With one day in Joshua Tree National Park, you won’t be able to see all the park has to offer, but you can certainly experience several of the major highlights! With its unique desert landscape of martian rocks, and contorting trees, Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect place to spend a day enjoying some outdoor adventure.

In this article we will break down everything you need to know to have one perfect day in Joshua Tree. From sunrise at Arch Rock to the post-adventure beers at Joshua Tree Saloon, we have laid out our ideal itinerary to experience the best of Joshua Tree.

Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, and we’ve been road tripping across the United States, making a new place our home month to month. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking and exploring new places!

Itinerary Overview | One Day in Joshua Tree

With just one day in Joshua Tree, this jam-packed itinerary will allow you to experience many of the park’s highlights.

Start your day catching a beautiful sunset at Arch Rock, before embarking on a half-day rock climbing trip, the ultimate Joshua Tree adventure. In the afternoon, stop by the Cholla Cactus Garden for a brief stroll before taking a hike on the Boyscout Trail. Finally, finish off a busy day with a cold beer at the Joshua Tree Saloon.

Morning:

Afternoon:

Evening:

Itinerary Details | One Day in Joshua Tree

One Day in Joshua Tree Map

The map below displays the destinations for this one day in Joshua Tree itinerary (marked in red), as well as campgrounds inside the park (marked in blue).

  • To email this map for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map

Morning | Sunrise Hike to Arch Rock

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 1.2 miles
Elevation gain | 88 feet
Total time | 1 hour
Epic-ness rating | 6
Difficulty | easy

With just one day in Joshua Tree, you’ll want to start your morning early to squeeze in as much as possible. We highly recommend watching the sunrise from Arch Rock, a massive rock formation surrounded by piles of boulders. Arch Rock is accessed via an easy 1.2 mile round trip hike.

Tip: Arch Rock is located only a few steps from the White Tank campground, making it a great option for camping the night before. Alternatively, you could backpack one mile into the California Riding and Hiking Trail, which is also adjacent to the Arch Rock trail.

Morning | Rock Climbing

Quick Stats

Total Time | 4 – 5 hours
Price | $130 – $180 per person (1/2 day climb)
Epic-ness rating | 10
Difficulty | moderate – hard

Did you know that Joshua Tree is one of the premier climbing destinations in the world? The thousands of boulders that speckle the landscape make Joshua Tree a rock climber’s paradise. Many of the world’s best climbers will spend their winters in Joshua Tree before heading north to Yosemite for the summer.

If there is one thing you absolutely must do in Joshua Tree, its go rock climbing! Even if you’ve never climbed before, you can go with a guide who will show you the ropes (literally!) and make sure you have a safe and fun experience. We had an incredible time climbing with Cliffhanger Guides and can’t recommend them enough!

Whether you are new to the sport or an experienced climber, Joshua Tree is filled with innumerable route options and there is undoubtedly a route that is perfect for your skill level.

You can read more details about rock climbing in Joshua Tree here:

Alternative | Hike to 49 Palms Oasis

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 3.2 miles
Elevation gain | 636 feet
Total time | 2 – 3 hours
Epic-ness rating | 7
Difficulty | moderate

Does the thought of dangling from a rope 100 feet off the ground make your stomach turn? If yes, you may want to skip rock climbing and opt to hike the 49 Palms Oasis trail instead.

Located on the outskirts of the park, this moderate 3.1 mile roundtrip hike leads through the heart of the desert to an unbelievable lush palm tree forest! Are there actually 49 palm trees? We’re not sure, but no matter the number, we were blown away by the size of the palm “forest”.

Afternoon | Stroll through the Cholla Cactus Garden

After an adventurous morning rock climbing, take a stroll through the Cholla Cactus Garden. But, be careful not to touch these vicious plants! The are commonly referred to as jumping cactus for their propensity to seemingly “leap” onto those who pass by. In reality, the extremely sharp needles can easily pierce your skin or clothes with just the slightest brush.

If you do happen to come in contact with the plant, you’re likely to collect multiple needles, as smaller sections of the plant will detach from the cactus when pulled. All of that is to say, they might not actually jump, but you should certainly keep a safe distance!

Afternoon | Hike the Boy Scout Trail

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 7.8 miles (one way)
Elevation gain | 173 feet
Total time | 1 – 5 hours (depending how far you go)
Epic-ness rating | 7
Difficulty | easy – moderate

If you are looking for classic Joshua Tree views (think huge Joshua Trees and massive rock formations bubbling up out of the burnt-orange sand in every direction), you’ll find them along the Boy Scout Trail. While the entire trail is 15.6 miles roundtrip, you only have to stroll a few yards to be transported into a Suessian world of spooky trees, boulder piles and expansive desert landscape.

