Top 9 Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park with Kids

 Joshua Tree National Park
See the Seussian Joshua Trees in the northern part of Joshua Tree National Park. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Minutes from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park protects two different desert ecosystems. It is an easy park to explore on a road trip when you drive one way through the park. For those on an extended stay, Joshua Tree offers hiking, bouldering, night sky viewing and camping. In the spring, there might be a super bloom if it rained in the winter. Here are the top things to do at Joshua Tree National Park.

Top Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park with Kids

  • Stop at a Visitor Center.
  • Take a Scenic Drive.
  • Hike in Joshua Tree.
  • See the Wildflowers.
  • Earn a Junior Ranger Badge.
  • Tour Keys Ranch
  • Bouldering 
  • Camp in one of the campgrounds.
  • See the Night Sky 

Joshua Tree National Park  at a Glance

Year Established: 1994
Located: Southern California
Size: over 790,000 acres
Top Features: The Famous Trees

The Southern California Deserts

The U.S. features four deserts, each distinctive with different plants and animals. The Chihuahua Desert spans from West Texas through New Mexico and into Arizona. The Great Basin Desert runs from Oregon to Nevada and Utah.

Joshua Tree National Park is at the intersection of the two remaining deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran. Visitors can see how one desert transitions to another, along with the animals and plants of each.

In the western part of the Sonoran desert, visitors can see Ocotillo cacti, Cholla cacti, or teddy bear cacti. The higher Mojave desert is home to the Joshua Trees, the spiky Seussian-looking yucca plants. Additionally, the San Bernardino Mountains offer an oasis with juniper and pinyon.

Weekend Itinerary for Joshua Tree 

Visitor Centers in Joshua Tree 

This is one of the top things to do at Joshua Tree National Park with kids.

Joshua Tree Visitor Center

This visitor center is most convenient to the western entrance. It offers an interpretive area and cafe along with maps and Junior Ranger booklets.

Located at 6554 Park Blvd., Joshua Tree. Open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cottonwood Visitor Center

This visitor center is near the southern entrance. It features picnic tables, a restroom, and a small bookstore.

Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Black Rock Nature Center

This is a seasonal facility near the Black Rock Campground. Open from October to May from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closes for lunch from 11 a.m. to noon.

Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms 

This location is in the town of Twentynine Palms, north of the park. It offers interpretive displays, a gift shop, and a bookstore, along with restrooms.

Located at 6533 Freedom Way. Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Note: The former Oasis Visitor Center has closed. The Oasis of Mara, a desert walking path, the outdoor art and the restrooms remain open. Located at 74485 National Park Dr., Twentynine Palms.

Southern California National Park Road Trips
Discover Oasis Visitor Center
To learn about the Joshua Tree, visit one of its visitor centers. Credit: Catherine Parker

Scenic Drives in Joshua Tree

If the weather is hot, the best way to see Joshua Tree National Park is by driving through. This is one of the top things to do at Joshua Tree National Park with kids.

Pinto Basin Road travels from the north to the south entrance and offers several several turnouts.

Park Boulevard travels from the western entrance and meets Pinto Basin Road at Pinto Wye.

Keys Views is a spur off Park Boulevard to the overlook.

There are numerous 4×4 backcountry roads in Joshua Tree. Please heed signs and warnings as conditions vary during the seasons.

Geology Tour Road—An 18-mile route with interpretive stops along the way. The first few miles are open to most vehicles. After that, it’s 4WD only.

Queen Valley Roads—A 13.4-mile route that is open to most vehicles most of the year.

What to Do in 2 Hours at Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree Visitor Center
Be sure and grab a photo of your kids at the Oasis Visitor Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For roadtrippers traveling along Interstate 10, drive through Joshua Tree National Park for a quick overview of the park. I’ve done this on several occasions.

Enter at either the northern or western entrance and drive to the other entrance. You will see a large concentration of Joshua Trees. Both entrances are along CA SR 62, which intersects Interstate 10.

Another option is to drive from the southern entrance to the northern entrance, or vice-versa.

Stop by the Visitor Center. Watch the interpretive film. Then, spot the top sights in the park.

