How to Visit Joshua Tree National Park in a Day
By Lauren Wong
I got to check another national park off my list! Joshua Tree National Park was just as beautiful as all those photos you find online. I gave myself a full day there, and a couple hours the night before until the sun went down. I wanted to see as much as I could, hitting the hikes that stood out to me the most along the way.
So come along with me as I explore Joshua Tree. We started up at the Northern tip of the park and made our way down taking Park Boulevard to Pinto Basin Road to Cottonwood Springs Road. Here’s all the spots I hit.
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail:
(Technically we hit this one the night before, but if you’re starting at the North end you’ll be able to get in this hike before going deeper into the park).
This trail is about 3 miles out and back. During the hike you’ll gain about 300 feet in elevation on the way there, and 300 on the way back. All Trails has it ranked as a moderately challenging route.
I’d say this one was one of my favorite hikes we did, even though I was very out of breath by the end of it. It looks like your typical desert, mountain hike as you begin, but once you reach the top on the way there, you’ll see this hidden oasis. Nestled within a small little circle, dozens of palm trees protrude up, creating this beautiful contrast of bright greens among the rocks. When you reach the oasis, you’re transported into this little tropical paradise. Unfortunately, all the water, from what we could see, was dried up.
Next we stopped at this little iconic souvenir shop near the entrance to the park. I got a bright orange tote bag that has pictures of the famous Joshua Trees.
Barker Dam Trail:
This 1.1 mile loop is considered easy. After being disappointed that I didn’t get to see any water on our first hike, I was really looking forward to this one. But, surprisingly the entire dam was completely dried up. Again, not a drop of water in sight.
Anyways, the hike was still pretty, it didn’t take long to complete. The path is lined with lots of Joshua trees and I saw quite a few wildflowers.
This one was just a drive up view point. It was absolutely breathtaking and is the perfect backdrop for photos. Once you’re up at the top you get to look out over miles upon miles of the mountains and canyons you’ve been driving and hiking through.
Hall of Horrors Trail:
This 0.6 mile loop is considered to be an easy trail. I’m not exactly sure I did the correct loop, because the trail is pretty hard to follow and it branches out a lot, but it was just fun to explore the area. I tried making one of those cool travel influencer videos, so I handed the phone off to my friend to record me while I hiked through these two, thin canyon walls. It ended up being a minute long video of me trying to get myself unstuck and through the little opening to freedom, but hey, the people on Tik Tok liked it.
Skull Rock and Split Rock:
These two separate trails take you to these impressive rock formations, one looking just like a human skull, and the other this massive boulder with a perfect split almost directly down the middle.
Arch Rock Trail:
Another one of my favorite trails, it’s so hard to pick which ones I liked best, but I’d say this trail and the Cholla Cactus Garden trail were my top two. This out and back hike is about a mile and a half long. You’ll walk out to this framed arch carved out of the rock where the trail ends before heading back. I loved the pictures I got from this hike. The cloudless, bright day created the perfect lighting for silhouettes.
Cholla Cactus Garden:
Almost everything I saw about what to do at Joshua Tree included going to Key’s View for sunset. However, in order to maximize our time at Joshua Tree we ended up hitting Cholla Cactus Garden, right before the sun started setting during golden hour. Since this was where I happened to be at the time, I can’t argue that it’s the best place to be, but the way the light was shining through the Cholla made for an incredible sight.
The sunlight bounced off the Cholla, radiating this bright whitish, yellow glow, making the whole garden feel almost magical.