There are two trailheads, one off Indian Cove Road and one on Park Boulevard inside the park. For the best views, we recommend starting at the Park Boulevard trailhead and hiking in a few miles (as far as you feel like or have time for!) before retracing your steps back to the trailhead.

Evening | Grab a burger and cold beer at Joshua Tree Saloon

Wind down from your busy day in Joshua Tree with an ice cold beer and big juicy burger at the Joshua Tree Saloon. With an old-school western vibe, a wide selection of local beer and huge menu of sandwiches, wings, and all things fried, there’s really no better way to end a long day of adventuring!

Alternative Options

Below are a few more great things to do in and around the park, which didn’t quite make the cut for one day in Joshua Tree itinerary, but are worth checking out if you have the time:

  • Ryan Mountain Hike: moderate 3 mile roundtrip hike up Ryan Mountain, offering incredible views over the park.
  • Hall of Horrors: a quick walk and a little rock scrambling leads to a hidden narrow “hall” between two massive rocks. Even if you don’t find the hall, the surrounding landscape is beautiful and worth a visit.
  • Skull Rock: 1.2 mile nature trail through large rock formations, featuring a massive skull shaped rock.
  • Joshua Tree Brewery: Located right near the center of town, we tried to go here but the line was down the street. With a line that long, they must be doing something right!

Logistics | Planning Your One Day in Joshua Tree

When is the best time to visit Joshua Tree?

Due to its location in the high desert of Southern California, Joshua Tree gets extremely hot during the summer, making hiking and outdoor activities unpleasant and downright dangerous. Early spring (February – April) and late Fall (September – November) are great times to visit, when temperatures are mild during the day and night.

Winter is also a pleasant time to visit, with high’s in the mid 60’s but lows that drop down below freezing at night. The park tends to be significantly less crowded during the winter, but beware that snow is possible and plan on cold nights if camping.

Where to stay in Joshua Tree

If you are looking to spend the night before or after your day in Joshua Tree, there are several campground, dispersed camping and backcountry camping options. If camping isn’t your thing, the nearby town of Joshua Tree offers convenient hotels and lodging options and an eclectic selection of shops, restaurants and bars.

Campgrounds

There are 9 campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park. Most can be reserved in advance, starting 6 months before your trip. Beware that campsites book up well in advance, so if you want to stay at a campground in the park make sure to reserve a spot as soon as they are released.

Three campgrounds (Hidden Valley, White Tank and Belle Campgrounds) are first-come-first-serve, but tend to fill up early in the day, particularly on weekends and holidays. Read more about campgrounds in Joshua Tree here.

Backcountry Camping

Missed your chance to reserve a campground? First-come-first-serve spots already filled? Don’t fret! One of the greatest things about Joshua Tree is that backcountry camping is permitted off several designated trails. The best part: advance permits are not required and you can camp anywhere as long as you hike in at least one mile and 500 feet off the the trail!

Our favorite spots for backcountry camping in Joshua Tree are the Boyscout Trail and the California Riding and Hiking Trail. Find more details about backcountry camping and which trails you can backpack here.

Dispersed Camping

Lastly, if you want to camp but aren’t able to get a spot at a campground and don’t want to backpack, your next best bet is dispersed camping on BLM land near the park. Dispersed camping (primitive car camping without the amenities of a campground) is permitted off most BLM roads.

Use Campendium or the Dyrt to find great dispersed camping options near Joshua Tree.

Town of Joshua Tree

If camping isn’t your style, luckily the town of Joshua Tree is located only a few minutes outside of the park and offers many hotel, motel and Airbnb options at reasonable prices. Joshua Tree has an authentic old-western vibe, with a selection of rustic restaurants, bars and shops.

Tips for a great day in Joshua Tree

  • Don’t forget to pack plenty of sunscreen, a pair of sunglasses and hat. The sun is extremely strong and shade is minimal.
  • Purchase a U.S. National Park pass if you plan for visit 3 or more national park over the next year.
  • It may seem counterintuitive for a trip to the desert, but make sure to pack layers and warm clothes. Even if daytime temperatures are hot, it typically gets significantly colder at night and you’ll want to bundle up, especially if you are camping.
  • If you are planning to camp in the park, book campgrounds well in advance. They may be reserved up to 6 months in advance and tend to book up early during peak season!
  • Be sure to stop by the quirky town of Joshua Tree, for a cold beer or good meal on your way in or out of the park!
  • Don’t rely on cell service to navigate around the park. Cell service is spotty throughout the park. Typically, you can get a map from a park ranger at the entrance station.

Other useful resources

Planning a trip to Southern California? You may also find these resources useful:

For all things California: California Travel Guide

Questions about how to make the most out of one day in Joshua Tree? Feel free to reach out – we’re happy to help however we can!

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