Planning to spend 3 days in Joshua Tree National Park? In this post you’ll find all the info you need to organize the perfect Joshua Tree itinerary (what to do & where to stay).
This post was written in collaboration with Hotels.com.
Located in San Bernardino County and about 2.5 hours out of Los Angeles is the beautiful desert town of Joshua Tree. This is a small town with a big local attraction, namely the Joshua Tree National Park, which offers breathtaking views and scenery, but also great fun for the entire family.
In today’s blog, I’m going to share with you how to spend the perfect 3 days-getaway to Joshua Tree and its beautiful national park. You’ll find a guide to Joshua Tree which includes tips for what to do, where to stay, and a sample Joshua Tree National Park itinerary you can adapt to your interests and needs.
READ ALSO: A Palm Springs and Joshua Tree Itinerary
How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park
Before we get into specifics from your chosen starting point, it should be noted that when you are driving to Joshua Tree, you should not over-rely on GPS directions.
The problem is that sometimes those directions will send you down back roads that have ruts, loose sand and other difficult obstacles. Unless your car can handle off-road driving, use given directions.
How to Get to Joshua Tree From Palm Springs
The closest airport to Joshua Tree is Palm Springs International. In fact, many people visit Joshua ree as a day trip from Palm Springs, but I believe the park deserves more than just a quick visit.
From the airport, it’s just a 45- to 50-minute drive. After making your way north from the airport and out of Palm Springs, you get onto I-10 heading west, before turning right on CA-62 E at exit 117. Follow CA-62 through Morongo Valley, Palm Wells and Yucca Valley before finally arriving at the town of Joshua Tree.
How to Get to Joshua Tree from Los Angeles and San Diego
From Los Angeles, you can take I-10 heading east until you get to exit 117. Turn left and head north on CA-62 until you reach Joshua Tree.
From San Diego, take CA-163 N, merge onto I-15 N, followed by I-215 N. Take exit 29 onto CA-60 heading east until it merges with I-10 E and then follow the same as from Los Angeles.
How to Get to Joshua Tree from Las Vegas
The fastest route from Las Vegas is to get onto I-15 heading south, and then merge onto CA-62 heading west until you get to Joshua Tree.
Where To Stay in Joshua Tree
There are no hotels inside Joshua Tree National Park, but if you’re ready to rough it up you can camp in one of the campgrounds inside the park. For those of you who prefer the comforts of a hotel, you have three options.
You can stay in the city of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms, which are both located north of the park, just a few minutes drive away from the entrance of the park. In Joshua Tree you’ll find some hip, boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts, while in Twentynine Palms you’ll find a mix of inns, hotel chains and budget motels.
Another option is sleeping in Yucca Valley, a bigger town located west of Joshua Tree, but still very close to the park. Here you’ll find both budget accommodation and mid-range hotels. Staying here is a good option if you’re planning to stay in the same hotel while visiting both Joshua Tree and Palm Springs.
Your last option is staying in the area of Palm Springs or Palm Desert, which are approximately one hour drive away. Here you’ll find plenty of hotels for all budgets, including tons of hip boutique hotels and some very luxury ones.
I usually recommend this option if you’re planning to spend more time in Palm Springs, and you’ll have limited time to explore the area (I definitely recommend this option if you’re just planning a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park).
Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
To begin this list of the best spots in Joshua Tree and activities, I’ve made a selection of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. Many of them are within easy striking distance of the town of Joshua Tree itself on the north side of the park. Below you’ll find some ideas for easy, moderate and hard hikes in Joshua Tree. Please note that dogs are not allowed on any trail in Joshua Tree National Park.
The Hidden Valley Trail (Easy)
The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a nice easy way to start off your time in Joshua Tree, especially if you have kids. The 1-mile trail is an easy loop with some great views, fun rocky areas that kids will love to climb. While you walk around, you can see some of the stunning wild flowers that grow in the area.
