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The Ultimate Joshua Tree One Day Itinerary By a Local

Many Joshua trees in the desert.
Affiliate Disclosure.

From the Author: Joshua Tree National Park is our go-to national park from Los Angeles. We sometimes spend holidays in an Airbnb right outside the park. It’s highly underrated as a national park.

Looking for the perfect one day Joshua Tree itinerary? You’ve landed in the right place. I live in Southern California and have hiked many parts of Joshua Tree several times. 

One of the reasons I love Joshua Tree National Park, besides its unique beauty, is how easy it is to navigate. Follow our Joshua Tree one day itinerary to see the park’s highlights and best attractions. Joshua Tree in one day is doable!

Hidden Valley Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park and is at the top of our list. Make sure you don’t miss it, it’s amazing.

This itinerary includes everything you need to know about spending a day in Joshua Tree National Park: directions, maps, plus insider scoops.

Joshua Tree National Park, known for the spiky trees that give it its name, is a captivating desert wonderland located in southeastern California.

Renowned for its distinct landscapes, it seamlessly merges two distinct desert ecosystems — the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. Let’s get to it!

Joshua Tree One Day Itinerary: The Details

  • Known for: Unusual Joshua trees, which aren’t trees at all! They are succulents
  • Location: Southern California. 127 miles, 2.5 hours east of Los Angeles
  • Essentials: A car with a full tank of gas, a map, a jacket, sunblock, a sun hat, lunch and/or snacks, water, and binoculars!
  • Best time to go: Spring is an excellent time to hike the many trails in Joshua Tree, as the surrounding desert comes alive with a glorious selection of wildflowers. However, it will also be more crowded at this time. Book your travel arrangements in advance. We usually go in October or November. It’s chilly but not crowded.
  • How long do you need? 2 — 3 days max. Or, follow this itinerary for a one day adventure.
  • Buy a Park Pass: At the entrance of Joshua Tree, pay a 7-day entrance fee of $30 or buy a Joshua Tree annual pass for $55. Alternatively, purchase an America the Beautiful National Park Pass ahead of time. This $80 pass is valid for 12 months and allows you to access all 400+ national park sites (including Joshua Tree National Park).
  • There is no wifi (really, like none). Bring a map or download one. Take a screenshot of the map I provided below.
  • Operating hours: The park is open 24/7. Check the official Joshua Tree National Park website for trail closures.

Where is Joshua Tree National Park?

Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California.

The park is roughly between Palm Springs’ cities to the south and the towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms to the north. Its location makes it accessible for day trips from major cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas.

A dirt road surrounded by desert, cacti, and shrubs.

However, many visitors spend several days exploring the vast park and its diverse ecosystems. A whooping 2.8 million people visit the park annually.

  • Los Angeles, California: 1 hour
  • Palm Springs, California: 1 hour
  • Orange County, California: 2 hours
  • San Diego, California: 2.5 hours
  • Las Vegas, Nevada: 3 hours
  • Death Valley National Park, California: 4 hours

Planning a One-Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

You may wonder if Joshua Tree is doable in one day; it is, and I have done it. You won’t see every inch of the park, but you can hit the highlights and spend some time exploring them.

This itinerary starts at the park’s West Entrance, at Hidden Valley Trail, one of the most popular hikes.

It’s best to start here before it gets too crowded later in the day.

How to Best Navigate Joshua Tree National Park

A road into Joshua Tree on our one-day Joshua Tree adventure.

The main entry point to Joshua Tree National Park is the West Entrance Station (Joshua Tree Visitor Center) on Route 62. This station leads directly into the park’s main scenic route, Park Boulevard. This road passes through the park’s core, home to the most popular hikes and attractions, which are central to our Joshua Tree one day itinerary.

About 25 miles in, you’ll reach a junction: continue on Park Boulevard towards the North Entrance (Oasis Visitor Center) to exit onto Route 62, or turn onto Pinto Basin Road for a quieter, scenic drive through the southern park.

