, and auto services are located in the nearby towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree Village, and Twentynine Palms.
I decided to bring my family to Joshua Tree for Earth Day. We had such a wonderful time. The weather was perfect! We stopped at a picnic area where the kids enjoyed crawling and jumping over huge boulders -- had me panicking a bit, but the kids had tons of fun.
We spent some time hiking to Barker Dam ... its just over 1 mile RT. The dam was dry, but the trail was sprinkled with bright red and yellow desert flowers and lots of lizards. Great easy hike.
Remember sunscreen, hats, sunglasses -- and extra layers for the evening.
Pack a picnic lunch and lots of water.
Stop at one of the visitors for maps and other goodies.
Something so close to home... this National Park... has taken us way too long to visit... 12 years since we've had kids! Joshua Tree is only 2 hours away from Disneyland, LA, and our home, Orange County, and it is a natural playground for kids. Our kids were sure they could climb every rock, crawl through every tunnel, and stay there forever just playing.
We got some great advice online from a NP Ranger and we followed his game plan for the day: Start at a Visitor Center (Joshua Tree VC or Oasis VC) off of Hwy 62 to the north of the park. We failed to pick up Jr. Ranger books but saw lots of kids with them and they looked top-notch. We then drove into the park (another 20 minutes) and passed, with reluctance, the Jumbo Rocks area because we were advised that it gets crowded. It was crowded but we were anxious for some exploring (thus the reluctance). We finally stopped at the Hidden Valley Picnic area and soon got all the exploring and adventure we desired. Next stop was the Barker Dam Nature Trail (1.1 mile loop) which was excellent. Our final stop was an extra 10 minute drive down to Keys View where the view was amazing and we were glad we made the trip.
There were several times on our exploring where I quickly became nervous about my 4 and 6 year olds wanting to climb rocks that were too tall for them... that and I was afraid they would lose their balance on the ones they were standing on. It wasn't always a happy time for me! But the best time was when we found some cracks and "canyons" in a large rock and hid and explored without being high off of the ground.
TIP: be careful of kids who explore too high... could be dangerous. Take a helpful adult with you... I was so glad my hubby was there with the older boys and could teach them how to scramble safely!
The November sun set early and quick (5pm) so our exploring time was limited but the weather was absolutely perfect. The sun kept us warm but we were not hot in our jeans and sturdy shoes. I can't wait to bring my kids back for some more exploring.
TIP: We forgot to fill up our water bottles at the Visitor Center. There is NO water available in the main section of the park... just at Oasis VC, Indian Cove Ranger Station, West Entrance, and Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds.
We started off at the Joshua Tree visitor center off Highway 62 first to get maps and find out which areas would be stroller friendly and best to visit with our younger-than-five-years-old trio as well as to pick up Junior Ranger booklets.
We entered the park at the west entrance and went through the park, making stops along the way, and going as far east as the Cholla Cactus Gardens. We enjoyed the beautiful and unique, almost space-like desert scenery. It was particularly interesting watching the scenery and temperature subtly change from the Mojave (high desert- high concentration of Joshua trees, large boulders) and the Colorado (low desert- no Joshua trees or rocks, warmer).
The first stop was Hidden Valley, where we had a picnic lunch. After seeing many rock climbers in action, the kiddos (4yo, 2yo) couldn't resist climbing the huge rocks, too. Then we were off to various rock formations throughout the park, including Cap Rock (looks like a golfer's hat), Arch Rock, and Skull Rock. My 4yo particularly liked Skull Rock because it really does like a big skull! We also went to Jumbo Rocks with lots of small and large rocks for kids and grown-ups of all ages to climb, nature's best natural "playground." The kids' imaginations soared, imagining the various rocks as pretend animals or other objects. We saw darkling beetles, lizards and spotted a coyote in the distance.
Another highlight of this trip was for the kids to get their first Junior Ranger badges. Yahoo! Completing the activities in the junior ranger booklet was a fantastic learning opportunity for them (and me as well!). Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our family day trip to Joshua Tree.
Some tips: We went in spring and the weather was ideal, as it could get unbearably hot in the summer. Gas up, bring food and water before entering the park because there are no gas stations or restaurants within the park. Be prepared for dust and dirt on clothes and shoes.
There are three visitor centers at the park entrances; be sure to have your kids do the junior ranger program while you're in the park and then stop to be sworn in and get their badges as you leave. It's a great way to keep kids interested in what they're seeing.
Find a place to stop and climb on the big piles of rocks. I was glad we were there in winter (early February), so the ranger told us it was too cold for the snakes to be out yet.
The Joshua trees are unique and beautiful. The park is only about 2 hours from Disneyland, and shows such a different side of California.
This is a great, great park! So unique, excellent campsites. A must see! If you're up for it, get some rock climbing in. There are plenty of guides to get you started if you're a beginner. If you're not a beginner, you probably already know about jtree climbing. :)
Even if you don't climb, this is a spectacular park and everyday is beautiful :) Hike the rock formations, enjoy the unique campsites and just settle in and enjoy. Can't think of a better place to kick back and enjoy nature in a laidback and natural environment.
Even if your kids have never been to Joshua Tree National Park before, they will probably recognize the short, bristly, and oddly contorted trees that thrive here from the cover of the popular U2 album The Joshua Tree. It was actually Mormon settlers who named the trees. They thought their thick branches, which protrude toward the sky, resembled the biblical Joshua praying.
Try to schedule your visit to Joshua Tree around a sunset. The photographic opportunities here are unparalleled, especially when the shadows dance on the colossal rock formations and the cholla cacti and Joshuas seem to glow in the fading sunlight. The whole place has the feel of a rather eerie lunar landscape, a boundless place in which to take time out and wonder. It’s not a geographical experience anyone in your family will soon forget.
Visitor centers and wayside exhibits, providing opportunities to acquaint you with park resources, are located along main roads leading into and through the park. Park rangers are here to help you have an enjoyable, safe visit. Detailed information on weather, road conditions, backcountry use, campgrounds, and regulations may be obtained at visitor centers and entrance stations. Walks, hikes, and campfire talks are conducted chiefly in the spring and fall; information is posted on campground bulletin boards, at ranger stations, and at visitor centers. Ranger-conducted activities can increase your enjoyment and understanding of the park.
There are nine campgrounds with tables, fireplaces, and toilets. You must bring your own water and firewood. Several picnic areas for day use are available. Ask about the Junior Ranger Program.
Less than an hour’s drive north of the Coachella Valley, and worth at least a halfday detour, Joshua Tree is where the southern Colorado Desert (elevation less than 3,000 feet) meets the vast expanse of the Mojave (high desert). The park, formerly a national monument, covers 794,000 acres and in some places affords unobstructed views of more than 50 miles. The highlight for many kids will be scrambling about the lower portions of giant quartz-monzonite boulders and monoliths in the Mojave Desert portion of the park. Be sure to check out the inspiring Junior Ranger program here.