A first-timer's guide to Joshua Tree By Jason Huckeba

A first-timer's guide to Joshua Tree By Jason Huckeba

Joshua Tree National Park is a true desert park. There are 2.8 million visitors that come here every year.  The park is located in Southern California and is approximately 130 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.  The best time to visit the park is from October to May when the daytime temps aren’t over 100 degrees.

Admission into the park is $30 per vehicle, with as many people as you want in that vehicle. However, I suggest getting the America The Beautiful pass for $80, which is good for all National Parks.  This pass is good for a calendar year from the month when you purchase it.

Hikers on a rocky trail

There are three Main entrances into Joshua Tree National Park, one in the city of Joshua Tree, one in the city of 29 Palms, and also a south entrance near Indio.  Each of those entrances has a visitor center.  I would encourage you to go to the visitor center and pick up some maps when you get in.  These are really handy to help you around the park as it is really spread out.

The majority of people who come to Joshua Tree National Park are here to explore the desert and the massive rock formations around the park. This leads to excellent opportunities for hikers, rock climbers, stargazers, off-roading, and bird-watching. My favorite activity in the park is hiking and backpacking and I would like to share some of my favorite spots to do so if it is your first time in the park.  These are in no particular order but are must-see locations in the park.

Fences running along the trail

The first spot is the Cholla Cactus Garden.  This collection of cacti spreads out as far as the eye can see in one specific area of the park. There's a short trail that lets you get up close and personal with the cactus but don't get too close because they're known as jumping cacti for a reason and they will stick to you. 

a sign giving mileage to certain hiking destinations

My second spot is the Mastodon Peak area in the southern part of Joshua Tree National Park. Mastodon Peak is a four-mile round-trip hike that takes you to the top of a small peak which gives you a great view of this part of the park.  Along this hike to the peak you even get to pass by an old mining area which still has relics to see. This is a great spot to check out if you are coming in from the Southern entrance.

an open expanse of desert

The third spot I like to check out in the park is Ryan Mountain.  Ryan Mountain is the most prominent peak in the park with a beautiful 360-degree view from the summit. This hike is short, but it's incredibly steep and you are going up the entire way. Once you get to the summit, though, you'll be able to look out all over the park and see the rock formations and all the Joshua trees dotting the landscape below you. This is also a good spot for a chance at seeing the Big Horn Sheep.

A rocky and green section of desert.

The next spot I like to go to is Barker Dam, which is the most popular trail in the entire park. Barker Dam is a short, easy trail. It's one of the only trails in the park that has water depending on the time of year, which in turn means there is a good chance to view wildlife here.  The trail takes you to a historic dam from the early to 1900s. If you only have a short amount of time in the park, this is a great trail as it lets you see some of Joshua Tree's best features, such as the Joshua Trees and all the crazy rock formations.

railway coming down from a water tank

Right next to the Barker Dam trail is the trail to the Wall Street Mill.  The hike to Wall Street mill is two miles roundtrip and on the way, you'll go by a few abandoned, rusted old cars and parts of the old mining camp. Then when you get to the mill itself, you can walk all around it and it's actually really well preserved. You can't go in it, but you can get some great views walking around the historic structure and can imagine what it used to be like working at the mill years ago.

A hiker hiking along a rocky path

Pic Courtesy of Matt Dunn @leadmeoutdoors 

My last spot is another easy trail in the park which is the Hidden Valley trail. Hidden Valley is also one of the really popular hikes in the park, but for good reason. The trail is about 1 ½ miles and takes you into a large valley, surrounded almost entirely by rocks. It's one of those places that reminds you of a smuggler's campground back in the cowboy days.

Sunset in the desert

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