If you’re not feeing the redwoods and are more in the mood for desert, there’s no better place to go than Joshua Tree National Park. It might be a full eight and a half hour drive south of San Francisco — or an hour and a half by plane — but believe us when we say that the hikes, bouldering, and night views are worth it. Here’s what to do in and around this arid oasis.
Located farther into the park and not as close to Joshua Tree’s more populated border areas, the White Tank Campground is a great spot if you’re looking for a bit of everything that Joshua Tree has to offer — climbing, hiking, and beautiful night views. The best part? It’s right next to Arch Rock, an iconic arching rock formation that stretches 30 feet through the air. Bring your camera and snap some photos. Learn more.
Insider Tip: The amount of space at White Tank makes it a great site for larger group camping trips.
Starting at the base of Ryan Mountain, follow the three-mile trail along the side of the mountain and up to the 5,000-plus foot summit. For the duration of the hike, take in the panoramic views over all of Joshua Tree. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Winter in the desert? It’s a real thing. Next year, head to Ryan Mountain to see Joshua Tree with a dusting of snow covering the cacti.
Meander along the 2.2 mile-long Wall Street Mill Trail at night to take in some of the darkest, starriest skies you’ve ever seen — out here in the desert away from the city lights, you can even see the Milky Way. Bring your camera, some friends, and plan to stop at some of the many boulders for some easy climbing and a quick photo shoot or two. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Buy a weeklong parking pass at Joshua Tree for $15. Even better? Grab a $30 annual park pass and get free entry year-round.
Don’t forget that Joshua Tree has some of the best outdoor climbing and bouldering around. Head to Locomotion, where experienced climbers and newcomers alike can take part in some traditional crack climbing (for those in the know, routes range from around 5.6 to 5.10). Just remember to tape up your hands — these sandstone boulders have a gravel-like surface and are very rough on your skin. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Down to camp overnight? Stay at the Hidden Valley Campground, which is within walking distance of Locomotion. If you’re just in for a day trip, set up base camp at the Hidden Valley Picnic Area.
Located between Joshua Tree at Twentynine Palms, the campsites at Indian Grove are located among some towering rock formations — making this a pretty perfect spot for climbers. The 91 individual campsites (and 13 tent-only sites) are available on a first-come, first-serve basis (except for Joshua Tree’s busy winter season, when you can reserve them). There aren’t any hookups or potable water at the campground, but there’s a market stocked full of supplies right down the street. Learn more.
Insider Tip: An extra perk? This is an excellent site for taking photographs of the night skies. Another extra perk? Keep an eye out for desert tortoises, which are often around these parts.
Just after sunset, drive down Painted Canyon Road to the parking lot at the Painted Canyon trailhead. From here, hike for two or three miles through, up, and around the small canyons and piles of boulders; climb up to the tops and you’ll have beautiful night views out over the Mecca Hills and the Salton Sea. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Don’t forget a few night hiking essentials — water, snacks, and a headlamp.