Death Valley Vs Joshua Tree: The California Desert National Park Showdown

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Next up in my national park showdown series is Death Valley vs Joshua Tree, the ultimate California desert national park battle.

I visited both of these with my parents in early November 2021 and really liked both. I usually have an idea of which I want to win going in to writing these, but I’m not actually sure on this one!

With these national park showdowns I hope to help you decide which is best for you to visit, not necessarily which is just better.

Because they’re all great in their own ways and for different things. And of course, like the parks, everyone is different and is looking for different things.

Some of these are fact based, others are just my own personal opinion.

There will be an overall winner at the end but it’s probably best to look at the questions which pertain to your interests and time of visit for a more accurate winner.

mesquite flats sand dunes Death valley national park

National Park Goodies

cholla cactus garden at joshua tree national park

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree better in summer?

Neither? Both are going to be incredibly hot but Death Valley is going to be hotter. The highest temperature on record in Death Valley is 134 in 1913.

This year (2023) it reached 129 during the day and stayed around 120 at night. Joshua Tree’s record high, on the other hand is a balmy 115.

In the summer Joshua Tree typically reaches the high 90s or low 100s while Death Valley will likely be 110+.

So while I wouldn’t personally go to either in the summer, if I had to, it would be Joshua Tree, the winner of this round.

mesquite flats sand dunes Death valley national park

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree better in winter?

Like summer, both Joshua Tree and Death Valley are great to visit in winter thanks to mild temperatures making hiking much more pleasant.

You can’t go wrong with either in the winter but I’m giving this one to Death Valley simply because I like it and want to.

cholla cactus garden at joshua tree national park

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree better in fall?

Like the previous two, both are going to be great to visit in the fall. That’s when we were there and we had perfect weather. Hot but not too hot.

But I didn’t want all four of the seasons to be a tie so I’m giving this one to Joshua Tree because it was a little less hot than Death Valley.

zabriske point Death valley national park

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree better in spring?

You really can’t go wrong with either park in the spring and you’ll probably be able to see wildflowers at both.

Both will likely be busy because of spring break and windy because that’s how spring tends to be in the the southwest.

Temperatures will still be nice but heating up the later you go in the season. All that said, and I realize this makes the seasons a tie anyway, Death Valley wins this round.

I gave it to Death Valley because I think seeing the wildflower superbloom there would be extremely cool!

This isn’t a guarantee every year but is more likely with good rainfall, sun warmth, and no drying wind.

zabriske point Death valley national park

Is Joshua Tree or Death Valley better for hiking?

Both are great for hiking and for this one I’m going by which park has more hiking trails.

Joshua Tree has 27 trails with plenty for all difficulty levels to choose from totaling 79 miles.

(It’s technically 28 but one is 36 miles and not something I would count toward this as it’s not something that could be done in a day).

Death Valley only has 21 with plenty of variety in difficulty, but the 21 trails total 92 miles of hiking opportunities.

There are other, more difficult to reach, sand dunes that aren’t included in this tally at Death Valley as well.

Death Valley wins this round but like I said, you can’t go wrong with either here.

zabriske point Death valley national park

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree hotter?

While both Joshua Tree and Death Valley get extremely hot in the summer, Death Valley gets significantly hotter.

It may not seem like it’s a lot hotter just looking at the numbers but the actual feeling difference between 100 and 115 is a lot.

So I guess Death Valley wins this round. If you do visit in the summer, please be extra prepared (more than you think you need to be) for traveling in extreme heat.

More than one person died in 2023 after car trouble in the extreme summer heat. And honestly, I just wouldn’t go in the summer if you can help it.

devils golf course and mountains Death valley national park

Is Joshua Tree or Death Valley better for non-hikers?

While both parks are great for people not hiking for whatever reason, one stands out for me.

We didn’t really do any hikes in Death Valley, just the short Badwater Basin hike, and did two shorter trails in Joshua Tree.

I’m giving this round to Death Valley because I think of Joshua Tree as a park great for active outdoor.. things. You can still just drive through Joshua Tree and make stops but I think it’s better for hiking and climbing.

I think Death Valley is better for just driving through though. The park is absolutely huge with so much to see without hiking.

It’s actually the largest national park in the lower 48! The four largest are in Alaska. Joshua Tree is actually the 15th largest, which surprised me.

