How I Spent 2 Days in Joshua Tree National Park

My Out-Sand-ing American road trip continued with a stop at the

national park that sparked the entire journey, Joshua Tree National Park.

For weeks I had been seeing other people on my Instagram showing off

their pictures from the beautiful park and I knew that was where I needed to be. 

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I left Sedona, Arizona (you can read more about my time in Sedona here) at 6:30am

to begin the 5.5 hour drive to Joshua Tree National Park. It was definitely a

lonnng drive, but the mountainous scenery gave me something absolutely

beautiful to look at. (So much better than the flat plains of Kansas!)

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Pulling up to the California border I saw in front of me these booths, almost like

a toll plaza, with huge signs calling it an inspection point. Y’all I started freaking out.

I don’t know why. It’s not like I was hiding any contraband in my truck!

I guess it was just because it was something I had never been through before? Who knows. lol I

ended up calling my dad later and he told me that that inspection point is

actually there so they can check the cars coming into the state for bugs! Apparently

because of all the produce they have in California there are certain insects

they don’t want entering into the state. The more you know. lol

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They let me and my truck through the inspection and then my troubles

began. First, I wanted to stop and take a picture of the California state sign, buuuuut

the highway was big and I couldn’t get over in time. Then, not long after that the

truck began screaming at me saying I needed to get the oil changed because oil

life was at 0% which is exactly what you want happening when you are driving

a rental truck over 1200 miles from home. lol I called Budget (where I rented the

car from) and since it was a weekend I got patched through to a service representative

who said I needed to take it to the nearest location and exchange it. However, the

nearest location for me at that point was at an airport or Palm Springs and

well…I knew if I took it to either place I would probably not be coming back

out with a truck and I wasn’t ready to part with Black Beauty so I decided a few

more days without an oil change wasn’t going to kill her and kept on trucking.

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I arrived at Joshua Tree about 2:30pm and was met with a lovely little surprise. I

knew Joshua Tree was a popular park, but when I arrived there were cars

lined up for at least a half a mile waiting to get in. It wasn’t

until I got closer to the entrance that I realized it was free entrance day for the

national parks. Since I already had the America the Beautiful pass (which I highly

recommend if you plan on visiting more than one national park in a year) the free entrance

day didn’t really help me out much and it just made my time in the park a LOT more

crowded. (But I still think this is a great thing the park system does. lol) 

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Ignore my dirty windshield. lol

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Once I finally made it into the park I made my way to Hidden Valley trail only to find that the

parking lot for the hike was full. I drove on to the next hike on my itinerary, which was Barker Dam,

and as I neared the parking lot for that one I was told by a ranger that it was

also full and he sent me away down a “backroad” in the park. (Pretty sure it was called Queen Valley Road.) I was a little disheartened

at this point, but my mood quickly changed when I realized the opportunity I had.

I had this dirt road pretty much all to myself and I was surrounded by what I drove

all the way out there to see..Joshua trees! I parked the truck along the side of the

road, got out and took some pictures of the trees and

just enjoyed my time away from the crowds. 

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After I finished with my pictures I decided to keep moving and try for Skull Rock. The

parking lot for that was again full, however, here I was able to park along

the side of the main road (about a half mile or so away) and spent a little

bit of time climbing over all the jumbo rocks. 

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Skull Rock

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There is a trail you can hike to get to Skull Rock (since I parked so

far away I just ended up climbing through the jumbo rocks till I found it lol)

which starts from the Skull Rock parking lot or also from the Jumbo Rocks campground. 

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Trail NameTrail LengthEstimated Hike TimeElevation Gain
Skull Rock1.7 mile loop1-2 hours 120 feet

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I learned very quickly that my Chacos were definitely not the move when

it came to crawling over these big rocks (or at least that is better than

saying I was just a huge chicken!) and I kept my climbing pretty tame while

I watched some dudes do some insane climbs. 

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Someone climbed up inside that “eye” opening in the rock. Also…anyone else think this rock looks like a turtle?

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My next stop in the park was at the Cholla Cactus Garden and Ocotillo Patch. There is a little trail

you can hike on that takes you through the garden, but I just ended up

parking along the side of the road and exploring on my own

(while doing a couple photoshoots of course lol) 

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Trail NameTrail LengthEstimated Hiking TimeElevation Gain
Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail0.25 miles15-30 minutesZero; trail is flat

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Somehow managed to get pricked by one of the cacti so that was fun. Lol 

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I also got to see some pretty huge ocotillo plants here!
Like seriously….look at the size of it!!! Granted, I am only 5’1″ so most things look super tall next to me, but still!

