Planning the ultimate adventure to Southern California? Don’t miss all of the best things to do in Joshua Tree, CA. Well known for its stunning desert landscape, incredible hiking, and unique history, Joshua Tree National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone hoping to explore California.
Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect place to experience the Mojave Desert in all its glory. You can hike through epic canyons and climb craggy mountains or relax in desert gardens scattered with cacti. Visit abandoned mines or UFO hotspots, or even experience early settlements when you journey to Joshua Tree’s top tourist attractions.
Need help figuring out what to do during your vacation? Start planning the perfect trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Joshua Tree, CA!
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Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
Immerse yourself in one of California’s most unique art exhibits when you visit Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. The open-air sculpture gallery in the heart of Joshua Tree’s stunning desert landscape features incredible large-scale works of art created from salvaged materials.
Experiencing Noah Purifoy’s incredible creations is unforgettable, and the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum is one of the coolest places to see on a trip to Joshua Tree. You can visit anytime from sun up until sundown; admission is free.
Brochures are available at the entrance kiosk for a self-guided tour. You can even bring along dogs as long as they are well-behaved and leashed.
Keys View is the highest lookout point in all of Joshua Tree and one of the most popular places to go in Joshua Tree to take in incredible views. High on the Little San Bernardino Mountain tops, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, and the Santa Rosa Mountains.
The lookout is wheelchair accessible, but there are also some great hiking trails. For the most epic views, walk along the 0.2-mile loop trail along the ridgeline for views of San Jacinto Peak and San Gorgonio Mountain.
On a clear day, you can even see all the way to Mexico from Keys View. It’s a perfect spot to snap some killer photos of the landscape!
Barker Dam Nature Trail
For an easy hike through the desert terrain, head to Barker Dam Nature Trail. On the easy 1.1-mile loop trail, you’ll have the opportunity to see all of the natural elements that Joshua Tree is known for. It’s a nice stop if you’re on your way to the Salton Sea. Meander through boulders and Joshua trees before passing by the historic Barker Dam and the reservoir that looks like a desert oasis.
The Barker Dam Nature Trail is an excellent hike if you’re interested in desert life and want to see all the unique plants that make up the ecosystem of Joshua Tree silhouetted against the Eagle Mountains. Signage along the trail will help you identify plants like creosote, Mohave yucca, piñon pines, and so many others.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot some wildlife scurrying around the vast rocks or climbers attempting to boulder.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Hidden Valley Nature Trail offers one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree, and you shouldn’t skip it during your visit. A popular destination for nature enthusiasts, the one-mile loop takes you through the gorgeous Hidden Valley past countless rock formations and desert plants.
You’ll have to scramble up rocks and climb a few steep staircases, but overall the hike is easy and well worth the effort. Go early if you want to have the place to yourself, as it’s a well-known trail and is often crowded with other visitors.
Ample parking can be found at the trailhead. You can take the path from the parking lot that leads in between a gap in towering rock walls before emerging into the Hidden Valley.
Skull Rock is every bit as cool and ominous as it sounds. Formed over thousands of years, the giant boulder was eroded by rainwater into a formation that resembles a skull with hallowed eye sockets emerging from the desert. The famous landmark is a must-visit spot in Joshua Tree and a great place to capture some spooky photos.
You can reach Skull Rock from the main east-west road that runs through Joshua Tree. There’s a parking lot just across the street from the rock formation.
If you’re looking for a nice hike after you visit the rock, check out the 1.7-mile nature trail nearby that begins at the Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Arch Rock Nature Trail
Joshua Tree is famous for its gorgeous rock formations, and Arch Rock Trail will take you to one of the best. Hiking the 1.3-mile loop trail will take you directly past the incredible Arch Rock, a naturally occurring granite arch formed through centuries of erosion around 30 feet long. You can exit the trail beside the arch, walk right up to it if you choose, and even climb around on the surrounding boulders.
The Arch Rock Nature Trail is an easy hike without a ton of elevation gain, so it’s a good choice for families or anyone who doesn’t want to sweat too much. The new trailhead to the arch can be reached from Twin Tanks Day Use Area nearby the White Tank Campground.
A visit to Keys Ranch allows you to experience what life was like on an early settlement in Joshua Tree. You’ll feel as though you’ve traveled back in time as soon as you arrive on the ranch. It was the original location where homesteaders like Bill Keys built their lives in the desert.
The Keys Ranch features small frame buildings dating back to 1910 and is the perfect destination for history buffs during a trip to Joshua Tree. Wander through the complex taking in the buildings and imagining what life might have been like for early settlers who sought to raise cattle and mine the Californian desert.
Listed as a National Historic Register Site, Keys Ranch is located in a rocky canyon deep in Joshua Tree. You can only access the site through a guided walking tour of about 90 minutes.
Tours are available through the park service from October through May and should be booked well in advance. To book, check out the National Park Service website.
Whatever you do, don’t sleep on visiting Giant Rock during your trip to Joshua Tree. A one-of-a-kind landmark, the boulder stands seven stories high and covers 5,800 square feet. Believed to be the most enormous boulder in the world, it’s an unforgettable experience and one of the most popular attractions in Joshua Tree.
On top of its epicness, Giant Rock has an eerie history. In the 1930s, a prospector named Frank Critzer dug a room beneath the rock. He lived here until he committed suicide by detonating dynamite in the space while he was being investigated by local law enforcement.
Then, in the 1950s, a UFO believer leased and used the land to hold conventions. In 2000, residents of the small town of Landers heard a massive rumble. They awoke to find that the Giant Rock had somehow split in two for no apparent reason.
Many believe that aliens played a role in causing the rock to split. The spot continues to be a popular attraction for UFO enthusiasts.
