Last Updated on 6th May 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
Are you looking for an adventure in the desert? Joshua Tree National Park in California is the perfect destination for hiking, rock climbing, and exploring the unique desert landscape. It’s the second largest National Park in California and one of the most popular in the state. So even if you only have 72 hours to explore this area, here’s your perfect 3 day weekend in Joshua Tree itinerary.
- Introducing Joshua Tree
- When to Visit Joshua Tree
- How to Get to Joshua Tree
- Where to Stay
- Is 3 days enough time in Joshua Tree?
- Suggested long weekend in Joshua Tree Itinerary
- A final note on planning a weekend in Joshua Tree
Introducing Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park is in San Bernardino County, about two and a half hours away from LA. Nearby is the town of Joshua Tree, which offers places to stay and eat while you enjoy the park. There isn’t much public transportation in and around the park, so you’ll want to bring or rent a car.
The park gets its name from the abundant Joshua Trees in the area. These plants can live for 150 years! But these aren’t the only things to see in the park and surrounding area, which is located in southeastern California.
For more off the beaten path California, check out these top hidden gems of California and for more USA inspiration, be sure to check out the most romantic getaways in the USA.
Let’s dive into the 3-day Joshua Tree itinerary so you can make the most of your time in the national park.
When to Visit Joshua Tree
Because this area is a high desert, it has extreme temperatures. In the summer, the days are very hot and the nights very cold. The winter is chilly, and it can even get snow or frost sometimes. Because of this, the best time to visit is spring or fall when the temperatures are a bit more moderate.
How to Get to Joshua Tree
There are a few directions you could possibly come from, so I’ll try to cover them all.
Most people will likely be coming from Los Angeles. From LA, head east on I-10 until you get to exit 117. Turn left and head north on CA-62 until you reach Joshua Tree. The distance is just under 130 miles.
The closest airport is in Palm Springs, about a 45-minute drive to the town of Joshua Tree. In Palm Springs, you’ll want to get on I-10 going west, before turning right on CA-62 E at exit 117. Follow that until you arrive at Joshua Tree.
If you’re coming from Las Vegas, from I-15 south you’ll merge onto CA-62 heading west until you get to Joshua Tree. The distance between Las Vegas and Joshua tree is around 240 miles and the journey time is around three and a half hours.
Where to Stay
For lodging, you’ve got a few options, including staying in hotels or cabin rentals, or camping in the park. You can find a few national hotel chains in the town of Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, or Yucca Valley.
For independent hotels, the Joshua Tree Inn is a good option, with a rustic desert feel and a convenient location close to the park. There’s also the 9 Palms Inn or the Harmony Motel.
Consider camping in one of the 8 campgrounds in the area. Black Rock, Cottonwood, Indian Cove, and Jumbo Rocks require reservations during the peak season (October-May). Belle, Hidden Valley, Ryan, and White Tank are first-come, first-serve year-round.
Is 3 days enough time in Joshua Tree?
Although all of Joshua tree’s main attractions can be squeezed into one day, you’ll likely leave feeling rushed and wishing you had spend a little longer exploring. As such, a long weekend, i.e. 3 days, is the perfect amount of time to rest, see everything that Joshua Tree has to offer, and fully soak up each experience.
Suggested long weekend in Joshua Tree Itinerary
Day 1 – Barker Dam, Lost Horse Mine, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Keys View
Start your first day with a hike in Joshua Tree National Park. The park is home to a variety of hiking trails, from easy nature walks to challenging rock scrambles.
Some popular trails include the Barker Dam Trail, which takes you to a historic dam and offers great views of the surrounding landscape, and the Lost Horse Mine Trail, which leads to an old gold mine. Remember to bring plenty of water and wear appropriate footwear.
The Barker Dam Trail is an easy one to start with if you’re looking for a warmup. It’s 1.3 miles with an elevation gain of only about 60 feet. It should only take about half an hour.
Along the way you’ll be able to see petroglyphs on the side of the trail and the dam for which the trail is named. After this hike you could do another easy one, the Hidden Valley Trail, which is also about a mile.
If you’re ready for something more challenging, the Lost Horse Mine trail is a 6.8-mile loop that will take you to its namesake, the Lost Horse Mine. The mine stopped operating in 1931, and it’s just one of the several abandoned mines in Joshua Tree.
