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It’s been a while since I shared a not hiking post so I decided today is the perfect day to share my post about things to do in Joshua Tree besides hiking!
I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting all that much to do in Joshua Tree other than hiking, but there is quite a bit! It’s a good mix of short walks, backcountry drives, and other relaxing park activities.
As usual, any walks or hikes included are short (less than one mile round-trip) and easy according to the park service. website. One of them does have some stairs but it’s still easy.
I tried to include a variety of activities for everyone that doesn’t want to hike, can’t hike, doesn’t like to hike, or just doesn’t have time to hike. Whichever it is, there is something for you.
While a lot of people visit Joshua Tree as part of bigger road trips through California, Arizona, and Utah, it also makes a great day trip from LA!
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
Join a ranger program
Ranger Programs are a great way to learn about Joshua Tree from people that really know the park well. They offer ranger-led walks, talks, and evening programs on a variety of topics.
You can learn about Joshua Trees, wildlife in the park, geology, the night sky, and so much more. You can find their whole schedule and all the programs going on here.
Do some stargazing
Every national park trip should have some stargazing in it and Joshua Tree is a great place to do that! There isn’t really any one place in the park that is better for it than others.
If you do want to go stargazing in Joshua Tree, you can do this is any of the campgrounds if you’re camping there, in the backcountry if you’re doing some backpacking, or even just in any of the pull outs if you’re staying outside of the park.
They do occasionally offer ranger-led stargazing or night sky programs. If you’re planning on doing this, bring layers because it can get cold at night and try to use a red light flashlight instead of a regular one to help your eyes stay adjusted to the dark.
Drive Berdoo Canyon Road
This is a 4 wheel drive road that requires a high clearance vehicle that connects the Geology Tour Road to Dillion Road. The first 11.5 miles are in the park then the last 3.9 miles take you past the ruins of Berdoo Camp used by the builders of the California Aquaduct in the 1930s.
Watch people rock climb at the Hidden Valley Campground
Now, this might not be the most exciting thing on this list but I love watching people rock climb. It’s fascinating and impressive and it’s just a nice way to take a little break on a busy day.
There is a little picnic area near the entrance of the campground that’s good for hanging out. There were some people climbing off to the left (if your back is to the rock in the picnic spot).
I’m actually not sure if it’s an official picnic area, but it’s right at the entrance with a small parking area. It was a nice little spot to just walk around a little bit.
Walk the Cholla Cactus Garden trail
This is a great easy hike, more of a walk, on a boardwalk through an area of the park brimming with cholla cactus! It’s a quarter mile walk with just ten feet of elevation change.
We didn’t do the boardwalk but just stopping here was still really cool and the way the sun hit them, they just look like they’re glowing. I love it. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree and it’s an easy walk, even better!
Just be careful of the cactus branches! They fall off but if you brush against them, they’ll easily stick to you and it’s really hard to get all of the prickers. I got some stuck in my knee in Saguaro and it was such a pain trying to pick them out because they’re so fine.
Bike the park roads
There are no official biking trails in the park, but you can bike where cars can drive. You can bike on the main park road but it’s narrow and busy so they recommend biking on the backcountry roads.
You just have to stay on established roads and don’t go off trail because the desert is fragile and it takes years and years to recover from damage. You can bring your own bike or rent one from JT Bike Shop.
Drive Black Eagle Mine Road
6.5 miles from the Cottonwood Visitor Center is where you’ll find the start of Black Eagle Mine Road, a dead-end dirt road running along the edge of Pinto Basin and winding through the Eagle Mountains.
The first nine miles are in the park then the rest is on BLM land along with tons of side roads with old mines along the way. Some of the mines are too dangerous to approach though. I would just be very cautious by any of the mines if you don’t know what is what.
Do some birding
Joshua Tree is a great place to do some birding in the desert. There are year-round resident birds and some that just enjoy the park in the winter. There are also some that just pass through during migrations.
Some of the best places to look for birds in Joshua Tree include fan palm oases, water impoundments, dry “lakes” like Barker Dam, Oasis of Mara, Lost Palms Oasis, Queen and Lost Horse Valleys, and so much more.
Here are some of the birds you can see in Joshua Tree National Park:
- Gambel’s quail
- American kestrel
- Cooper’s hawk
- Prairie falcon
- Yellow-rumped warbler
- Orange-crowned warbler
- White crowned sparrow
- Cedar waxwing
- American robin
- Hermit thrush
- Ash-throated flycatcher
- Western kingbird
- Western Bluebird
- Nashville warbler
- And so many more
Do some rock climbing
Joshua Tree National Park is home to world-class rock climbing with 8,000 routes and 2,000 boulder problems. That’s wild! If you’re an experienced climber, you can go on your own.
