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If you have four hours or less, begin your tour at a visitor centerwhere park staff will be happy to help you plan your visit. With limited time you may want to confine your sightseeing to the main park roads. Many pullouts with wayside exhibits dot these roads.


Visit one of the 12 self-guiding nature trails. Experience at least one of these walks during a short park visit.


On clear days the vista from Keys Viewextends beyond Salton Sea to Mexico and is well worth the additional 20-minute drive.


Visit another of the 12 self-guiding nature trails.


A ranger program will add enjoyment and understanding to your visit. Or, October through May, call ahead and reserve a spot on the popular Keys Ranch guided walking tour. 


Once you enter the park, stop at the visitors center to get acclimated with the area and pick up a map/ask a ranger for any current information you may need to know


You may want to do the most strenuous hike first and Lost Horse Mine Trail is a great hike to do. It is 2 miles up and 2 miles back - This hike takes about 2 hours - you will see many cacti, birds, and a beautiful view at the top including the mine. 


Following your hike, you can then go to the Keys View and from here you can see the Salton Sea and the San Andreas Fault line. This is a great area for pictures.


head to Jumbo Rocks to view the Skull Rock. Here you can do the hike from the inside of the campground which is 1.7 miles or drive a little past the campground and you will see the skull rock on the right just off the road.  


Off to White Tank campgrounds to go view the Arch Rock. This is an easy walk on a trail until you reach the arch rock - a total of 0.3 mile loop.  


Visit the Cholla cactus garden. This is also a very quick and easy 0.25 mile loop through a garden of beautiful cholla cacti. This trail should take roughly 15 minutes to explore.


Toward the end of the day, you'll want to be in the vicinity of the Barker Dam trail which is a 1.1 mile loop.  Go to the parking area and follow the signs to Barker Dam trail. This is a moderate trail walk and you will see beautiful rock formations, cacti, and hopefully find a pack of long horn sheep by the dam.  


On your way out of the park you will see a gift store on the right that has great things to check out after a long day in the park. They also sell drinks, snacks, candy, apparel, and so much more.


Just ahead of that is the Joshua Tree Saloon and this is a must-do if you can stop - great food, good people, and ahhhhh, a cocktail!






An excellent first stop is the main Oasis Visitor Center, located alongside the Oasis of Mara, also known as the Twentynine Palms Oasis. Get maps, books, and the latest in road, trail, and weather conditions before beginning your tour, and stroll the short, paved nature trail through the oasis behind the center -- it provides an introduction to the park's flora, wildlife, and geology.


drive south to Jumbo Rocks, which captures the essence of the park: you'll find a vast array of rock formations, a Joshua tree forest, and the yucca-dotted desert, open and wide.


Stroll among the giant rock piles and observe the rock climbers who travel from around the world to practice their craft here -- they're one of the park's most distinctive features.


At Cap Rock Junction, the main park road swings north toward the Wonderland of Rocks, 12 square miles of massive jumbled granite. This maze of stone hides groves of Joshua trees, trackless washes, and several small pools.


To the south is the road that dead-ends at mile-high Keys View. You get a view of the park from this wind-whipped overlook; several plaques explain the topography you're seeing and provide some insight into the delicate desert ecosystems found in the park.


Don't miss the contrasting Colorado Desert terrain along Pinto Basin Road -- to conserve time, simply plan to exit the park on this route, which ends up at I-10.


You'll pass both the Cholla Cactus Garden and spindly Ocotillo Patch on your way to vast Pinto Basin, a barren lowland surrounded by austere mountains and a small ridge of sand dunes.


Then continue to Cottonwood Springs, which has a cool, palm-shaded oasis and groves of mature cottonwood trees.


Try to participate in a ranger-led tour or hike.


Going back the way you came will take apx 1.5 hours. Looping around the southern border of the park to highway 62 and back to the ranch will take a similar amount of time. Going halfwayback the way you came, but then cutting across to and past the Park Ranger Station in the town of Joshua Tree will take apx 1.75 hours.







