Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most interesting parks in the United States. The park is located approximately 132 miles from Los Angeles, California. It is a desert filled with boulders, cactus, and dry trees. It is unlike any other national park you will find in America. What is the best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park?
Best time to visit Joshua Tree
You can visit the park throughout the year, but which is the best season? Let’s take a look at each.
Summer (June to August)
The park is in the desert, so it’s definitely not the best time to visit. During the day, temperatures reach 100 degrees. Because of the sweltering heat, some of the campsites are typically closed. Don’t wait until it’s too hot outside if you’re thinking about bringing kids!
I’d advise going to the park early in the morning or late afternoon. Make sure to pack sun protection and plenty of water. Also, try not to engage in strenuous activities such as rock climbing.
Spring (March to May)
In spring, day and night temperatures are great, and you can comfortably take part in activities such as hiking and rock climbing. If you love plants, this is the best time to see the blooming wildflowers.
The only downside to visiting during spring is the crowds. Since temperatures are favorable, most people plan their trip for this season. You might want to visit during the weekdays as more people tend to visit on weekends. The Joshua Tree Music Festival is held during this season, which is another reason for the increase in the number of visitors.
Autumn/Fall (September to November)
The temperatures are usually still high in September but start to go down in October. Also, the number of visitors is lower than in spring. You can really explore the park without having to worry about the heat too much! You may get the rare opportunity of capturing the golden and red colors that happen during this time if you’re into photography. The only con I could really find with going in the autumn is that you might catch a cold because it can get chilly at night.
You can hike almost anywhere at any time during the winter, so if you want to get a little more adventure in then, this is the season for that. Plus, fewer people are out and about, making it easier to get that perfect shot of the rare snowfalls or anything else of interest to you.
Note that most of the park is closed during the winter months, including many hiking trails. It’s also pretty cold so if you go to the park, make sure to bring a jacket and winter boots!
So what’s the best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park? Well, early spring and late fall. These seasons are the best time of year to go to the park. Not only is it warmer, but there are also more things you can do during these two seasons.
What to do while at Joshua Tree National Park
There are plenty of things to do at Joshua Tree National Park:
Thousands of people camp at this park every year. There are more than 500 campsites, and you can reserve your spots on the official website. Booking is advised, especially if you plan to camp in the busy spring season and on a weekend or holiday.
You will definitely enjoy camping in the park, surrounded by the incredible rock formations and Joshua trees. You need to reserve a spot in the following campgrounds:
- Indian Cove: Has no water, but there are fire grates, pit toilets, and tables. It comprises 101 sites and is at 3,200 feet elevation.
- Jumbo Rocks: At 4,400 feet elevation. Fire grates, tables, and pit toilets are available, but there’s no water. 124 sites.
- Black Rock: This campground has a dump station, fire grates, tables, flush toilets, water and is at an elevation of 4000 feet. There are 99 sites here.
- Ryan: At 4300 feet elevation with tables, fire grates, and pit toilets but no water. Has 31 sites.
- Cottonwood: At 3000 feet elevation. Flush toilets, fire grates, pit toilets, water, and dump station available. Comprises 62 sites.
During the summer, some parts of Cottonwood, Black Rock, and Indian Cove campgrounds are closed. The first-come, first-served campgrounds include Belle, White Tank, and Hidden Valley. Note that the camping sites are not suitable for RVs over 25 feet.
2. Visit Skull Rock
This is one of the unique sites at the park. As the name suggests, the area consists of boulders with several skull-shaped formations. You may find such formations in other areas of the park, but in Skull Rock, they are strewn all over.
The good thing about this attraction is that it’s at the roadside. Some trails will also take you to it. Visitors can stop here to look at the formations and take photos or rest.
3. Rock climbing
If you are into rock climbing and bouldering, Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect destination. The park has more than 2000 boulders and over 8000 climbing routes. The wide array of boulders and natural gaps means climbers of all levels can enjoy the sport here. If you are a beginner, here are some rock climbing tips.
When top climbing destinations aren’t open during the winter, climbers troop to Joshua tree. The Hidden Valley is one of the most popular rock climbing spots at the park. So, expect to see a lot of rock climbers and campers during the cold season.
Hiking is a great activity that not only keeps you fit but also allows you to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. At Joshua Tree, there are more than 300 miles of hiking trails. The hike is in a desert so bring along hiking essentials to make the experience great. Here are some great hiking trails:
- Keys View: A paved loop trail that’s 0.25 miles (0.4km) long. It offers scenic views of Mount San Jacinto, Salton Sea, San Andreas Fault, and Mount San Gorgonio. It will take you just 30 minutes to complete.
- Ryan Ranch: About half a mile from Ryan Campground. It is 1 mile long and will take you through an old ranch road to see adobe buildings. The hike takes an hour.
- Skull Rock: Found east of Jumbo Rock campground. It is 1.7 miles (2.7km) long loop trail and will take you between 1-2 hours to complete. Great for exploring boulders and the famous Skull Rock area.
- Oasis of Mara: Located in Oasis Visitor Center. The loop trail will take you to the Oasis of Mara. You will learn about how people and wildlife have used the oasis over time. You can bring your pet but have them on a leash. The trail is half a mile (0.8km) long and will take you approximately 30-45 minutes to complete.
- Arch Rock Trail: The trailhead is at the Twin Planks parking area. It is a 1.4 mile (2.1km) trail that will take you an hour to hike. It’s an exciting trail that takes you through a sandy and rocky area.
