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Have you ever wished that the whimsical destinations dreamed up by Dr. Seuss were real, and you could visit them yourself? At Joshua Tree National Park, you kind of can. 

Joshua Tree Road Trip

Joshua Tree National Park

Last summer, I was bit hard by the national parks bug. I bought the America The Beautiful Parks Pass while visiting Grand Canyon and the Glen Canyon during a mini-road trip around the Southwest, and when I hit California I wanted to get one more hit. Joshua Tree was a natural choice. An easy drive from Palm Springs, do-able for a day trip, and filled with the whimsically eccentric Joshua trees.

There are several different ways to tackle Joshua Tree, and we debated the merits of many. We settled on entering through the West Entrance Station after a stop at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center in the town of Joshua Tree, and exiting through the North Entrance Station in the town of Twentynine Palms (a third entrance to the south at Cottonwood is another option.) While pets are allowed within the park, they aren’t allowed on any of the trails — plus, it was hot as heck and so we decided to leave our own pup poolside. With my parks pass we sailed in for free, though the usual entry fee is $20 per ride. With little cell coverage and even less water available within the park, a little pre-planning is necessary.

What follows is, in my opinion, the perfect itinerary for a one day trip to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs.

Joshua Tree in September

Joshua Tree Road Trip

Joshua Tree Road Trip

Joshua Tree National Park

Our ride for the day? The used convertible my dad had bought on a whim at a garage sale back in June. A pretty sweet set of wheels, I think we all can agree.

Joshua Tree Road Trip

Aside from pulling over a few times to marvel, mouth agape, at the famed Joshua trees, our first official stop was the Hidden Valley nature trail. The one mile loop trail is described as a “rock-enclosed valley once rumored to have been used by cattle ranchers.”

It was a beautiful first introduction to the park. The trail isn’t perfectly defined and we did have about three minutes of starting to panic at the end, right as we turned a corner and realized we’d successfully navigated ourselves back to the start.

Joshua Tree in September

Joshua Tree National Park

We were back in the car for just a few minutes before stopping again at Barker Damn, a 1.1 mile loop trail that features a water tank built by early cattle ranchers, ancient petroglyphs and small rain-fed resevoir. Signs told us to watch out for bighorn sheep, but the best we spotted was a desert chipmunk.

Though the park guide estimated the loop time at one hour, we were back at our car in forty minutes, even stopping to take photos.

Joshua Tree Travel Blog

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree in September

At this point, we felt we were deserving of a little more laid-back attraction, and so meandered with the top down towards Keys View. The guide labeled this as a .25 mile loop, but it’s basically just a path from the parking lot. At the top, 5,185 feet above sea level, we found swoon-worthy views of the San Andreas fault, Mount San Jacinto, The Coachella Valley and the Salton Sea.

Joshua Tree Travel Blog

Joshua Tree Travel Blog

Joshua Tree Travel Blog

We paused to take the only photos I got of all four of us throughout our time in Cali — long live the sparsely and discreetly used GoPro selfie stick!

Joshua Tree Travel Blog

I have to admit, as fun and interesting as each of our fairly active stops were, my favorite parts of the day were just cruising through the surprisingly empty roads of Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tree Road Trip

Joshua Tree Road Trip

It was an intensely hot day and we’d been out and about for hours, so the crew was starting to fade as we swung up towards the northern entrance to the park. But I begged for one final small detour to the Cholla Cactus Garden, which my friend Zoe had raved was the best part of her trip.

It was worth it. The effortless .25 mile loop led us into the heart of of a dense field of thousands of naturally growing cholla cactus. Their ombre coloring had me swooning — and so did the fact that even on a Sunday, we had the place totally to ourselves.

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

A National Park only since 1994, Joshua Tree is a gem of Southern California. While we visited during the one of the least hospitable times of the year, and still were humbled by the stark beauty at this convergence of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Road Trip

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree Cholla Garden

Joshua Tree was pretty much my last stop after four months in the Western Hemisphere before returning to my home away from home in Thailand. As we wound through its otherworldly roads, I swelled with patriotic pride. It was a beautiful goodbye to the USA.

In the desert, I had discovered the West of my imagination, my childhood canyon infinitely magnified. I went there for inspiration and insight. — Julene Bair

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42 Comments...
  • Melanie Fontaine
    May 4 2016

    Before last year, I had never heard of Joshua Tree (what an awesome name, by the way!) before, but now I feel like I see it pop up everywhere! I’m not usually one for the desert, but both JT and Palm Springs look like places that could definitely change my mind – I love the retro feel! Also yay for GoPro selfies! πŸ˜‰
    Melanie Fontaine recently posted..Between Fantasy and Fairytale: The Real AlcΓ‘zar in Seville, Spain

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      I love the desert… that dry heat does me good πŸ™‚ But yes, I agree that Joshua Tree and Palm Springs are gorgeous enough to convert anyone!

      • John
        May 7 2016

        I love the desert too, it’s something almost mystical about it. Kudos for the great pictures and for keeping the memory of my last visit there fresh!
        John recently posted..Vancouver Cheap Eats

  • Kelly
    May 4 2016

    Joshua Tree has been on my wishlist for so long! I would have loved to have visited when I was in California last weekend, but just didn’t have the time. I have a feeling that this won’t be my last jaunt in California though, so maybe next time πŸ™‚
    Kelly recently posted..A Fairytale Day on the California Coast: My Greatest Adventure

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      California is fairly addictive πŸ™‚

  • LC
    May 4 2016

    I’ve wanted to go to Joshua Tree since I was a young-un, obsessively listening to U2’s album of the same title on repeat. Can’t believe I just admitted that in a public forum, but there you go. Beautiful pictures, as always!
    LC recently posted..A Plastic Free Life: Month 4

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      Haha, no shame LC, no shame πŸ™‚

  • Julie
    May 4 2016

    I’ve been thinking about getting a selfie stick cause I love those pictures you have above that take in the whole background. The link you have is to a gopro camera though, did the selfie stick come with the camera or do you have a link to that selfie stick?

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      Hey Julie! I bought the x-shot online but was annoyed that I had to go to a camera store to buy a special adapter in order to use it. Perhaps go in person if possible to buy something πŸ™‚

  • Maggie
    May 5 2016

    Sounds like the perfect trip that looked,Joshua tree at National park, I’ve never heard of it before but this sounds like a Interesting place to go and see
    Maggie recently posted..The Gruffallo Live Show, London

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      It’s gorgeous! I didn’t know all that much about it until recently either, but I’m glad a friend convinced me to go!

  • Dominique
    May 5 2016

    There’s a pass for “America The Beautiful Parks”? What will happen to all the ugly parks? πŸ™‚ I had heard about Joshua Tree because of U2’s cd, and I have to say the place looks much better than their music sounds!
    Dominique recently posted..CuraΓ§ao – Full Island Tour

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      Ha, I know, that pass name cracks me up!

  • Kathryn Allen
    May 5 2016

    Despite my dismay that you have joined the selfie stick crowd, I have to admit that the photo of the four of you in front of that fabulous terrain is totally awesome.

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      I’ll convert you yet!

  • I love all these fun photos, but especially the one of you guys in your dad’s sweet ride! #CollegeOrCEO
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Eat San Francisco: Exploring the Mission Through Food + Art

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      Hahahah. Someday, you two will meet, and it will be glorious πŸ˜›

  • Eugenia A Parrish
    May 5 2016

    I always loved the desert and Joshua Tree. Your pictures are great and took me back to when a whole gang of us camped just outside, to see the Hale-Bopp comet. I was the only one who managed to stay up all night, but it never showed above the night-haze on the horizon. We had a blast anyway, adults but you’d never know it. Like a big sandbox. I love driving empty desert, but the few times I tried a convertible, it didn’t work too well. When you went for walks, how were the seats when you got back? Fried thighs?

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      That sounds amazing — I’d love to camp there someday! We put the top up when we were on the walks — and the seats were STILL hot when we got back!

  • Gemma
    May 5 2016

    My parents have also bought a convertible which I have yet to experience, however the Scottish weather will NEVER compete with California! Never knew about the national parks pass, good to know!
    Gemma recently posted..Budapest for Big Kids: 4 Things to do in Pest

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      It’s a great deal if you’re a couple or family and planning to hit up a few!

  • Eva Casey
    May 5 2016

    This is so fun seeing your coverage of California as I myself am roadtripping through the state! I only got a brief glimpse of Joshua Tree on my way through to San Diego, but WOW the landscape is unlike anything I’ve ever seen! I will bookmark this for when I actually get the chance to spend some real time in the park!
    Eva Casey recently posted..Why I’m Saying Goodbye To NYC (For Now!)

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      I’d love to go back and camp someday. It’s definitely the kind of place that leaves you aching for more!

  • Joshua Tree is a great day trip from Palm Springs – have hiked there a few times, and I’m pretty sure I have photos from that same overlook spot!

    Will National Parks be an annual trend for you now? There are so many…I think I’ve hit up 36 out of 52…so many yet to explore!
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..Two Days in Phuket

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      I hope so! It doesn’t look like it will happen this summer but I’m hoping next summer I can plan a big trip to hit a couple more.

  • Never been before but it’s definitely going on my list! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      You’re welcome Carmen! Let me know how you like it when you get there!

  • Jamie Delaney
    May 5 2016

    Wow! What a beautiful park! Thanks for sharing it. I just discovered your blog about a month ago, and I can’t stop reading it(:

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      Aw, thanks Jamie! Happy to have you along!

  • Cate
    May 6 2016

    Those trees are awesome! Looks like a nice and easy day trip to take- good idea for a California adventure!

    • Alex
      May 7 2016

      I’ve even heard that some people do it as a day trip from LA — sounds crazy to me, but it can be done!

  • Youmi Hapsari
    May 8 2016

    Hi Alex, I wonder, what kind of gadget did you use to take photos? Nice pictures πŸ˜‰

    • Alex
      May 18 2016

      Hey Youmi! Check out my Obsessions page for info on all my camera gear.

  • Dad
    May 9 2016

    It was beautiful day trip. Thanks for the wonderful photo reminders. Love Dad

    • Alex
      May 18 2016

      We need to frame the one of us in front of the Joshua Tree!

  • becky hutner
    May 10 2016

    Aaah, tears are welling…These posts are making me way too homesick Alex! The hot vast stillness of the desert is so very healing for my soul. Really glad you enjoyed the special little slice that is J Tree x
    becky hutner recently posted..Canadian in…London??

    • Alex
      May 18 2016

      Can’t wait to go back and camp someday… in ever so slightly cooler conditions πŸ™‚

  • Stefan
    May 12 2016

    Wow! Your photos are incredible. Heading to JT this fall I hope and now I’m super excited to check out the area and take some photos of my own.

  • Marni
    May 23 2016

    Another awe-inspiring post about natural beauty! Keys View in particular looks beyond stunning.
    Marni recently posted..Cruise, 2015 – Setting Out & Key West

    • Alex
      May 24 2016

      Californians certainly have a lot to brag about! Joshua Tree is a national treasure πŸ™‚

  • Kat
    June 25 2016

    I’ve lived in California forever and never once visited Joshua Tree. I lived, for a while, in Arizona, so I know how beautiful the desert landscape can be. Yes, JT is on my bucket list. Thanks for the inspiration. Love your Prickly Pear pic.

    • Alex
      June 26 2016

      Oh, absolutely add it to your list! I’d recommend staying overnight if you can because a day trip was lovely but I yearned for a bit more. It’s really a unique place.

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