One of the most iconic places in the American west, Joshua Tree offers visitors everything from tranquil desert sunsets and hiking trails to saloon dining and horseback riding.
As a Southern California local, I visit Joshua Tree frequently. It’s a place unlike any other, with gigantic boulder formations and hidden oases, and I hope you find as much magic in your visit as I do.
Whether you’re a die-hard U2 fan, an outdoor enthusiast, or a traveler who’s never been to the desert, your trip to Joshua Tree is sure to be unforgettable. Between Joshua Tree National Park, the town itself, and the quirky surrounding areas, you’ll never run out of things to do in Joshua Tree.
Let’s take a look!
Table of Contents
- 27 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
- Outdoor Activities in Joshua Tree
- Attractions Near Joshua Tree
- Joshua Tree Hiking Trails
- Food & Drink
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27 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
Town of Joshua Tree
Explore funky shops and restaurants
📍 Map It: Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Blink and you might miss the tiny retro town of Joshua Tree. Nestled along Twentynine Palms Highways right above Joshua Tree National Park, this funky town gives off 60s vibes and offers diverse local dining options.
The majority of the shops in Joshua Tree are owned by locals, so purchases you make at places like Grateful Desert Herb Shoppe Joshua Tree Rock Shop, help support the community. Swing by Joshua Tree Coffee Company for a brew and browse the quirky shops in town.
Barker Dam Nature Trail
Hike through rocks toward a historic dam
If you’re looking for a short nature trail with a big payoff, check out the mile long Barker Dam Nature Trail. Along the trail, you’ll see swaths of Joshua Trees, a dam from the 1800s, and even ancient petroglyphs left behind by early humans.
The trail is relatively flat and is kid-friendly. There are informative signs posted along the way, offering information bout the local flora and fauna. Check it out close to sunset for more wildlife sightings – jackrabbits and other critters come out at dusk.
👉 Pro Tip: Keep your eye out for bighorn sheep – they’re known to visit the dam to drink!
Climb and admire massive rock formations
📍 Map It: Jumbo Rocks Campground, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 | Phone: (877)444-6777 | Website | Hours: Open 24/7 | Entrance: $25 per vehicle
A sea of gigantic boulders awaits exploration at Jumbo Rocks. There are trails that wind through this area of Joshua Tree National Park, or you can explore on your own. These boulder formations are great for rock climbing as well as photography.
Some of the boulder formations here are so iconic that they have their own names. Visit Arch Rock and Skull Rock for some truly incredible views. Arch Rock trail is an easy nature trail that will take you on a one mile walk through the heart of these formations.
Immerse yourself in a sky full of bright stars
The night sky in Joshua Tree is perfect for stargazing. Far from the hazy Los Angeles, the desert offers a crystal clear night sky that makes it easy to spot constellations. Camping in Joshua Tree National Park or staying nearby offers visitors gorgeous nighttime views.
Stargazing in Joshua Tree gives visitors the opportunity to see the Milky Way – a once in a lifetime experience. Avoid visiting during the full moon, as the light can decrease your visibility of the stars.
👉 Pro Tip: If you’re searching for stars, stay at Cottonwood Campground – this site is home to the darkest skies in the park!
Climb Joshua Tree’s huge quartz monzonite formations
📍 Map It: 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 | Website | Hours: Open 24/7 | Entrance: $25 per vehicle | 👉 Book a Rock Climbing Tour on Viator
Climbers far and wide flock to Joshua Tree to challenge themselves and enjoy rock climbing at the park. Inside the national park, you’ll find opportunities for climbing, highlining, bouldering, and slacklining. There are over 8,000 different climbing routes in the park, in addition to 2,000 boulder problems for you to take on.
Experienced climbers can set out on their own, and beginners can book one of many rock climbing classes. Joshua Tree is a world class climbing location, so if you’re visiting the park and feeling adventurous, give it a try!
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail
Hike to a desert oasis surrounded by palm trees
📍 Map It: Fortynine Palms Canyon Rd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 | Hours: Open 24/7 | Entrance: Free
Finding a lush oasis in the desert is a refreshing experience, and this trail is not to be missed. Since the trailhead for Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is actually outside the park’s gates, this hike is free. This trail is just over three miles, but can be challenging in some parts.
On the trail, you’ll have panoramic views of the valley and geometric rock formations. As you approach the oasis, you’ll see tall, shaggy palm trees that look a little out of place. At the oasis, keep your eye out for toads and other wildlife looking for a drink.
Walk beneath a gigantic rock naturally shaped like an arch
📍 Map It: Arch Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park | Hours: Open 24/7| Entrance: $25 per vehicle
Arch Rock, the crown jewel of Jumbo Rocks, is one of the most visited attractions inside Joshua Tree National Park. This natural formation is 30 feet across, and as its name suggests, is shaped like a massive arch.
The trail that takes you to the arch is short and relatively easy, and leads you through plenty of other whimsical formations on the way. Fit the whole family underneath for a unique vacation photo!
