TOP Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park [for Families]

Pinterest Hidden ImagePinterest Hidden Image

Imagine a place with big rocks that look like ancient guards, tall Joshua Trees reaching for the sky, and a desert showing off its wonders under the sunny Southern California sky. That’s Joshua Tree National Park, and it’s a special place for families to have an awesome adventure.

It’s like a huge playground in sunny Southern California, not too far from busy cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and the resort town of Palm Springs. This cool desert spot sits between the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, and it’s the perfect place for families who want an unforgettable adventure.

In this post, we’ll talk about the coolest spots in the park. We’ll show you easy hikes perfect for nature lovers, scenic drives with panoramic views, and the most popular things to do in and around the park.

So, grab your hats and water bottles, bring your excitement, and let’s go on a family adventure in Joshua Tree National Park. There’s so much to explore in the unique Southern California desert, where you can make awesome memories under the starry night sky.

Joshua Tree National Park entrance signPin
Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Go for a hike

Joshua Tree National Park is awesome for family hikes because it’s like a super cool outdoor school! Kids can find amazing big rocks, see lots of different plants, and go on easy hikes that everyone can enjoy. It’s a chance to have fun adventures right in the middle of the desert.

Here are the best hikes in Joshua Tree NP:

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 1 mile (loop)
  • Location: Start at the Hidden Valley Picnic Area

This short loop takes you through a picturesque valley surrounded by towering rock formations. The trail is flat and well-marked, making it ideal for families with young children.

Keep an eye out for rock climbers scaling the impressive formations. The valley provides a natural enclosure, giving it the name “Hidden Valley.”

Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Barker Dam Nature Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 1.5 miles (loop)
  • Location: Access from Barker Dam parking area

Take a leisurely stroll around the Barker Dam Trail to see a historic water source in the park. The trail is flat and suitable for families.

Along the way, you may spot petroglyphs, wildlife, and beautiful Joshua Trees.

The dam often reflects the surrounding rock formations, creating a scenic landscape.

Barker Dam, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Barker Dam, Joshua Tree National Park

Skull Rock Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 1.7 miles (loop)
  • Location: Park at the Skull Rock parking area

Kids will love the unique rock formations along this loop trail, especially the iconic Skull Rock.

The trail winds through Joshua Tree forests and offers great opportunities for rock scrambling. Keep an eye out for whimsical shapes in the rocks and enjoy the distinct scenery.

Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Skull Rock Trail, Joshua Tree NP

Cap Rock Nature Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 0.4 miles (loop)
  • Location: Start at the Cap Rock parking area

This short loop is perfect for families with little ones. It meanders around unique rock formations and showcases the park’s flora.

Cap Rock is a popular spot, and you may see climbers scaling the nearby cliffs.

The trail is accessible and provides a taste of the park’s natural beauty.

Cap Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Cap Rock Nature Trail

Arch Rock Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Length: 1.2 miles (loop)
  • Location: Start at the White Tank Campground

The highlight of this trail is Arch Rock, a natural stone arch that kids will find fascinating.

The trail includes some rock scrambling, adding a bit of adventure without being too challenging.

Enjoy the unique rock features and the opportunity to take memorable family photos.

Steps to Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Steps to Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Cottonwood Spring Oasis

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: Short hike from Cottonwood Visitor Center
  • Location: Start at the Cottonwood Visitor Center

The trail is simple and good for all ages, surrounded by tall trees and palms. As you get closer to the oasis, you’ll hear leaves rustling and see the clear water—a nice break from the desert sun.

Families can relax or have a picnic in the cool shade.

Cottonwood Spring Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Cottonwood Spring Oasis

2. Try Rock Climbing

Joshua Tree is a renowned rock climbing destination. There are many challenging routes available for experienced climbers, but this is the perfect opportunity for families to do something challenging together, too!

For a memorable family rock climbing experience, consider these things:

Guided Tours

Consider joining a guided rock climbing tour specifically designed for families.

Joshua Tree Guides offers family-friendly rock climbing tours tailored for beginners and children. Their experienced guides provide equipment, instruction, and ensure a safe and enjoyable climbing experience.

Vertical Adventures is another reputable guide service that offers family-focused rock climbing tours. They cater to all skill levels, providing a supportive environment for parents and children.

Climbing Classes

Enroll in a family-friendly climbing class offered by local outfitters or the Joshua Tree Climbing School.

These classes cater to beginners, teaching essential climbing techniques and safety measures.

Easy Climbing Routes

Choose climbing routes that are suitable for beginners and families. Many areas in the park have routes with lower difficulty levels, providing an accessible introduction to rock climbing for children.

