Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

  • Published 2022/05/25

Expect miles upon miles of sandy, beige desert and daunting, impressive rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park, on the southeastern end of California.

Established in 1994, this park is an integral part of California’s natural lands under the protection of the California Desert Protection Act.

It’s a beautiful place to enjoy nature while doing recreational fun such as rock climbing, hiking, camping, and horse-riding in designated areas.

There are also many exciting locations to explore, from museums and art galleries to former mines and casinos.

Head to Joshua Tree National Park for endless views of scenic nature and outdoor adventures.

Here are the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park, California:

Look for Flowers in Cholla Cactus Garden

Scenic sunset over Cholla Cactus Garden

JeniFoto /

Just because Joshua Tree is primarily a sandy desert, that doesn’t mean beautiful flowers and plants can’t grow among them!

Cholla Cactus Garden is a dreamy oasis of vibrant flowers and cactuses in the middle of dry dunes.

Closeup of cacti at Cholla Cactus Garden

Wasim Muklashy /

Spot the expansive collection of cacti, shrubs, and flowers—like hedgehog cactus, brittlebush, and desert lavender—while walking the garden’s padded wooden trails.

It’s a great place to relax and bask in nature with a view of the far mountains right in front of your path.

Check out the Cholla Cactus Garden along Pinto Basin Road for a simple and aesthetically pleasing activity.

A boardwalk at Cholla Cactus Garden

Ryan Kelehar /

Check Out the Skull Rock

Close view of the unique Skull Rock

Thomas J. Sebourn /

Located at Twentynine Palms, this tall dominant rock will show you the force of nature’s will.

Science says that a collection of raindrops over the years caused this rock to erode and form into the ominous shape of a human skull.

This Skull Rock has become a popular tourist destination in Joshua Tree, drawing hundreds of curious travelers.

Three people riding bikes toward Skull Rock

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz /

To reach this scenic spot, follow a leisure trail with oak woodlands, colorful cacti, ferns, and many other plantations around the area.

It’s also best to visit this place during the sunset, where you’ll see the brown skull formation meld with the orange of the sun, creating a surreal vision of mellow, warm colors.

Sign of Skull Rock

Alisia Luther /

Watch the Sunset at Keys View

Beautiful sunset at Keys View

Jen Moss /

Keys View contains the highest peak in all of Joshua Tree National Park.

You’ll enjoy the best possible overlooking view, spanning across Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, San Andreas fault, and several surrounding mountains.

Imagine the panoramic sights of nature during sunset or sunrise, as the skies change their colors for a few moments before settling into a new hue.

A bench at the top of Keys View

Nickolay Stanev /

It will indeed be a night to remember!

You have to head towards Little San Bernardino Mountains and walk through a 500-foot fully paved trail that’s not too hard for hikers of all levels.

Bring your cameras to take a snapshot of the stunning view.

A woman admiring the view from Keys View

Lyonstock /

Stargaze at Sky’s the Limit Observatory & Nature Center

Rural places often have the best stargazing spots.

The lesser the light pollution, the more visible the stars in the sky are.

This observatory and nature center gives you a great vantage point with all the proper equipment if you’d like to stargaze like a professional.

You can also see the smallest objects on Earth and the faraway structures in outer space with their observatory equipment.

If not, you’re also welcome to join their events, where you’ll stay outside to look at the stars with your naked eye.

You can find Sky’s Limit Observatory and Nature Center along Utah Trail for those interested.

Rock Climb at the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

A sign about rock climbing at Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Rosemarie Mosteller /

Thrill-seekers: the Hidden Valley Nature Trail has the perfect venture for you.

Climb a rock face at one of the region’s most popular spots: the rough towering formations at the Sentinel and Sports Challenge Rock.

Whether you’re a beginner looking for something easy or a veteran looking for a challenging climb, the Hidden Valley Nature Trail has something for you.

Scenic view at Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Sputnik Aloysius /

You also get the added reward of stunning views once you reach the top of your climb.

