11 reasons to add Joshua Tree National Park to your bucket list

Named after the peculiar twisted Joshua Trees, this national park is one of America’s greatest natural playgrounds, where two desert ecosystems collide. From hiking some of the country’s most scenic trails and seeing the unique flora and fauna, to exploring unique desert museums and seeing the spectacular sunsets and starry night skies, here are 11 reasons why Joshua Tree National Park should go straight to the top of your bucket list.

What is special about Joshua Tree National Park?

1. The diverse landscapes

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Congratulations to our top five submissions from the Joshua Tree Photo Contest of 2020! This photo is from one of our top five submissions. @petertellone describes their moment of peace below,⠀ ⠀ "As the sun begins to set in Joshua Tree National Park, everything becomes still and the light gets golden. It's that one moment when everything is good and alright in the world to me and ends another perfect day in the park"⠀ ⠀ Over the next week check out the other top five submissions on our Instagram and Facebook pages. The person who receives the most likes will win the contest! We need your help in determining who that will be. Thank you to all of our participants who submitted their photos for this year's contest.

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Joshua Tree National Park is made up of two distinct desert ecosystems spanning across 3,000 kilometres. The lower Colorado Desert is set at 3,000-feet below sea level and is filled with creosote bushes, while the higher Mojave Desert is where you’ll find the iconic Joshua Trees. These gnarly trees are a type of Yucca and were named by Mormons in the 1850s who saw the twisted branches as the arms of Joshua pointing towards the promised lands.

You’ll find even more weird and wonderful plants in the national park, including the ocotillo cactus and the Cholla Cactus Garden, where a collection of cholla cactus spreads as far as the eye can see. There’s a short trail that lets you explore the stunning garden but don’t get too close as they’re nicknamed the ‘jumping cactus’ for a reason and you don’t want them sticking to you!

When you travel to Joshua Tree National Park with Trafalgar, you’ll meet with a local park ranger who will share the history and local insights into the park, before taking some time on your own to explore the trails

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2. The wonderful wildlife

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Congratulations to our top five submissions from the Joshua Tree Photo Contest of 2020! This photo is from one of our top five submissions. @matt_hall_photo describes their moment of peace below, ⠀ ⠀ "I use my time in Joshua Tree National Park to explore, take photos, and most importantly escape from the hustle in daily life. Whenever I enter JTNP my mind clears and I find "A Moment of Peace". That is what this photo represents to me. I leave all my worries at the gate, and just see what's in front of me."⠀ ⠀ Over the next week check out the other top five submissions on our Instagram and Facebook pages. The person who receives the most likes will win the contest! We need your help in determining who that will be. Thank you to all of our participants who submitted their photos for this year's contest. ⠀

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The spectacular landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park are also filled with all kinds of unique wildlife. During the day, you can spot lizards and birds like the roadrunner who uses his speed and wit to outmanoeuvre the Wile E. Coyote! In the evening, you can spot lynx, jackrabbits and bighorn sheep, and keep a lookout for scorpions, snakes, coyotes, tarantulas and kangaroo rats!

3. The glorious sunrises and sunsets

Exploring the stunning landscapes of Joshua Tree is an incredible experience by day, but it gets even more spectacular in the morning and evening. The sunrises and sunsets here are unmatched, illuminating the desert in all shades of red, pink, blue and purple. It’s the perfect time to capture the spiky silhouettes of the Joshua Trees against the mesmerising skies.

One of the best spots to see the sunset is from Key’s View, a viewpoint on top of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Standing at over 1.5 kilometres above sea level, you’ll look out over the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea and down into Palm Springs, and watch as the sun sets right behind the mountain. Best of all, you can drive up to the viewpoint and the short trail is wheelchair-accessible, so everyone can take in the beauty of Joshua Tree National Park.

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Congratulations to our top five submissions from the Joshua Tree Photo Contest of 2020! This photo is from one of our top five submissions.@ninamayerritchie describes their moment of peace below,⠀ ⠀ “On this particular day, we had tired ourselves out with lots of hiking and sightseeing, and on a whim, decided to drive over to the Cholla Cactus Garden in the late afternoon to take a leisurely stroll. Boy, were we blown away. The clouds seemed to be almost swirling in the sky, so we decided to stop where the cholla layers appeared especially dense, to see if the sun was going to peak out. Then suddenly, the rays came bursting through and the prickly chollas looked almost soft while backlit by this starburst. It was such an unexpected and incredible moment… and so peaceful. One that makes everything in the world seem so simple and beautiful.⠀ ⠀ I’ll never forget the way that scene made me feel… and thankfully, getting really lucky with this shot, I can relive that moment whenever I look at this image.”⠀ ⠀ Over the next week check out the other top five submissions on our Instagram and Facebook pages. The person who receives the most likes will win the contest! We need your help in determining who that will be. Thank you to all of our participants who submitted their photos for this year's contest.⠀ ⠀

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Another great sunset or sunrise viewing spot is Cholla Cactus Garden. Head there at golden hour to see the light passing through the rows of needles to create a breathtaking desert glow.

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4. The amazing rock formations

This national park is famed for its incredible rock formations. One of the most famous is Arch Rock, which can be found at the end of a short 800-metre trail, located in the White Tank Campground. Other popular rock formations include Skull Rock, Penguin Rock, Heart Rock and Cap Rock, and you’re sure to get some great photos at all of these unique spots.

