Joshua Tree National Park | Travel Guide

March 05, 2018

Joshua Tree National Park: Places To See, Things To Do, Where To Eat...

Our little fam kicked off our 2018 travels by visiting Joshua Tree and Palm Springs for a short vacation in January! This wasn’t quite like our other trips, a baby certainly puts a check on your non-stop-all-day-all-night excursions (which is how Vinay and I traveled before our little baby blessed our lives). But then again, this was a perfect getaway for us to get a feel for us new parents on how it is going to be to travel with a baby who is super active and moves from one corner to the other in the blink of an eye (his first flight was when he was 3 months old and he wasn’t so mobile at that time). So, this was a trial run if you will, before our upcoming and exciting vacation(s) this year. 

Visiting Joshua Tree had been on the radar for a while... I was so fascinated by it since the time I had first seen pictures of the very unique ‘Joshua Tree’ a few years back. So it was amazing to see it in person and admire its-own-kind-of-beautiful! Joshua Tree National Park is where two deserts meet - two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado. The variety of plants and animals, the landscape and scenery, the rocks and boulders, the sunsets and starlit skies are all one of a kind, and truly mind blowing! Driving through miles and miles of this beautiful desert makes one really feel as if you are in one of those western hollywood movies (or Breaking Bad).

JOSHUA TREES: The park namesake is twisted and spiky and looks straight out of a Dr. Seuss Book. Some of these trees are as old as 1000 years! As you drive through the northern part of the national park you will see 100s of Joshua Trees in the open desert. Stop at one of the designated parking areas and walk around for a bit to admire and to examine their uniqueness and beauty. 

CHOLLA CACTUS GARDEN: This was our favoritest spot in the entire National Park! Cholla Cactus aka Teddy Bear Cactus are pretty to look at but do not make the mistake of hugging them like you would a teddy bear (imagine 100’s of needles pricking you all at the same time, yea, we wouldn’t want that). Go there to catch the sunset and you will be left speechless as the sunrays bounce off of the cacti and they glow as if they just sprung to life. With the wide-open desert in the background and gorgeous sunset hues in the sky, you will capture the most picturesque beauty in your mind forever (even if your camera fails to do so because of the quickly disappearing sunlight). It surely was the perfect spot for me to capture pictures for my 2 Year Blogiversary, see more here.

KEYS VIEW: This is the place to go to if you are seeking spectacular panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, the San Andreas Fault, and the high peaks of Mt. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. On a clear day, you can apparently see as far out as Mexico. Inspiration Peak (5,550-foot summit) from Keys View is a short hike and it is one that is highly recommended. The day we went to the Keys, it was extremely windy at the top and we couldn’t standstill even for a minute to enjoy the breathtaking views. 

SKULL ROCK: It is one of the famous stops close to the popular Jumbo Rocks campground and is right along the main park road so you can’t miss it. “A rock began to resemble a skull when years ago rain drops accumulated in tiny depressions and started to erode the granite. As more rock eroded, more water accumulated, leading to more erosion until, as time passed, two hollowed-out eye sockets forming a skull like structure.” It is a pretty fascinating structure. 

ARCH ROCK: It is another popular spot, but not one that is easy to find because the signs aren’t clearly marked. We got lost, rather couldn’t find the so-called Arch Rock, but later I was glad to hear that if you have been to the Arches in Utah, then this spot isn’t really worth the hype (since we have seen the Arches, we weren’t too sad to have missed this one). 

BARKER DAM TRAIL: It is an easy 1.3 miles round trip hike and hence can be tricky to find a parking spot as it gets pretty crowded. The trail is well marked and flat until you get to the end where you have to maneuver through the rocks. The trail provides great views of the desert and also an opportunity to spot some animals. We went to do the hike but had to skip as it was too crowded and it was getting quite cold for our baby who was just about to fall sick. 

WONDERLAND OF ROCKS: You can look at it as 12 square miles of massive jumbled granite or simply as a maze of rocks and boulder piles. This is a great place for hiking (not an easy stroll though) and rock climbing. “Millions of years of tectonic uplift, weathering, and erosion created the maze of monzogranite boulders in the Wonderland of Rocks section of Joshua Tree National Park. Wherever you look in this region, your mind is dazzled by oversized loaf-like stacks of rocks, by boulders arranged in columns and spires, or by huge granite domes.”

JOSHUA TREE DOWNTOWN: It is where one of the visitor centers is located, and this is the place to be if you want to fuel your car or yourself. The downtown is quaint and has an old-fashioned charm to it. You can easily spend a few hours strolling along the streets, admiring the wall art and graffiti, checking out shops, or like us, hopping from one cafe to another, hehe. 

THE INTEGRATON: This place is a fusion of Art, Science and Magic. The Sound Bath is what everyone raves about and it is their Signature Experience. “It’s kindergarten naptime for grown ups in a sound sphere. This is an unforgettable sound experience for those who seek deep relaxation, rejuvenation and introspection. All Sound Baths are 60-minute sonic healing sessions”. If you are able to, definitely make time for this experience and book well in advance. Note: They are closed on Sundays. 

NOAH PURIFOY MUSEUM: This has to be the cutest art museum ever which is located outdoors, in the open desert. It houses many odd and peculiar works of art among several other random things dispersed across acres of open land. 

PIONEER TOWN: It is part of the Yucca Valley and lies between Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs. The drive up here is said to be a California Scenic Drive but honestly, I didn’t think so, it’s alright but not worth all that hype. But the town itself has this rustic charm and I thought it felt like an old movie set, and guess what, it apparently is (an old movie set created and used by Gene Autry amongst others to film western movies.)! It has a few good food options, and the place where we stopped to pick up food even had live music. 

OTHER POPULAR SPOTS: Hidden Valley Trail, Jumbo Rocks, Indian Cove, Cottonwood Springs

WHERE TO EAT: For a small town, they do have quite a few great options. Here’s every place we ate at and loved - Natural Sister’s Cafe (their smoothies and the curried rice wrap is to die for), Frontier (in Pioneertown, is that live music place I mentioned above), Crossroads Cafe (be ready to wait for long, like really long), Country Kitchen (thought this one was average for all the hype), their famous Coffee Company (had to make sure the hubs got his coffee fix at one of the best, and I waited for almost half an hour, such a good wife, right? ;)).


  • Fuel up your car
  • Bring plenty of food and water as there are no restaurants or cafes once you are inside the national park
  • Your phone’s GPS is useless for navigation once you are inside the park, so pick up a map from the visitor center 
  • Make sure that the AC in the car is working, especially if you are visiting in the hot summer months
  • Carry lots of layers of clothing as the temperatures vary quite a bit and it can be extremely windy
  • Plenty of signs inside the national park indicate all the points of interest, but you can still miss them (especially the Cholla Cactus Garden), so always keep an eye out  

Overall, Joshua Tree National Park is a pretty unique place that has a lot to offer from driving to hiking to bouldering to rock climbing to stargazing! Though we couldn’t camp or hike much or endlessly gaze at the starlit skies as we were traveling with a baby and it was pretty cold when we visited, it was overall still a great experience. And we definitely plan to go back in the future when our baby grows into a little boy and enjoy everything that this whimsical place has to offer, after all, there’s only 191 miles of hiking trails and 32 trailheads to choose from ;)

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

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