One Perfect Day in Joshua Tree

Itching for a day away from the city and into the heart of California? Hit the road and enter the Seuss-like bouldering wildlife destination, Joshua Tree National Park.

A world where the strange and the sublime combine into one magnificent landscape, Joshua Tree is the getaway that really speaks to your primordial soul. It’s place that will strike you with oxymorons….with fragility and grandeur side by side, desolate yet teeming with life.

On top of its natural beauty, Joshua Tree is having a major moment. Once a gawk-worthy naturescape for Old Hollywood legends heading out to Palm Springs, it’s now homebase for artists, musicians, and dreamers who have set up shop and added some extra color to an already vibrant destination.


Take the Joshua Tree/Yucca Valley/29 Palms exit from the I-10 and head to the park’s entrance, where $20 gets you a seven-day pass. Climb along the jumbled piles of giant rocks perched – seemingly precariously – on top of one another in any of the bouldering areas, or hike the easy one-mile loop at Barker Dam to see the strange trees, rock piles and otherworldly desert wildlife of the park.


Have lunch 10 miles out of the park at Pioneertown, a 1950’s Wild West movie set that has become a high desert destination. Eat at the settlement’s one main restaurant, Pappy and Harriet’s, where hearty, fire-grilled burgers and simple bar food will fill you up and get your kids out of the heat. Evenings here bring live country, bluegrass, rock and roll, and blues bands from all over Southern California.

Step out onto Mane Street, a classic Western set complete with saloon, jailhouse, and general store. Kids can explore the truncated buildings and watch the real Mane Street Stampede on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, when a comedy troupe of guns for hire recreates a comical cowboy show. 

Make your way back down to the main drag and grab a cup of coffee to go from Frontier Cafe before checking out some of the local shops that run the range from unique antique finds to boho nomad apparel and gorgeous cacti.

Cactus Country

Drive back into the park and take the long road south, with stops along the way at the Cholla Cactus Garden to see the friendly-looking balls of spiky danger before heading south to Cottonwood Spring, a peaceful oasis at a natural water spring near the south edge of the park. Dip your feet in the natural pools and hike around the shaded spring for a relaxing afternoon in paradise.

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Back to Civilization

Exit the park at the south end and head west along the I-10 toward Palm Springs. Pull into downtown for some sweet treats at Peninsula Pastry to replenish your depleted energy.

Make one final stop on the way back to the city: You’re not going to want to miss those looming freeway dinos in Cabazon, where kids can climb into the eyes of a 50-foot T. Rex or take their picture with these giants made iconic by movies like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Now that you’re on the road again, sit back and relax while your little monsters sleep off this exciting day and you drift back into the city lights.

What are some of your must-do activities in the Joshua Tree / Palm Springs area? Share them with us in the comments below!

Tags : travel   Joshua Tree   California   

Lisa Hansen
on my bucket list