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Joshua Tree Music Festival
Feed your soul with local music and mindfulness workshops
If music festivals in the desert are your speed, check out the Joshua Tree Music Festival. Held in May and October, this festival offers even more than just live music. Check out a yoga class, sound bath, mindfulness workshop, or songwriting class while you attend.
The Joshua Tree Music Festival is an inspiring event where creatives and music fans can gather and relax in the desert. The performers and types of music are diverse, so there’s something for everyone – who knows, maybe you’ll discover your new favorite band!
Outdoor Activities in Joshua Tree
Live alongside nature at a campground or in an RV
Camping within or outside of Joshua Tree National Park in a tent or RV gives visitors easy access to the park and its trails. You can pitch a tent at Jumbo Rocks, or park your RV at Belle campground and enjoy the stars.
Inside the park, you can set up at sites like Hidden Valley Campground and White Tank Campgrounds. These sites have primitive restrooms and fire grates, but no water, so pack plenty of your own. Outside the park, you can reserve private campgrounds and can also camp on BLM land.
👉 Pro Tip: Joshua Tree summers can be extremely hot – camp out between October and April for a more comfortable experience.
Explore the park on rugged 4×4 trails
While exploring Joshua Tree on foot is an option, some prefer to take in the sights on wheels. There are tons of dirt roads throughout the national park that are open to 4 wheel drive vehicles and mountain bikes.
Take on the challenging, rugged 20 mile road at Pinkham Canyon, or drive through Covington Flat, where you’ll see some of the biggest Joshua Trees in the park. You’ll be able to cover more of the park and admire more desert landscapes on wheels than by foot!
Enjoy sweeping views of the Coachella Valley
If it’s views you’re after, Keys View will deliver. Visiting during the day will give you panoramic views of the Salton Sea, the mountains, and on particularly clear days you might even see Mexico.
Keys View is a popular stop for sunset chasers. Watch the horizon fill with rich reds, yellows, and cloud-streaked oranges. Make sure to get there early – the parking lot fills up fast with other people who want to take in the views!
Cholla Cactus Garden
Stroll through the cholla cactus-filled Pinto Basin
While Joshua Trees tend to steal the show at this national park, the desert is also home to cholla cacti. The Cholla Cactus Garden is a place where teddybear cholla cacti naturally dominate the terrain.
The trail through the Cholla Cactus Garden is a short trail at only a quarter mile long, so it’s geat for families with small children. The garden is also home to fragrant creosote bush and wildflowers that pepper the desert with color during spring.
Explore Joshua Tree on horseback
Just west of Joshua Tree National Park, Knob Hill Ranch offers visitors the opportunity to ride horses through the Mojave desert. The Ranch provides guided tours, which are open to all, even if you’ve never ridden horseback before.
To make sure you’re comfortable on your horse, Knob Hill Ranch encourages guests to warm up on their horses in the pen, and also offers lessons. Once you’re comfortable, you can ride into Joshua Tree and check out the desert and mountain views!
Attractions Near Joshua Tree
Travel back in time to the Old West
If there ever was a place to wear your cowboy hat, Pioneertown is it. This classic Old West style town was created in 1946 as a realistic movie set for Westerns. Pioneertown is home to fully functioning businesses like restaurants and small shops, and makes for a fun family day.
Stop by Pappy & Harriet’s for a bison burger, or sip on a cool cocktail at the Red Dog Saloon. Visit Soap & Goats to browse locally crafted goods like soap and scarves, and meet some adorable and friendly goats!
Desert Hot Springs
Soak and relax in natural mineral springs
Just west of Joshua Tree, Desert Hot Springs is home to underground hot springs that well up and form pools. If you’re searching for a relaxing, refreshing spot to visit, this is the place! There are many resort and spa options in the area where you can soak the stress away.
People travel to this city to soak in the healing waters of natural mineral springs. Mineral Springs Resort & Spa offers guests eight mineral pools to choose from at varying temperatures, all of which are open 24 hours a day.
Experience art in “the last free place in America”
📍 Map It: Slab City, CA 92233
Slab City, also known as the Slabs, is an off the grid desert community near the Salton Sea. Just outside Slab City, you’ll find Salvation Mountain, a gigantic, colorful piece of art which is a popular destination for photographs.
In the neighborhood of East Jesus, you can check out tons of quirky art installations at the outdoor art garden. Stacks of old televisions, whimsically decorated cars, a towering mammoth constructed from blown out car tires, and more creations await.
Mecca Hills Wilderness
Climb through curvy slot canyons
The colorful canyons in the Mecca Hills WIldnerness look like the surface of another planet. Located south of Joshua Tree, this wild area is home to trails where you can climb ladders through slot canyons.
Along these trails, walls of rock surround you as you navigate stratified red canyons. The trails here are sandy and can be challenging, so come prepared with hiking boots and plenty of water.
