🏜 The Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree Itinerary for 2023

One Day in Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary blog cover graphic.  Text overlaying an image of a Joshua tree at sunset framed by rocks in the background.

Whether you’re a California local needing a breath of fresh air, an out-of-towner looking to explore the incredible national parks of this country, or anyone in between, a day trip to Joshua Tree is all you’ll need to see the highlights of this unique otherworldly desert.

Of course, more time is always better, but we understand not everyone has that luxury. Accordingly, we designed this One Day Joshua Tree itinerary to make sure you see as much as possible, but also to ensure you are in the best locations at each time of day.

In this guide, you will find a detailed schedule with suggestions on where to be from sunrise through sunset, as well as all information pertinent to planning your first visit to Joshua Tree National Park.

If there is anything you feel we missed or in need of an update, let us know in the comments at the bottom!

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β˜€οΈ Day Trip to Joshua Tree Quick Overview

An iconic photo from Joshua Tree National Park featuring giant boulders and the namesake trees.

One Day Itinerary

At a glance, here is the ideal itinerary for a day trip to Joshua Tree:

  • Sunrise at Arch Rock
  • Breakfast at White Tank Campground
  • Short walks at Cholla Cactus Garden, Skull Rock, Jumbo Rocks
  • Lunch at Live Oak Picnic Area
  • Short walks at Hall of Horrors, Cap Rock
  • Drive to Key’s Viewpoint overlook
  • Sunset at Hidden Valley
  • Stargaze – time permitting

The Cottonwood Springs area at the end of Pinto Basin Road is the only destination not included in this one day itinerary due to time constraints.


Getting Around

You will need a vehicle to get around Joshua Tree NP. There is limited bus service to get to the national park with Morongo Basin Transit Authority, but this will only drop you off.

All of the major roads through Joshua Tree are paved, so a standard 2WD vehicle will suffice. If you don’t have your own vehicle you can either rent a car or campervan to explore or book a tour.

We’ll cover tour options in more detail later on in this post or you can use the button below to explore different tour options.

A sun star shines through a joshua tree on a one day visit to Joshua Tree National Park.

Meals in Joshua Tree

There is no food available within Joshua Tree National Park. Accordingly, you will want to pack plenty of it and be prepared for three picnic-style meals.

There are picnic areas and restrooms available in several locations throughout the park. My favorites are recommended in the itinerary.


Entry Fees

As there are no one-day passes to Joshua Tree, the entry fee is $30 for a 7-day pass.

If you plan on visiting at least 3 NPS-run sites within the year (or plan on returning to Joshua Tree 3 separate times), you should instead purchase the America the Beautiful Annual Parks Pass. For just $80, you can get into EVERY NPS site in the country for a full year.

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πŸŒ„ Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary

πŸŒ… Begin: Sunrise at Arch Rock

A silhouette sits underneath Arch Rock as the sun rises to begin a one day itinerary in Joshua Tree National park.

Getting an early start is not for everyone, but it does guarantee you maximize your one day in Joshua Tree. Beyond that, Arch Rock is a spectacular scene for sunrise as the sun will come up perfectly framed by the arch!

Begin your day with a magical morning view and set yourself up for a fun-filled day in the park. Begin the day on Arch Rock trail early and pack a breakfast to enjoy during, or following the moment.

The hike to the arch via Arch Rock Trail is only about half a mile and is well-signed.

⭐️ Pro Tip: The sun will not enter the scene for about 30 minutes after the technical sunrise time.


🧺 Breakfast: Picnic at White Tank Campground

Morning light spills onto the rocks and cacti of Joshua Tree National park taken at White Tank Campground.

Directly adjacent to Arch Rock is a charming little campground with picnic tables and (very) basic facilities, should you require them. As you will have gotten an early start, you will likely be famished and ready for a nice picnic breakfast, and White Tank could not be closer.

The Joshua Trees are not as plentiful in this section of the park as they are in the Hidden Valley region. Still, you will have no trouble finding plenty of beautiful scenes to point your phone or camera at as the day begins to warm in the California desert.

Take your time and when you are ready, proceed just a short way down the road to one of the neatest and most unique regions of the park.