Cottonwood Springs—This area offered water for gold prospectors back in the California Gold Rush.

Ocotillo Patch—A large display of leggy cacti along with interpretive signs at a scenic pullout.

Cholla Cactus Garden—A .25-mile walk through a 10-acre area to see cactus that looks soft enough to cuddle. Looks are deceiving, the cactus have needles.

Skull Rock—See the hollowed-out granite formation located near Jumbo Rocks campground.

Barker Dam—Find a 1.1-mile trail with standing water in Joshua Tree along with boulder outcropping.

Keys View—See Coachella Valley below from the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

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Hiking in Joshua Tree

Hiking is a great way to explore Joshua Tree National Park. Here are some of the top hiking trails in the park.


Bajada Trail—an accessible .25-mile loop, near Cottonwood Visitor Center 

Keys View Trail—an accessible .25-mile trail to the overlook

Cap Rock—an accessible .4-mile loop


Split Rock Loop—a 2.5-mile loop.

Wall Street Mill—a 2-mile hike to a historic gold mining site. 

Moderate hikes require more preparation and should be avoided during the summer. Pick up a map at the visitor center and pack water regardless of the season. 

Pets aren’t allowed on trails in Joshua Tree. 

Bikes in Joshua Tree

Cycling is allowed on vehicle roads only, paved and unpaved. Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t offer multi-use or mountain bike trails. 

Guide to Mojave National Preserve
Hike the Oasis of Mara in Joshua Tree National Park with kids for an easy hike
Along the Oasis of Mara loop behind the Oasis Visitor Center, families can hike an accessible trail. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Wildflowers in Joshua Tree

If Southern California receives rain during the winter, then the desert can experience a superbloom in the spring. It is a dazzling site to see the desert floor color in a carpet of color.

Starting at the lower elevations, wildflowers can pop up starting in late winter. The California poppies, Arizona Lupine and Desert Canterberry Bells are popular wildflowers.

In spring, the flowers bloom in the high elevations, like the Indian Paint Brush and the Desert Dandelion.

Kids at Joshua Tree National Park

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Joshua Tree National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet. 

The Joshua Tree Junior Ranger badge requires attending at ranger program. Families can visit the visitor center to meet this requirement if ranger programs aren’t offered during your visit. This is one of the top things to do at Joshua Tree National Park with kids.

National Junior Ranger badges can be earned at Joshua Tree National Park like the Junior Paleontologist, the Night Explorer patch, and the Wilderness Explorer patch. 

Guide to Junior Ranger Badges 

Night Sky Viewing in Joshua Tree

Away from the city lights, Joshua Tree National Park is an International Dark Skies Park. With the unaided eye, see the Milky Way above. Or bring a telescope for a more in-depth viewing. 

Joshua Tree National Park occasionally hosts night sky-viewing ranger programs.

Get more information at the Joshua Tree National Park events page.

Tour Keys Ranch

Homesteading in the Mojave desert required fortitude, perseverance, and ingenuity. The Keys family—Bill, Frances and their five children lived in the area for 60 years as cattle ranchers. 

The tour walks through their ranch house, on-site school house, store and workshop. Also, see their restored orchard along with a host of old cars and machinery. 

Tours are offered from October to May and last 90 minutes. Reservations are required, and adult tours (12 and over) are $10 per person and $5 for kids (5 to 11). 

Discover Joshua Tree National Park with kids.
A picture by the Joshua Tree National Park sign is a must for every trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Climbing in Joshua Tree

Home to world-class climbing, Joshua Tree National Park features 8,000 climbing routes, thousands of bouldering opportunities and hundreds of natural gaps to navigate. 

For more information, consider attending a Climber Coffee, held on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. starting in mid-October to the end of April. For those new to climbing, private guides can help. Find one that’s permitted to work in the park.

Horses in Joshua Tree

If you own horses, Joshua Tree National Park offers 253 miles of equestrian trails. Also, find campsites just for horses.