We entered the park through the south end (not too far from Palm Springs), off I-10, and headed straight to the Visitor’s Center.  I would highly suggest starting your trip from this point. The natural landscape and trees change dramatically as you go from one desert (Colorado) to the other (Mojave) and, since the picture opps and Joshua Trees are more towards the northern part, driving South to North situates you perfectly for the best golden hour and sunset shots.


Our first stop was at Cottonwood Springs, which is about 7 miles into the park, for a ranger lead hike to the Oasis.  There are several hikes from this spot with the shortest one being only about 30 minutes, while the longest comes in at 7 miles. The rangers told us this was the best bird watching area- although we stumbled upon more lizards and unique squirrels than we did birds.

TIP: Wear sunscreen and a hat at all times- these trails have hardly any tree or shade so you are constantly in the sun. Even in the winter you will get a sunburn! 

headed North to Cholla Cactus Garden. The best part about the park is that there are tons of things to see along the drive and many turn -outs for pictures or resting.


Cholla Cactus Garden is an easy stop- even taking our time we did the whole loop in about 20 minutes. There are printed guides at the beginning of the trail that outline the history and facts about each corresponding number. These cactus are pretty cool- as parts of them start to die, the other parts eat off of them and start living. Kind of a strange circle of life (but of its own life)!

After the garden, you have a choice to continue heading Northwest which will take you to all the hikes or head dead North, towards Twentynine Palms, if you need any gas or food. (If you are running low on gas, this will be the easiest and quickest place to fill up.)


We took the more scenic Northwest route.  Our next stop was Skull Rock at the Jumbo Rock campground entrance. There is a 1.7 mile hike loop you can make, but the main skull looking rocks can be seen right from the road. We simply parked our car and started climbing on the rocks (just as everyone else was doing) and it was pretty awesome. They really do look like skulls- the biggest skulls I’ve ever seen not in a Disney movie! This hike and climbing would be really fun for kids and teenagers too. (Check out more of our pictures from Skull Rock)


Heading on, Barker Dam was our first full hike- an easy 1.3 miler- that lead down to a pretty large body of water for being in a dessert. I later found out that it was a water dam built by early ranchers of the area. We saw the most wildlife of our whole trip in this area- tons of birds, lizards, and beetles. I was surprised to see a bunch of people swimming in the water but didn’t see any signs that said it was prohibited. The water felt pretty cold but I’m sure after hiking around all day, it would feel amazing.

TIP: We also found a lot of people rock climbing- if you are interested in watching something out of 127 Hours, then this would be the perfect spot to set up a lounge chair and camp out for the day!


Not knowing exactly how much time it would take us to get from Barker Dam to the higher elevation of Keys View (to see the San Andreas Fault), we started making our way about an hour before sunset. This turned out to be way too much time. (The park guides set the drive time at 20 minutes, but it only took us about 10.) It was freezing at the look-out, super windy, and, even with an added sweatshirt, I was ready to head back to the car after about five minutes.

San Andreas Fault

We realized that there was another short hike not too far away and decided to end the day and get our coveted sunset photos from there. Plus, with it getting a little colder out, the exercise would warm us up.


The weather can change really quickly- it stayed cloudy for about 15 mins. and then the sun came back out.

We arrived at Hidden Valley

As we finished up the hike, the sunset was in its full glory. We were lucky to be driving out of the park to theWwest, as we were able to follow the setting sun for a little while longer.


While we waited for the sun to completely disappear and all the stars to shine super bright, we had a quick beer and meal at the local hang out. After the drive, hiking and being in the sun all day, it was pretty relaxing just sitting still and drinking a nice cold one.


By the time we were done, the stars were out, which was perfect to head back into the park, pull over and turn off all the lights. As we sat in silence, starring at all the stars, contemplating what else must be out there in our huge universe.