If rock climbing is not your hobby, you can still hike the difficult trail with uneven terrains, narrow paths, rock obstacles, and soft sand in some areas.

Overall, the Hidden Valley Nature Trail can be a challenging adventure.

Do you want to take the risk?

Rock formations at Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Noah Sauve /

Try Your Luck in Tortoise Rock Casino

Tortoise Rock Casino offers its guests thrilling city-style entertainment.

Enjoy a fun night in the casino, established in 2014.

There are slot machines, poker tables, and tv screens if you feel lucky.

They also hold night concerts and have their own bar and restaurant.

Tortoise Casino has everything you need for a fun night of risky fun and entertainment!

If you’d like to try this casino in the middle of a desert, head towards Baseline Road.

Go Birdwatching at Barker Dam

A woman admiring the Barker Dam

blazg /

Built in the 1900s, Barker Dam has become a typical place for desert wildlife, especially for over 170 birds.

It’s a relatively easy terrain comprising solid ground, granite boulders, and a few sandy areas.

You’ll view some impressive rock art and interpretative signs to teach you a few things about Barker Dam, including its history, some common plants, and examples of its wildlife.

A bird near the waters of Barker Dam

Sundry Photography /

Depending on the season, the Barker Dam could either fill with crystal clear water or become as dry as the desert.

Situated near Joshua Tree Parkway, the Barker Dam allows for casual hikes along granite boulders.

You can also observe Joshua Tree’s bird wildlife.

Rock formations surrounding Barker Dam

HannaTor /

Explore the World-Famous Crochet Museum

Do you want to see something peculiar on your trip?

As its name suggests, the World-Famous Crochet Museum is home to an array of cute, colorful crochets—most of them stuffed animals.

It’s a refreshing contrast to the usual brown desert, featuring a bright green pop-up stand with diverse, vibrant crochets inside and out.

Besides stuffed crochets, you’ll also find unique sculptures scattered around the area, made from unusual materials such as car wheels, balloons, solar panels, and others.

The whole place is a quirky, hectic array of random items, giving it a unique charm.

Established in 2006, this fun museum is in the middle of Beauty Bubble Salon and Art Queen Complex.

Go Rock Scrambling at the Hall of Horrors

Daytime view of Hall of Horrors

NatalieJean /

Don’t get it wrong.

The Hall of Horrors isn’t a supernatural, scary ghost location.

Instead, it’s a horror of a different kind, where it seems as if you might not make it out.

The official Hall of Horrors refers to a particular spot in the trail where you’ll go through an incredibly narrow hall of rocks with a few granite blocks lodged right above your head.

The narrow pathway of Hall of Horrors

Steph Couvrette /

It creates a terrifying illusion of potentially getting stuck between the two towering formations or getting crushed by a few of the boulders above.

You’ll have to climb and scramble through relatively accessible areas to get there.

If you’d like a fun challenge, go to the northwest side of Park Boulevard, close to Ryan Campground.

Explore the Glass Outhouse Art Gallery

Situated on Twentynine Palms Highway, the Glass Outhouse Art Gallery brings color to the barren desert.

The sculptures here fill the emptiness of the desert.

Local artists made each sculpture from glass, wood, and other random materials.

Established in 2009, Lauren Geidi purchased land formerly used to house rabbits and took the chance, despite being isolated and far from the nearest town.

Its unique location has made it more attractive to tourists, alongside its fresh, intriguing art collection.

This gallery has two parts: an outdoor space for sculptures and an indoor gallery for fragile works like paintings, masks, photographs, and brief introductions of talented artisans.

The Glass Outhouse Art Gallery is perfect for people who want to see something new, apart from the general nature and wildlife in Joshua Tree.

Spend the Night at Jumbo Rocks Campground

A picnic table and a grill ready to use at Jumbo Rocks Campground

Travel with Co /

If outdoor adventures suit your fancy, go camping at Jumbo Rocks Campground.

In Jumbo Rocks Campground, you can experience true wilderness because the camp only offers a few comfort amenities—i.e., pit toilets, tables, and fire grates.

