If you happen to read my post from last Saturday 9 Day Trips to Take From Los Angeles, then you’ll know that Joshua Tree National Park was on it. Well, we made the effort and took that trip, and it was worth it! We woke up early-ish around 6:30 AM to make sure we were out of L.A. no later than 7:30-8. The drive was an easy 2-2.5 hours to the West Entrance Station. I made breakfast sandwiches and we picked up subway for lunch on the way out of town. Definitely bring lunch and snacks and plenty of water with you. Once inside the park there is nothing and no cell service either.
Visiting the Park
I had read that it’s best to start at the South Entrance, but we did not heed that advice and took to the West Entrance. I think this was the better option and I’ll explain more on that later.
We made sure to stop at the visitor’s center for a free map and any other info we might be interested in. The map is super helpful and makes decisions easier on where to go. After paying the $25 entrance fee, we started our drive.
We stopped at the very first turnout, thinking there was something of note, only to realize there are turnouts everywhere for the sole reason of wandering out into the desert. The desert is serene and rejuvenating in my mind. There is just something so life-giving when you’re standing in an environment that is desolate and unforgiving.
Our first real stop was a short 1-mile loop hike into Hidden Valley. This hike was moderately easy with some stones and steps that you do have to walk on. This is also a popular rock-climbing trail and we saw a few climbers out that day.
Next, we stopped for lunch in the Barker Dam Parking lot. I had hoped there would be picnic benches and shade, but there wasn’t. However there were tons of benches and shade in and around the Hidden Valley trailhead. If you want to stop for lunch, I suggest that area before continuing on.
The Barker Dam Trail was our next short hike, also a loop. It was 1.3 miles of easy to moderate terrain. Halfway through is where you see the dam full of water, before you wander through a desolate Joshua Tree trail on the way back to the parking lot. I favored this hike because of all of the Joshua Tree’s we were able to get up close and personal with.
Keys View came next as we followed the road and map south. This view over the valley is spectacular. A very short walk up a small hill leads to views for miles.
We backtracked just a bit to then turn right onto the main road headed south. We stopped at Jumbo rocks, Skull Rock and our last stop of Cholla Cactus Garden.
Exiting the Park
Here’s where we had to make a decision. I really wanted to see the Cholla Cactus Garden, because frankly I love cactus, but we thought if we made that turn and headed for the garden then we should continue our way out to the highway. It was about 14 miles to the garden from the fork and another 24 miles after the garden to the freeway. For almost 40 miles the only thing to truly see on that road is the garden, which is awesome and definitely recommended. However had I known, we would have visited the garden, backtracked and saw the rest of the park including the Oasis of Mara before exiting the North Entrance Station. That long road that headed out south, had nothing of note, and I’m glad we didn’t follow the advice to start there. We would have began our day with a super long 40 mile drive before actually seeing anything cool.
On the positive note of exiting from the South Entrance, you can take the Indio exit and Hwy 11 to the Mirage Ranch house exhibit that will only be there for a short time. Unfortunately we didn’t remember to do this, so I’ll be making another trip back to the desert soon.
Ever been to Joshua Tree National Park? What were you favorite sites to see?