The Joshua Tree area has long attracted outcasts, misfits, and eccentrics looking for a place where they can let it all hang out. And they've definitely left a mark. Check out the landmarks left by two late desert notables, George Van Tassel and Noah Purifoy, in the respective forms of the Integratron near Landers (tel. 760/364-3126;, and the Noah Purifoy Sculpture Park Museum in the town of Joshua Tree (tel. 213/382-756 for an appointment to visit; The former is an amazing wooden dome with unbelievable acoustics and public sound baths on two Saturdays and Sundays a month at noon and on other days by appointment, and the latter is an outdoor museum of contemporary art made mostly from media that other artists would have thrown away.

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George Van Tassel Integratron near Landers (tel. 760/364-3126; is an amazing wooden dome with unbelievable acoustics and public sound baths on two Saturdays and Sundays a month at noon and on other days by appointment




Breakfast at Crossroads Cafe, or grab a delicious coffee at the Joshua Tree Coffee Company.

Back at the ranch, put on some tunes, grab a book and your favorite beverage and snacks, and make a hammock your home.


Have dinner at The Joshua Tree Saloon. Or call ahead for pick-up pizza at Pie for the People (ready-made slices are a second best choice).


Pick up some firewood from Mike's Liquor or Circle K.


Start a cozy pit fire, or just grab a seat, and watch the night stars.





If you would like to experience the desert from the seat of a mountain bike, the park offers an extensive network of dirt roads that make for less crowded and safer cycling than the paved main roads.


Joshua Tree is a popular rock-climbing area. Many visitors enjoy just watching the climbers in action.


For "peak baggers," the park has ten mountains greater than 5,000 feet (1,524 m) in elevation. Or make it your goal to hike to all five of the park's fan palm oases.





A ranger program will add enjoyment and understanding to your visit. Or, October through May, call ahead and reserve a spot on the popular Keys Ranch guided walking tour. 


Miners and ranchers began coming in the 1860s, including the McHaney brothers, who established the Desert Queen Ranch. Later on, Bill Keys acquired it, and he lived with his family on the property, now known as the Keys Ranch, until his death in 1969. Many of the ranch structures have been restored to their Keys-era condition, painting a compelling picture of how one hardy family made a home in the unforgiving desert. Admittance is limited to official Park Service tours.

You can find petroglyphs near Barker Dam, where an easy 1.1-mile loop hiking trail leads to a small artificial lake framed by the Wonderland of Rocks. After scrambling a bit to get to the dam, you'll find a sandy path leading to the "Disney Petroglyph" site. Its wry name stems from the fact that a 1950s movie crew retraced the ancient rock carvings to make them more visible to the camera, defacing them forever. If you investigate the cliffs along the remainder of the trail, you're likely to find some untouched drawings depicting animals, humans, and other aspects of desert life as interpreted by long-ago dwellers. You'll see more petroglyphs along the 18-mile Geology Tour Road, a sandy, lumpy dirt road accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles or hardy mountain bikers.


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During World War II, George S. Patton trained over a million soldiers in desert combat at several sites throughout the Mojave and Colorado deserts. Tank tracks are still visible in the desert around the former Camp Young, near Cottonwood Springs. The Camp Young Memorial marker is 1 mile east of Cottonwood Springs Road, just before the park entrance; an informational kiosk there gives details of the training maneuvers and daily camp life. To learn more, you can visit the General Patton Memorial Museum (tel. 760/227-3483; in Chiriaco Summit, on I-10 about 4 miles east of the Cottonwood Entrance. The museum contains an assortment of memorabilia from World War II and other military glory days, as well as displays of tanks and artillery; it's open daily from 9:30am to 4:30pm (except Thanksgiving and Dec 25). Admission is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors 62 and older, $1 for children 7 to 12, and free for children under 7.

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If solitude is what you are after, plan an all-day hike into the backcountry.


OR walk up Sunkist Rd and directly into the park. You can connect with Park Blvd with an apx 4 mile walk. Please plan and map your hike, and let a friend know when/where you are going and when you should return.


For "peak baggers," the park has ten mountains greater than 5,000 feet (1,524 m) in elevation. 




Suggestions for ways to to spend your days. No matter what you do, take food and plenty of water with you. There are no water or food sources in the park.

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