🌡 After Breakfast: Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree NP in the foreground with mountains behind.

It is worth noting that the Cholla Cactus Garden would also be a great option for sunrise or sunset, but I recommend saving this one for after breakfast when the sun has risen enough to shine through the yellow “fur” of the colloquially “Teddy Bear Cactus”.

Joshua Tree NP straddles the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. In a landscape filled with cacti, cholla is among the rarest and most photogenic species. Nowhere else will you encounter a garden of them as you do in the park!

No hike is required to get to the Cholla Cactus Garden. Because of this, you can expect to share it with plenty of others, but making it among your first stops will limit the crowds and make parking easier.


πŸ’€ Next: Skull Rock

A sun star shines from the top of Skull Rock on a one day trip to Joshua Tree.
Can you see the skull in the photo above of Skull Rock above?

Your next stop will be a quick look at the aptly-named Skull Rock, It is not difficult to see where it gets its name!

As neat as it is, this feature is one of the most popular for Instagrammers and seems to be something of a “Joshua Tree Bingo” item where everyone has to get a photo of them with it. In other words, expect it to be crowded!

On a personal note, I found Skull Rock neat enough but in a land full of intriguing shapes and textures, this one felt slightly overrated (though still worth the stop)!


πŸͺ¨ Next: Jumbo Rocks Campground

Picture of Jumbo Rock campground on a day trip to Joshua Tree.

Jumbo Rocks is the most popular campground in the park. If you decide on an overnight visit rather than a day trip to Joshua Tree, this will be one of your best options for camping.

Even on a one day visit, it is worth popping by to take a quick stroll through the jungle of giant rocks.

While much of Joshua Tree is covered in these unusual stone formations, Jumbo Rocks is home to the largest, most bulbous of them.

Because there are picnic tables and restrooms, you may prefer to have lunch here rather than at Live Oak (next).

⭐️ Pro tip: Be sure to use the restrooms here as this is one of the few places in the park that has them!


🧺 Lunch: Live Oak Picnic Area

Daytime photo showing the picnic tables and giant rock formations at Live Oak Picnic Area in Joshua Tree National Park.

After a (hopefully) easy morning of leisurely strolls and plenty of picture-taking, you will likely be ready to relax and enjoy another picnic.

While shade is difficult to come by in Joshua Tree, Live Oak Picnic area at least provides some tables to sit at with nice views. There are also BBQ pits available, but no toilets, unfortunately.

If you prefer, you can take your lunch early at Jumbo Rocks or re-arrange the order of things a bit so that you have access to restrooms and tables.


πŸ§Ÿβ€β™€οΈ After Lunch: Hall of Horrors Loop

A loop trail divides beginning and ending the Hall of Horrors Trail.

The Hall of Horrors is an easy loop trail that leads you in and out of more juxtaposed Joshua trees and boulders.

Personally, I think I enjoyed the view from the start of the trail most, but it’s an easy enough walk and, after all, you’re here for the nature!

If you are starting to think all of these trails look alike, you’re right! There are some areas in the most remote regions of the park that offer unique biodiversity, such as the Oasis of Mara, but these are too isolated to be part of a one day Joshua Tree itinerary.


🧒 Next: Cap Rock

Cap Rock is a popular place for INstagram photography in Joshua Tree.

See that one balanced rock at the top of the pile? That is Cap Rock, and despite the entire park being full of haphazardly stacked rocks, this one has become a tourist favorite.

It is somewhat funny that all it takes to turn a pile of rocks into a noteworthy destination is to put a sign in front of it, but that appears to be the case.

Feel free to skip this one if you are burned out on rock piles and Joshua trees, but it is only a quick stop anyway!


πŸ— Next: Keys View

View of the desert ladnscape from Keys View - the highest accessible point by car in Joshua Tree National Park.
Keys View is the highest accessible point by car in Joshua Tree National Park.

And now for something very different!

Key’s View provides an amazing panoramic view of Joshua Tree National Park. It is located about 6 miles up a relatively steep road from Cap Rock.

What is great about this viewpoint is that it changes your entire perspective on the landscape. The same earth that looks somewhat devoid of color from the ground appears almost rainbow-like from higher up!

