Joshua Tree Hiking Tips
|In This Guide|
Planning a hiking trip to Joshua Tree National Park can be intimidating. There are a lot of trails and if you’re not familiar with the area, it can be confusing. This Joshua Tree hiking tips guide will arm you with everything you need to know to get some epic hikes when you’re staying at the park. You can see a list of all the Joshua Tree hike guides here.
Hiking Tips Video
Tips For Planning Your Trip to Joshua Tree
Check the Joshua Tree NP Alerts page before you plan anything. It will tell you about any closures or current conditions that might impact your hiking plans.
- Joshua Tree is close to Palm Springs, but you don’t want to stay there as a base unless you have to; it’s a long drive to do over multiple days. You can stay in Joshua Tree (the town), camp in the park (hard to get reservations and no provisions onsite), or stay in the town of Twentynine Palms. I highly recommend staying in Twentynine Palms. There are chain and non-chain hotels, a decent amount of food options, and you’re close to the convenient and less-crowded north park entrance.
- If you are arriving from LA or SoCal at a busy time (after say 8am), drive the extra 10 minutes to the north park entrance to skip traffic getting into the park.
- If you are visiting or parking at another National Park or any other national land (National Forests, Monuments, etc.) at any time during the year, just get an affordable parks pass instead of paying the entry fee.
- When planning time for long hikes, leave time to visit the many shorter roadside walks and interpretive displays. Joshua Tree does a great job of letting you dip your toe into nature from the side of the road.
- Some trailheads require you to drive on a dirt road. If you are visiting and renting a car, getting a high clearance vehicle will make the drive easier, especially if you’re doing something longer like the Geology Tour Road. If you have a regular (low-clearance) vehicle, you should be fine on most dirt roads if you go slowly. If there are any tricky roads, I’ll mention it specifically in the guide for the hike.
- Only park in paved parking areas. If you pull over on the side of the road, don’t destroy the fragile desert environment by putting your tires on it.
Suggested Itineraries for Joshua Tree
- 1 Day: Split Rock Loop and Lost Horse Mine
- 2 Days: add on 49 Palms Oasis, Ryan Mountain and Desert Queen Mine
- 3 Days: add on Lost Palms Oasis, Mastodon Peak, and Willow Hole
NOAA forecast for Joshua Tree National Park is here.
- The best weather is from October to May. It’s also the busiest time to visit the park.
- The winter can be cold (around freezing at night) and there can be snow at the park.
- Early spring is typically the best time to see wildflowers, but it’s impossible to plan on when they will actually appear.
- It can rain and thunderstorm, especially in the summer. When it’s raining, it’s not safe to hike in areas with washes or slot canyons; there can be flash-flooding.
- Temperatures in the summer months are routinely in the 100s and it’s not safe to hike during the day.
- Night hiking in the summer is a great option. Get a headlamp with a red light to protect your night vision and go for it. Use a GPS because it’s much harder to see the trail. Joshua Tree is famous for it’s stargazing. Some trails are day-use only, so call the ranger station listed on my hike guide to confirm before you do a night hike.
Hiking Gear For Joshua Tree
- Most trails are very well marked but it can get tricky when a wash crosses the trail or there are small side trails. Having a GPS, whether handheld on your phone, it’s a good idea. I have GPX files that you can load on your GPS for all the hikes in this guide.
- Don’t just rely on electronic navigation, have a paper map too. National Geographic makes a great, durable map of Joshua Tree National Park.
- Bring more water than you need. I use a hydration bladder in my backpack so that I can easily sip water during my hikes and make sure that I’m hydrated.
- The ground is very rocky and sandy. Having light-weight hiking boots with a cuff will protect your feet and keep the pebbles out.
- Even in the winter the sun can be (deceivingly) powerful. Protect your skin.
- There’s not really any cell reception in the park. Hiking with an InReach device that lets you send an SOS or text your family and friends is a great idea.
If you look on some maps of Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll see areas marked off as “wilderness.” Wilderness areas within federal lands are those set aside under the Wilderness Act to be (theoretically) untouched by human development, such as roads and visitor centers.
Wildlife & Plants When Hiking
- There are coyotes in the park but they don’t attack or bother people. Please don’t approach or feed them.
- Watch your feet when hiking. There are rattlesnakes but it’s pretty rare to see them. They won’t come at you unless you corner them. Most rattlesnake bites occur when people aren’t paying attention and step on them.
- There are very, very rare mountain lions in the park, but there has never been a confirmed attack in the park. I’ve seen social media posts where people have claimed to have been stalked by them, but I’m a bit skeptical. I’ve never actually met a hiker or ranger who has seen one in the park, but they have captured (rare) footage on wildlife cams. Mountain lions feed on bighorn sheep and mule deer. Don’t worry about them, don’t even think about them.
- You are much more likely to be attacked by a cholla cactus (pronounced choy-ah), which has barbed needles that can come off in your skin if you brush up against them.
- In the summer bees can be aggressive. They are looking for moisture and will land on your skin to try and drink your sweat.
- The National Park’s page has a great wildlife list for you to dive into. Maybe you’ll spot a Chuckwalla!
Joshua Tree Hiking FAQ
- What are the loud booms that I hear? It’s generally military activity (explosions or sonic booms). There is a Marine base just north of the park.
- Where is the Joshua Tree from the U2 album? It wasn’t located at Joshua Tree National Park, it was a few hours away, closer to Death Valley NP, and it died around 2000.
- Why is it called a Joshua Tree? Legend has it that that the tree was named by Mormon settlers after the biblical figure, Joshua.
- How old are the Joshua Trees? Use the rough guide of 1.5 inches tall per year. Most trees live for about 150 years but there are some that are much older.
- What’s with the graffiti? Joshua Tree has an ongoing problem with people tagging rocks and natural features. It’s not widespread but you might see it occasionally. They regularly clean it up. If you see any in the park, take a picture, note the location, and email it to email@example.com
- Can I explore inside the mines? Nope
- Can I take home artifacts that I find around the mines? Even though they look like junk in most cases, they are protected and you need to leave them as they are. Don’t touch, move, or take anything, including artifacts, from the park.
- Can I create my own mine and dig into the earth for profit? YES! Donald Trump opened up the land around Joshua Tree to mining, reversing the protected status that it had before. Let’s make more money quickly so we can buy more stuff!
- Can I camp just outside of the park? Heck yea! There is a ton of BLM land where you can set up camp for free.
- Why are there so many people at Joshua Tree? Because civilization isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Visitors to Joshua Tree doubled between 2013 and 2019. To avoid the crowds, hike at sunrise and try to visit on a weekday. During busy periods (snow, weekends in spring, or wildflower time) it’s obvious that the facilities are way too small for the amount of people. Make the extra effort to come at an off-peak time, you’ll have a better experience.
- What’s up with the rock climbers? Joshua Tree is a big rock climbing hot-spot, and you’re likely to see them scaling the peaks. If you want to learn how, REI has trips and classes, or just Google a local outfit.
- How did the rocks get like this? The big rock formations you see are generally granite that has been pushed up from under the earth. Water gets in the cracks and erodes the rocks into the smooth and trippy shapes that you see now. There’s a good video on it here.