Joshua Tree in a weekend, you say? It’s ambitious. But I love your can-do attitude!
Yes, the national park in California is huge – 3,200km2 to be exact. And it includes many, many natural wonders. We’re talking towering peaks, dry lake beds, titanic boulders, and two – yes two – deserts (the Mojave and the Colorado).
You won’t be able to pack everything into just one weekend. But, hey, you can always come back next year.
For now, and to optimize your 48 hours, you need to focus on the highlights.
So to help you out, I’ve highlighted six life-affirming activities in Joshua Tree that you can fit into a weekend. Follow my tips and you’ll have the time of your life.
Camp in the Desert
A visit to the national park is all about immersing yourself in nature. And it’s difficult to do that if you’re staying in a below-average motel. Instead, enjoy one of California’s – no, the world’s – finest camp spots and sleep underneath the stars.
There are around 500 campsites in the park. However, if you’re planning on visiting from October to May over a weekend, during springtime, or any holiday period, they are normally full. Avoid being stranded in the middle of the desert and book ahead at Recreation.gov. A stay should set you back around $20 to $50 per site.
Additionally, if you’re arriving from a major city, Los Angeles or San Diego perhaps, leave your valuables in a safe storage facility such as Bounce. In general, Joshua Tree National Park is a secure place to camp. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Photograph the Milky Way
If you’re a city mouse, like me, the moon is about the only celestial body you’ll see regularly. Maybe the odd Boeing 747. And while that’s a huge shame, it will make stargazing at Joshua Tree absolutely magical.
The night sky hanging above this unique part of Southern California is unbelievable, unforgettable, and unreal. Think an inky-black canvas sprinkled with thousands of sparkling diamonds. Heavenly.
To enjoy the best views, stay at Cottonwood Campground, which enjoys the darkest skies, according to the National Park Service. They also suggest layering up (it gets chilly at night) and escaping any white light or other people.
To capture the memory, bring your camera and photograph the night sky. You’ll need a tripod, a seat to rest on, and a bit of patience. And if you’re a photographic newbie, book a tour with an expert who can show you what to do.
Hike the National Park Trails
Even if you’re an Uber-down-the-street kinda person, a hike in Joshua Tree is a must. The trails range from 15-minute quickies to grueling three-day, 35-mile tramps. The latter is reserved for super experienced desert hikers only.
If you’re anything like me, however, a one-and-a-half-hour loop, like the Hi-View trail, will be more than sufficient. Starting at the visitor center, the three-mile trek will take you through Joshua tree forests and along a ridge for stunning vistas over the park.
Like every activity in Joshua Tree, hiking the trails has the potential to be dangerous. Especially if you’re careless or ignore the guidelines. For that reason, leave information on your planned route and expected return time with your loved ones. And for more excellent advice like this, visit the NPS’s dedicated page on safe hiking in Joshua Tree.
Enjoy a Rock Climbing Challenge
Love high-adrenaline action? Joshua Tree National Park is a world-renowned climbing destination with around 8,000 different routes. More than enough to challenge every level of athlete. Now, I’m going to assume that you’re not an Alex Honnold-level super climber. Which means you should hire a climbing guide.
Not only will this reduce your risk of serious injury, but they’ll also be able to show you the best ascents for your ability and how to work the equipment. There’s plenty of options for beginner rock climbers in Joshua Tree, each with their own catchy name like Right On, Lizard’s Hangout, and Toe Jam.
Embark on a Wildlife Watching Adventure
Things can get wild in Joshua Tree National Park. Really wild. Keep a careful eye on the surrounding landscapes and you’ll see what I mean. For the most part, the animals you’ll spot are pretty harmless. There are plenty of squirrels, cute birds, and the (absolutely adorable) desert kangaroo rat.
But for those who like their animals a bit more dangerous, there are plenty of razor-sharp teeth and stingers to keep you on your toes. Giant hairy scorpions, tarantulas, mountain lions, and bobcats are all residents of the park. However, I don’t suggest that you go looking for them because, who knows, they may decide to follow you back to where you came from. Worse still, the scorpions or tarantulas could find their way into your bags and before you know it, they’ve found their way onto your doorstep. Too many of them, and you will be forced to contact a professional terminix company to come and remove them from your home so that you don’t have to. Whilst this is unlikely to happen, there is always that possibility, so keep your distance from them, and don’t seek them out on your own. Instead, walk Joshua Tree’s dedicated nature trails for your wildlife watching adventure. The Barker Dam route, for example, takes you on a one-hour walk where you could spot beautiful bighorn sheep.
Travel to a Parallel Universe
For something to be worth visiting outside the national park it has to be pretty spectacular. Or, as is the case with the Krblin Jihn Kabin, completely and utterly bonkers. Every bit as wacky as it sounds, this unassuming shack is actually the prison cell once inhabited by Krblin Jihn, the “legendary interpreter of the Jihn Wranglikan bible”. Come on… you know it. The Jihn Wranglikan bible.
Drawing a blank? Let me fill you in.
Krblin Jihn Kabin was installed by artist and “geographer-at-large” Eames Demetrios. It forms part of his Kcymaerxthaere project, a series of installations across the planet that honor historic events that took place in a (fictional) parallel world. Still confused? Visit the Krblin Jihn Kabin for yourself and you’ll get the idea. It’s bold. It’s bizarre. And it’s thought-provoking. Exactly what you want from an art installation in SoCal.
And there it is. The best of Joshua Tree National Park in just 48 hours. Enjoy these six incredible activities and you’ll have a weekend you’ll never forget. I mean, where else can you spot a tarantula, see into the Milky Way, and travel to a parallel universe in just 48 hours? Nowhere else, that’s where.