Some of you may wish to spend sunset here as it will provide the best view of the actual descent of the sun. However, I recommend heading to Hidden Valley for that to capture some of the iconic silhouetted Joshua tree shots.

If you are one of those people that prefers the higher vista for sunset, be sure to at least walk around Hidden Valley FIRST. That is by far the best part of Joshua Tree NP and is an essential stop on your itinerary.


β˜€οΈ Sunset: Hidden Valley

The best time to take pictures in Joshua Tree is at sunset, and the best place for sunset is Hidden Valley. This is why your one day in Joshua Tree itinerary ends with a beautiful sunset photoshoot in this magical place.

Hidden Valley is where you will find the densest assortment of the iconic trees and cacti for which the park is known. It is also home to some most bizarre, otherworldly rock formations you will find.

As the sun sinks lower toward the horizon, sit back and watch the valley transform as it absorbs and reflects the golden tones.

Golden hour lights the scenery at Hidden Valley to end a one day Joshua Tree itinerary.

When you look at the map of Joshua Tree National Park, you will find Hidden Valley Campground, Hidden Valley Nature Trail, and Hidden Valley Picnic Area. To be honest, it doesn’t matter which you choose to park at as the entire region is equally photogenic.

California is known for having spectacular sunsets in general, and providing the unmistakable shape and visual interest of a silhouetted Joshua Tree in the foreground makes for an exciting frame you’ll be thrilled to look back on for years to come.

🌌 Night Option: Joshua Tree NP After Dark

A young man stargazing beneath Arch Rock at Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park has become famous for its dark night skies, and deservedly so! It is one of the few destinations in Southern California where you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye, as well as infinite stars.

If your day trip to Joshua Tree itinerary allows you to drive back late, consider staying an hour or two after sunset to enjoy the spectacular starry skies!

As for where to go for your stargazing adventure, anywhere away from parking lots and artificial light sources will be fine!

With that said, Arch Rock is the best place for stargazing and Milky Way photography in Joshua Tree.

The Milky Way is seen clearly in the center of this photo with Arch Rock on the left of the frame in the foreground.

Be aware that services are extremely limited in Joshua Tree National Park! You will want to prepare very carefully to ensure you bring enough food, water, gas, and supplies to spend the entire day in the park or you will end up having to cut your itinerary short.

Read each section carefully and plan accordingly.


Bathrooms in Joshua Tree

There are technically three Joshua Tree visitor centers which are the only places with flushing toilets in the entire park, and they are all on the outskirts! These include Oasis Visitor Center, Black Rock Visitor Center, and Cottonwood Visitor Center.

Vault toilets are available only at the campgrounds.

This itinerary has included plenty of stops at campgrounds where you can make use of the facilities.


Food & Water in Joshua Tree

There is no food anywhere to be found in Joshua Tree national park. Therefore, you will need to bring your own food for picnic-style meals.

Water is also quite scarce within the park. Bring much more than you think you’ll need and highlight your itinerary with the following locations where you can refill if need be.

The only water filling stations in Joshua Tree NP are:

  • Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms
  • West Entrance Station
  • Black Rock Campground
  • Cottonwood Campground
  • Indian Cove Ranger Station

🎟 Joshua Tree Day Trip Tours

A sunstar behind a Joshua tree in the afternoon on a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park

While this guide is designed for a self-drive itinerary, we appreciate that this isn’t the best option for everyone. For those of you that prefer to take a day tour to Joshua Tree, below you’ll find some of the top-rated tours.

If you want a more in-depth experience but still prefer a self-guided day trip, then you may enjoy this Self-Driving Audio Tour.


Joshua Tree National Park Driving Tour: 5/5 ⭐️

Starting in Palm Desert, your expert guide will teach you more about the area’s flora, fauna, geology, and settlement history on this 4.5-hour driving tour of Joshua Tree National Park.


Joshua Tree National Park Offroad Tour: 5/5 ⭐️

Explore more remote regions of the park on this 5-hour family-friendly 4×4 offroad tour. The exhilarating journey will take you along rugged mountainside roads into the Coachella Valley and Mojave Desert.


