Joshua Tree National Park

Location: California

Park Tally: 54/59

Orientation: Located in southeast California, Joshua Tree is a relatively small yet popular national park. Despite drawing crowds for its beauty, Joshua Tree’s popularity is presumably influenced by the park’s close proximity to Los Angeles (140-miles), San Diego (175-miles), Las Vegas (215-miles), and Phoenix (222-miles). Joshua Tree is also known for its accessible camping, short trails and clear night skies.

The park can be accessed from three entrances – west (Joshua Tree Village), north (Twentynine Palms), and south (Cottonwood Spring). The west and north entrances have more services in the way of accommodation and restaurants, compared to the south entrance. Joshua Tree is one of those parks that can be enjoyed in one day, or explored in more depth for a week+ at a time. The most popular visitor activities include rock climbing, hiking, camping, biking and photography.

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Most iconic view:  The park was named after the uniquely beautiful Joshua trees, which are scientifically known as the Yucca brevifolia. Joshua trees can grow 15 to 40 feet in height and 1 to 3 feet in diameter. In the wild they usually live 150-200 years but have been known to survive up to 1000 years. Fascinatingly, no two Joshua trees bare the same shape or composition, making every viewing a unique experience. You will see these beautiful trees all over the park, including by the sides of roads and in the campgrounds. Remember – it is important to leave plants and wildlife as you found them.

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Accessible activity:  There are numerous campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park, but Jumbo Rocks wins the prize for location and accessibility. Jumbo Rocks Campground has an impressive 124 individual sites scattered between picturesque rock formations and Joshua trees. Jumbo Rocks is a popular first-come, first-served campground for those who enjoy tenting, although there are some larger spaces for RV’s, trailers and campervans. Be sure to check out the nearby Skull Rock Nature Walk, a 1.7-mile stroll to a very interestingly shaped rock.

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For the adventurous: Joshua Tree National Park has some beautiful longer hikes but these should not be attempted in the heat of summer. The Boy Scout Trail is 8-miles long and goes deep into the Wonderland of Rocks. Be sure to pack ample water, food and emergency supplies when attempting any strenuous desert hikes. Rock climbing and bouldering are both very popular activities in Joshua Tree and the park is considered a world-class climbing destination. In fact, there are more than 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 boulder problems to choose from.

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Best photo opportunities: Night photography is very popular in Joshua Tree, largely due to the park’s limited light population and clear skies. Be sure to visit during a new moon to best capture the milky way and starry skies, or time your shoot with the moonrise (the moon’s brightness will make it more difficult to capture stars). Apps such as PhotoPills are a wonderful resource for knowing where the moon and milky way will be at certain times. Using a tripod is also vital for taking longer night exposures.

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The Cholla Cactus Garden is another unique photography location in Joshua Tree National Park. Sunrise is the perfect time to capture golden hues hitting these beautiful plants – just beware of the cholla spines imbedding themselves in your shoes, clothing and skin!

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Quick facts

  • Joshua Tree National Park was established on October 31, 1994.
  • The park consists of 790,636 acres of desert, with a large proportion of that being designated wilderness (429,690 acres).
  • Native Americans who occupied and used the area that is now Joshua Tree National Park prior to European settlement, were the Serrano, the Cahuilla, the Mojave, and the Chemehuevi people.
  • Two desert ecosystems can be found within the park, the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts.
  • Wildlife found within the park includes deer, roadrunners, chuckwalla lizards, tree frogs, quail, rattlesnakes, cottontail rabbits, desert big horn sheep, and more.
  • The band U2 released their famous album ‘Joshua Tree’ in 1987 – named after the group visited the area and saw an abundance of Joshua Trees.
  • In 2016, Joshua Tree National Park had 2,505,286 visitors according to the National Park Service.

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