Anyway, without hiking in Death Valley you can see Badwater Basin, Artist’s Palette, Dante’s Peak, Zabriske Point, Devil’s Golf Course, Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, The Racetrack, mill ruins.

Basically the main sights on Badwater Road and so much more. There are great hikes, too, but it’s a very good drive-through park.

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree better with kids?

This is an easy one for me. I have no experience in any park with kids but I do think one is better than the other here.

I think Death Valley is really cool, but I think for kids it wouldn’t be very exciting. It’s desolate and quite flat (even though it has mountains on both sides) without a whole lot to really look at, I guess?

Obviously there are cool things to look at there, but for a kid, it might not be as fun as Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tree wins this round thanks to lots of things. The biggest reason would be the hiking is more fun with all the boulders you can climb on (safely, with supervision, etc.)

I also think all the Joshua Trees, other cool plants and cactus, giant boulder piles, and people rock climbing (I even like watching this) would make it more fun for kids.

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree better for stargazing?

I try to avoid ties in these national park showdowns but I’m going to say this one is a tie because both Joshua Tree and Death Valley are International Dark Sky Parks.

This means both parks are going to be excellent for stargazing thanks to their lack of light pollution.

lizard on rock in hidden valley trail at Joshua tree national park

Is Joshua Tree or Death Valley better for seeing wildlife?

I want to say neither since I don’t think of southwest/desert parks as good for seeing wildlife in general, but I’ll go with Joshua Tree on this one.

And I’m only going with Joshua Tree because I have one picture of a lizard and don’t remember seeing any critters in Death Valley.

That doesn’t meant there is no wildlife in either, but I wouldn’t go to either with the intent of seeing wildlife.

artists drive Death valley national park

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree closer to Las Vegas?

The Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley is two hours and eight minutes from Las Vegas while the Joshua Tree Visitor Center is three and a half hours.

Death Valley wins this round! It’s actually a fairly popular spot for day trips from Las Vegas and there are tours that will take you here.

Join a tour from Las Vegas to Death Valley here!

Death valley national park

Is Joshua Tree or Death Valley busier?

Before looking at the numbers, my guess is going to be Joshua Tree because I know it’s very popular for rock climbing and the town of Joshua Tree gets a lot of visitors and I assume a lot of them also go to the park.

Now the official numbers: Joshua tree had 3.1 million visitors in 2022 while Death Valley had just 1.1 million, which is still a lot but two million less people is also a lot.

So Death Valley wins this round because when I write this question I think of it with the intent of going to the less busy park. I think it mostly helps that Death Valley is so remote.

hidden valley trail at Joshua tree national park

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree closer to Los Angeles?

This is an easy win for Joshua Tree, which is about 2.5 hours from LA while Death Valley is just shy of five hours from LA!

Joshua Tree National Park makes for a great day trip from Los Angeles, as does Bombay Beach and Salvation Mountain!

Joshua tree national park

Is Joshua Tree or Death Valley cheaper?

I’m going to do some hypothetical math (aka pretend trip planning) to price things out. I would anticipate Death Valley being more expensive but Joshua Tree can add up pretty fast, too, especially with a lot of the cool, modern Airbnbs.

Both have a $30 entrance fee. If you have a park pass, that doesn’t matter. They’ll be comparable if you’re camping, price-wise, so I’m just comparing hotels/Airbnbs for this section.

I checked rates for November 13-14. We’ll start with Death Valley. Hotels in the park will be $200-400 per night. Outside of the park, involving more driving (1-1.5 hours to Furnace Creek), are $60-125.

I would personally pay the extra to stay in the park to avoid the extra driving to and from the park each day because that’s annoying.

Don’t forget gas is expensive around here, especially in the park. It’s $3.50-5 at the time of writing (Nov. 2023) in and around the park. Gas in the park when we went in Nov. 2021 was definitely over $6 for regular.

You’ll probably have to fill up here at least once because, like I said, the park is huge and requires a lot of driving. Don’t get caught here without gas, especially in the summer.

We’ll say, roughly, Death Valley would be $250-300 (staying outside of the park, food, and gas) for a night on the low end and $450-600 (staying in the park, food, and gas) on the high end. Food costs will obviously be more if you’re more that one person.

Book Death Valley hotels here

Now for Joshua Tree. There are no hotels in Joshua Tree but there are plenty in the surrounding area in Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, and Palm Springs.

