Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park For Families

by | Oct 17, 2023 | Day Trips From Los Angeles, Destinations, Family Adventures, Traveling with Teens, USA, Weekend Trips, West Coast

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It’s time to stop scrolling and start stargazing. Get out of the office and daily grind, lace up those hiking boots, and set out on a journey to remember. Joshua Tree National Park is a landscape so surreal it’s like stepping into a Dr. Seuss book illustrated by Salvador Dalí.

For years, my San Diego family has found solace, adventure, and a remarkable backyard in this Southern California national park. Families looking for a heart-pumping adrenaline rush will love rock climbing, bouldering, and hiking in the desert of Joshua Tree. 

Joshua Tree National Park has a surprising amount of attractions to explore. Popular with rock climbing enthusiasts, the rugged cliffs and rock formations beg to be ascended. Hikers love Keys View, where panoramic vistas are only limited by how far their eyes can see. Photographers flock to Cholla Cactus Garden during golden hour when the sunrise casts a muted spotlight on a curated desert garden. The best time to visit Joshua Tree is early morning or as the sun is setting for those looking to get in a few hikes before the sun gets too hot during the afternoon. Each corner of Joshua Tree has its own unique form of magic.





Joshua Tree National Park: A Southern California Icon

Joshua Tree National Park is an area about the size of Rhode Island, sprinkled with gravity-defying rock formations that look like they were built by long-gone giants. Situated where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, Joshua Tree National Park has an arid array of rock formations, cacti, and, of course, the iconic Joshua Trees reminiscent of an otherworldly vista. The alien-looking Joshua Trees can grow nine feet tall, standing out with their zig-zagging branches and bushy, spiked tips. Travelers will feel like they’ve been transported to a surreal sci-fi movie set.  Families intrigued by the strange will find Joshua Tree National Park one of the best places to wander. 

Whether catching the Milky Way during a summer night or experiencing the pleasant chill of the desert in winter, Joshua Tree is truly a destination for all seasons.


Joshua Tree’s Fab Five: Sights Families Must See

Keys View

Perched atop the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Keys View is a great drive or hike where visitors can enjoy panoramic vistas that will leave anyone speechless. On a clear day, one might even catch a glimpse of the Salton Sea or the distant peaks of Mexico.


Pro-Tip: The lookout is wheelchair accessible. There is also a .2-mile-loop trail that goes up the ridge for stunning views.


Cholla Cactus Garden

A stroll through the Cholla Cactus Garden is like walking into the world of The Lorax. These surreal cacti, often called “Teddy Bear” cholla, pop during golden hour. Just remember, they may look cuddly, but those spines are not to be trifled with.


Photo of Cholla Cactus garden at Joshua Tree National Park

Be careful! These cute lil Teddy bear cactus look adorable, but they bite! — Photo by Jon Mangold on Pexels


Skull Rock

This natural rock formation is shaped—surprise, surprise—like a human skull. Skull Rock is both eerie and awe-inspiring, a true testament to the power of wind erosion. Be sure to bring a camera to capture memorable photos here. I recommend driving to Skull Rock since there’s usually a line of folks waiting to take pictures. 


Photo of Skull Rock at Joshua Tree National Park

A popular photo-op moment for visitors at Joshua Tree – Photo by Traci George


Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Hidden Valley Nature Trail is perfect for families with little ones or those looking for a shorter hike. It’s a one-mile loop that takes trekkers through massive boulders and an enclosed valley rumored to have been used by outlaw cattle rustlers in the past. Nature and a dash of folklore? Count us in.


Barker Dam Nature Trail

An easy and family-friendly hike, the Barker Dam Nature Trail allows visitors the opportunity to see a rare water source in the desert. It’s a prime location for bird-watching and spotting bighorn sheep.


Photo of girl standing on top of large rocks at Joshua Tree National Park

My youngest daughter showing off her climbing abilities while I try not to have a panic attack — Photo by Author


Rock Climbing In Joshua Tree National Park: A Wonderland

The rock formations at Joshua Tree National Park are a climber’s paradise. The park is one of the most fantastic rock-climbing destinations in Southern California. With more than 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 boulder problems, it’s safe to say this place is a climbing mecca.