  • Intersection Rock: Located near the entrance of the park, Intersection Rock offers several easy to moderate climbing routes suitable for families. Routes like “Toe Jam” and “Walk on the Wild Side” are popular choices.
  • Echo Rock: Echo Rock features a variety of climbs, including some with lower difficulty levels. The “Easy Street” route is well-suited for beginners and families, offering a manageable ascent.
  • Quail Springs Area: This area has a collection of boulders and shorter climbs, making it ideal for families with kids interested in bouldering. The “Trashcan Rock” area has beginner-friendly routes.
trailhead sign for the Echo Rock climbing areaPin
directional sign to Echo Rock climbing area (Hannah Schwalbe, while working for Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rent Equipment

If you don’t have your own climbing gear, you can rent equipment from local outfitters or climbing schools.

  • Joshua Tree Outfitters: Joshua Tree Outfitters provides rock climbing equipment rentals, including harnesses, helmets, and climbing shoes sized for children. Check their website or contact them for rental details.
  • Nomad Ventures: Nomad Ventures, located in Joshua Tree and nearby towns, offers climbing gear rentals. They have a variety of equipment suitable for families, and their staff can provide guidance on the right gear for children.

Safety Tips

  1. Supervision: Always closely supervise children during climbing activities. Ensure they understand and follow safety rules, including the proper use of helmets and harnesses.
  2. Start Small: Begin with easier routes to build confidence. “Bunny Slopes” at Intersection Rock and “Touch and Go” at Echo Rock are good introductory climbs.
  3. Bouldering: Try bouldering with kids in areas like “Cap Rock” or “Ryan Ranch.” Bouldering eliminates the need for ropes and allows for shorter climbs on large boulders.
  4. Permits and Regulations: Check park regulations regarding climbing activities and obtain any necessary permits. Respect the natural environment and practice Leave No Trace principles.
  5. Weather Awareness: Be aware of weather conditions. Avoid climbing during extreme heat, and be prepared for temperature changes. Always bring enough water for everyone.

3. Stargazing

The park is a designated International Dark Sky Park, offering incredible views of the night sky.

Embarking on a stargazing adventure in Joshua Tree National Park is a magical experience for families. Here’s a guide to help you make the most of the night sky:

joshua tree silhouette at night with Milky Way, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
a joshua tree silhouette at night with Milky Way, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Stargazing Locations

Consider camping within the park to have immediate access to the dark skies

  1. Jumbo Rocks Campground: Nestled among giant boulders, Jumbo Rocks Campground offers a unique camping experience with unobstructed views of the night sky. The natural rock formations provide a shield from ambient light, creating optimal stargazing conditions.
  2. Belle Campground: Belle Campground is known for its dark skies and serene surroundings. Campsites are situated amidst Joshua Trees, providing a tranquil setting for families to enjoy the celestial display.
  3. Hidden Valley Campground: Tucked away in a valley surrounded by towering rocks, Hidden Valley Campground is a popular choice for stargazing. The natural enclosure shields the area from external lights, creating a prime location for observing the night sky.
  4. Ryan Campground: Located at a higher elevation, Ryan Campground offers clear views of the stars. The elevated position and the absence of city lights make it an excellent spot for families to immerse themselves in the wonders of the night sky.
tent at night in Hidden Valley campground, Joshua Tree National ParkPin
tent in Hidden Valley Campground (Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you don’t want to camp, I recommend staying close to the park, either in Joshua Tree Village or at Twentynine Palms near the park’s north entrance. And definitely check out our list of the best glamping spots near Joshua Tree!

Stargazing Tips for Families

  • Bring Binoculars and Telescopes: Pack binoculars or a telescope to enhance your stargazing experience. Witness the craters on the moon, the rings of Saturn, and distant galaxies with a closer view.
  • New Moon Nights: Plan your stargazing adventure around the new moon phase for the darkest skies. This maximizes visibility of stars and celestial objects.
  • Stargazing Events: Check for any organized stargazing events or astronomy programs offered by the park. Rangers often conduct evening programs to share insights about the night sky.
  • Limit Light Pollution: Use red flashlights to preserve night vision, and avoid using bright white lights. This helps minimize light pollution and allows everyone to enjoy the celestial display.
  • Respect Quiet Hours: Many campgrounds have designated quiet hours to ensure a serene stargazing experience. Be mindful of noise levels to respect fellow campers and the tranquility of the night.
Joshua tree in foreground at night, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin

4. Visit Keys View

In Joshua Tree National Park, there’s a cool spot called Keys View that families shouldn’t miss. It’s like a big window where you can see fantastic views of the desert. To get there, just take a nice drive on Keys View Road. The road is smooth, and you can easily go with your family.

