Joshua Tree National Park California: 7 sights

Joshua Tree National Park is a desert area in southern California, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles along the I-10 highway to Phoenix, Arizona. It is a shame that the park receives fewer visitors than ‘big brother’ Death Valley, because it has a lot to offer. It is worth taking one or two days for it. There is no shortage of fun activities and beautiful places here. Not only spectacular viewpoints such as Keys View, but also the many beautiful walks are unforgettable. A visit to the Desert Queen Ranch and the Oasis of Mara are also recommended. Skull Rock is a strange rock formation in the shape of a skull. What sights should you see in Joshua tree park?

  • Joshua Tree National Park (California): an introduction
  • What sights should you see in Joshua Tree National Park?
  • Park Blvd
  • Keys View
  • Oasis of Mara
  • Desert Queen Ranch
  • Skull Rock
  • Geology Tour Road
  • Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua tree / Source: Skeeze, Pixabay

Joshua Tree National Park (California): an introduction

Three ecosystems

This park is unique because you will find three different ecosystems together here. The eastern part is a low-lying desert (the Colorado Desert) with an arid landscape of dense shrubs and cholla cacti. The west includes the upper Mojave Desert. This one is much cooler and more humid. The famous Joshua tree after which the park is named thrives here. The third ecosystem is located in five oases covered with fan palms. You will also find a rich flora and fauna there. Two of the five oases, Oasis of Mara and Cottonwood Spring, are located near visitor centers and are easily accessible. Others require a little more effort and can only be explored after a walk.
The landscape has inspired artists over the centuries. Just think of the band U2. It was not without reason that they called their 1987 album The Joshua Tree.

The Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is actually a misleading term. It is not a tree but a large plant from the Yucca family. The vegetation received its name from Mormon pioneers: the upward branches reminded them of the biblical prophet Joshua, who showed the way to the promised land. The largest specimens can grow up to fifteen meters in height and are estimated to be nine hundred to a thousand years old.

Activities in Joshua Tree National Park

The park is known as one of California’s best places for rock climbing. But hikers and mountain bikers can also enjoy the many paths and trails through the spectacular landscape.
Northwest of the park / Source: National Park Service, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

What sights should you see in Joshua Tree National Park?

Compared to larger and more visited national parks in California such as Death Valley and Yosemite, Joshua Tree National Park is a somewhat forgotten gem. The park has three entrances where you will also find a visitor center:

  • West entrance from the town of Joshua Tree with the Joshua Tree Visitor Center
  • North entrance from Twentynine Palms with the Oasis Visitor Center
  • South entrance from I-10 with the Cottonwood Visitor Center

In addition, there is the ‘Black Rock Nature Center’, a fourth center with facilities, at Black Rock Canyon in the northwest. Most of the sights and beauty spots can be found in the northwest part of the park, along the 26 miles of Park Boulevard between the Oasis Visitor Center and the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. Here you will also find all Joshua trees.
In the southern part around Cottonwood there are fewer sights to visit, but here you will find some of the most beautiful walks in the park.
Tip: Some of the largest Joshua trees can be found in the Covington Flats area, accessible via La Contenta Road south of Highway 62 between the towns of Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree. A dirt road also runs 3.8 miles from here to Eureka Peak, where you can enjoy beautiful views.

Park Blvd

The main road through the park passes some beautiful spots and sights where you can stop to enjoy the view and landscape. Photogenic places with beautiful granite formations include Jumbo Rocks and Wonderland of Rocks. They are indicated on the park map and are worth a stop. Hidden Valley, once a notorious hideout for cattle thieves, is also interesting. Here are huge granite boulders stacked on top of each other. A path winds through the landscape so you can easily explore it.

Keys View

From Park Boulevard there is a twenty-minute side road to Keys View, from where you have breathtaking views of the entire Coachella Valley to the Salton Sea at an altitude of 1,580 meters. On a clear day you can even see Mexico. Due to poor air quality, days with clear air have become increasingly rare since the twenty-first century. In front of you you look into the face of two of Southern California’s highest peaks: Mount San Jacinto (3302 meters) and Mount San Gorgonio (3505 meters).

Oasis of Mara

Wondering why the town at the north entrance to the park is called Twentynine Palms? The answer can be found here, in the Oasis of Mara behind the Oasis visitor center. This natural oasis contains the twenty-nine original palm trees that gave the town its name. The original inhabitants of this area, the Serrano Indians, planted these trees. There is also a short half-mile paved trail to learn about the plants and vegetation of this region.
Beautiful rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park / Source: Doug Dolde, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Desert Queen Ranch

Are you interested in local history with its tough and colorful figures who wanted to build a new life in the Californian desert? Then visit this historic ranch, also called Keys Ranch after the name of its original resident, the immigrant William Keys. He built a cottage here in 1917 and expanded it over the next sixty years into a full ranch with school, store and workshop. The buildings still look almost the same as they did when Keys died in 1969.
There are guided tours where you can learn everything about the history of this place and its owner for an hour and a half. Reservations in advance are required. Ask for tickets in one of the three visitor centers. The ranch is located about two miles (3.5 km) northeast of the Hidden Valley Campground along a dirt road.

Skull Rock

One of the strangest sights in Joshua Tree National Park is Skull Rock, a strange rock formation that resembles a skull. To see this special rock you have to walk a short distance (about four hundred metres) along a simple and flat path from the Jumbo Rocks camping area.

Geology Tour Road

Do you have a four-wheel drive car? Then about 1 kilometer past the Jumbo Rocks Campground you can turn left onto the Geology Tour Road. This unpaved and uneven road winds for 18 miles (29 km) through some of Joshua Tree National Park’s most beautiful scenery, passing the Pleasant Valley landscape ravaged by erosion, ancient volcanoes and earthquakes. An alternative way to discover the road is with a mountain bike: a fun experience!
Before you set off, don’t forget to check the road conditions at one of the visitor centers. Here you can also buy a brochure with explanations about the sights along the way.
Joshua Tree National Park / Source: QueenCarolyn, Pixabay

Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

If you really want to experience the park, there is only one thing to do: pull over and walk one or more of Joshua Tree’s fun hiking trails. There is plenty of choice. A lot depends on your personal preference, how much time you have and the level of difficulty. A number of popular trails are very worthwhile.

Short walks in Joshua Tree National Park

Even if you don’t have much time, try to squeeze in a short walk here and there. When you leave your vehicle behind and walk among the rock formations and the unique landscape, you will discover the park in a completely different way.


Departure point



Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley

1600 meter run

Don’t miss this fun trail through a dramatic landscape of huge boulders. Cattle thieves and other scum once hid here

Barker Dam

Barker Dam car park

1.1 miles

Short but nice walk. Along the way you will pass a small lake and petroglyphs in the rocks

Arch Rock

White Tank campground

500 meters

Easy hike where you learn about the geological conditions that led to the park’s rock formations

Cholla Cactus Garden

Pinto Basin Road 20 miles north of Cottonwood Spring

0.25 mile loop

Short walk through the typical vegetation of this area with a huge collection of cholla cacti

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