Joshua Tree Travel Guide

Read story
Holly Richardson
read story

There’s something truly magical about Joshua Tree. Being out in the high desert, seeing more jack rabbits than humans. Watching the sunrise and sunset feeling like you have the best kept secret in the world, never wanting the cotton candy sky and mountain glow to fade away.

I wrote the text above in my journal one morning while looking out the window staring at the mountains while the sun rose.

I love Joshua Tree National Park for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons is because people of all types, all ages with all interests can fall in love with it. If you don’t love hiking or are unable to, there’s a lot to do and see just by driving through the park and being less active. In the nature section, I’ll specify which hikes are more strenuous and what can be seen, just from the car.

For some context, I’ve been to Joshua Tree only twice (last October and December), both times for about a week. I immersed myself in the park, in the culture, in the food scene and have a lot of recommendations for you! It’s such a beautiful place and I want to share everything I can to help other people who visit, have the best possible experience.

I’ve done nearly everything I write about below, but I am including a wish list category for things I want to do next time I visit, as well. If you’ve been to Joshua Tree, would love any recommendations you have. Hope you enjoy this National Park treasure as much I did! I can't wait to go back soon, I hope. While we’re in the middle of this covid-19 situation, I thought it would be nice to reflect back on such a special place for myself, and more importantly share the love toward the park and local businesses during this time.

Nature:

Ryan Mountain Trail

Total Distance: 2.94 miles
Good for: the person who loves climbing to the tops of mountains
My strava link
All Trails link

I highly recommend this hike for amazing views and a solid workout. We cruised up the hill on a hot afternoon immediately upon arriving in the park. It only took an hour (total) but we ran down. If you’re not in peak condition or want to take your time, then this is probably a 2-3 hour hike. I loved seeing the different landscape as we wove up the trail. It had a really clear path and trail signs. Another hiker told us they saw a snake, but fortunately we didn’t see any. Definitely bring water because it gets really hot and is 1K ft of climbing! The good news is the way down is smooth and much faster. A must-do in my book!

Top of the mountain! 

Cholla Cactus Garden

Total Distance: 1 mile easy walking path
Good for: stopping to take photos when you’re driving through

The Cholla Cactus Garden is 12 miles south from the park’s north entrance. I had been dying to go, especially after missing it the first time I went, so driving through with my brother and dad was really special. 12 miles doesn’t seem far, but when you’re driving slowly (through unexpected snow, it took awhile!) We drove all the way from the north entrance down through the park and got to see this beautiful garden together. Fun fact cholla is pronounced choy-ya. There was something magical about this part of the park, as it’s just when the landscape starts to change and suddenly feels like you’re in a completely different national park. The cacti were so cute, but obviously you should resist touching them!

Street View as you're approaching the Cholla Cactus Garden

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Total Distance: 1 mile
Good for: people of all abilities looking for a short easy loop through rocks
My strava link
All Trails link

This was great for a nice stroll with friends. Only took 20-25 minutes and has some interesting rock formations along the loop. Very flat and easy to navigate. Filled with families and kids and is one of the popular trail heads to stop at.

North View Trail

Total Distance: 5.16 miles
(Note: we turned around and didn’t do a full loop)
Good for: sunrise hike with terrain variety
My strava link
All Trails link

North Peak Trail, also near the Maze trail, was beautiful at sunrise. The morning mountain glow came into view as we hiked in and out of the rocks, shading parts of the trails. The terrain has a good variety of ups and downs, definitely rocky and sandy but not too strenuous. We hiked out and decided to turn around when we were ready since we were working remotely that day. It took us 1:45 to do 5 miles. The trailhead parking lot is one of the first  ones as you enter the park, but you have to hike in a little bit to view the trail signs. Once you see signs for Maze Loop and North Peak, everything was well-marked. Overall, this is a good trail for people of all abilities especially since you can turn around whenever you need to or do the Maze loop.

Boy Scout Trail

Good for: easy sandy walk or groups who are camping and hiking the full point to point trail
My strava link
All Trails link

The Boy Scout Trail is actually much longer, but I ran part of it  as a trail run one morning. It was incredibly sandy and exposed, so if you go during the heat of the day, be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat and bring lots of water. The landscape didn't change much and I was just doing a shorter run so it wasn’t as beautiful as some of the other trails. Would only recommend this if you want an easy sandy hike or are doing the full point to point hike. Has easy parking off of Indian Cove Road off of Twenty Nine Palms Highway.

Sandy trails with lots of jackrabbits


Coffee:

Joshua Tree Coffee Company

This is really the only coffee option for me! In addition to making coffee in the Chemex in both airbnbs I stayed in, I also frequented JTCC regularly! It’s hidden in the back on the main road on Twenty Nine Palms Highway, with only outdoor seating. You have to walk in their tiny doorway and wait in the skinny hallway to order. They have a TV screen with different facts about how to roast coffee beans and what makes their roasting process unique. Read about how much I  love JTCC here for a full overview. Fun fact, they are accepting online orders, so you can support them anytime during this covid-19 situation.