When you arrive at Keys View, there’s a big area where you can walk around and look at the awesome scenery. You’ll be up high, about 5,185 feet (1,580 meters), and you can see the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, and even where the earth’s plates meet at the San Andreas Fault.

The best times to visit Keys View are during sunrise or sunset. That’s when the sun makes everything look so pretty with colors like orange and pink. It’s like a painting in the sky! Don’t forget your camera for some great family pictures.

There are also signs that teach you interesting stuff about the land you’re looking at. It’s a fun way for kids to learn about the desert and how special it is.

Keys View at sunrise, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Keys View

5. Go to the Cholla Cactus Garden

In Joshua Tree National Park, there’s a place called the Cholla Cactus Garden, and it’s a super cool spot for families to explore. This special garden is full of unique cactus plants called Cholla. They look a bit like fuzzy teddy bears, but be careful—they have prickly spines!

To find the Cholla Cactus Garden, you can take a drive along Pinto Basin Road. It’s an easy road that leads you right to this interesting place. Once you’re there, families can walk along a short trail that takes you through the garden. It’s not a long walk, so even little ones can enjoy it.

Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Cholla Cactus Garden

What makes the Cholla Cactus Garden so awesome? Well, first off, the cacti are really cool to look at. The way the sunlight hits them makes them glow! If you visit in the late afternoon, the colors get even more magical. Plus, there’s something fascinating about being surrounded by these funny-looking cacti.

Remember to bring your camera because the Cholla Cactus Garden is a great place for family photos. Just watch your step and avoid touching the cacti. They might look cuddly, but those spines can be prickly!

Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Cholla Cactus Garden

6. Explore Educational Opportunities

Joshua Tree National Park is not just a place to see cool rocks and plants—it’s also a big classroom where families can learn interesting stuff about the desert. Here are some easy ways to get smarter while having fun:

Joshua Tree Visitor Center

This is like the main hub of learning. You can find it at the park’s west entrance. Inside, friendly rangers are ready to answer questions and share cool facts. You can pick up maps, books, and other neat things to help you explore.

Joshua Tree Visitor Center with sign out frontPin
Joshua Tree Visitor Center in Joshua Tree Village (Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Oasis Visitor Center

Head to the Oasis Visitor Center if you’re coming from the south. It’s another spot filled with helpful rangers and info about the park. Both centers are great for families to start their learning journey.

Oasis Visitor Center, Joshua Tree NPPin
Oasis Visitor Center (Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Discovery Walks

Rangers lead short walks where they point out cool things like animal tracks and special plants. It’s an easy way for families to learn while enjoying the outdoors.

NPS park ranger leading a group of children on a nature walk in Joshua Tree NPPin
NPS Employees leading a group of kids in Joshua Tree National Park (NPGallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Night Sky Programs

Imagine looking at the stars and planets with a real ranger! Night sky programs happen when the sun goes down. Rangers use telescopes to show you awesome things in the sky. It’s like having your own personal space guide.

sign for the 2015 Joshua Tree Night Sky FestivalPin
The Night Sky Festival (sign above) is different than the night sky programs which typically run for a longer period over the course of the year, but both are fantastic to attend! (Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geology Talks

Ever wonder how those giant rocks got here? Rangers explain it all during geology talks. They make it easy to understand, even for the youngest scientists.

NPS park ranger at Joshua Tree's Oasis visitor center speaking with a visitorPin
ranger at Oasis Visitor Center helping a Joshua Tree visitor (Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

7. Go for a Scenic Drive

If you’re looking to soak in the stunning landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park without breaking a sweat, hop in your car and embark on these scenic drives that promise breathtaking views and unique landmarks:

Park Boulevard

  • Route: This drive takes you through the heart of the park, starting at the West Entrance Station and winding its way to the North Entrance.
  • Highlights: Look out for iconic rock formations like Skull Rock and Arch Rock. Numerous pullouts along the way offer opportunities to stretch your legs and snap photos of the captivating scenery.
  • Approximate Length: About 18 miles.
view along Park Boulevard, Joshua Tree NPPin
View along Park Boulevard (Joshua Tree National Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Pinto Basin Road

