Joshua Tree is an absolute dream, filled with breath-taking desert sunsets, wildlife, and a wide variety of vegetation.
With so much to see and experience throughout this beautiful national park, it’s no wonder that the park experiences over 3 million visitors every single year. There are quick pit stops you can make throughout the park, allowing you to drive up to the attraction and walk just a short distance. There are also many trails available, of all lengths and skill-level requirements. After visiting the park nearly a dozen times, I’ve narrowed down the best way to experience Joshua Tree and be prepared for your adventure. Here is the vanlifer’s guide to Joshua Tree, California.
WHERE TO PARK OVERNIGHT
One of my favorite things about visiting the Joshua Tree area is the abundance of public lands nearby. You’re not fighting for one specific spot, or visiting a region that only has room for three vans. You can easily find a nice spread of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) both north and south of the park. So even if one area is too full for your liking, you can take a scenic 1.5 hour drive through the park to the other area of public land. Check out these details of the north and south BLM, located just outside of Joshua Tree National Park.
North Joshua Tree BLM: The road in is Dirt and 3 miles from a paved road. North Joshua Tree BLM is open Year Round. There are 30 or more campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is Any. You may stay 14 Nights at North Joshua Tree BLM.
South Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park: The road in is Gravel and <1mile miles from a paved road. South Entrance of Joshua Tree N.P. is open Year Round. There are 6-15 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is Unlimited. You may stay 14 days at South Entrance of Joshua Tree N.P..
WHAT TO SEE
The west coast is an incredible region to explore in general, but Joshua Tree has quickly become a popular spot for visitors. This guide to Joshua Tree wouldn’t be complete without my favorite hiking recommendations.
- Hidden Valley Nature Trail: this one-mile loop is perfect if you’re just looking for an easy and short walk in the park. You’ll experience some Joshua Trees and other local vegetation, experience the famous rocks of the park, and still have plenty of time to explore the rest of the park. This is great for families with young children!
- Keys View: this lookout point sits at over 5,000 feet elevation and gives you a 360-degree view of the valley. You’ll also be able to see the infamous San Andreas Fault, as this runs through the valley. Find Keys View by driving to the nearby parking lot and walking up a small hill to the viewpoint.
- Skull Rock: A beautifully random work of nature, this giant rock looks exactly like a skull. You’re able to climb right up to it and catch the tiniest of details. This is a more crowded area, as people gather to see this landmark, and it is also right off the main road of the park for easy access. Step back for an even better view of the skull, and make sure to snap a picture!
- Forty-nine Palms Oasis: This gathering of trees is truly an oasis in the middle of nowhere. This hike is only 3.1 miles but can take many hours in the heat. In fact, it is recommended to avoid this hike too late in the day or in the middle of summer. No matter when you decide to tackle this trail, make sure to bring plenty of water. It is an out-and-back trail that climbs and then descends to the tree gathering.
WHERE TO EAT
Joshua Tree is a small town so when it comes to food, there are minimal options for restaurants. However, Crossroads Cafe is a cute and quaint place, perfect for any road trip or adventure to Joshua Tree. They serve food all day, but I would highly recommend their breakfast. Pro tip: get there early and put your name in! Then, enjoy a leisurely walk up and down the main street of the city. Wait times (especially for breakfast) can be between 45 minutes to an hour, so make sure to give yourself enough time!
WHERE TO SHOWER
While the Coyote Corner looks like your average corner shop with trinkets, souvenirs, and fun t-shirts, it is also a place of resources. The Coyote Corner has showers available daily from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Simply walk inside and purchase a token for $5.00, which will allow you a glorious 8-minute long shower. The water is hot, well-pressured, and definitely appreciated after hiking throughout the park. I stop here every time I’m in the area! It is super appreciated because there is no Planet Fitness nearby, the establishment I usually shower at.
WHERE TO GET WATER
The answer to getting water? You guessed it! It is also the Coyote Corner! This resource is not as widely marketed but if you look closely at the signs on the righthand side of the entrance, you’ll find the words “donations for the water are happily accepted.” My water tank only requires 10 gallons of water to fill, so I usually go inside and give them $5.00 and then fill my tank. They have always been extremely nice and gracious during the many, many times I’ve visited!
WHERE TO DETOUR
If you’re looking to add on a supplemental detour to your road trip, we’ve got you covered! Any time we visit Joshua Tree, we make a stop in Slab City. This is an unincorporated community in the Sonoran Desert, more precisely located in Imperial County, California. There are said to be no laws, taxations, or administration of any kind. It is an overwhelmingly eclectic and unique city, filled with art, history, and beautiful quirks.
One of my favorite landmarks in the city is Salvation Mountain, “a hillside visionary environment created by local resident Leonard Knight in the California Desert area…near Slab City, and several miles from the Salton Sea. The artwork is made of adobe bricks, discarded tires and windows, automobile parts, and thousands of gallons of paint. It encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses, though its philosophy was built around the Sinner’s Prayer.” If it isn’t already, add this destination to your bucket lists. It is truly one of a kind.
WHERE TO STAY
Lastly, it’s important to find appropriate accommodations whenever you travel. There are many beautiful homes available nearby via Airbnb. You’ll likely pass many of these properties on your way into the park, particularly if you enter in the north entrance. Recently, there has become a spike in popularity and interest in renting majestic tents for a glamping experience just outside the park. However, you know that our #1 recommendation will always be to travel by van. We believe it is the most comfortable form of travel, with the ability to explore more areas, go further, and always have your housing with you. Check out these rentals available on Outdoorsy for the Joshua Tree area!