Outdoor patio

Food:

One of my favorite things to do while on vacation, staying in airbnbs is to cook elaborate homemade meals. Having extra time to cook, enjoying time with friends and family and sharing some great conversation, over the delicious food always creates a special experience. I also love feeling good about the foods I'm putting into my body when I’m on vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I love indulging, trying local dark chocolate or going to local ice cream shops while traveling, as well but having some good healthy home cooked meals can propel my mood and energy while traveling.

Be sure to check the supplies that your airbnb has before you arrive.

One travel hack I’ve been doing recently, is bringing coconut oil and spices to cook with (or my cast iron skillet if I’m driving and not flying somewhere, but I know this is extra).

Standard brunch in my mind!


Grocery Stores

Short answer, there’s plenty!

Long Answer: Since I planned on cooking and wanted higher quality food and snacks, I actually went to Whole Foods in LA and packed a cooler bag with the meat I wanted for the week. If you’re less picky than me, there’s a few grocery stores in town.

The main grocery store in Joshua Tree is Stater Brothers. There’s at least 2 on the main strip in Yucca Valley on Twenty Nine Palms highway and another one in the town of Twenty Nine Palms. There’s also a Vons a Grocery Outlet and a smaller overpriced natural store on the main strip called, Joshua Tree Health Foods which is helpful to buy anything you need last minute, but their selection is limited.

They also have a Farmer’s Market every Saturday, which unfortunately I missed, but that’s another healthy option if you’re visiting on a weekend.

Restaurants

La Copine

This restaurant is the only farm to table and most “high-end” option in this area. We went to celebrate a birthday with friends who were in town with us. Note, reservations book up quickly, so if you plan on dining here, definitely book on Resy in advance. The food was incredible and definitely worth the splurge if you enjoy fine dining.

Drive back and stop at this cute vintage store called Moon Wind Trading Company. I only remembered the name because the owner, Crystal, gave me a sticker with some Austin recommendations written on it. As we chatted with her while browsing, we told her we’re from Austin and she shared that she and her husband met in Austin 10 years ago and moved to Joshua Tree a couple years ago! Such a small world.

The delicious rosemary potatoes
 Cute gift options throughout Moon Wind Trading Co.

29 Palms Inn Restaurant

When you drive down the deserted road toward The 29 Palms Inn, you feel as if you’re transporting back in time. It’s one of the higher priced restaurants in the town, yet you feel as if you’re in your grandmother’s kitchen. The staff is incredibly friendly, making you feel like family, offering menu recommendations and calling you “Sweetie”. A local musician was setting up in the corner and an elderly couple who looked like they were regulars were seated in the dining room, amongst a mix of other couples. They have a main dining room and a couple tables by the inn pool that no one was swimming in when I was there, with a funny old-fashioned purple wall surrounding it. Overall, the menu has traditional American meals, with some fun specials like cauliflower fritters. Everything tasted delicious, like the Salmon (in photo) and large Rib-eye entree. Would recommend going here with your significant other if you want a night out with a local scene. Pro tip: go around 5 when they open so you can see the beautiful sunset.


Salmon Entree

JT Country Cafe

A must-eat place when pre- or post-hike in Joshua Tree, mainly for the hometown local experience. The process of putting  your name on the waitlist (get there early or expect to wait!), calling you in and delivery quality food and service very quickly was impressive! I came here with my dad and my brother who prefer the big pancake American breakfasts, whereas I’m more of a veggie omelet bruncher, and we all were more than satisfied with the food. I was surprised to see lots of vegan options on the menu in addition to olive oil and healthy cooking options. Don’t judge this place by the brown and questionable exterior. It definitely exceeded my expectations!

Pappy & Harriet's

(Located in Pioneertown)
Pappy and Harriets is a famous country bar that serves BBQ and is a fun spot to checkout if you’re driving through Pioneertown. While Pappy & Harriet’s has been open since the ‘80s, over 50 films and several television shows were filmed in Pioneertown throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s. Lots of famous musicians performed here back in the day and it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind place. We didn’t eat here, so I couldn't review the food, but we went to see the Electric Indian show and the place was packed. It was definitely cool to check it out and see the scene, but I think walking around Pioneertown during the day is a more fun experience, so you can see some of the old town where the movies were filmed. Pioneertown was created by Hollywood investors as a place to film movies and served as a town for the actors on set. There were jails on the outside and ice cream parlors on the inside. If you’re looking to have a night on the town with some drinks though, make a night of it and walk around Pioneertown before the sunsets and then go to Pappy and Harriet’s for some BBQ and drinks or a concert. Be sure to check out who’s playing in advance.

It felt like a camera crew was about to come out of a shop


Airbnb Recommendations:

Note: if you’re not on Airbnb yet, you can join here and get $55 for your first booking.