Top Trips to Take with Kids 

History of Joshua Tree National Park

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Joshua Tree a national monument, after the tireless effort from desert conservationist Minerva Hamilton. The California Desert Protection Act of 1994, upgraded the monument to Joshua Tree National Park. 

As a transition zone, it’s where the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet, the western edge of the Sonoran Desert. 

The Colorado desert is below 3,000 feet and features rugged plants, like the Creosote bush and Ocotillo cactus. The kid-favorite cholla cactus looks as soft as a teddy bear, but it harbors thousands of thorns. 

The Mojave Desert features elevations of 3,000 feet and above. It provides a unique habitat for pinyon pines, Joshua trees and numerous yuccas and cacti. 

Another signature feature of Joshua Tree National Park is the boulder piles. The granite formed rock piles after the eons of erosion. 

People of Joshua Tree

Human existence in Joshua Tree dates back 5,000 years. The first were the Pinto people. Then, the Serrano people, the Chemehuevi people, and the Cahuilla People lived in the area. 

In the 19th and 20th centuries, cattle ranchers, prospectors, miners, and homesteaders each inhibited the land. 

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Camping in Joshua Tree

Belle Campground
  • Open September to May only
  • 18 sites 
  • First-come, first-served
  • Pit toilet and no running water
Black Rock Campground 
  • Year-round
  • 99 sites, maximum RV length: 35 feet
  • Reservations recommended
  • Flush toilets, running water and dump station
  • Horse campsites available
Cottonwood Spring Campground
  • Year-round
  • 62 sites, maximum RV length: 35 feet
  • Reservations recommended
  • Flush toilets, running water and dump station
Hidden Valley Campground
  • Year-round
  • 44 sites, maximum RV length: 25 feet
  • First-come, first-served
  • Pit toilets and no running water 
Indian Cove Campground
  • Year-round
  • 101 sites, maximum RV length: 35 feet
  • Reservations recommended 
  • Pit toilets and no running water
Jumbo Rocks Campground
  • Year-round
  • 124 sites, maximum RV length: 35 feet
  • Reservations recommended
  • Pit toilets and no running water
Ryan Campground
  • Year-round
  • 31 sites, maximum RV length: 35 feet
  • Reservations recommended
  • Pit toilets and no running water
  • Horse and Bicycle campsites available

Note: Joshua Tree National Park sites don’t offer RV hook-ups.

Lodging near Joshua Tree 

Find a host of lodging options, from budget to mid-century icons to ultra-luxury resort accommodations. For Walt Disney fans, you can even stay in his former home.

Activities near Joshua Tree

The Palm Springs area offers lots to do, like hot air balloon rides, mid-century modern architecture tours, and tram tours.

Palm Springs Tramway 

Weather in Joshua Tree 

Spring—The temperatures heat up quickly in the spring and mirror the fall temperatures in reserve.

Summer—Dangerous temperatures for outdoor recreation in the heat of the day; high temperatures reach 110F (45C) all summer long. Lows are upper 70s F (25C). Carry water and don’t leave pets or kids in vehicles.

Fall—The weather is sunny most days with highs close to 100F+ (39C) and lows in the 70sF (22C) in September. By November, highs average around 80F (28C), and lows are 50F (10C).

Winter—The rainy season, though the rain total for each month averages about one inch. Find highs in the 70sF (20s C) with lows in the 30sF (2C). 

Getting to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located 52 miles from Palm Springs, the closest city with commercial flights. Los Angeles and Las Vegas offer another national park destination hub. 

Joshua Tree National Park is open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per vehicle.

National Park Passes

Know Before You Go:

  • Remember a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and water for all seasons.
  • Seven different rattlesnakes call Joshua Tree National Park home.
  • Use maps for navigation, not your GPS.
  • Cell phone coverage is poor in the park.
  • Stay away from abandoned mines.

Add Joshua Tree National Park to your National Parks bucket list. Find it a few hours from Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles, California; and Phoenix, Arizona. Get recommendations for what to do, where to go, and where to stay at popular SoCal getaway, minutes from Palm Springs. What to do in Joshua Tree National Park | Best National Parks in Southern California #NationalPark #California

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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