panoramic of Joshua Tree National Park

Day Trip to Joshua Tree: Make the Most of One Day in the Park

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While visiting San Diego in February 2017, my friend and I decided to make the 3-hour drive and take a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is known for it’s unique Joshua trees, endless rock climbing opportunities, and stargazing.

As far as rock climbing goes, Joshua Tree has climbs for just about any skill level. The gift shop in the visitor center has several books on rock climbing locations and routes.

And if that’s not enough fun for you, I have heard the stargazing in Joshua Tree is amazing!

Unfortunately, we didn’t stay overnight in the park. But you can Google images of sunsets and stars in Joshua Tree and the pictures are absolutely amazing.

Want to learn how I made the most of a day trip to this park? Keep scrolling to read more! Learn what we did during our one day in Joshua Tree.

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"one day in joshua tree national park" written in white above a picture of a joshua tree against a blue sky

How to Make the Most of a Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park was about a 3-hour drive from San Diego, CA. It was a looong, boring drive too. But it was worth it!

We didn’t have an exact plan, but I brought my Fodor’s National Parks of the West book and knew we wanted to check out Key’s View, Skull Rock, and Chollo Cactus Garden.

I have NEVER seen skies as blue as at Joshua Tree. It was so peaceful to be out in the middle of the desert. It was quiet, rock formations surrounding us, with a gorgeous blue sky. I really want to go back and experience it again sometime.

desert landscape: rock mountains and half-dead plant life

Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree

The best time to visit Joshua Tree is spring or fall. See below for why!

Joshua Tree Weather

Summer temperatures can top 100 degrees, with lows around 75. The hottest temp recorded here was 115 degrees. Joshua Tree has low humidity, usually less than 25%. So if you visit in the heat of the summer, bring PLENTY of water.

In the spring and fall, daytime temps average in the 80s with lows in the 50s.

Winter days average around 60 with night temps dropping below freezing.

We visited in February and we experienced temps between 49 and 75. So bringing a jacket or pullover is recommended when visiting in spring or fall!

Click here to check current weather conditions in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park Map

Visitor Center

We chose to enter the park via the West Entrance Station. The visitor center for this entrance is located just before the entrance station on Twentynine Palms Highway. The visitor center was obviously our first stop so we could get our Passport To Your National Parks books stamped! (You can pick up one of these at most visitor centers for around $10.)

Rock Scramble

On our drive into the park, we saw what basically looked like enormous piles of gigantic rocks. Craving a little adventure, we decided to pull the car over and do a random rock scramble. We ended up climbing all the way to the top! See the picture below. There are two points at the top of the rock. The smaller one to the right is a person. Just to give you some perspective!

rock pile forming a small "mountain". desert plants in front. blue sky.

Below is a picture from the top of the rock! In hindsight, I wish I had worn hiking boots instead of tennis shoes. The tennis shoes I had on didn’t have enough grip and kept slipping on the rocks.

view of rock mountains with road through them

Joshua Trees

The Joshua tree is only found in the southwestern United States, mostly in the Mojave Desert. Supposedly they flower from February through April, but we didn’t see any of them flowering while we were there.

And of course, we couldn’t NOT take a picture of the awesome Joshua trees that we’d never seen before. Side note: they sell tiny Joshua trees at the visitor center but I’m not sure how they would do outside of a desert environment.

joshua trees against a blue sky

Key’s View

Next on our list was Key’s View, which is supposed to be the best view in the park.

Driving up to Key’s View, the weather drastically changed. We literally drove through a cloud, it was cold (49 degrees) and windy! A short, 0.2-mile paved trail is at the top. Informational displays are located along the trail, stating that reduced air quality has impacted the potential views from this point.

On a very clear day, supposedly you can see all the way to Mexico. Of course, there would be a giant cloud here during my one day in Joshua Tree. Instead of seeing Mexico, we could only see about 15 feet in front of us because of said cloud. Bummer.

"49 degrees" written in white over a cloudy desert landscape

Skull Rock

After Key’s View, we continued our drive down Park Blvd and came upon Skull Rock. It’s crazy that erosion has shaped this giant rock into what looks like a skull!

This was the most touristy spot we came across in the park. We had to wait several minutes in line to get our picture in front of the rock. There is an easy 1.8-mile loop starting at Skull Rock. We didn’t do the entire loop but it’s on my list for when I go back!

skull shaped rock with 2 ladies standing in front

Related: How to Spend One Day in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Chollo Cactus Garden

We finished our day trip to Joshua Tree with the Chollo Cactus Garden. Chollo Cactus Garden is located on Pinto Basin Road, which is long, slow drive but very scenic!

cactus with reddish colored buds on it

An easy 0.2-mile loop walks you through the garden. You can pick up an information sheet at the trailhead. There are numbered signs along the trail that correspond with fun facts on the information sheet. The information sheets are returned in a bin at the end of the trail so they can be reused.

cacti in desert, mountains in the distance. blue sky

We had driven basically from the top of the park to the bottom. We exited the south entrance and headed back to San Diego. The majority of our trip was driving, but I didn’t mind. The rock mountains against a beautiful blue sky are images I will never forget!

Joshua Tree National Park sign on bricks. mountains in the background

I hope you enjoyed reading about my day in Joshua Tree National Park! If you liked this post, please share 🙂

Want to see another California National Park in just one day? Check out my post on Pinnacles National Park!

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What to Do in One Day in Joshua Tree National Park!

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