Insider Scoop: There are no gas stations in Joshua Tree; fill up before you enter the park.

Pinto Basin Road offers less hiking but excellent sightseeing, showcasing the transition from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert landscapes. This route ends at the Cottonwood entrance, connecting to Route 10.

You can always enter from one entrance and leave from another. This itinerary enters at the West Entrance and leaves at the North Entrance.

Joshua Tree One Day Itinerary Map

A map of Joshua Tree with a one day in Joshua Tree Itinerary.
Follow this one day in Joshua Tree Itinerary map.

Joshua Tree One Day Itinerary

This Joshua Tree one day itinerary we suggest starts at the West Entrance and ends at the North Entrance. This takes you along Park Boulevard, where most of Joshua Tree’s main attractions are found.

It is a 35-mile point-to-point drive that takes about an hour without stops. On this one day trip through Joshua Tree, you will have plenty of time to stop, hike, observe wildlife, take Instagram-worthy photos, and picnic!

A Joshua Tree in the sun.
A plaque describing a Joshua Tree.

A man walking between boulders with a hat on and holding a cup of coffee.
Hiking during COVID days. We barely saw anyone but our masks kept us warm.

Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park

The trailhead is easy to find at the Hidden Valley Nature Trail and Day Use Area in the park’s northern part.

Hidden Valley is located within Joshua Tree National Park, accessible via the park’s main road, Park Boulevard. 

It’s approximately 15 miles from the West Entrance Station and roughly 30 miles from the North Entrance Station

Follow the road signs within the park, and you’ll arrive at the Hidden Valley parking lot close to the nature trail and campground.

Length: 1 mile
Type: Rocky Loop
Elevation Gain: 118 ft
Difficulty: Easy
Dogs: Unfortunately, no
Location: Hidden Valley Campground and Picnic Area

Joshua Tree National Park is a very simple and well-organized park, which is part of the reason I like it so much.

Then, just locate the beginning of the trail (after the bathrooms) marked by a roped path leading to an opening path between giant boulders.

Once in the valley, take the loop in either direction. Choose your adventure, right or left. Or don’t stay on the path and start climbing the giant boulders!

There is no wrong way to go here.

A map of the trail at Hidden Valley Trail in Joshua Tree. Something you can fit into your Joshua Tree one day itinerary.
A simple map of the loop (Map source: AllTrails)

Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park

A man looking at a plaque.
View of the Coachella Valley from Keys View.

For an incredible view of the Coachella Valley and surrounding mountains, make a stop at Keys View.

This lookout point offers a breathtaking panorama you won’t want to miss.

It’s a bit of a drive from Skull Rock, but the view at the end is definitely worth the trip.

Length: A short walk from your car
Type: View only
Elevation Gain: n/a
Difficulty: Easy
Dogs: Unfortunately, no
Location: The very end of Spur Road at the end of Park Boulevard

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park

A large boulder that looks like a skull, called Skull Rock, part of our Joshua Tree one day itinerary.
Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

You’ll want to drive along Park Boulevard towards Jumbo Rocks Campground to reach Skull Rock. You can park at the Skull Rock parking lot or within the campground. 

Once you’ve parked, follow the well-marked Skull Rock Trail, a 1.7-mile loop with trailheads on either side of the road.

Distance: 1.7 (2.74 km) 🥾
Trail Type: Loop 🔂
Elevation: 100.00 ft. (30.48 m)
Pets: Not allowed 🐕
Difficulty: Easy, with moderate undulation

Face Rock

After Skull Rock, stay in the same area and check out Face Rock. From Skull Rock, head across the street to the trail marked, “Discovery Trail.” Walk for two-tenths of a mile, and you will come to Face Rock Trail. After a few more steps on the trail, you will see a giant rock that looks like a face.