The Cozy Tree

2 bedroom, 1 bath w/hot tub

I stumbled upon the Cozy Tree Airbnb while browsing for cozy places to stay for a birthday week. It had only a couple reviews when I decided to book it which seemed a little risky, but it’s because it was so new! The owners, SJ and Dan, did a phenomenal job decorating this house and truly made me feel like I was in the comfort of my own home. I worked remotely for the week, so spent a solid amount of time indoors, and it was the perfect, relaxing oasis, even while working. The record player, the games, the soft throw blankets, bathrobes and outstanding decorations all contributed to the details that make you feel at home in the high-desert. There’s a grill out back with a hot tub, and a comfortable couch surrounded by walls, so you have the  whole backspace to yourselves to cook and hang out in peace. There’s also a beautiful front yard with a hammock and perfect views for sunset. It’s located only a couple miles from town and very convenient to get to the park. I can’t recommend this place enough and will definitely be back. Unfortunately it was booked when I went back the second time. Check out their IG account to get a feel for the coziness :)

Sunset from the front yard
One of the bedrooms
The best coffee setup

The Desert Cove

3 bedroom, 2 bath w/yoga and meditation room

I had more good luck while finding the Desert Cove on Airbnb. I was looking to book a stay with my Dad and brother right after Christmas for 4 days and thought this looked like the perfect option. Another place like the Cozy Tree that had just been renovated and newly on Airbnb. With bedrooms for all of us plus two bathrooms and a separate mediation “closet” / room out in the backyard, it had everything we needed and more. It’s in the perfect location, only 1.5 miles from town and an easy drive to the park. The aesthetic and cute touches throughout the house really made the place feel comfortable. Sarah, the owner, put in a lot of thought with artistic decorations and mediation pillows in each room, while still  maintaining a minimalistic and clean aesthetic. They had three types of coffee makers (normal one, french press and Chemex) and all the necessary kitchen utensils, including measuring cups, pots and pans, etc. Here’s the Desert Cove’s IG if you want to see more :)

View of the backyard and yoga room
Snow magic in the backyard

Camping

While I love camping and recently camped in Texas for NYE, I have not yet camped in Joshua Tree. I know there are tons of options, but in order to get the best info on where to camp, be sure to make a reservation in advance. Some campgrounds are first-come, first served, while others require reservations or permits through the national park service. Hopefully based on the hiking recommendations above, you have all the info you need on where you'd prefer to camp based on proximity to trails.

Wish List for Future Visits:

Integratron

The Integratron is a historical building located 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park, and offers unique sound baths and live music experiences for both public and private groups. Read about how the structure was developed based on the extraterrestrial directions here. Be sure to reserve your tickets in advance since it’s grown to be a popular spot!

Lost Horse Mine Trail Loop

Distance: 6.2 miles
All Trails link

I spent more time than I’d like to admit looking at trails, but this is one that kept coming up. There’s a 4 mile out and back, but with this loop option, you can see an old gold mine. From comments I’ve read, taking the trail counter-clockwise is steeper and more difficult.

Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail

Distance: 2.8 miles
All Trails link
This was a shorter trail I wanted to do before work one day, but decided against it due to an AllTrails review that said there was a bees nest at the top of the trail that you had to walk through in order to get through. The oasis at the top sounds beautiful based on the reviews.

Smith’s Ranch Drive-in

The hosts of Cozy Tree said that this is the best kept hi-desert secret, with movies playing Thursday - Sunday and new movies every Friday. Hope to come back here to check it out someday!

Joshua Tree Certified Farmers’ Market

Hours: Saturdays 8-1pm
I always love going to farmer’s markets in new cities and supporting local whenever I can. Normally it’s a great excuse to get some veggies to cook for dinner later or if you’re en route to the park, get some fresh fruit samples before you start your hike!

Outside of the Park:

Palm Springs & Indio

When I came to Joshua Tree with my Dad and brother, we drove from the north entrance of the park all the way south (past the Cholla Cactus Garden) and then exited through the south. They went to play golf for the day, while I went hiking. This was a great compromise in combining all interests!

Shadow Hills Golf Club - North Course

I came back in time to see my dad and brother finish golfing on the 18th hole. It was a very beautiful and peaceful course. They enjoyed every minute of the day.

East Indio Hills Badlands Hike


Distance: 6 miles
My strava link
All Trails link

I was alone, hiking and trail running which took me under two hours. I also got lost at the beginning, mainly because I got distracted by nature and didn't look at the trail signs. Once I followed the signs, I had an amazing hike. It's a loop trail with lots of variety with some really flat parts and then some climbs through rocks and ridges. Really beautiful views. I saw kids and people of all abilities on this trail. It’s about 800 ft climbing up to the half way point and then downhill from there. Note: a lot of the reviews said there were car break-ins in the parking lot (which I did not experience), but be sure to not leave any valuables visible in the car.

Mid-way through on top of the mountain
Funky rock formations


I hope you enjoy this guide as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I could talk all day about Joshua Tree, so when you plan on going, please let me know! The last piece of advice, is to simply soak in all the beauty the area has to offer. Stop off in the fun thrift and gift stores along the Twentynine Palms Highway and near Pioneertown and soak in the mountain landscape every step of the way. Ending this guide with a couple more of my favorite photos, from both in October and then in December when we were lucky enough to experience the rare blizzard in the high-desert.

Ryan Mountain Hike
Sunset from the Cozy Tree
Driving through the park during the snow magic
Story tags:

Explore More Blog Posts: