10 Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park

My 10 tips for your first visit to Joshua Tree National Park

One of the top road trip destinations in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is a must-see in Southern California and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

It is the perfect place to escape the busy city life, explore Mother Nature and literally get away from everything. I love to go there to clear my mind and connect with nature.

If you are planning on road tripping through Southern California, the park is probably on the top of your list (or it should be).

So, what are the things you need to know before you visit Joshua Tree National Park?

In this post I’ll share 10 tips for your first visit to Joshua Tree National Park, and what I wish I knew before my first trip there!

10 Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park

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A Joshua Tree during sunset

Where to Stay in Joshua Tree

There are very few hotel options, so the best places to stay in Joshua Tree are Airbnb properties. There are some really cool places to stay like retro Airstream trailers, dome-shaped houses and places where you can frolic with llamas!

When to Visit

I’ve been to Joshua Tree in the winter and in the middle of summer. Both were awesome, but I definitely recommend visiting during winter. Summer is just so hot that it’s almost unbearable and you will not be able to go hiking (at least safely).

I would only recommend visiting during the summer if you are going to just chill out at your Airbnb, and maybe take a drive through the park without exploring much. One nice perk is that you will have the whole park to yourself (or at least it will feel that way).

What to Pack

If you are into photography, bring ALL of your gear! There’s so much to see in the park so bring your cameras, video equipment, tripods, etc.

If you plan on hiking, definitely bring all of the typical hiking gear. I recommend a sun hat and long sleeves to protect yourself from the sun and long pants and closed shoes to protect yourself from the rocks, cactus, and whatever else you might find on the trail.

Bring layers for your trip to Joshua Tree National Park, it gets cold at sunset.

Tip #1: Prepare for the temperature

The days are sunny and hot and the nights get chilly. Don’t forget to bring plenty of sunscreen!

It’s a good idea to bring some extra layers in case you plan to stay into the night. While I was visiting the temperature quickly dropped about an hour or so before sunset. I also brought a blanket so we could hang out and watch the sunset from the rocks.

Pack hiking gear for your trip to Joshua Tree if you can

Tip #2: Dress appropriately

There are a few things I highly recommend that you bring when visiting Joshua Tree NP:

  • Hiking Shoes. A decent pair of hiking shoes is an absolute must. There are lots of sticks, cacti, and rocks in the area and your feet need to be protected.
  • Long Pants. I do really recommend long pants for the same reason I mentioned above. I wore jeans because I was not planning on getting into any drastic hiking or climbing situations, but I would have been more comfortable in my hiking pants.
  • Sun Hat. I never used to wear a hat, like ever, but now that I have tried it I really don’t think I could have survived a day in the desert without one. The sun is really strong in California and you will feel much more comfortable exploring the park if your face and eyes are not burning in the sun.

Read more: Shop my essentials for Joshua Tree

Driving through Joshua Tree National Park

Tip #3: Fill up your gas tank

You will be entering a desert, in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely no services, and no cell phone signal. Need I say more?

Tip #4: Bring extra water and food

Again, there are absolutely no services in the park. No gas station. No street lights. No restrooms (only portables in select locations). And no water and no food.

If you are planning to spend the day here you better bring plenty of water and more than a snack. We had a large (delicious) breakfast at Crossroads Cafe so I thought I would be fine with the one granola bar that I brought with for a snack. Thank goodness it gets dark early in the winters and we had to head out because I was starving by the time we left!

Don’t let thirst or hunger ruin your day, just pack a cooler! A cooler like this is a great option for your Joshua Tree road trip!

Looking out over the Salton Sea and Palm Springs area from Key's View in Joshua Tree National Park

Tip #5: Don’t underestimate the size of this park

You should plan on spending more than one day here if you really want to see everything.

My itinerary for my first trip to Joshua Tree included all of the hot spots such as Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, Keys View, Jumbo Rocks, Arch Rock, and the Cholla Cactus Garden.

Read more: Top 5 Sights to See in Joshua Tree National Park

Want to know how many we actually made it to? One. Just one. That one place is the Keys View in the photo above.

Driving through the entire park is somewhat of a challenge, that’s why it’s on my Southern California Bucket List Challenge.

It wasn’t only because this park is huge and I totally underestimated how long it would take us to get through everything, but these popular places are full of people and it’s not so easy to just pull up and park at each stop. It’s a waiting game and I am very impatient.

Plus, we were so overwhelmed by the park as a whole that we spent so much time in other areas of the park. Sometimes it’s more fun to explore the path less traveled, right?

If you are visiting Joshua Tree NP for the first time I recommend that you stop at the ranger station to get a map and some expert advice for your day’s plan.

The rock sculptures are a popular thing to see in Joshua Tree National Park

Tip #6: Expect parking delays at major points of interest

As you can imagine, a National Park doesn’t necessarily have an abundance of parking spaces. Like I mentioned above, the popular areas in the park could potentially be full and you may not be able to find a parking spot.

Most of our stops were along the side of the road – just make sure you are stopping in a designated parking area or you could get a ticket if a Ranger happens to catch you. The only point where we were actually able to get a parking spot was at Keys View, but we got very lucky since someone was leaving just as we arrived.

Road trip through Joshua Tree National Park

Tip #7: Reserve a Campground

If you plan on camping in Joshua Tree National Park, make sure you have a plan beforehand. Some campgrounds are closed in the summer, and in the winter they can fill up quickly.

Make a reservation if you can in order to be sure you will have a spot when you arrive.

For an alternative, there are a ton of awesome and super unique Airbnb’s in Joshua Tree! I’ve stayed in one that was an old Airstream trailer and another that had llamas on the property that you could feed.

Read more: Staying in a Vintage Airstream in Joshua Tree

Tip #8: Prepare for a LOT of photos

This park is a photographer’s paradise!

Even if you are not a professional photographer (I am not either), I guarantee you are going to take a ton of photos during your first visit to Joshua Tree. We were in the park for only around 6 hours, and we went through several camera batteries, so don’t forget to bring extras!

I recommend bringing any and all cameras and accessories for your trip to Joshua Tree National Park.

Boulders are an interesting thing to see in Joshua Tree National Park

Tip #9: Buy the yearly pass

Don’t forget to stop at the ranger station to get a pass to enter the park! You can find the fee information here. You can buy National Parks Passes ahead of time if you prefer.

If you think you will be visiting Joshua Tree several times a year, I actually just recommend buying the yearly pass. You really can’t beat $55 for access to this amazing park all year long!

The Cholla Cactus Garden is a must see in Joshua Tree National Park

Tip #10: Beware of the Cholla Cactus

Apparently, the Cholla Cactus will shoot you if you get too close. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to the Cholla Cactus Garden to see this with my own eyes, but I am definitely making a stop there during my next trip!

I honestly don’t know what kind of cactus this is that I was trying to pet, but I am lucky it didn’t shoot me! Sounds painful!

I hope these tips help you plan your trip to Joshua Tree National Park, and I hope you enjoy the park as much as I did!

For more information, you can visit the Park’s website here.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. If you end up visiting the park or have already I would love to hear your experiences!

Shop my road trip essentials!


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10 Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park10 Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park10 Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park

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27 thoughts on “10 Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park”

    • Hi Chloe! Thanks for your comment. I hope you can make it there, it was so much fun! You could do an awesome fashion shoot there!

  • This place looks amazing ! So many amazing photo opportunities. Such great tips, this makes me wanna adventure out there ?

    • Hi Paulette! I am so happy to read your comment! The scenery is stunning, and I just couldn’t stop taking pictures! I hope you get the chance to make it there one day, and if you do I would love to hear about it!

  • I love the ‘dress appropriately tip’, sometimes I underestimate how this factor can greatly determine the mood of my occasion. Very beautiful pictures xx

    • You are so right! Sometimes I have certain things I want to wear for my photos, but you know what, I have found that I am much better off being comfortable than looking good just for the photos. Thanks for your comment!

  • Wow. These pictures are amazing. I really want to go and take some of my own now. Thanks for the tips.
    Do you use presets for your photos to edit them? The colours are really strong. Love it.

    • Hi Kellie! This park is so photogenic, the colors are naturally amazing! I do use presets for my Instagram photos, but for the blog I usually use the auto adjustment settings with a few manual updates. Thanks so much for your comment!

    • And I would LOVE to visit a park like yours! It must be amazing to see all that wildlife, and we just don’t have that where I come from!

  • This is such a lovely post! I’ve never been to a national park yet when I’ve been to the US, but Joshua Tree looks wonderful. I’ll be sure to dress appropriately, wear the right shoes and avoid that prickly cholla cactus, ouch!

    • There are so many National Parks to visit, but Joshua Tree is so unique it shouldn’t be overlooked! If you are in California, definitely stop there!

  • This is a fab list of tips. I think the most important one is to not underestimate the size of it. That happens far too often with places and people don’t allow enough time to see everything. This national park looks great though and i would deffo be interested in visiting.

    • I totally agree Katie. My first visit was sort of a fail because I didn’t plan enough time. That’s ok, it just gave me a push to get myself back there ASAP to finish exploring! Thanks for commenting!

  • I love these deserty, rocky, cactus parks and wish there were some of these closer to where I live. That been said, I would like to visit Joshua Tree National Park! I love taking photos, and can absolutely see that this is a photographer’s paradise. The pictures you guys took look amazing!

    The Cholla Cactus sounds cray! I’m glad the cactus you were bonding with didn’t shoot you too!

    • Hopefully one day you can visit, because the landscape truly is stunning! You could be busy taking photos for HOURS!! No, actually DAYS! Thanks so much for your comment!

  • Wow, I’m loving those cactis. and breathtaking landscape. Very detailed tips will definitely help to explore this beautiful Joshua Tree National Park .

  • As someone who loves adventures and the great outdoors, Joshua Tree National Park is certainly on my to-go list. And I couldn’t agree more with the tips you’ve given. They’re useful and in fact can save lives because sometimes nature can be brutal. Wearing the right clothing and stocking up on food and water are particularly crucial. Given how expansive the park is, I think it’s a great idea to stop at the ranger station to get a map and some expert advice. BTW what’s the deal with Cholla Cactus? LOL. I guess it’s a defence mechanism for it to shoot uninvited danger that comes too close.

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