A large boulder that mimics the profile of a face on Face Rock Trail  in Joshua Tree.
Face Rock on Face Rock Trail.
A Joshua Tree at sunset.
A Joshua tree.

Face Rock in Joshua Tree National Park resembles a human face due to a combination of natural erosion and the rock’s features, which have been shaped over time.

Wind and water erosion have carved out sections of the rock to create depressions and protrusions that mimic a face’s eyes, nose, and mouth.

The angles at which sunlight hits the rock can enhance these features, making the resemblance to a face more pronounced at certain times of the day.

Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park

Large boulders for climbing in Joshue Tree National Park one day itinerary.
Jumbo Rocks is on our one-day Joshua Tree itinerary.

Jumbo Rocks is a popular area within Joshua Tree National Park. Its stunning rock formations are massive and smooth boulders that provide a unique landscape.

It’s a favorite spot for rock climbing, bouldering, and photography.

It’s like a giant playground of rocks, perfect for climbing and having fun for kids and adults. Spend as much time here as you desire.

Distance: Short hike
Trail Type: Climbing large boulders
Stargazing: Stargazing: Due to its remote location, it offers some of the best stargazing opportunities in the park, with clear, dark skies away from city lights.
Pets: Not allowed 🐕
Difficulty: Moderate climbing difficulty

Ryan Mountain

A view of desert in Joshua Tree National Park.
A view from a trail on Ryan Mountain.

Ryan Mountain offers one of the most rewarding hikes within the park. Having traversed its 3-mile round-trip path, I can attest to its spectacular beauty.

The hike to the summit of Ryan Mountain involves climbing 1,075 feet in elevation to reach the peak at 5,457 feet above sea level.

Backside of a women in a bikini approaching the bright blue ocean.

For a deep dive into what to pack for a California road trip, check out our,
California Road Trip Essentials: Your Ultimate List

As you ascend the well-marked trail, each switchback offers a new vista, showcasing Joshua Tree’s vast, rugged landscape.

The path is lined with Joshua trees, boulders, and various desert flora, which can bloom with vibrant colors in the spring. Upon reaching the summit, you’re rewarded with a 360-degree panoramic view that stretches across the park — from the Pinto Basin to the San Bernardino Mountains.

The best times to hike Ryan Mountain are during the cooler parts of the day, either early morning or late afternoon, to avoid the desert heat and to enjoy the softer light for photography.

Distance: 3 miles (4.82 km) 🥾
Trail Type: Loop 🔂
Elevation: 1,000 ft. (304 m)
Pets: Not allowed 🐕
Difficulty: Moderate hike, but a steady climb up hill to the summit

Arch Rock Nature Trail

A rock that is an arch from one boulder to another with smaller boulders underneath the arch.
Arch Rock is a beautiful rock formation.

As you can tell from the picture above, Arch Rock is cool and a great place to snap photos.

To get to Arch Rock, drive down Pinto Basin Road off Park Boulevard. When you reach White Tank Campground, park in the campground’s lot.

The trailhead is near the parking area, and Arch Rock is only a half mile down the trail. The arch is slightly off the path (marked by a plaque), so keep your eyes peeled for it, or you may miss it. This loop trail is about one mile long and easy to traverse.

Heart Rock

A large rock shaped like a heart!
How lovely, a rock in the shape of a heart in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

As you can guess from the name, Heart Rock is shaped like a heart and is off the beaten path. You’ll have to search for it, which makes this one special!

Heart Rock can be found off the Arch Rock Nature Trail. The best way to find Heart Rock is to scan the desert and surrounding area from Arch Rock Trail. Look toward the mountains to find it.

Once you spot the heart, keep an eye on it and make your way to it through the other large boulders. Joshua Tree is a sea of boulders—it’s like a treasure hunt for an amazing treasure.

Not many people know how to find Heart Rock so it may be the one thing in Joshua Tree that is yours alone.