Full Day Tour to Joshua Tree and Richard Nixon Presidential Library from LA: 5/5 ⭐️

This full-day tour will take you from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park and the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. You will have approximately 3 hours to explore Joshua Tree and an hour to browse the museum before returning to LA.


Joshua Tree Private, Custom Adventure w/ Pro Photography from Las Vegas: 5/5 ⭐️

See Joshua Tree National Park exactly how you want on this private, customizable tour. Choose between hikes with your guide’s help, go bouldering, and enjoy a complimentary lunch at your chosen spot. What’s more, you can put down your phone as professional photography is provided, too.

πŸ› Where to Stay Near Joshua Tree NP

Golden hour light spills over stacks of rocks, Joshua trees and cacti at the end of a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park

πŸ• Camping

The only option for staying within Joshua Tree National Park is camping. If you’d like to camp within the park then I’d recommend either Hidden Valley Campground or Jumbo Rocks.

Both of these sites are centrally located and offer spectacular scenery. If tent camping isn’t your thing, consider renting a campervan or RV and still staying within one of the park’s campsites.

Reservations are required for Jumbo Rockts, making it ideal for those who like to plan in advance.

Conversely, Hidden Valley Campground is only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. This is a better option for last-minute planners but you’ll want to arrive early to secure your spot.


🏠 Lodging

If you prefer a hotel or cabin, then you will find plenty of accommodation options just outside of the park. I’d recommend looking for accommodation near Joshua Tree town for the closest proximity to the park, allowing you to maximize your time there.

Below are some of the top-rated options:


The Full Moon, Joshua Tree: 9.7/10 ⭐️

This 2 bedroom self-catered villa has a private pool, a garden, grill facilities, free WiFi, and free private parking, making it ideal for a family or small-group stay in Joshua Tree. Spa and wellness facilities including a sauna and a hot tub are also available during your stay.


AutoCamp Joshua Tree: 8.9/10 ⭐️

This boutique hotel stay provides a range of Airstreams and suites to choose from for a unique stay. They have an onsite restaurant and bar, as well as a seasonal outdoor pool, fire pits, and free bikes to explore.


Castle House Estate: 8.5/10 ⭐️

Choose from a glamping tent, container, or tower for a quirky stay in Joshua Tree. Amenities include a sun terrace, a seasonal outdoor pool, free WiFi, and free private parking.


Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Twentynine Palms: 8.1/10 ⭐️

The Holiday Inn Express is ideal for those looking for a more traditional, basic hotel stay conveniently located close to the park.

πŸŽ’ Packing List for A Joshua Tree Day Trip

A Joshua tree and cacti amongst brush with a rock pile in the background on a blue sky day

The most important thing to pack for a day trip to Joshua Tree is plenty of food and water, as both are scarce within the park!

Beyond that, these items are also important to consider for your visit.


America the Beautiful Annual Pass

The National Parks Pass for entry into every NPS site in the US

The annual national park pass costs $80 and provides access to all 63 national parks in the US. Additionally, it grants admission to over 2000 federal recreation sites!

Discounted passes are offered to some groups, including seniors, military personnel, and 4th graders. Check the NPS website for up-to-date information and to purchase your pass.


Sun protection

Much of the national park is exposed and can be very hot in the summer so ensure you have good protection from the sun. Bring a sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as a minimum.

We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s eco-friendly and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.


Hiking shoes

While most of the best places on this Joshua Tree itinerary require only a short walk, the desert environment can be unforgiving.

You’ll therefore want to ensure you pack some comfortable shoes. Closed-toe, sturdy hiking shoes are better than hiking sandals. This will help to reduce the risk of injury to your feet in the desert.


Reusable Water Bottle

We don’t travel anywhere without a reusable water bottle. Remaining hydrated is even more important in the desert.

Bring your own bottle to prevent wasting single-use plastic bottles! Be sure to bring plenty of water with you as potable water is available at only a few locations near the edges of the park.


Portable Powerpack

It’s likely you’ll be using your phone to navigate, take photos, and more! Bring a power pack with you to keep your phone charged on the go.


Backpack

You’ll want a backpack that’s comfortable and sturdy to carry around during the day. We use the GoGroove camera backpack or Lowepro Fastpack as they also provide easy side access to our cameras while out and about.