5. Visit the Cholla Cactus Garden
This is another exciting attraction at the park. It’s an area with hundreds of Cholla cacti. You can find these cacti in many other parts of the park, but it is past White Tank and Belle campgrounds on your way to Cottonwood Spring that they are in plenty. The morning and late afternoon sunlight make these cacti glow and provide a spectacular sight. You will also find the Ocotillo Patch on the road to Cottonwood Spring.
One can access this garden through a relatively easy hiking trail.
6. Bird watching
If you’re a birdwatching enthusiast, the park provides an opportunity to see many different bird species. Resident birds include Gambel’s quail, roadrunner, mocking bird, phainopepla, rock wren, cactus wren, and the mourning dove. You can see these during any time of the year.
On the other hand, the cedar waxwing, American robin, sage sparrow, and white-crowned sparrow can only be seen in winter. You will see other species in the spring and summer, such as the western kingbird, northern oriole, and Bendire’s thrasher.
In addition, you will also view birds like indigo buntings, lazuli bunting, and western tanagers, migrating through the park. Some great birdwatching spots include Cottonwood spring, Lost Palms Oasis, and Oasis of Mara.
You can bring along your mountain bike to the park! You can bike on the paved roads, but they’re usually heavy with traffic so explore the park on backcountry roads. Ryan Campground, open from September through May, offers three spots for biking enthusiasts. Ensure you take safety precautions, such as wearing a helmet and reflective clothing when biking in the park.
8. Horseback riding
Exploring the park on horseback is another exciting activity that you may want to try out. Over 253 miles of equestrian trails at the park pass through canyon floors and open lands. Most of these trails are usually open and well-marked, so you won’t have a problem navigating the park.
The area near the West Entrance and Black Rock Canyon is popular with riders. Black Rock and Ryan Campgrounds are suitable for horses and other pack animals. Make sure you make your reservations.
Note that horses and stock animals are not allowed to graze at the park, and you’re required to park their manure. Also, no water is available along the trails, so consider this when preparing for a horseback ride at the park.
9. Go to Cottonwood Spring Oasis
The Cottonwood Spring Oasis was created by an earthquake many years ago. What makes it unique is that it’s a permanent spring, which is not common in deserts. Miners and the Cahuilla Indians used the spring for many years.
There’re also remains of gold processing tools near the site, which suggest that prospectors used the spring as well. Because of the trees, shade, and enough water, many bird species flock to this spot. So if you are planning to birdwatch, this is an ideal spot.
10. See Wildflowers
One of the reasons many tourists come during spring is to see the blooming wildflowers. Plants such as the cacti, Joshuas, and shrubs bloom, making the landscape beautiful. If you’re a nature photographer, you can get your best shots of the plants in spring.
If you want to see the Joshua’s in full bloom, go to the area around Cottonwood visitor center. The spot along Cottonwood spring and Intestate 10 also displays the flowers in various colors during spring. Some plants can bloom as early as February, while in higher elevations; the blooming can happen in June. Overall, March and April are the best times to view the wildflowers.
11. Visit Keys Ranch
William F. Keys lived in the Ranch in the 1910s. You will see the remains of the settlement – a store, workshop, house, and schoolhouse. Since it is a National Historic Register Site, you can only visit it in the company of a guide.
You can make reservations two months in advance. The informative tour will help you learn how the rancher was able to survive in the harsh environment.
Related: Things to do in Lake Elsinore
Because of artificial light and pollution in the atmosphere, many people in urban centers do not enjoy the night skies. Some people have never seen the Milky Way. Joshua Tree has some of the darkest nights in the state and is an International Dark Sky Park.
If you are stargazing, make sure you layer up as temperatures fall quickly in the evening. Ensure you have snacks and water as you won’t find water in most parts of the park. Also, use red light as bright light will make it difficult to adjust to the dark skies. Watch out for rough terrains, nocturnal animals, and cacti.
You can experience the night skies from the campgrounds at the park. The one with the darkest night skies is Cottonwood Campground. The best time to view the Milky Way is in the summer. Read more about stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park.
13. Hidden Valley
This is one of the most spectacular areas of the park. You can easily access it, and perfect for people looking to relax among the rock formations. You can also hike along the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, a mile-long loop trail that passes through an open space surrounded by rocks.
Local legend has it that cattle rustlers would herd cattle here to hide them. The Great Burrito, a giant monolith found in this trail, is a great climbing spot. The Hidden Valley Picnic Area is located on the other side of the parking area. Boulders and Joshua trees dot this area, making it the perfect place for a family picnic.
14. Go to Barker Dam Nature Trail
The Barker Dam Nature Trail is one of the most popular short hikes at the park, and the main attraction is a reservoir built by ranchers in 1900. The Dam is in the National Register of Historic Places.
This flat loop trail is 1.3 miles long, with trees, rocks, and water from the dam. You will sport many different bird species here as well as animals like the bighorn sheep. You can also explore beyond the dam if you have the time.
Pro tip: It is probably a good idea not to try and go into every single cave or hole that you see in Joshua Tree National Park because they can be pretty dangerous if you’re not paying attention! This also applies to climbs as well; those are especially dangerous if you’re not careful.
Joshua Tree National Park is an excellent destination to visit year-round. However, the best time to go depends on what you want out of your trip. Regardless of when you visit Joshua Tree National Park, there will be plenty to do, including camping, hiking, rock climbing, and more! We hope this article helped you decide which season would work well for your next family vacation at one of America’s top national parks!