Joshua Tree Day Trip From Palm Springs

Plan on making a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park while visiting Palm Springs and enjoy some easy hikes and scenic drives. You can really do a lot in one day at Joshua Tree. But I loved it so much that I visited two times, on December 13th and December 25th. Yes, Christmas day is the perfect day for a Joshua Tree hiking trip! This could be the start of a great new holiday tradition.

This post is a mini Joshua Tree guide to help you plan your Joshua Tree day trip.

Many people have told me that the day trip from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree was their favorite outing in the area.


READ now: Travel guide to Palm Springs 2019


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Joshua trees in the high desert of Southern California

On scenic drives and hiking trails you will see Joshua trees in the high desert


How far is Joshua Tree from Palm Springs?

The drive from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree takes from 45 minutes to an hour depending on which entrance you go through.

The main address is 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597


Map of Joshua Tree National Park with hiking trails highlighted in yellow

Map of Joshua Tree park with hiking trails highlighted


There are 3 entrances to Joshua Tree National Park

West Entrance Station

Located off of Hwy 62 at Park Blvd on the northwest part of the park
38 miles from Palm Springs.

North entrance

Off of Hwy 62 in 29 Palms, watch for the signs.
50 miles from Palm Springs.

South entrance

From Interstate 10 (I-10)
50 miles from Palm Springs (38 miles from Palm Desert)

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park is definitely one of the top things to do in and around Palm Springs.


Joshua trees along the Barker Dam Trail - Joshua Tree National Park - Palm Springs Day Trip

Joshua trees along the Barker Dam Trail – some of the best Joshua Tree National Park hiking


Joshua Tree visitor center

Address: 6554 Park Blvd

I made a pit stop at the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center, located 6 miles before the west entrance.

You can pick up the National Park Service guide and brochure for the park at the visitor center so you can plan your own Joshua Tree hiking trips. The brochure includes hiking trail descriptions along with a map of the park.

Park rangers are available to help you plan your day visiting Joshua Tree. They can give you info on what to do in Joshua Tree such as hiking trails, campgrounds, points of interest, scenic drives, etc.

I watched a video at the visitor center. It was maybe 20 minutes, and it was okay but not highly recommended, maybe 3 stars if I were to give it a rating.


Grove of Joshua Trees at Joshua Tree National Park

Grove of trees at Joshua Tree National Park


Visit Joshua Tree for FREE

Note: During the federal government shutdown the shuttle bus service is not operating.

Something new in 2018 and continuing through spring 2019 is the pilot program for a shuttle service in Joshua Tree called the Roadrunner. The shuttle bus is free and allows riders free admittance to the park. This shuttle service will run through the northern section of Joshua Tree.

Remember to bring water with you because there is no water available in the park. Also bring snacks or picnic lunch, sunscreen and/or hat, layered clothing, your camera, day bag or backpack so it’s easy to carry everything.

Also remember to grab a map at the visitor center because there isn’t any cell phone service in the park.


Joshua tree at Barker Dam trail

Joshua tree at Barker Dam trail


Roadrunner shuttle bus hours

November 2018 to February 2019

Friday/Saturday/Sunday plus every day from December 21 to January 6. Also Monday January 21 and Monday February 18.

March and April 2019

The free shuttle bus will run daily starting around 8 am.

First shuttle bus leaves transit center around 8 am. You can find the full shuttle bus scheduler here.

Where to catch Joshua Tree shuttle bus

Twentynine Palms Transit Center – free parking available.

Oasis Visitor Center – there is free street parking near the visitor center stop.

Joshua Tree Shuttle bus stops

  • Transit Center
  • Oasis Visitor Center
  • Jumbo Rocks
  • Ryan Mountain
  • Hall of Horrors
  • Cap Rock
  • Barker Dam
  • Intersection Rock
  • Hidden Valley
  • Hemingway
  • Quail Springs picnic area



Joshua Tree National Park weather

Driving around the park there are several pull-outs where you can park and go for a wander to take in the scenery. You’ll want to be prepared for the weather at Joshua Tree.

It can get cold and extremely windy at Joshua Tree in winter (and excessively hot during summer) so check the weather forecast from the National Weather Service before you leave for Joshua Tree.

You will find a weather link on the National Park Service page here. The NPS website is a great resource for researching and planning a Joshua Tree trip or any other national park in the USA.


Go Exploring! Joshua Tree National Park - giant Joshua tree


Two deserts at Joshua Tree National Park

Where else will you find two deserts in one National Park? You’ll see the difference on the Joshua Tree National Park hiking trails and while you drive through the park.

The western portion of Joshua Tree National Park, above 3,000 ft elevation is part of the Mojave Desert. The eastern half of the park lies within the Colorado Desert, with elevations below 3,000 ft.


Watch this short video of the panoramic views at the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree park



You will find the Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert but not in the lower elevations of the Colorado Desert which is part of the Sonoran Desert. The cholla cactus garden and the ocotillo patch are located in the eastern part of the park and definitely worth the drive.


A field of cholla cactus with a mountain view at the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California

Cholla cactus also known as Teddy-bear cholla


Cholla cactus garden at Joshua Tree National Park with the 'skeleton' of a dead cholla cactus in the foreground

Cholla cactus look interesting even after they die off – leaving only a skeleton and no more prickly spikes


Best hikes in Joshua Tree

Here are some of the best hikes at Joshua Tree, they are all easy to moderate difficulty. Remember to bring your refillable water bottle with you while hiking in the desert.