Mini First Aid Kit

When out hiking, we always have a mini first aid kit in our bag just in case. You never know when it may come in handy, particularly in a desert environment.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ FAQs About a Day trip to Joshua Tree Itinerary

Below are answers to the most commonly asked questions for one day visits to Joshua Tree National Park.

Can you do Joshua Tree in a day?

The drive from Joshua Tree NP west entrance to south entrance is only one hour (45 miles) and is easily done in a day. The best way to see the park on a day trip is to skip the remote Cottonwood Springs section and follow this itinerary instead:

  • Sunrise at Arch Rock
  • Breakfast at White Tank Campground
  • Short walks at Cholla Cactus Garden, Skull Rock, Jumbo Rocks
  • Lunch at Live Oak Picnic Area
  • Short walks at Hall of Horrors, Cap Rock
  • Drive to Key’s Viewpoint overlook
  • Sunset at Hidden Valley
  • Stargaze – time permitting
How much time do you need for Joshua Tree NP?

One day is all you will need to see all of the major sights in Joshua Tree National Park, including time for short walks. Only one hour is needed to drive through the entire park without stops from the Oasis Visitor Center to the south entrance near Cottonwood Springs.

The main road in Joshua Tree is Pinto Basin Road.

What can you do in Joshua Tree with only one day?

One day in Joshua Tree is enough to see almost the entire park, including a few short hikes! Most visitors should skip the remote Cottonwood Springs (southern) section and follow this itinerary to see everything else:

  • Sunrise at Arch Rock
  • Breakfast at White Tank Campground
  • Short walks at Cholla Cactus Garden, Skull Rock, Jumbo Rocks
  • Lunch at Live Oak Picnic Area
  • Short walks at Hall of Horrors, Cap Rock
  • Drive to Key’s Viewpoint overlook
  • Sunset at Hidden Valley
  • Stargaze – time permitting
Can you do a day trip to Joshua Tree from LA?

Day trips from LA to Joshua Tree NP are very popular for an escape from the city into nature. An early start is required to avoid traffic and allow ample time, and the drive typically takes about 2 – 2.5 hours from the city to the Oasis entrance of Joshua Tree.

Several tour companies also provide full-day tours to Joshua Tree from LA. You can browse Joshua tree tours here.

Can you drive through Joshua Tree for free?

You cannot drive through Joshua Tree National Park without paying the entry fee or having an NPS parks pass, even if you only plan on commuting. As of 2023, the entry fee for a 7 day vehicle pass (the cheapest available) is $30.

If you have an annual national park pass then entry to Joshua Tree National Park will be included.

What is there to do in Joshua Tree besides hiking?

You can actually explore much of Joshua Tree National Park without hiking. Many of the best vistas can be seen right from the parking lot, including the popular spots of Hidden Valley, Key’s View, and Jumbo Rocks, to name a few.

Joshua Tree NP is one of the best parks to explore even for people with limited mobility.

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Did you find this guide useful in planning your day trip itinerary to Joshua Tree National Park?

If so, you may also enjoy some of our other travel guides to nearby destinations!

For those interested in photography, you may find our Learning Photography guides helpful too. We cover lots of different topics, from basics to advanced.

Finally, feel free to browse our Joshua Tree photography gallery for prints and inspiration!

πŸ’¬ One Day Joshua Tree Itinerary Final Thoughts

A Joshua Tree stands in the center of the foreground with a colorful sunrise sky behind to begin a one day Joshua Tree itinerary.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

We truly hope you have found this guide helpful in planning your day trip to Joshua Tree. Beyond that, we would genuinely love to hear from you before and/or after your visit!

Was there anything we needed to update in our guide? Information you felt was inaccurate or missing? Conversely, did we succeed in inspiring and improving your first visit to the park?!

Help us help future readers by sharing your thoughts in the comments below!

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1 thought on “🏜 The Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree Itinerary for 2023”

  1. For me, the best way to celebrate my birthday was to fly to California with my husband. We visited many interesting places there, and we started with Joshua Tree. We rented a car so we had time to visit the park and visit friends in one day.

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