After hiking, you’ll be hungry! Especially if you did the longer hike. You can either bring a lunch to eat with you on a trail or you can head into town and try Pie for the People with a break from the heat.
Next, you’ll want to head over to the Cholla Cactus Garden, a favorite stop for many visitors. During your earlier hike, you probably spotted the cholla cactus, also known as “teddy-bear cholla”.
While these plants look soft, they are far from it. Don’t touch them! Their spines are lined with barbs that are painful and difficult to remove. But they’re fun to look at. Enjoy their beauty as you walk through the garden.
As sunset approaches, head to Keys View to catch the sun dip beneath the horizon. The viewpoint offers panoramic views of the Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault. To get there, take the Keys View Road, located off Park Boulevard.
For dinner, check out the Joshua Tree Saloon for some good old-fashioned western food and live music.
Day 2 – Climbing, Skull Rock, Arch Rock, and Stargazing
Spend your second day in Joshua Tree rock climbing. The park is known for its diverse climbing routes, from beginner-friendly boulder routes to challenging multi-pitch routes.
Some popular climbing areas include Hidden Valley, Hall of Horrors, and Echo Cove. If you’re new to climbing, consider taking a guided climbing tour to learn the basics.
Hall of Horrors is one of the most popular climbing spots, but it also has a trail if climbing isn’t your thing or if some in your party don’t want to climb. Only a 0.6-mile loop, the trail is great for birdwatching because of the vegetation in the area.
After climbing, you can stop at Skull Rock, which is right on the main road. This rock is famous for its natural skull shape, and it’s a great spot for pictures. If you’ve got enough energy for a short hike, you’ll also want to see Arch Rock. This naturally formed arch is near the White Tank campground and only takes a 0.3-mile hike to get to it.
Now is a great time to check out one of the visitor centers near the park to learn more about the park’s unique desert ecosystem. The centers have exhibits on the park’s geology, plants, and animals, as well as bookstores and souvenir shops.
Your second night is stargazing night! Joshua Tree is famous for being a wonderful place to look at and take pictures of the stars. There’s not a lot of light pollution while you’re in the park, so it is easy to take in the majesty of the heavens above you.
The Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center is also nearby, and it has guided tours during different times of the year, so you could also check that out.
Regardless of where you choose to stargaze, make sure you bring your camera. Some say that the park is one of the best places in the US to photograph the night sky!
Day 3 – Exploring the Town and Surrounding Area
For your final day in Joshua Tree, you can head back into the park for more exploring and hiking (check out the Desert Queen Mine or Ryan Ranch and Mountain if you do), or you can explore some of the sites around Joshua Tree.
You can spend the morning in the town of Joshua Tree, visiting shops or the World Famous Crochet Museum. There’s a number of strange attractions nearby, including the Integration (great if you’re interested in extraterrestrials), the Giant Rock (literally a seven-story rock), and the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum (ten acres of what Purifoy called “assemblage sculptures”).
Another oddity that I couldn’t explain in the space between two parentheses is the Krblin Jihn Kabin. According to artist Eames Demetrios, there is a parallel universe awaiting us, and he is bringing it to life.
The Kabin installation is just one installation of this project across 29 countries. It is a piece of history from this parallel universe, and it tells the story of a religious war that took place in the area.
In the afternoon, you can make your way over to Pioneertown, a movie set turned tourist stop. This town looks like it’s straight out of an old western with gunfights and stampedes every Saturday at 2:30 (except in the summer).
After you can get a drink at the nearby Pappy & Harriett’s, or you can head back to the town of Joshua Tree for dinner at Crossroads Cafe, which serves creative spins on diner classics and has vegan options.
Once you’re done with dinner, you can head back into the park for more stargazing; if you’re like me, one night isn’t enough. It’s also good to plan two nights in case the first one is cloudy. Sit under the stars and relax after a trip full of adventure.
A final note on planning a weekend in Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park offers a wealth of outdoor activities, from hiking and rock climbing to exploring the desert landscape. The area also has a lot of fun activities and quirky places to see.
No matter what you do during your trip to Joshua Tree, it is sure to be an adventure. Remember to bring plenty of water and sunscreen and be prepared for the desert’s hot temperatures. Have fun exploring!
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About the author: Lexi Cooper is a freelance editor and writer. Her parents taught her a love for traveling, seeing new sights, and learning about the world. Along with her passion for travel, she loves stories and dreams of spending her days reading and writing books and wandering the globe.