Cholla Cactus Garden
Cholla Cactus Garden sits just off Pinto Basin Road, near the line between the Colorado Desert and Mohave Desert. A true desert paradise, Cholla Cactus Garden is a great place to visit if you want to be surrounded by the gorgeous desert flora during your trip to Joshua Tree.
Blooming with life, the area around Cholla Cactus Garden is affluent in plant and animal life; it’s richer in water, allowing the cacti to spring up all around. Enjoy hiking along the easy 1/4-mile trail throughout the garden as you admire the variety of cacti and other desert plants.
The park is an excellent place to take photos, but be careful not to get too close! Locals refer to the cacti as “jumping” cholla because bits break off and attach to people and animals so that the seeds spread. Don’t be surprised if you feel a little poke!
Ryan Mountain Trail
If you’re in the mood for a few hours of exercise during your visit to Joshua Tree, head to Ryan Mountain Trail. The 2.9-mile out-and-back hike is moderately challenging. It’ll take you about 2 hours from start to finish. There’s a good reason it’s one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree; it can make for the perfect half-day adventure during your trip.
The well-maintained Ryan Mountain Trail offers breathtaking views of the surrounding desert. The steep incline allows for some stunning panoramas and overlooks, making it well worth the climb.
A favorite for runners and hikers, the Ryan Mountain Trail will likely be busy. It’s best to hike it earlier in the day or later in the afternoon to avoid the heat.
Cap Rock Nature Trail
For a more leisurely hike that allows you to feel immersed in the desert ecosystem, check out Cap Rock Nature Trail. The elevation change is minimal, so it makes for an easy hike that’s perfect for a relaxing stroll or families with small kids.
On the Cap Rock Nature Trail, you’ll walk amongst the famous Joshua trees and through towering rock formations as you venture deep into a Juniper woodland. Countless desert shrubs sprout in the protection of the shade of the boulders. During the spring months, you’ll find all kinds of flowers blooming throughout the hike.
Knob Hill Ranch
Knob Hill Ranch offers unforgettable horseback riding experiences through the gorgeous Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree. Located just a few miles from the entrance to Joshua Tree, Knob Hill Ranch offers an adventurous way to experience the beauty of the Mojave Desert.
The private trail rides at Knob Hill Ranch begin early in the morning before the harsh desert sun in the summer or after it begins to set in the afternoon. In the cooler months, you can generally start at any time.
You can choose from several experiences with different routes and lengths. In addition to horseback riding tours and trail rides, Knob Hill Ranch offers a gorgeous guest house if you’re looking for your very own private retreat in the desert.
Panorama Loop Trail
Experienced hikers searching for a full-day adventure will love the Panorama Loop Trail. You’ll definitely want to plan this hike for the spring or winter months. It takes around 6.5 hours to complete, and the scorching hot sun makes it exceedingly challenging to climb the steep elevation safely in the summer.
Begin the hike at Black Rock Canyon Campground. Journey into the remote Black Rock Canyon, where you’ll begin a gradual incline until you reach the narrow canyon. Thick vegetation lines the steep switchbacks until the mountains come into view. Once you reach the top, you can take in the sweeping views from the ridge line.
The Panorama Loop Trail is a challenging hike with 1,273 feet of elevation gain, but the experience is worth the effort.
Oasis Visitor Center
Oasis Visitor Center was established in 1950 and remains one of Joshua Tree’s most popular visitor centers. As soon as you arrive at Joshua Tree, it’s a wonderful place to visit and can help you learn about the area and get acclimated.
The historical spot is home to the gorgeous Oasis of Mara. Here, you can hike the nature trails through native plants and learn about plants that were cultivated by the indigenous Serrano tribes.
Opening hours are from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. There’s a great little gift shop if you’re looking for the perfect souvenir from your time in Joshua Tree.
Hi-Desert Nature Museum
Balance out your desert vacation with a little bit of education with a visit to the Hi-Desert Nature Museum, where you can learn about the desert environment and the unique history of Joshua Tree. To connect visitors with the colorful community of Joshua Tree, the museum aims to celebrate the cultural heritage and the importance of the rich natural history.
Hi-Desert Nature Museum is a fantastic attraction for families with kids or anyone who seeks to learn more about their surroundings. It’s always a hotspot for events and rotating exhibits.
Admission to the Hi-Desert Nature Museum is free. You can visit between 10 am and 5 pm from Wednesday through Saturday.
Horse Mine Trail
Lost Horse Mine Trail will take you into the heart of the desert to the ruins of an authentic Gold Rush Era mine. The 6.5-mile trail is moderately challenging but well worth the effort. Eventually, you’ll reach one of the best-preserved mines in Joshua Tree; when it was operating, it once produced over 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver!
About halfway through the Lost Horse Mine Trail, you’ll begin to see remnants of the mine’s bunkhouse just before the steep portion of the hike. In just under a mile, you’ll climb 350 feet in elevation.
Sections of the trail are a little rough. It’s important to tread carefully, but you’ll be rewarded with incredible views the higher you go. If you aren’t afraid of breaking a sweat, Lost Horse Mine Trail is one of the best in Joshua Tree.
Desert Christ Park
Whether or not you consider yourself religious, Desert Christ Park is a beautiful place to visit during your travels to Joshua Tree. Overlooking the Yucca Valley awaits a sanctuary with more than 40 statues depicting the teachings of Christ.
Established in 1951 by Reverand Eddie Garver, Desert Christ Park was created as a beacon of world peace. It’s a serene place to visit and meditate, regardless of your faith.
Desert Christ Park is a popular venue for weddings and picnics. You can visit daily from sunrise until sunset. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.