Oh, and let’s remember the little adventurers!  As seasoned Joshua Tree explorers, my kids have a penchant for scaling rocks and boulders like tiny mountaineers. Just watching them conquer those boulders, one might think they were training for a pint-sized version of “American Ninja Warrior.” 

If families bring their mini-monkeys here, keeping them on the ground won’t be an option. The allure of climbing in Joshua Tree is too irresistible!

But the park isn’t exclusive to climbing experts. Beginners will find plenty of opportunities to learn the ropes (pun intended) through various guided rock climbing tours. Experienced guides lead tours, making it a safe and informative experience for climbers at all levels. 



Get Lost (But Not Really) On Joshua Tree’s Scenic Drives and Stops

Roll down the windows, let the desert breeze in, and crank up those favorite family tunes. Start your adventures at either the western or northern entrance. There’s nothing like a scenic drive through Joshua Tree National Park to make everyone forget about the Wi-Fi they’re missing. The landscape moves quickly around each bend, like scrolling through Mother Nature’s Instagram but in 4K resolution.

Not all the beautiful spots in Joshua Tree require a hiking boot. Visitors can take in the sights from the comfort of their car. Take the awe-inspiring drive along Pinto Basin Road, which is more than a strip of asphalt. It’s a passage through the Colorado and Mojave deserts. Oh, and it’s a goldmine for photo opportunities, so prepare to fill that memory card.

For families that love to hop out and explore, there are numerous stops to take a break. Iconic Skull Rock is an interactive backdrop where even little ones can jump out of the car and climb into its eye sockets. In our family, it’s a must-stop location because my kids love sitting in the sockets of the eyes and taking funny pics of them picking the nose of Skull Rock. Of course.

So go ahead and take that leisurely drive from the grand overlooks of Keys View to the subtler beauty of Cottonwood Spring Oasis with its mirrored-finish lake. It’s all part of the Joshua Tree experience, and it’s a perfect way for families to sample the park without breaking too much of a sweat.

Whether it’s the drive itself or the little adventures at each stop, a road trip through Joshua Tree National Park is an adventure that invites families, kids, and explorers of all ages to pause, look around, and appreciate the natural beauty that makes this Southern California national park so special.


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Photo of scenic drive view in Joshua Tree National Park

Sit back, break open the snacks, and relax with these scenic drives in Joshua Tree – Photo by Ricky Esquivel on Pexels


Hiking In Joshua Tree: A Trail for Every Level

If the call of the wild is hard to resist, then the hiking trails of Joshua Tree National Park are like nature’s siren song. These trails have something for everyone — even for Aunt Karen, who thinks “Roughing It” is a hotel without room service.


Hidden Vally Nature Trail

Beginners and families with little ones will find Hidden Valley Nature Trail a hit. It’s a manageable loop that packs a punch with stunning rock formations and plant life. The kids in our family absolutely love spotting lizards darting between rocks — it’s like a real-life game of “I Spy.”

Photo of woman sitting on top of boulders at Joshua Tree National Park

It’s all fun and games until you have to get down off those boulders! – Photo by Traci George


Ryan Moutain Trail

Ryan Mountain Trail is the go-to spot for those who are more accustomed to hiking and want a bit of a challenge. It is a moderate climb that rewards hikers with spacious views. 


Boy Scout Trail

Hardcore trekkers will appreciate the challenge of the less-traveled Boy Scout Trail. The hike is a bit more strenuous and best suited for families with older kids and individuals with experience.


Barker Dam Nature Trail

Of course, no visit to Joshua Tree would be complete without walking the Barker Dam Nature Trail. This is the place where the desert meets the water. The water and sky reflect each other, creating a dreamscape of a mirrored world. 

