We got a national park pass last year but had to cancel our trip due to Covid. So this year, we said we had to hit as many national parks as we can. We decided to do a California road trip and check off a couple of national parks. Our first national park stop was Joshua Tree National Park. Mormon settlers nicknamed the tree “the Joshua” because it looked like a human-like form and reminded them of the biblical Joshua reaching up to the sky. Here’s a list of trails to do at this national park:
If you enter from the cottonwood entrance (south side of the park) as we did, then this garden will be your first stop. This garden has a .25 mile easy loop trail where all you’ll see are these cute teddy bear cholla. This was my favorite spot and the cactus reminds me of underwater corals. I recommend coming here right around sunrise or sunset where the cholla will look like they are glowing.
What Have I Learned: Stay on the trail if you want to avoid the spines that will latch on to you on the slightest touch. As someone who experienced it first hand, there are a lot of spines and it’s really painful.
Skull Rock is located right by the main road and you can even spot it as you drive by. The rock erosion formed two hollowed-out eye sockets which made the rock look like a skull. Skull Rock trail is 1.7 miles begins at the Jumbo Rocks Campground entrance. We didn’t do the hike but we did take some photos with Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rocks nearby.
What Have I Learned: A parking spot is located just across the road from Skull Rock. This is a great spot to stargaze.
This has an easy 1-mile trail in the Mojave Desert where you will see unique rock formations and Joshua trees. It is one of the most popular and scenic hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park. The entrance to this trail includes a large parking lot, picnic tables, and even a bathroom.
What Have I Learned: The valley was blasted open by cattle rustlers to hide their stolen cattle.
It is also known as Big Horn Dam, constructed by early cattlemen in 1900. This is a 1.5-mile trail that takes you to the dam. We went during summer so it was completely dry. You’ll have a better chance to see it full of water if you visit during Winter and Spring but it depends on the precipitation.
What Have I Learned: There are a lot of different animals you can see at this park including bighorn sheep, greater roadrunner, and even a rattlesnake. A group that was behind us said they saw a rattlesnake so be careful where you step.
Hall of Horrors – This is a popular destination for scrambling and rock climbing. We didn’t see any climbers but we did find some cool rock formations.
Arch Rock – This trail is 0.5 miles loop which starts at White Tank Campground. It was also closed when we went so definitely check the park website to see which parts of the park is open.
Keys View – A 5,000 feet lookout point with views extending out over the Coachella Valley. Sadly this was closed when we went because of flooding on the road.
Cap Rock – We wanted to go to Keys view but since it was closed, we stopped by Cap Rock trail. It’s a 0.7 miles loop trail with large rock formations and Joshua trees.
FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS in Palm Spring/Palm Desert
Wilma & Frieda’s Cafe ($$) – We got the popular blackberry custard french toast (14.95 USD) and short rib benedict (17.95 USD). Both of them were good but if you could only order one, get the french toast (it taste better than it looks). It was about a 30-45 minute wait on a Wednesday so join the waitlist on Yelp to save you some time.
Hours: Mon to Sun: 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM
Trio ($$) – This restaurant is located in the fashionable uptown design district in Palm Spring. We love their fried artichoke appetizer which is crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Their pork chop was also really good with apple and local date chutney.
Hours: Mon to Thu: 3:00 PM to 10:00 PM/Fri: 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM/Sat to Sun: 9:00 AM to 11:00 PM
La Bonita’s ($$) – We ordered a chimichanga (19.07 USD – chicken, beans, and cheese inside a bread-shaped burrito) and the juicy carne asada queso taco with rice and bean (17 USD). It’s a little expensive for Mexican food but there is a lot of food and it was good that I would go back.
Hours: Mon to Thu: 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM/Fri to Sat: 11:00 AM to 11:45 PM/Sun: 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM
La Quinta Brewing Co ($$) – This is an award winning brewery opened in fall of 2013 and is a local favorite throughout the desert. We grabbed a beer here before heading back to Joshua Tree National Park. There are a lot of beer options and a lot of seating.
Hours: Mon to Thu: 12:00 PM to 10:00 PM/Fri to Sat: 12:00 PM to 12:00 AM
What Have I Learned: I would start early and head back to Palm Spring/Palm Desert for lunch and then head back to the park right before sunset. You’ll want to stay late and see the stars.
Cost: 30 USD (7-day non-commercial vehicle permit)/ Motorcycle: 25 USD/ Individual: 15 USD
Joshua Tree National Park: Open 24 Hours
Joshua Tree Visitor Center: Mon to Sun: 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Oasis Visitor Center: Mon to Sun: 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Cottonwood Visitor Center: Mon to Sun: 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM
How many days do you need in Joshua Tree National Park? 1 day (make sure you stay overnight in Palm Spring/Palm Desert)
What is your main transportation in Joshua Tree National Park? Car
How long did it take to get to Joshua Tree National Park? It’s 2hr 40 min from San Diego or 1hr 20 min from Palm Desert.
Where did you stay? Courtyard by Marriott Palm Desert (8.0/10.0) – Room was clean and spacious. There is a pool if you’re looking to relax at the hotel.
When did you go to Joshua Tree National Park? End of July 2021 – It was 110 degrees in the afternoon and 80+ in the morning/night.