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Once I was done with all the cacti I continued on the main road through

the park, made a stop at the Cottonwood Visitor Center, and then drove

out to the Cottonwood Spring trailhead. 

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Trail NameTrail LengthEstimated Hike TimeElevation Gain
Lost Palms Oasis7.5 miles out & back5-6 hours500 feet

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My original plan was to hike out to the Lost Palms Oasis. However, it was

about a 4 mile hike one way and with it being a couple hours from sunset I decided

to not press my luck and settled for hiking out to Mastodon Peak instead. 

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Trail NameTrail LengthEstimated Hike TimeElevation Gain
Mastodon Peak3 miles loop1.5-2.5 hours440 feet

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The trail starts with some beautiful palm trees.

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Don’t tell Kristin, but I may have disobeyed the signs and went

off the trail to explore a little more. 🙈🙊 lol

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After the palm trees the trail opened up to where you found yourself in the open rocky desert. 

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After some very strenuous uphill hiking/climbing (I was huffing and puffing

like the big bad wolf) I made it to Mastodon Peak.

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I could have stayed up here and looked at this view forever. 

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The sun was just starting to set as I finished my hike so I decided to drive

back through the park to my hotel. I tried to find a good spot to watch

sunset, but I didn’t have much cell service and most places were still full

up anyway so I just enjoyed the views from the truck, stopping every now

and then along the side of the road to take some pictures. (That’s another great thing

about this park is that it is HUGE. So even though it was super crowded that day

there were still plenty of times when I was able to find areas away from all the people.)

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After snagging some Burger King I checked into my hotel

in Twentynine Palms, the Superstay Best Western, and went to

bed exhausted and ready for day two!

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My second day in Joshua Tree started early (somewhere between 7 & 8am) on the

trail for FortyNine Palms Oasis. I wanted to get out there before it

got too hot because this is definitely

NOT a trail you want to be hiking in the middle of a summer day. Plus, getting

to the trail about this time was perfect because there weren’t very many people

there yet. (When I got back from hiking the trail about 10:30am the parking lot

was FULL so definitely get here early if you can.)

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Trail NameTrail LengthEstimated Hike TimeElevation Gain
FortyNine Palms Oasis3 miles out & back2-3 hours300 ft (both directions)

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This trail was no walk in the park taking you up and over ridges and winding

you through tons of barrel cacti. However, the oasis at the end of the trail

is the perfect place to stop and rest and so worth all the effort to

get there. (I also tried out my trekking poles for the first

time on this hike and well, I think they helped. Although since I hadn’t done the

trail without them I honestly can’t say for sure if they really made a difference. lol)

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Almost there!
I want this view in my backyard.
Did anyone count? Are there actually 49 palm trees? Lol

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Once I reached the oasis I found a huge rock to sit on to write in my travel

journal while enjoying the morning sun on my face and the view of the

palm trees in front of me. I actually lucked out and had the area to myself

for quite a while! When this big group of people showed up at the oasis I packed

up my hiking bag to let them have their time there and hiked back to the parking lot.

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I stopped at the bathroom (there are a couple at the trailhead!) and changed

out of my sweaty hiking clothes and into a cute outfit for Palm

Springs, my next destination.

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Joshua Tree National Park Things to Know:

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1.) If you are wanting to go on some of the more popular hikes in the park I definitely

recommend you get there early. (This is also important to help avoid the heat if you

are visiting in the summer!)

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2.) Chacos are great, but I found that they weren’t ideal for hiking through this park.

I constantly had sand and rocks in my sandals and it was very uncomfortable (and

even painful) at times. Closed toe shoes is probably the better option.

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3.) Be sure to fill up on gas before you enter the park. As I mentioned earlier this park

is big so you will be doing a LOT of driving. Always best to make sure you have a

full tank of gas before you enter into any national park.

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4.) Cell service is pretty much non-existent. Almost the entire time I was in Joshua Tree

I had zero cell phone reception so keep that in mind when you are visiting and

download any directions you might need before you go.

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5.) While the park is full of Joshua Trees, these bad boys don’t provide much shade

especially on a vast majority of the trails in the park. This means that hot sun will

be hitting you full force anytime you are out hiking. Be sure to try to start

your hikes early, wear sunscreen/protective clothing, and bring LOTS of water.

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Overall, even though I wasn’t able to go on all the hikes I wanted to, I LOVED

my time in Joshua Tree. It is easily one of my top 5 favorite national parks

that I have been to and I cannot wait to go back and do some more exploring!

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