If you’re planning an upcoming trip to Joshua Tree, don’t just assume you can waltz into the park without a second thought and experience it to the fullest. Even if you’re just planning a day trip just to see the major sites, the right preparation can make or break your overall experience.
The best way to fully enjoy all the unique plants, curious animals, and iconic Joshua Trees that make up this desert ecosystem is to spend the right amount of time and energy getting ready. That way, you’ll be ready for whatever the park throws your way.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to make the most of your next trip to the beloved JTNP, whether that includes hiking, climbing, mountain biking, or just hanging out in nature.
Get the Lay of the Land Before You Go
This is a good idea before you visit any national park, but it’s especially the case for Joshua Tree. It covers over 1200 square miles, and within it, there are 3 visitors centers, 1 nature center, and a whole lot of stuff to see.
It’s a good idea to head to your nearest visitors center to get all the maps and guidance you need before you enter the park. To choose the right visitors center, you first have to know which sites are on your bucket list.
The main one, Joshua Tree Visitor Center is found just outside the park to the northwest in the actual town of Joshua Tree. Then there’s the Cottonwood Visitor Center in Cottonwood Spring to the south and the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms to the north.
Think About Getting an Annual Pass
To enter the park, you first need to get a pass that proves you’ve paid your dues to enter. You’ve got 2 options for this: a day pass or an annual pass. For day-trippers, you might think that the 1-day pass is a perfect choice, but no matter what, always go with the annual option.
Joshua Tree is part of the Interagency Pass Program, which is a national program that gets you into every national park in the country. The pass is $80 and applies to the pass holder and 3 additional adults (kids are free anyways). This might sound steep, but this one-time purchase means that you get into every other national park free of charge for the next year.
No matter which pass you opt for, try to avoid rush hour. The busiest times for the visitors centers and nature center is around noon on the weekends, so try to get there well before this. If you get there at the wrong time, don’t be surprised if you have to wait in a line of 100 cars and RVs.
Remember, It’s a Desert!
So now that you’ve gotten the lay of the land and squared away your entry pass, it’s time to actually get to seeing the sites. You’ll quickly realize within minutes that this is a desert. It can get very hot, very dry, and be very unforgiving to people that aren’t prepared for the climate.
There’s no water, no electricity, no food service, no street lights, no hotels, and very little chance of cell reception. Not even the campsites have running water or lights, so keep that in mind. Always bring all the food and water you need to stay happy and comfortable, and never underestimate the power of the desert.
Hire a Guide or Book a Guided Tour
Joshua Tree is a very big place and there’s a lot to see, so a lot of visitors choose to hire a private guide. You can sign up for guided Joshua Tree hikes, rock climbing tours, wildflower excursions, and photography tours, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a complete beginner or an experienced nature lover.
Even though you’ll have to pay, hiring a professional guide is a great way to get the full experience. These people know their way around the park and know the best locations for whatever you’re hoping to experience.
Plan on Staying Overnight
Joshua Tree at night is a big deal, and it’s the perfect place for stargazing while you enjoy the complete and utter peacefulness. You can either pay around $15 in campsite fees or book an Airbnb/hotel just outside of the park, but whatever you do, be sure to spend at least one night in the desert.