What to do in Joshua Tree National Park including where to stay and which trails to hike.
Over the holidays, Nick and I went on a little roadtrip from California to Arizona, by way of Joshua Tree National Park.
We wanted to take one last trip, in case we didn’t have time to do another one before baby comes (he’s SO busy this year at work, so this was our last chance for more than a weekend trip). And since he’d just gotten back from an almost 4-month deployment, it was a great opportunity to spend some alone time together.
Someday I want to visit every state (I’m only about halfway there), and neither of us had ever been to Arizona. It’s pretty close– only an 8ish hour drive– so it seemed like a good one to hit while holiday airfare was through the roof.
Eight hours IS a long time though, so we decided to break the trip up a little bit. When I Googled the route, I saw that we were super close to Joshua Tree National Park. I’ve been wanting to check out Joshua Tree practically since we moved to California, so that was a perfect first stop!
It took us about 5 or 6 hours to get there. We arrived at the visitor center near the West entrance and it was totally packed. It was a Sunday during school vacation, so I guess we should have figured that would happen!
We picked up a map and they told us that the line at the West entrance was super backed up. Apparently this happens a lot. They told us we should drive a little further east to the North entrance, which would get us into the park much quicker.
The North entrance is located in Twentynine Palms, which is where our hotel for the night was located, so we decided to do that. There was no backup at the gate at all when we arrived.
There are lots of hiking trails to chose from in Joshua Tree, everything from short nature walks, to longer strenuous hikes. We wanted to hike Ryan Mountain, a 3-mile hike with an incredible view at the top. But with an elevation gain of over 1000 ft in just a mile and a half, I was afraid my 20-week-preggo-butt would be huffing and puffing a little too hard.
Instead, we decided to hike to Lost Horse Mine. It was a 4-mile out and back, or you can take a loop trail that’s just over 6 miles.
Lost Horse Mine is an old gold mine from the late 1800’s that’s been preserved in the park. The mine was really neat to see. It’s amazing to think that they hauled all of the equipment to build the mine into the park and up a mountain– in the 1800’s! It really is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s interesting to think about what it was like back when it was in operation.
After hiking back down from the mine, we decided to drive around and check out the Joshua trees. They are really cool looking plants. It’s funny how the desert can be so sparse and barren, yet it has it’s own kind of beauty.
The whole park was just gorgeous, but definitely different than any other park we’ve been to.
We called it a day just before dark and headed to our hotel. We stayed in Twentynine Palms at the Roughley Manor Bed & Breakfast (now called the Campbell House Inn).
Twentynine Palms is tiny military town in the middle of nowehere, not unlike some of the places we’ve lived. Not a whole lot going on. So I was so glad we found this little gem of a B&B. It was super adorable. They were all dressed up for the holidays.
And breakfast was amazing. They made us a potato-crusted quiche that I MUST recreate soon. It was awesome!
Sadly, it was the owners’ last weekend at the B&B. They had just sold it so they could start their retirement.
Luckily, the people who bought it want to keep it just as it is, so I hope it stays as adorable as it was when we were there. If you visit Joshua Tree and don’t want to camp, I highly suggest Roughley Manor!
The next day, we headed back into the park. Since it was early, we headed up to Keys View before it got crowded.
Keys View is a lookout that you drive up to. It has some of the best views in the park, and gets pretty crowded with lazy tourists since no hiking is involved. 😉 You can see the San Andreas Fault, Mt. San Jacinto (the snow-capped mountain in the photo below) and the Salton Sea.
It was beautiful, but very windy and COLD!
I pulled my hip flexor pretty good on our hike the first day and it was bothering me, so we decided to stick to some shorter 1-mile nature walks.
There are tons of them around the park, and we did 2 or 3 of them including Barker Dam (which actually had about 2 drips of water in it) and Hidden Valley, where cowboys used to hide stolen horses back in the day. They were all nice hikes with lots of desert beauty to be seen.
We needed to exit through the South exit to continue on to Arizona, so we drove south through the park and stopped at the Cholla Cactus Gardens.
Dense cholla cacti as far as the eye could see. It was neat to see them so concentrated, somewhat randomly, in one area of the park.
We had a really great 2 days in Joshua Tree! Anytime we can be out in beautiful nature we’re pretty happy. Winter was a great time to visit Joshua Tree because it’s their slower season, and because it also means not hiking in the summer desert heat.
Next up, we were off to Arizona!
Have you been to Joshua Tree? What was your favorite thing to see?
Be sure to check out more of our adventures on my Travel Page!