Joshua Tree National Park has been on my bucket list for quite some time now. I was excited to finally make my way out there and camp under the stars. Being from New Jersey, I am surrounded by light pollution from two major cities and many densely populated towns which really block out the night sky. We flew to Vegas for a couple nights, rented a car and worked our way out west. My first destination was Death Valley, which we ended a day early since I was unable to camp there due to the 120+ degree heat. They actually closed down the campground! But that’s another story for another day.
Joshua Tree NP is a beautiful place to camp, hike and explore. We stayed at Hidden Valley campsite which put us in a great location to check out most of the park.
I lucked out with some gorgeous sunsets, sunrises and night skies! We went in early June and temperatures did get up into the 90’s during the day, however since you are up several thousand feet in elevation, the temperatures dropped at night to more comfortable temperatures in the range of 65 to 75 degrees. The campgrounds in Joshua Tree are pretty basic, so this may be a turn off for glampers! Their is no running water in the park and only pit toilets. Their are no hook-ups for RVs at any of the campgrounds and only Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds provide RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. Finding shade at the campsites can also be challenging so I recommend bringing a tarp tent canopy to provide shade since many campgrounds are first come first serve and the shaded areas get taken quickly! They do allow fires in the fire pits and also provide a charcoal grill at the campsites. Just remember that Joshua Tree National Park is home to coyotes, foxes, mountain lions and many other animals, so keep your food in your car when you away from your camp site. To help beat the heat I set up a camping shower to cool us off after hiking in the desert. Basically its just a dry bag that trickles water from a nozzle at the bottom of the bag. It’s nothing special, but it’s the little things that will help uplift your spirit and make your camping experience more enjoyable!
Another great way to enjoy the views and beat the heat is hiking early in the morning!
Whether you are there for a day or a week there are a few sites that you should check out! One of my favorite places for sunsets was at Keys View. Only a ten minute drive from Hidden Valley campgrounds, Keys View provides panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. It can get pretty hazy in the hotter months which may limit how far you can see, however it’s still an amazing view!
Another cool spot that gets pretty crowded is Skull Rock. Skull Rock is located along the side of the main road in the park at a pull out near Jumbo Rocks Campground. According to the National Parks service “rain drops accumulated in tiny depressions and started to erode the granite. As more rock eroded, more water accumulated, leading to more erosion until, as time passed, two hollowed-out eye sockets formed and the rock began to resemble a skull”. It’s a pretty fun spot to do some easy rock climbing and hiking, so definitely add that to your list of sites to see here!
Not far from Skull Rock is another great attraction and picnic area called Split Rock. It was very hot when we got here so we didn’t do a long hike, however I did do some exploring and found a way up to a beautiful vantage point. Split Rock was also formed from thousands of years of erosion. Near split rock is a hidden trail that you can access by climbing up and over a small boulder. Behind this boulder I was able to get to a rock ledge which made for some awesome pictures.
Camping in the park for four days we were able to see most of the main attractions. Due to extreme heat on a few of the days, we decided not to do some of the longer hiking trails. I kept the hikes around 1 to 2 miles max as a safety precaution. When you are visiting Joshua Tree National Park you definitely need to stop at Cholla Cactus Garden. These cactus are pretty unique looking and very sharp. I got a couple stuck in my hiking boots and they were a pain to get off. Locals recommended shutting your air condition off at least 15 minutes or more before going there because of all the Bees that swarm your car when you arrive. They are attracted to darker colors on your car and moisture that is accumulated under your car from the AC. Once you start walking along the path they don’t really bother you much. If you really hate bees or are allergic, I suggest going on a cooler day when they are less active. We had a few fly into our car and chase the car for several miles down the road, so they can be relentless at times. Check out a virtual walk around the Cholla Cactus Garden! https://youtu.be/Y6pO1_FjmVo We went there several times at different hours of the day and got unique photos each time!
Arch Rock is another favorite attraction to visit while in Joshua Tree NP. The rock and hiking trail is located at the White Tank campground which is great for astrophotographers that want to catch some ZZZ’s after staying up all night. The campground there is not well shaded during the day, however the landscape is pretty amazing and riddled with giant rock formations. I did some astrophotography at White Tank campground, but it’s about a 25 minute drive from Hidden Valley campground so we decided to leave our camping gear at Hidden Valley where we had a bit more shade. Here are some daytime and night shots of Arch Rock!
If you were looking for some relative easy hikes with some pretty nice views, I suggest Barker Dam hiking trail and Wall Street Mill. Both are about a 1.5 miles round trip and each offer something unique. The great thing is, they are located right next to each other and about 10 minutes from Hidden Valley Campground. Wall Street Mill has some remnants of the past like an old mining cave, train tracks, rusted old cars and a windmill! I went back there at night, which you’re not suppose to, but I couldn’t help myself. We were a little concerned of running into a rattle snake at night, however all we found were scorpions which I thought were amazing to see in person! Janelle, not so much… A lady at a local shop told me they go out with black lights which illuminate the scorpions! The blue-green glow comes from a substance in the scorpions hyaline layer which is a coating on their exoskeleton. Pretty wild stuff!
There are a few hikes and spots I did not get a chance to explore, like Keys Ranch, Ryan Mountain Hike, 49 Palms Oasis, Lost Palms Oasis, Mastodon Mountain and Lost Horse Mine. All varying in trip lengths and experience levels. I highly recommend checking those out as well!
Outside the park was pretty vital for our camping trip. We used both the North entrances to pick up supplies like gasoline and ice in the town of Twentynine Palms. We also checked out local cafes, thrift shops and souvenir stores. Our favorite was Coyote Corner which had numerous souvenirs, survival gear and cheap showers. The woman working there also had some good recommendations for things to do inside and outside the park! Some areas surrounding Joshua Tree National Park did seem to be a little dated and run down. Which in a way I think thats alright, because Joshua Tree didn’t seem over crowded or too touristy, like some parks get. Go to Yellowstone National Park and you’ll see what I mean with bus loads of people getting dropped off. A couple things to check out when you are outside of the park is the Integratron, a dome like structure created by a UFologist that claimed it could be used for time travel and anti-gravity. Todays owners use it for “Sound Baths” due to its amazing acoustics inside and you have to make reservations months in advance to go in it. Right down the street from the Integratron is Gubler Orchids and they will give you a free tour and explain how long it takes to grow the flowers. It’s a good place to cool down in the summer months. If you are into weird sculptures you can also check out Noah’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum. Which in all honesty is just junk welded together to create welded junk. It was shitty and we left after the first 5 minutes. I would recommend just looking at some pictures online to decide whether or not it’s worth your time and gas money to go there…
Overall Joshua Tree was a great trip. I really felt like I was living in the Flintstones cartoon! The rocks and trees are just so unique and fun to explore. A few tips I would like to suggest are to bring bug spray and eucalyptus candles. We kept getting swarmed with gnats and flies at our campground. Also if you traveling there in the summer months, bring a lot of water, especially if you are hiking during the day. Consider renting or buying a canopy tent to provide shade since many campgrounds don’t have trees to go under. Since you are up in elevation, be prepared for colder nights even in summer months, as temperatures can drop 30+ degrees from the daytime temperature. I hope this information helps you guys out when you visit Joshua Tree National Park. Please subscribe to www.youtube.com/milkywaymike for more information on camping and hiking. Here are some more amazing shots I was able to capture on my trip… enjoy! Check out a short time lapse of Joshua Tree NP – https://youtu.be/ossnhDSUBCA