Barker Dam Nature Trail (Easy)
This is another of the best trails in Joshua Tree Natural park. Barker Dam Nature Trail is short and very family friendly at just 1.3 miles with no difficult areas. It’s an excellent choice for those who want to take a sunrise walk, and because it’s a loop it’s just a great place to think, admire the surroundings and even get a glimpse of the lake and the wildflowers. Signage in the area will also introduce you to indigenous flora and fauna, so this trail is great for nature buffs.
Garrett’s Arch (Off-Trail, Moderate) and Wonderland of Rocks Traverse (Hard)
Those looking for more of a challenge in their hiking or running will appreciate these alternatives to the easier loops we mention above. Garrett’s Arch is an off-trail loop route covering about 4.5 miles located close to Twentynine Palms. It’s off-trail so more geared towards those who want to get into the wilder space.
Wonderland of Rocks is a point-to-point walk covering 5.5 miles. It’s rated as hard because it’s rockier and there may be some scrambles here and there but it’s a fun and challenging hike or run for enthusiasts.
➤ If you’re not an experienced hiker and prefer not to go alone, you can hire a hiking guide for a 1- or 2-day hiking tour, completely tailored to your interests, abilities, and fitness level.
Enjoy a Climbing Galore
If you prefer to climb instead of walk and hike, then Joshua Tree National Park is the place for you. Among the notable and popular is probably a sunset climb on Intersection Rock. The rock isn’t too challenging for any climbing level, but offers a great face for abseiling down from the top. What’s more the views from the top are beyond stunning.
Joshua Tree National Park is home to some 6,000 climbing routes, but that’s only if you count the ones that currently have names and are recognized. The intrepid climber can find adventure in just about every corner of Joshua Tree National Park.
Take Home Some Incredible Photos
To discover photography in Joshua Tree, all you need do is look in any direction. From the namesake Joshua trees with their arms reached up to the azure sky, to the sandy rocks and outcrops that sculpt the land into a wondrous form. This is the kind of place where your photography can help people find the beauty of even the most extreme, arid and remote regions of the country.
Besides looking to your left and right, you should probably also look up to the sky, especially at night. The lack of light pollution and natural elevation of the region make Joshua Tree National Park one of the best places in the world from which to observe the Milky Way, and take one of the Milky Way photography workshops which run from April through September.
Shop at the Joshua Tree Farmers Market
If you’re in Joshua Tree on a Saturday and want to pick up some fantastic produce to cook on your campfire or to take home with you, the Joshua Tree Farmers Market runs from 8.00am to 1.00pm every Saturday. Besides the sumptuous array of fresh produce, you’ll also find great local arts and crafts, flowers and much more. Those wanting to find some local seasoning to take home from the market should look out in particular for Jorge’s Habit Habanero Sea Salt in its many forms from Original to Garlic to spicy El Fuego!
Experience a “Sound Bath” at the Integratron
About 20 minutes to the north of the town of Joshua Tree is Landers, which is home to the famous Integratron. For those open-minded people who are looking for something of an other-worldly experience, a trip to the Integratron is a fun idea. It was founded by ufologist George Van Tassel who claims that he received instructions to construct this place from visitors who contacted him from Venus.
It sounds a little wacky, but their signature “Sound Bath” relaxation and rejuvenation therapy experience is something anyone interested in alternative therapies should try. It’s a 60-minute session of what they call “sonic healing” involving 25 minutes of crystal bowls being played followed by 35 minutes of relaxing in the sound chamber to recorded music.
Try Horseback Riding
Finally, instead of walking, running or cycling, why not let another creature do some of the work? The park is a fantastic way to see the park trails and enjoy the scenery without wearing out your feet or getting any blisters. The horse trails zig-zag around from the west entrance of the national park. Start at the west entrance, Burro Access or Qual Wash and explore the exciting surroundings, or take yourself further south to Johnny Lang Canyon and beyond.
3 Days in Joshua Tree: A Sample Itinerary
Here below I’ve created a Joshua Tree weekend itinerary that includes the highlights of the area – of course, feel free to adapt it to your interests and the time you have available. I’ll assume that you start each day with a hearty breakfast before 9 am and then create a morning, lunch, afternoon, dinner and evening activity idea list to show you all that you can do in three days in Joshua Tree.