  • Barker Dam
    1.1 miles (1.8 km)
    Allow 1 hour
  • Hidden Valley
    1 mile (1.6 km)
    Allow 1 hour
  • Ryan Ranch
    1 mile (1.6 km)
    Out and back
    Allow 1 hour
  • Skull Rock
    1.7 miles (2.7 km)
    Allow 1 – 2 hours
  • Lost Horse Mine
    4 miles (6.4 km)
    Out and back
    Allow 2 – 3 hours
  • Mastodon Peak
    3 miles (4.8 km)
    Allow 1.5 – 2 hours


On my first visit to go hiking at Joshua Tree National Park I walked both the Hidden Valley and Barker Dam nature trails. Each hike takes about 1-hour round-trip.

There are picnic benches and restrooms near the parking area of both hikes. These are popular hikes at Joshua Tree and I enjoyed both.


Petroglyphs at the popular Barker Dam trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Petroglyphs at Barker Dam hiking trail


By mid-day the winds picked up and I decided to drive to the eastern half of the park. Driving along the boulders from Ryan Mountain to Jumbo Rocks is a scenic route with several places to stop and park.

In winter time during afternoon hours Joshua Tree National Park gets busier and parking spots fill up. There is room to park along the road at some of the most popular points of interest such as Skull Rock.

I stopped at Cap Rock for a stroll along the marked pathway. There are interesting boulder formations on the short walk.


Boulders and Joshua trees at the Cap Rock trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Cap Rock trail at Joshua Tree features huge boulders and the beautiful Joshua trees


Next stop was Jumbo Rocks. Standing among the boulders near a campsite, a young man inquired if anyone had seen a tent at the site. Evidently the winds had carried the tent away during the night. The owners opted to stay at alternate accommodations one night and the tent was left without much to weigh it down. After a few minutes of searching the tent was retrieved, several meters from its original location.

So now you know, tie down your tent down at Joshua Tree.


Giant boulders at Jumbo Rocks campground in Joshua Tree National Park

The view at Jumbo Rocks campground in Joshua Tree National Park


Teddy-bear cholla cactus garden

Driving to the Cottonwood Visitor Center I enjoyed the scenery and did not plan on getting out in the wind again. Then I saw the cholla cactus, also known by the common name teddy-bear cholla, and I had to stop.

Cholla cactus garden is one of  my favorite places to stop in Joshua Tree. Taking in the mountain views surrounded by teddy bear cholla, a most memorable Joshua Tree Christmas day.

Cacti arms stretched out to greet me with a warm hug. Just kidding. If you hug a teddy-bear cholla you will remember it forever, in agony. The cacti spines have barbs that are difficult, and painful to remove once embedded into the skin.


Joshua Tree National Park day trip from Palm Springs - cholla cactus and mountains


I had planned to get to the Cottonwood Visitor Center by 2 pm for a ranger talk but my stop at the cholla cactus garden kept me until after 3 pm. I drove past the ocotillo patch without stopping.


A closer look at the cholla cactus

A closer look at the cholla cactus.


Ocotillo garden

Visiting Big Bend National Park and in Tucson I saw ocotillo surrounded by magnificent views. The ocotillo patch in Joshua Tree National Park was not so impressive in December but definitely worth a stop if you have not seen the ocotillo plant before. I would love to visit again to see the ocotillo plants while in bloom.


This dead looking ocotillo plant with no leaves is not actually dead, it will grow new leaves when it rains

One survival skill of the ocotillo is stop growing leaves during drought, when it rains leaves return


On my Christmas day visit to Joshua Tree National Park the weather was cooler and windy. I wore layered clothing but could have used some extra warmth or at least a windbreaker jacket.

Keys View was especially cold and windy but the panoramic view was majestic at 5185 ft (1581 m) and definitely worth the short drive.


Panoramic view of the Coachella Valley from Keys View at Joshua Tree National Park

View of Coachella Valley from Keys View in Joshua Tree park


While you are in Palm Springs I also recommend going to Mount San Jacinto State Park. You can take the tram to go from desert to mountains and do some hiking in the park.


How to get to Joshua Tree National Park


74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597

You can get to Joshua Tree National Park via I-10 to the South Entrance or take Twentynine Palms Highway (Hwy 62) to the West or North Entrance.

Stay in Joshua Tree

If you have more time you can arrange to stay at a campsite in Joshua Tree National Park. Contact the National Park Service website to reserve a camping spot in the park.


Joshua Tree entrance fee and hours

Joshua Tree National Park is always open, however certain areas are day use only

Entrance fees quoted are as at January 2019

  • $30 for single, non-commercial vehicle (good for 7 days)
  • $25 motorcycle (good for 7 days)
  • $15 per person on foot, bicycle, or horseback (good for 7 days)
  • Annual Pass to Joshua Tree National Park is $55
  • Annual National Park pass is $80
  • Lifetime Seniors National Park pass is $80, or annual pass for $20
  • Access Pass is free with proper documentation (check NPS website for details)
  • Active US military and dependents can get a free pass (check NPS site for details)

Note: Drones are not allowed at Joshua Tree National Park. But you can hike or climb to a great viewing point to get stunning photos of your visit. 


Explore other destinations for your next solo travel adventure

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 4 of living a nomadic life, roadtripping around the USA and Canada and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

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