Joshua Tree National Park: The 8 Step Itinerary for the Last Second Traveler

IMG_3114Wanderlust is a chronic condition that plagues roughly 99.9% of young adults. Granted, I’m making that statistic up, but it’s probably something like that. The urgent and desperate need to be somewhere you’re not is real, and at least once in your life, you are obligated to do just that!

So let’s say, hypothetically, you woke up at 4 in the morning to catch a plane or bus or to load up the van/car/truck/RV and head towards Joshua Tree National Park. You have one full weekend. Here’s what we’re going to do.

  • Pack the essentials

Joshua Tree National Park is known for three things: Rock Climbing, Joshua Trees and an insane desert star gazing experience. That being said, pack the essentials: climbing gear, a camera, tripod and if possible, a tent with a mesh top for optimal gazing experience.

  • Get yourself a campsite

Before you get to the park, figure your life out for the next two nights. With 9 different campgrounds and 500 different campsites, it may sound like there are a lot of options for the spontaneous explorer. But in-season, this park fills up fast! On your way, you can get your co-pilot to check for reservable campsites here.

But if you’re throwing caution to the wind, as many of us do, the Wanderlust gods may bless you. As soon as you get into the park, head towards the Hidden Valley and explore around the covetous Hidden Valley, Ryan and Jumbo Rocks campsites. With direct access to insane climbing and bouldering routes, these spots fill up fast..but you never know, Tay Babe and I snagged a Jumbo Rocks campsite on our last night here!

If your wanderluck isn’t so great, not to worry! Right outside the park, BLM (Bureau of Land Management) offer free-for-all camping for the procrastinatory camper. I hear the south-side land is more secure and better kept than the north.

Yoga and Shenanigans at the Jumbo Rocks campsite
  • Find the Joshua Trees

Joshua Tree National Park is an ecological melting pot and home to both the Mojave and Colorado Desert. No matter how captivated you are with one side of the park, don’t forget to take a drive down the other way for the full desert experience. As you travel from the south to the north side, you will notice an immediate transition from the Colorado to the Mojave, marked by the sudden presence of the iconic Joshua Tree!


  • Explore the Maze 

Allow yourself time to be a tourist, because it’s stinkin’ fun! The Cholla Cactus Garden is a maze right in the center of the park, filled with seemingly extra-terrestrial vegetation and biology. It’s a short half-mile jot but well worth the stop!

In the spring, the nearby Ocotillo patch may be in bloom and offer some incredible photography opportunities.

The Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Dine like Desert Kings

Tay Babe and I made the healthy mistake of grocery shopping before our trip. Do NOT miss out on exploring the locally run restaurants in the small town of Joshua Tree: Crossroads Cafe, Natural Sisters Cafe, Pie for the People and Royal SIAM Thai to name a few!

  • Hike your way to Paradise 

Whether you’re on the north or south side, make sure to check out at least one of the two desert oases found in the park. Forty-nine Palms Oasis (north-side) and Lost Palms Oasis (south-side) both offer out-and-back hikes with a beautiful, shady reward. Stop to rest under massive fan palms and by the water pools before beginning your hike back to the trailhead.

  • Hit the Rocks

The aptly named Hall of Horrors is one of the more popular bouldering and rock climbing spots in the park, but there are lots more to choose from all around the Hidden Valley Region. Grab yourself a climbing book guide at the ranger station and have a go at the hundreds of different bouldering and climbing problems found in the North side of the park.

Always remember, safety first!

The Hall of Horrors
  • Count the Shooting Stars

No matter where you end up when night falls, make sure that you take time to look up. On a clear night, Joshua Tree National Park has the power to make anyone feel incredibly small. Watch the sky and thank yourself for making it out here. Give yourself time to stop and and appreciate life away from the hustle and bustle. Enjoy the curative powers of the desert.


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