Gather around your campfire at night and do all the camping festivities—sharing scary stories, eating smores, admiring the stars, etc.

A car with a tent on its roof at Jumbo Rocks Campground

Kelly vanDellen /

You could also keep an eye out for animal wildlife!

You can bask in the feel of the desert’s nature with giant granite rocks, desert flora and various plants surrounding you.

Outdoor lovers shouldn’t miss out on the Jumbo Rocks Campground, located near Park Boulevard at Twentynine Palms.

Rocky landscape of Jumbo Rocks Campground

Ian McDermod /

Learn the History of Desert Queen Mine

Road sign of Desert Queen Mine

Carl DeAbreu Photography /

Situated along Desert Queen Mine Road at Park Boulevard, this mine offers an exciting backstory with scenic views and elevated trails.

Desert Queen Mine’s was once a formerly profitable gold mine.

Its prosperity led to tragic events when some people let their greed get the better of them.

An open mine shaft at Desert Queen Mine

Jim Harper, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The mine remains a well-preserved piece of California history, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Entering the mine isn’t allowed, but you can find many historical pieces along the trail like metal pipes, scrap metal, wheel barrels, mine shafts, and other mining materials.

If you’re interested in history, check out Desert Queen Mine!

The grounds of Desert Queen Mine

Dominic Gentilcore PhD /

Ride a Horse in Black Rock Canyon

Black Rock Canyon is one of the few areas in Joshua Tree where you can ride horses without harming the environment.

With over 253 miles of equestrian trails in the wilderness, it is a popular place for horseback riding.

Equestrian trails in the canyon can go through diverse terrains such as canyon bottoms, dry washes, and open lands.

If you ever get tired of walking, ride your horse to explore the national park.

It’s located along Yucca Valley, so visit the Black Rock Canyon and bring your horse for a fun day outdoors!

Other Things to Do Nearby

Roam the Desert Christ Park

Sculptures at Desert Christ Park

InnaPoka /

Desert Christ Park is a calming place featuring religious masterpieces.

Located along Sunnyslope Drive, this park is around 20 minutes away from Joshua Tree National Park.

Its founder, Eddie Garver, wanted to build a Christian-themed park for his visions of world peace.

So, he built the Desert Christ Park in 1951.

The rock chapel at Desert Christ Park

InnaPoka /

While the authorities rejected his proposal of erecting a giant statue of Christ, he continued his efforts.

There are over 40 new white statues of Christ scattered along the area, with countless rocks lined up to set the pathway.

Each statue holds a different pose—some sitting, some kneeling, and some standing up—but you can clearly see Christ in every one of them.

Visit Desert Christ Park for a historical lesson on the power of religion and faith in California.

Sculptures at Desert Christ Park

InnaPoka /

Learn from Hi-Desert Nature Museum

Just ten minutes away from Joshua Tree National Park, this museum can teach you about desert ecosystems.

Hi-Desert Nature Museum opened in 1964 to spread California’s rich heritage and culture and to preserve the wildlife community.

The museum’s family-friendly and has plenty of exhibits to explore, from natural history and animal lifestyle to cultural history and the lifestyles of its first human settlers.

There’s also a mini-zoo featuring injured animals—lizards, snakes, iguanas, cockroaches, cockatiels, and others—who can no longer survive on their own in the wild.

Also, don’t miss out on their special exhibits, which are on display for a limited time only.

It’s time to visit Hi-Desert Nature Museum, along the Twentynine Palms Highway.

Final Thoughts

Expect to center your activities on the Joshua Tree National Park’s desert environment and its wildlife.

From educational museums and peculiar galleries to parks and nature trails, this national park’s highlight is the unique nature of southeastern California.

It’s a surreal outdoor adventure that can take your mind off the city because there are few business establishments in the area.

The Joshua Tree National Park remains a worthwhile destination with its endless views of desert, flora, and rock formations that you won’t see anywhere else.

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