Prices range from $60-300 for the same date as above. There are tons of luxury Airbnbs around here, too, and I’m not including those in this comparison.

I would say Twentynine Palms (where we stayed) is the cheapest and Palm Springs is the most expensive, but Joshua Tree (the town) was cuter. I haven’t been to Palm Springs yet.

I would stay in Joshua Tree or Twnetynine Palms since both have park entrances while Palm Springs doesn’t. Gas is just under $5 in both.

I’ll go in the middle since there isn’t a ton around $60 per night so I would expect to spend $150-250 for a hotel, food, and gas for Joshua Tree.

So while neither makes for a great budget vacation (unless you’re camping), Joshua Tree wins this round as it will probably be a bit more affordable. Death Valley, especially in the park, is not cheap.

Book Joshua Tree hotels here

Death valley national park mill ruins

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree bigger?

I mentioned above, but Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska at 3,422,024 acres with almost 1000 miles of roads, both paved and dirt.

Joshua Tree, on the other hand, while still large, is a mere 795,156 acres compared to Death Valley’s 3+ million.

Death Valley wins this round! The average visitor will only ever see a tiny fraction of the park and I think even if someone spent their entire life there, they still couldn’t see it all.

Joshua tree national park mountains and joshua trees

Is Joshua Tree or Death Valley easier to get to?

I actually don’t think either are difficult to get to since both are just a couple of hours from major airports.

But Death Valley is incredibly remote without a whole lot in the direct vicinity so I’m giving this round to Joshua Tree. Both will require a rental car or your own car to get to.

Death valley national park

Is Death Valley Or Joshua Tree easier to get off the beaten path?

I also sort of touched on this above and while there are plenty of hikes in Joshua Tree to get off the beaten path (the Creosote Trail is a good one), it’s much easier in Death Valley.

Thanks to Death Valley’s near 1000 miles of roads, there is no lack of places to go away from crowds. And most of the crowds here are between Stovepipe Wells, Dante’s Peak, and Badwater Basin.

We saw like, two cars on Badwater Road south of Badwater Basin. And that’s not even a back road! So Death Valley easily wins this round.

Join a Palm Springs open-air Jeep Tour here!

So, which is better, Death Valley Or Joshua Tree?

Now it’s time for the final tally, Death Valley vs Joshua Tree, which is the better national park? Death Valley has ten wins and Joshua Tree has eight.

It’s a close call, but Death Valley wins! And really, the four season ones could all be ties. But Death Valley and all of it’s expansive, desolate, remoteness wins officially.

Like I said above though, both parks are amazing and you really can’t go wrong with whichever you pick.

I felt very neutral about Death Valley while we were there/after we left and liked Joshua Tree a lot, but looking back now I feel very fondly of Death Valley for some reason.

Other posts you may like

Photos Of Death Valley

7 Stops On Bad Water Road

Things To Do In Death Valley That Aren’t Hiking

Things To Do In Joshua Tree That Aren’t Hiking

Hidden Valley Trail

Hike The Creosote Trail In Joshua Tree National Park

Have you been to Death Valley Or Joshua Tree? Which one(s)? What did you think of it? If you’ve been to both, which do you think is better?

4 thoughts on “Death Valley Vs Joshua Tree: The California Desert National Park Showdown

  1. We just came from Joshua Tree, and I’ve never been to Death Valley. Nevertheless, I have an opinion. We spent 3 full days in Joshua Tree and that felt like plenty. I’ve heard that Death Valley has more variety and could provide activities to justify a longer stay. So I also vote for DV.

    We stayed in Twentynine Palms, which is not a destination in itself. We did visit Palm Springs, which feels much more of a place to visit (although you have to be a movie star to afford it).

    My post about JT:

    1. Yeah, Twentynine Palms gets the job done! I definitely need two or three more days in each, there’s so much I didn’t get to do, but glad to see another vote for DV!

  2. I had similiar feelings about Death Valley…it was…fine. 🙂 We went in early March which was a PERFECT time to go. I remembered it more fondly after they had the flooding this summer. We’re hoping to go back to camp once we get our new camper!

    1. I definitely agree on the flooding. And sometimes places I think are just fine while I’m there I think I like a lot more once I’m gone or looking back. But If I didn’t like it, that tends to stay how I think of it haha. I would love to go back and camp and see the harder to reach areas/just do more hiking.

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