If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, ask your local guide for directions to Samuelson Rocks. There is no official trail here, but once you get there, you’ll find a small hill with seven rocks covered in quotes written in the 1920s by John Samuelson, a Swedish immigrant. Some of the quotes are pretty funny and you’ll have a great time exploring this area.

5. The wide open roads

We just love hitting the remote desert roads of Joshua Tree National Park. As you head further into the park, it’s not unusual to go for hours without seeing anyone else. There are plenty of amazing views along the way so grab a map from the visitor centre to see all the best places to stop. Then put on your favourite road trip playlist and get out there on the drive of your life!

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What do you do in Joshua Tree National Park?

6. Scenic hiking

Ryan Mountain Joshua Tree National Park USA

Joshua Tree has some of the best hikes in the USA, so be sure to bring your walking shoes! There are trails for all skill levels, from kid-friendly walks to more challenging trails for experienced hikers.

Ryan Mountain is one of the most popular hikes, set right in the park’s centre with a stunning 360-degree view from the peak. It’s a short, but incredibly steep hike, so take it slow. Once you reach the top, you’ll have incredible views over the rock formations and Joshua Trees dotting the park below.

boardwalk trail through cactus garden Joshua Tree National Park

A great shorter hike is Hidden Valley, a 2.5-kilometre loop trail through a valley surrounded almost entirely by massive boulders. Another short, popular trail is Barker Dam. It’s one of the only trails where you can see Joshua Trees, rock formations, and a water source, as it takes you to a historic dam from the early 1900s. If you go in the spring, the dam will be filled with water and you can see the gorgeous reflections of the rocks.

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7. Spectacular stargazing

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Congratulations to our top five⁣ submissions from the Joshua Tree Photo Contest of 2020! This photo is from one of our top five submissions. @dangallophotography describes their moment of peace below:⁣ ⁣ “I have a fascination for the⁣ night sky, and it brings me peace to be able to visit a dark sky location like Joshua Tree National Park, stare up at the night sky and see the Milky Way and so many stars with my own eyes. The digital camera, with its more sensitive sensor and ability to⁣ take long exposure images, captures the Milky Way in a lot more detail and color, as seen in this photo.”⁣ ⁣ Over the next week check out⁣ the other top five submissions on our Instagram and Facebook pages. The person who receives the most likes will win the contest! We need your help in determining who that will be. Thank you to all of our participants who submitted their photos for this year's contest!

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Located away from artificial lights and atmospheric pollutants, Joshua Tree National Park serves up some of the darkest night skies in the world. The east side of the park is best for stargazing since the closest major city is Phoenix, about 482 kilometres away. The night sky puts on a spectacular display almost any time of the year and you’ll have the rare opportunity to marvel at the Milky Way and even shooting stars!

Head to the Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Centre, a secluded location near the park that offers uninhibited views of the starry night sky. It’s sure to be one of the best stargazing experiences of your life.

8. Explore the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum

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NPF is SO happy to welcome visitors back to Noah’s Outdoor Sculpture Museum! As of May 12, California lifted the closure of outdoor museums. We ask however that all guests be courteous to other visitors and uphold current social distancing standards, and wear face coverings at all times while visiting the Museum. Please be aware as well that services in the Joshua Tree area are even more limited at this time, especially since Joshua Tree National Park is still closed. – Pictured above is “Untitled, (Noah’s Ark)”, 1992 and “Old Volks at Home”, 1994 – #noahpurifoy #noahpurifoydesertmuseum #joshuatreenationalpark #desertart #assemblageart #weareopen #staywell

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This incredible desert sculpture park was created by artist Noah Purifoy between 1989 and 2004. When he came to Joshua Tree in 1989 to stay with artist Debbie Brewer, he began scouring the desert for materials to create his surreal assemblage sculptures.

Although Noah has since passed away, his art lives on at the 10-acre Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. Visitors can take free, self-guided tours through the amazing sculptures.

9. Take a sound bath at Integratron

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Hello Summer!

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This unique dome-shaped structure was built by UFOlogist George Van Tassel in 1959. George claimed he was invited aboard a Venusian spaceship and taught how to create a machine that could rejuvenate living human cell tissue. This led him to build the Integratron.

Many believe that the building has healing properties and visitors come from all over the world to enjoy a sound bath in the acoustic oasis. During the sound bath, you’ll lay down on a soft mat while therapists play soothing sounds on quartz crystal singing bowls. Whether or not you believe in UFOs, this is one amazing experience!

10. Walk to the The Wall Street Mill

old rusty car wall street mill Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is full of old mines from early settler days and the Wall Street Mill is one of the last remaining mills in the park. It was once a gold ore crushing mill using two-stamp mill machinery up until the mid-1900s.

The historic mill can be accessed from the same parking lot as the popular Barker Dam Trail. The hike to the mill is a 3.2 kilometre round-trip and you’ll pass by a few abandoned rusty old cars along the way. When you get to the well-preserved mill, you can walk around it and get some great photos.

11. The Oasis of Murals

The city of Twentynine Palms is located just outside Joshua Tree National Park and it’s full of wonderful treasures. You can’t miss the Oasis of Murals, with over 25 murals spread across the city. These beautiful works of art share the history and beauty of the desert community.

The project was created by Action 29 Palms, a nonprofit organisation operated by volunteers. All the murals are free to enjoy and visitors can go on a walking tour to discover the stunning murals. 

To discover more about this beautiful national park take a look at our new Near Not Far Limited Series, our new domestic trips that are perfect for your next staycation. What’s on your Joshua Tree National Park bucket list? Let us know in the comments below!

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