Cholla Cactus Garden

After visiting Arch Rock Nature Trail and Heart Rock, continue driving down Pinto Basin Road to Cholla Cactus Garden, the next stop on the ultimate Joshua Tree one-day itinerary.

A short, flat loop trail allows visitors to immerse themselves in this unique cactus field, providing an up-close look at these intriguing plants and their ecosystem.

The garden is especially captivating in the spring when the cacti bloom with vibrant flowers, adding color to the desert palette.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is a remarkable natural highlight. It features a dense concentration of Cholla cacti, specifically the Teddy Bear Cholla, known for its fuzzy appearance that belies its sharp spines.

Joshua Tree in One Day Journey Comes to an End

After exploring the Cactus Garden, it’s time to head back to Park Boulevard. You have the option to drive towards the North Entrance to complete your loop, allowing for additional sightseeing, or you can return the way you came via the West Entrance.

Whichever path you choose, this marks the end of your one-day journey through Joshua Tree! ☺️ But you can always return to this magical oasis in the desert.

How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park

Boulders in Joshua Tree National Park on a one day itinerary.

Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful destination, and getting there is easier than you might think. 

If you plan to visit the famous Skull Rock and other attractions on this list, follow these simple steps to ensure a smooth journey.

First, you’ll want to decide which airport is most convenient for your trip. The closest airports to Joshua Tree are Palm Springs International Airport (code: PSP) and Los Angeles International Airport (code: LAX). 

While PSP is closer, LAX will offer more flight options and lower fares. So, choose the one that best fits your budget and schedule.

Once you’ve arrived at the airport, renting a car is the most convenient way to get to Joshua Tree National Park. 

I only use Discover Cars for their competitive rates and FREE cancelation policy.

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The drive from Palm Springs to the park entrance takes about an hour, while the drive from Los Angeles takes approximately 2.5 hours.

Make sure to have a reliable GPS or map to help navigate the sometimes winding desert roads.

The wifi is limited in the park. My phone never works in Joshua Tree.

As you enter the park, stop at one of the visitor centers, such as the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, to get information on park fees, maps, and any current conditions that might affect your visit. 

Purchasing a park pass is necessary for entry and can be done at the visitor centers or online before your arrival.

Safety Tips for Your Joshua Tree One Day Itinerary 

To ensure a safe and enjoyable hike on your Joshua Tree National Park one day itinerary, follow these safety tips:

  1. Stay hydrated: The desert climate can be dry and hot, so bring plenty of water on your hike. I use the Water-To-Go Filterable Water Bottle. I can fill up anywhere and know the bottle filters out harmful contaminants. 
  2. Wear sunscreen and a hat: Protect yourself from the sun’s harsh rays by applying sunscreen and wearing a hat and sunglasses!
  3. Stick to the designated trail: Don’t venture off the trail to avoid potential dangers, such as loose rocks or wildlife encounters.
  4. Check weather conditions: Be aware of the local weather conditions before hiking, especially during the hotter months.
  5. Tell someone your plans: Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return in case of an emergency.
  6. Due to limited parking spots along Park Boulevard, you should arrive early to start your one-day adventure. This is particularly important on weekends.
  7. Joshua Tree has many bathrooms at the beginning of most trail heads. 
  8. Bring food in a cooler. There is no food to buy in the park. None. So make sure to pack a lunch and bring snacks with you to keep in a backpack while hiking or to keep in the car in a cooler.

Note from Author: Bring more water than you think you’ll need. I always travel with a few gallons in my trunk to Joshua Tree. Other than the Visitor’s Centers, most campgrounds don’t have water. It’s hard to get water in Joshua Tree. You should plan for a gallon per person per day. AT LEAST. The sun is very strong in the desert.

A hot man carrying two gallons of water, a bundle of firewood under his rm and a woman's purse.
My man carrying water into our Airbnb.

By following these guidelines, you’ll have a memorable and safe hiking experience in Joshua Tree National Park. 

Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree

A woman bundled up in front of a sign that reads,
Joshua Tree in November. It was windy up on this mountain, but I get cold everywhere, even on the beach. I didn’t need a jacket when hiking in the lower areas of the park.

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is during the cooler months from October to April when temperatures are more pleasant for hiking and outdoor activities.

Spring is particularly magical as the desert wildflowers, including Joshua trees, bloom, making it a popular time for photographers and nature enthusiasts.

One Day Itinerary Joshua Tree: FAQs

Here are your most burning questions about Joshua Tree answered.

A man walking through two large boulders among large rocks and mountains.

Can you do Joshua Tree as day trip?

Yes. A day in Joshua Tree from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, or any southern California city is doable. I live in Los Angeles and have visited Joshua Tree National Park in one day. It’s a long day but completely worth it.

How much time is needed at Joshua Tree?

A minimum of one to two days is recommended to experience the highlights of Joshua Tree National Park, including its iconic rock formations, desert landscapes, and key attractions like the Cholla Cactus Garden and Keys View.

A half-day in Joshua Tree is enough to drive through the park without stopping.

However, those wishing to explore more extensively or engage in activities like hiking, climbing, or camping may enjoy spending several days fully immersed in the park’s natural beauty.

Can you just drive around Joshua Tree?

Yes! You can just drive around Joshua Tree. Take Park Boulevard and drive for a couple of hours to see much of this beautiful park. Park Boulevard will take you by many highlights, rock formations, and Joshua tree groves.

Geology Tour Road is an 18-mile scenic drive through Joshua Tree National Park and offers informational stops.  It’s a dirt road, so a 4×4 is highly recommended.

Can you do Joshua Tree in a half a day?

Yes, if you are just driving through Joshua Tree National Park, it is doable in half a day. Park Boulevard will take you by many highlights, rock formations, and Joshua tree groves.

Geology Tour Road is an 18-mile scenic drive through Joshua Tree National Park and offers informational stops.  It’s a dirt road, so a 4×4 is highly recommended.

Where to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park

Rocks and cacti in Joshua Tree National Park.

If you’re staying overnight after your day trip to Joshua Tree or before (it’s wise to stay near the park the night before so you can start early the next morning and beat the crowds), there are several options north of the park. There are no hotels in the park, only campgrounds for camping.

We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb right outside the park, but there are also great hotels in the area. Here are just a few I recommend.

9 Palms Inn: 9 Palms in Twentynine Palms has unique adobe bungalows and wooden cabins, each designed differently. The property spans 70 acres with the Oasis of Mara at its core. Additionally, it offers an on-site restaurant.


📍 73950 Inn Ave, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277


The Castle House Estate: Located in Joshua Tree, this is a gorgeous property with a stunning pool in the center. It was featured on HGTV! Choose from a guard tower, jupe tent, and plenty of yurts. This looks like a fun place to stay. Best of all the hotel is minutes from Joshua Tree National Park.


📍 64278 E Broadway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252


Pioneertown Motel: This is an interesting one with high ratings. Built in the 1940s by Hollywood for its film stars shooting Western flicks to stay in comfort in the desert, this hotel is quirky and fun. It has modern amenities but looks exactly like an old-fashioned movie set. I’m staying here the next time I go to Joshua Tree.


📍 5240 Curtis Road, Pioneertown, CA 92268


CAMPING: There are also nine campgrounds located in Joshua Tree National Park. Most require reservations.

California Travel Planning Guide

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🏨 What’s the best way to book my California accommodations?

For California hotels, Booking is the best site, but for hostels, use Hostel World. If you’re considering a California Airbnb, don’t forget also to check VRBO, which has better rates than Airbnb.

🧳 What do I pack for California?

Head to the Ultimate California Packing List to get all the information you need about packing for a trip to California.

🛫 What’s the best site to buy airfare to California?

For finding cheap California flights, I recommend Skyscanner.

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