Day 1 | Joshua Tree Itinerary
Morning – Start easy with some morning trails in the Hidden Valley or Barker Dam. Enjoy the morning sun, complete the trails and see the stunning flowers in the morning light, but get back before the sun gets too hot at lunchtime.
Lunch – Grab a light lunch at the Roadrunner Grab+Go right at the national park visitors center. This is a great place for a quick bite, and they have vegan options.
Afternoon – Head over to the west gate for an afternoon of horseback riding. It’s your first day and you don’t want to wear out your feet too early.
Dinner – Head back into town to the Joshua Tree Saloon. Kick off your first night with a great selection of burgers, beers and live entertainment on the live stage. If your first day is a Friday, then you can also enjoy desert karaoke!
Evening – After dinner (assuming you don’t get lost in desert karaoke), it’s a perfect time to walk off your food and enjoy the stunning views of the night sky before getting some sleep because day 2 is going to be a big one.
Day 2 | Joshua Tree Itinerary
Morning – Start your day with a more challenging hike over in Twentynine Palms. Consider one of the harder trails, and take in some more of the stunning views and get your dose of cardio for the day.
Lunch – After all that exercise, a nice lunch in Edchada’s in Twentynine Palms offers an interesting experience with customers ranging from hikers like you to local marines from the nearby base. Eat some Mexican favorites like chimichangas, tacos, sopas and more.
Afternoon – For the afternoon, we need something to work off that lunch but also that will give us a thrill. If you want an easier climb, hit the Cap Rock and Gram Parsons Nature Trail. For a challenge, hit the Sierra Club WTC Scramble Route. Both are within good striking distance of your lunch location and should offer great fun and adventure until a beautiful sunset.
Dinner – Keep it light for dinner because we have a big meal planned for your final night. Try Natural Sisters Café in Joshua Tree to sample vegetarian and vegan food that will be satisfying and nourishing but also help you sleep well and stay comfortable for your final day.
Evening – On your second evening, why not head into the desert to do some real night-time Milky Way photography. Getting out of town is the best way to ensure minimal light pollution
Day 3 | Joshua Tree Itinerary
Morning – Enough with the hiking in Joshua Tree, you should spend the morning relaxing after all the cardio. Head up to the Integratron in Landers for your sound bath.
Lunch – Head back into Joshua Tree and sample some tasty breakfast food. Don’t overload, though, because tonight’s dinner is going to be a stormer.
Afternoon – For your final afternoon, why not take the time to explore the town of Joshua Tree. You’ve sampled its cuisine and been to the National Park but what have you done in town? If you want to keep things outdoors, then try the Museum of Assemblage Sculpture. For an indoors activity, try the Crochet Museum.
Dinner and Evening – Prepare to settle in because this one is for your whole evening. Head over to Pappy and Harriet’s for the most incredible and authentic Mesquite Wood grilled meat and fish. It’s slow-cooked to order, hence our suggestion that you spend your final evening relaxing here.
Visit Joshua Tree FAQ
I suggest spending a minimum of two days in Joshua Tree. If you have 3 days at your disposal, you will be able to check out also a few extra attractions in the town of Joshua Tree.
Joshua Tree National Park is about 130 miles from Los Angeles, or around a 2.5 hours drive.
The best time of the year for exploring Joshua Tree is either the spring (March to May) or the fall (October-November), when the temperatures are more comfortable – remember that this is the desert, and it can get really cold in the winter and really hot in the summer.
If you just want to see the highlights and take a few potos, you can definitely visit Joshua Tree in one day. However, I recommend spending more time if you can to really appreciate the nature and enjoy the hiking trails.
As you can see, it’s quite easy to spend a fun 3 days in Joshua Tree! Do you have any other recommendations or tips? Please leave them in the comments.
How To Spend a Perfect Weekend in Palm Springs 
Sunday 1st of January 2023
[…] TIP: If you’d like to spend longer in the national park, check out my post about the ideal Joshua Tree itinerary! […]
18 Best Day Trips from Palm Springs - Every Steph
Friday 23rd of December 2022
[…] If you’d like to spend more than a day in the park, check out my Joshua Tree 3-day itinerary for more info on what to do and where to […]