Joshua Tree Hiking Trails
Contact Mine Trail
Trek to an abandoned mine
📍 Map It: Contact Mine Trailhead, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 | Website | Hours: Open 24/7 | Entrance: $25 per vehicle
Just past the North Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, this four mile trail leads you up the side of a mountain to an abandoned gold and silver mine. You can still see the rusted remains of the mine, like tracks, winches, mine shafts, and abandoned equipment. This trail is perfect for a morning adventure before heading deeper into the national park.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Observe unique rock formations in the heart of Joshua Tree
📍 Map It: Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277 | Website | Hours: Open 24/7 | Entrance: $25 per vehicle
Visiting strange, gigantic rocks is one of the most popular things to do in Joshua Tree, and the Hidden Valley Nature Trail provides just that opportunity. One of the shorter hiking trails in the park, this one mile loop is surrounded by boulders, and wildflowers in spring.
👉 Pro Tip: If you enter the park at the West Entrance, stop by Keys Ranch on your way. Here, you can tour a historic early settlement and learn about early ranching and mining efforts in the area.
Lost Horse Mine Trail
Hike up to an old gold mine
In the northwest section of Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll find Lost Horse Mine Trail. This challenging seven mile hike leads to a historic abandoned gold mine and mill. The mill is extremely well preserved, and is a top destination inside the national park for history buffs.
Ryan Mountain Trail
Ascend Ryan Mountain for panoramic desert views
If you’re looking for sweeping mountaintop views of Joshua Tree National Park and aren’t afraid of a little elevation gain, check out the three mile long Ryan Mountain Trail. Ryan Mountain Trail is popular among hikers and trail runners. Pack a lunch to enjoy at the summit – there’s a rock pile you can rest on while you eat.
California Riding and Hiking Trail
Backpack through Joshua Tree on this 38 mile trail
📍 Map It: California Riding and Hiking Trail, Twentynine Palms, CA | Website | Hours: Open 24/7| Entrance: $25 per vehicle
Whether you want to traverse Joshua Tree National Park on foot or on horseback, the California Riding and Hiking Trail offers the opportunity. This 38 mile trail can take 4 days to complete while backpacking, and stretches through the entire park. Pack plenty of water and food if you plan to take on this hike – the desert backcountry is quite dry and temperatures can climb rapidly.
Food & Drink
Joshua Tree Saloon
Dine at an Old West-style saloon
📍 Map It: 61835 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252| Phone: (760)366-2250 | Website | Hours: 9:00 am – 12:00 am daily
The Joshua Tree Saloon is mere minutes from the West Entrance to the park, and is the perfect place to chow down after a day of exploration. There’s indoor as well as outdoor seating, where you can enjoy beers on tap, savory appetizers, and a variety of sandwiches, burgers, and salads.
The hearty fare at Joshua Tree Saloon will keep you fueled on your adventures. And, you can wind down at night with your pick from the entertaining cocktail list. You can’t go wrong with a Mineshaft Burger and a pint of the Saloon’s Prickly Pear Blond Ale!
Natural Sisters Cafe
Grab a healthy bite to eat in this cozy cafe
If healthy, plant-based food is your jam, stop by Natural Sisters Cafe to get your fix. Whether you’re in the mood for biscuits and gravy, a veggie wrap, or a fresh juice or smoothie, this cafe can serve it up. The curried rice wrap is a must try!
Joshua Tree Country Kitchen
Savor country favorites – don’t miss the gravy!
📍 Map It: 61768 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252 | Phone: (760)366-8988 | Website | Hours: 7:00 am – 2:00 pm daily, Closed Tuesdays
What could be better than a warm, homestyle meal on a cool desert morning? Stop by Joshua Tree Country Kitchen for classic comfort food. There’s also some Cambodian fare on the menu – the recipes were created by the prior owner of the Kitchen.
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Joshua Tree Coffee Company
Sip on local, small batch coffee
📍 Map It: 61738 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252 | Phone: (760)974-4060 | Website | Hours: 7:00 am – 6:00 pm daily
Joshua Tree Coffee sources organic beans and roasts them in house, where you can grab a cup to go or buy a bag of whole beans to go. With six different roasts to choose from, you can experience the flavor each variety has to offer. This local coffee company takes pride in its small batch roasts, and captures the essence of the Joshua Tree wilderness in its products.
Enjoy hearty diner meals in a cozy setting
📍 Map It: 61715 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252 | Phone: (760)366-5414 | Website | Hours: 7:00 am – 9:00 pm daily
The Crossroads Cafe offers classic diner food in an Old West-style restaurant. They also have an in house pastry chef who bakes up a variety of tasty treats that make perfect post-hike snacks! If you stop by for lunch, try their unique “Garfunkel” artichoke sandwich if you’re looking for something different.
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That’s a wrap on the 27 best things to do in Joshua Tree! Between hiking rugged trails, jamming at musical festivals, horseback riding, and sampling local food, it’s impossible to run out of ways to have fun in Joshua Tree.