If you’re a beginner or first-timer, there are guides that can take you rock climbing in the park or that offer classes to learn how to climb in the park!
I haven’t done any of these, but here area few companies that offer classes and guiding services: Joshua Tree Guides, Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School, Cliffhanger Guides, and Stone Adventures. Just be sure whoever you choose is permitted to guide in the park.
Drive the Geology Tour Road
You’ll find the Geology Tour Road two miles west of the Jumbo Rocks Campground. The first 5.4 miles to Paac Kü̱vü̱hü̱’k is mostly downhill, but sandy, then there is a six-mile loop through Pleasant Valley.
Hike the Hidden Valley loop trail
This is probably the best easy hike in Joshua Tree. It’s a one mile loop with 100 feet of elevation gain. There are a few stairs at the beginning/end of this trail and it’s not paved but it’s amazing.
This trail is a loop inside of a rock-enclosed valley that was rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers back in the day. I love this trail and would highly recommend it if you want a great easy hike.
I think it was my favorite thing to do in Joshua Tree and it definitely deserves a spot on your national park bucket list.
Drive Covington Flat
There are a bunch of dirt roads in Covington Flat that allow access to some of the biggest Joshua, juniper, and pinyon pine trees in the park.
It’s 3.8 miles from the Covington Flat picnic area to Eureka Peak and it’s steep near the end but offers incredible views of Palm Springs and the mountains around you. You can drive another 6.5 miles to the backcountry board which is a great jumping off point for hiking.
Stop at Skull Rock
I didn’t love Skull Rock but it’s one of the most popular spots in Joshua Tree for pictures. It’s, you guessed it, a rock that looks like a skull! It is super easy to see though so even though I don’t think it’s that exciting, it’s an easy stop.
It’s right along the side of the road and you may have to wait in a little line to take a picture of it but it doesn’t take too long to see.
Walk the Oasis of Mara trail
This is just a 0.5-mile loop with almost no elevation gain at the Oasis Visitor Center. It’s a great place to learn about how the area has been used by people and wildlife throughout history. If you’re bringing your dog, they’re welcome (leashed) on this trail.
Walk the Discovery Trail at Skull Rock
This is a 0.7-mile loop with 70 feet of elevation gain connecting Skull Rock to Split Rock Trail at Face Rock. It’s an easy hike that takes you around classic Joshua Tree boulder piles.
This would be a great way to walk a little while stopped to see Skull Rock if you want to stretch your legs a little bit and knock out two things at once.
Drive Old Dale Road
This is a 23-mile road starting at the same place as Black Eagle Mine Road. The first eleven miles take you across Pinto Basin before climbing a steep hill and leaving the park boundary.
There are side roads that lead to old mines (again ,use caution near any of them) and residences. If you stay on the main road, it will take you 15 miles east of Twentynine Palms on Highway 62.
Go horseback riding
From what I can tell, if you want to go horseback riding in Joshua Tree, you’ll have to have your own horse and go on your own. The only place I’ve seen that offers trail riding tours is Knob Hill Ranch, so if you want to go but don’t have a horse, check them out!
If you do have your own horse, there are a whopping 253 miles of riding trails in the park! There are even two campgrounds (Ryan and Black Rock) that have areas for horses and stock animals. You can find out more about horseback riding in Joshua Tree here.
Drive the Queen Valley Roads
This is a network of 3.4 miles of roads crossing a valley of boulder piles (I’m really glad to know they officially just call these boulder piles because I had no idea what else to call them) and Joshua trees.
This is a great area for biking and bike racks have been added in the area so you can lock your bike up to go hiking. If you’re biking, you can start at Hidden Valley or Big Horn Pass, opposite the Geology Tour Road.
Drive the Pinkham Canyon-Termal Canyon Roads
This is a challenging 20-mile road starting just south of the Cottonwood Visitor Center that takes you along Come Tree Wash and down Pinkham Canyon before exiting on a service road connecting to I10. You can also pass Pinkham Canyon and keep going to Thermal Canyon Road.
These are difficult roads that have soft sandy sections and rocky flood plains. If you plan to drive these, you’ll need a capable vehicle with 4WD, high clearance, and emergency supplies. I would skip these unless you have experience driving in deep sand and on rocky surfaces.
Enjoy wildflowers in bloom
While this isn’t a guaranteed thing to do in Joshua Tree, starting in late February sometimes as late as June, you can see wildflowers blooming in the park!
This can vary wildly from year to year because of weather and precipitation throughout the year so the amount of blooms can be unpredictable or just low from year to year.
But, if they are blooming, I can imagine it would be incredible to see the colors all over the desert among the Joshua Trees. I also just love seeing wildflowers blooming in the desert.
Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? What did you do there? What was your favorite thing there? Do you want to go?