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of experience. Whether visitors are looking for an easy nature walk, a moderate day hike, or an ambitious backcountry trek, the park accommodates trekkers of every level. 


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Joshua Tree Tours and Guided Experiences

While Joshua Tree National Park is a playground for independent exploration, sometimes a little expert guidance can take the experience to a new level. A diverse range of tours and guided activities give deeper insights into the park’s rich history, unique geology, and delicate ecosystems.

Keys Ranch Tour

One of the most popular and educational tours is the Keys Ranch Tour. This guided journey takes visitors through a historic ranch that provides a glimpse into the lives of early settlers. The stories told here are compelling, captivating families and history buffs alike. It’s an eye-opening experience that sheds light on the challenges and ingenuity of those who called Joshua Tree home in a bygone era. Rangers offer tours from October to May.


Ranger Guided Tours

Another enlightening option is the various ranger-guided tours. Led by park rangers who are wellsprings of knowledge, these tours focus on a variety of topics. Whether it’s flora, fauna, or the rock formations, ranger tours have something for every curious mind. They’re informative and interactive, encouraging kids to ask questions and engage with their surroundings.


Horseback Riding

Imagine exploring the park the old-fashioned way—on horseback. Horseback riding tours through Black Rock Canyon reward visitors with a unique vantage point for observing the park’s natural beauty. It’s like stepping back in time, experiencing the landscape much like the early settlers and indigenous peoples did. Families with older kids especially enjoy this adventurous activity, adding another layer of excitement to their Joshua Tree experience.


To get discounts on tours in the area, we recommend Get Your Guide or Viator (which offers 51% off last-minute tours!).




When You Go



Getting To Joshua Tree National Park From Los Angeles 

Joshua Tree may seem like a remote wonderland, but getting there is simpler than one might think. Palm Springs International Airport serves as the closest gateway for those flying in. With a 45-mile drive from the airport, visitors are whisked away into the captivating landscapes of the park. 

Families from Southern California often opt for the scenic road trip on the I-10 through the Coachella Valley, an adventure in itself before even reaching the park boundaries.


An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!


Where To Stay Near Joshua Tree National Park

Once there, choices for accommodations range from rustic to refined. Of course, camping within the park is the preferred way to stay for many nature enthusiasts. Still, there are other ways to experience Joshua Tree. The town of Joshua Tree and nearby Twentynine Palms and Palm Springs has a range of lodging options, from quaint bed and breakfasts to boutique hotels.


SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western Yucca Valley Joshua Tree

SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western Yucca Valley Joshua Tree hits the sweet spot for families looking for quality without breaking the bank. It’s located in Yucca Valley, a short drive from Joshua Tree National Park. With spacious rooms, an indoor pool, and a complimentary breakfast, it provides the kind of amenities that families appreciate. Add to that a game room for kids and a fitness center for adults; everyone in the family is bound to have a great time.


Miracle Springs Resort & Spa

Nestled in Desert Hot Springs, Miracle Springs Resort & Spa adds a touch of luxury without the hefty price tag. What sets this resort apart is its eight natural hot mineral pools, a hit for kids and adults alike. Imagine ending a day of hiking and exploration with a relaxing dip in mineral-rich waters. Additionally, the resort’s spacious rooms and dining options cater to various palettes, making it a great place for a mid-range choice for families.


AutoCamp Joshua Tree

For families wanting a unique, outdoor-oriented lodging experience, AutoCamp Joshua Tree is an excellent pick. This isn’t your typical hotel—think stylishly designed Airstreams with all modern home amenities. It brings the fun of camping without the hassle, as each unit has its own kitchen, beds, and even a private deck. This is the perfect option for families that crave adventure but don’t want to sacrifice comfort.




Traci George, freelance writer and founder of Nomadically Ever After, specializes in family-friendly and affordable travel. A connoisseur of Dark Tourism and horror literature, Traci infuses her passion for adventure into her work. From RV trips across continents, tasting exotic foods, to living as an Alaskan expat in Mexico, she transforms ordinary experiences into extraordinary journeys.