  • Route: Connecting the North and South Entrances, Pinto Basin Road offers a diverse landscape of Joshua Trees and open desert.
  • Highlights: The Ocotillo Patch and Cholla Cactus Garden are notable stops. Keep an eye out for wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep.
  • Approximate Length: Around 40 miles.
things to do in Joshua Tree National Park: Pinto Basin Road, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Pinto Basin Road, Joshua Tree National Park

Keys View Road

  • Route: Ascend to Keys View for panoramic vistas of the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, and San Andreas Fault.
  • Highlights: Keys View is a must-stop, providing stunning views of the surrounding landscapes. On clear days, you might even see the Salton Sea in the distance.
  • Approximate Length: A short detour off Park Boulevard.
things to do in Joshua Tree National Park: Keys View Road, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Keys View Road, Joshua Tree National Park

Geology Tour Road

  • Route: A dirt road exploring the park’s fascinating geological features, starting near the Cottonwood Visitor Center.
  • Highlights: Discover unique rock formations and geological wonders. The trail is a bit rugged, so it’s best for high-clearance vehicles.
  • Approximate Length: About 18 miles.
things to do in Joshua Tree National Park: Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaPin
Geology Tour Road

8. Visit the town of Joshua Tree

Just outside Joshua Tree National Park, there’s a little town called Joshua Tree, and it’s a neat place for families to visit. This town has a friendly vibe and a relaxed atmosphere. You can find it by taking a short drive from the park’s entrance.

When you arrive, you’ll notice cool shops, art galleries, and tasty places to eat. It’s a small town, but it’s got a lot of character. It’s a nice change of pace after a day of exploring the park.

Best Things To Do in Joshua Tree, California

  • Hoof & Horn: A shop offering handmade crafts, jewelry, and desert-inspired items.
  • Joshua Tree Art Gallery: Featuring exhibitions from various local artists, providing a glimpse into the town’s vibrant art scene.
  • Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace: A famous restaurant and music venue with a diverse menu, known for its live performances.
  • Joshua Tree Music Festival: An annual event featuring live music, workshops, and a family-friendly atmosphere.
  • Joshua Tree International Film Festival: A film festival showcasing independent films and bringing the community together.
  • Joshua Tree Certified Farmers’ Market: Takes place every Saturday from 8 AM to 1 PM at the Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground. Families can explore fresh produce, local goods, and handmade treats.
  • Pioneertown Motel: This historic venue hosts live music performances, providing a taste of the local music scene.

Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree National Park

Picking the right time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is like finding the perfect spot for a picnic—timing makes it even more enjoyable! Here’s a little guide to help your family plan the ideal adventure:

  • Spring: During the spring, wildflower blooms creates a colorful landscape and mild daytime temperatures make for comfortable family hikes. Be aware, though, that this is peak season for the park, so it can be crowded and campsites may fill up quickly.
  • Fall: Fall is a perfect time for exploring the park because of the cooler temperatures and the quieter atmosphere. Some facilities may close for the season, so check the park’s website for updates.
  • Summer: While the summer heat can be intense, the summer months are the perfect time to visit the park if you’re wanting to go stargazing. The clear skies allow you to see the Milky Way and the warmer temperatures make the nights very comfortable. If you are heading into the park during the daytime hours, opt for early morning and late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day.
  • Winter: The winter months are a peaceful time to visit the park- you just might feel like you have it all to yourself! The mild temperatures are perfect for hiking.

Things to do in Joshua Park National Park Conclusion

Moms, get ready to make your family trip extraordinary in Joshua Tree National Park! From magical hikes to stargazing under the Milky Way to exploring hidden oases, this desert wonderland is tailor-made for creating special family moments.

Imagine your little ones laughing as they spot unique cacti, their eyes widening in awe as you gaze at the stars together, and the joy of discovering a desert oasis as a family. Joshua Tree is the perfect place for your family to embark on adventures, learn about nature, and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Whether you’re exploring the charming town of Joshua Tree, conquering family-friendly hikes, or stargazing on a clear desert night, this trip is designed for smiles, laughter, and the joy of togetherness. So pack your bags, bring your sense of wonder, and get ready for a special family journey in Joshua Tree National Park!

joshua tree against the sunset in Joshua Tree National ParkPin

Pin this list of things to do in Joshua Tree National Park for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

TOP things to do in Joshua Tree National Park for Families! Use this guide to plan an incredible experience in California at this incredible US national Park!Pin
happy trails, heatherPin
Photo of author

About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

2 thoughts on “TOP Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park [for Families]”

  1. Wow! Your pictures are amazing. This looks like the neatest place. I’d love to go there! Visiting from Senior Salon Pit Stop.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

4