How to Have the Best Day Trip to Joshua Tree

day trip to joshua tree
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Joshua Tree, also known as “J-Tree”, is located in Southern California where the Mojave Desert meets the Colorado Desert and the result is pure desert bliss.  Characterized by giant rock formations, desert landscape, and the namesake Joshua Tree – a bristled Yucca tree that stands tall in the arid desert.  It’s easy to visit Joshua Tree, especially if you’re coming from Los Angeles, Palm Springs, or San Diego.  Here’s how to have the best day trip to Joshua Tree.


A Complete Guide for Taking a Day Trip to Joshua Tree




A Day Trip to Joshua Tree from Los Angeles

Joshua Tree is located 140+ miles east of the Los Angeles Airport (LAX).  If you live in the Los Angeles area, it’s easy to hop in the car for a couple of hours and escape the busy city until you’re in a more remote area in the middle of the desert.  If you’re flying into LA, rent a car from the airport before heading off east.  Just make sure to leave early enough that you avoid all of that pesky LA traffic.


A Day Trip to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs

Joshua Tree is located 45-miles east of the Palm Springs Airport (PSP).  This makes Palm Springs a desirable location if you plan to visit Joshua Tree.  Whether you’re visiting Palm Springs as a tourist, or you’re living in Palm Springs, don’t miss the opportunity to hop in the car for a quick 45-minute drive out to the desert.


If you’re visiting from Palm Springs (or plan to visit Palm Springs), don’t miss:  How to Spend a Weekend in Palm Springs


A Day Trip to Joshua Tree from San Diego

The furthest from Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree is 160+ miles northeast of the San Diego Airport (SAN).  Although it can take longer to get to Joshua Tree, I still recommend a day trip from San Diego if you have the time.  Make sure to leave early to avoid traffic and make it out to the desert before the sun hits its highest peak.




Joshua Tree Itinerary – How to Spend One Day in Joshua Tree

dancing around yucca trees

There are so many unique things to do in the Joshua Tree area.  Visit movie sets, drive out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by Yucca trees, watch the sunrise and watch the sunset on big boulders in the middle of the desert. And of course, visit the quirky art and thrift stores in the area.  You can hike, visit art installations, and drink beer all day in saloons.  No matter what kind of experience you’re looking to have in the desert – I can guarantee that there is something for just about everyone.



Being in the desert, the weather varies greatly compared to other areas in Southern California.  Winters can be cold in the 30s, and summers can be scorching hot with temperatures reaching 100+ degrees.  You can also expect big swings in temperatures during the day too.  Mornings and nights are often cool, requiring at least a light jacket, and days are long and very, very hot.

The best time to visit Joshua Tree is when the weather isn’t too hot or too cold.  Generally, March-May and October-November are the best times to visit, however, those are also peak tourist times.  If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and don’t mind hot/cold weather then perhaps you’ll visit in the peak of summer or dead of winter.





Spending the Morning in Joshua Tree

One of the best things to do in Joshua Tree is to catch the sunrise and the sunset.  If you’re driving from Los Angeles or San Diego chances are you’ll miss the sunrise, but for those of you driving from Palm Springs, I highly recommend leaving early enough in the morning to catch the sunrise at Arch Rock.

Arch Rock is located in Joshua Tree National Park and is a fairly easy loop trail.  With a parking lot across the street, the walk to Arch Rock is a little bit over half of a mile.  Once you arrive you’ll have to scale a few boulders to reach the arch.  The area is beautiful and well worth it early in the morning before throes of tourists arrive.  To give you an idea of time, I arrived around 6:45 am (the sun rose at 6:15), and when I left right before 8 am there were already tons of people in line to view the arch.

To enter Joshua Tree National Park the fee is $30/car and your pass is good for seven days.  You should also note that there is no cell phone service once you enter the park.  Make sure to download your maps ahead of time.

After you’ve walked through the desert, make your way to town for a coffee at Joshua Tree Coffee Company, a quaint coffee shop on Twentynine Palms Highway.


Spending the Afternoon in Joshua Tree

Once the sun reaches its peak, spend the afternoon cooling down in the quirky shops that line Twentynine Palms Highway.  My favorites include The Station Joshua Tree – an old gas station that is now a kitsch souvenir store.  They also offer outdoor yoga on Fridays and Saturdays so make sure to follow their Instagram if you’re interested in some desert flow.

After leaving The Station stop in at the very small, but very cute, Cactus Huggers – a small cactus shop.  Next head to The Mincing Mockingbird for all of your quirky home needs, and make sure to stop in the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum – a real hair saloon that has now also been turned into a museum.

Once you’ve exhausted yourself shopping, hop in your car and head west to Pioneertown for lunch.  Pioneertown is a historic town with a small population of approximately 400 residents.  Now it’s mainly used as a tourist attraction and sometimes a movie set… it’s appeared in many movies and music videos throughout history.

Once you’re in Pioneertown, there are two different restaurants to choose from.  The Red Dog Saloon is a saloon-style bar that serves Mexican fare.  Or you could pop into the famous Pappy and Harriet’s, which serves classic bar food complete with live music in the evenings.


Spending the Evening in Joshua Tree

walking into the sunset

Drive back towards Joshua Tree National Park for sunset views before the light quickly escapes and you’re left with hundreds of stars guiding you home.  One of the best sunset views is Cap Rock, but make sure to arrive a bit before the sunsets to grab good seats for the show.

If you have the time stop for dinner at the Joshua Tree Saloon before heading back to your respective city.


Trip Additions

If you have longer than one day to spend in Joshua Tree and you’re looking for somewhere to spend the night, I highly recommend Mojave Sands.  Mojave Sands is located right off Twentynine Palm Highway, making it a great location to explore Joshua Tree.  The motel is a modern escape from the desert heat, with twinkle lights, fountains, and a long table to gather around outside.  There are only five rooms so it’s easy to meet your neighbors, or better yet – if you’re coming with a group, rent the entire property.


Escaping to Joshua Tree is ideal for those looking to get away and experience some peace and quiet in the desert.  Even if you’re short on time, a day trip to Joshua Tree is well worth your time.


For more recommendations on Joshua Tree, make sure to head to my Instagram and search #ppincalifornia or find my highlight “CA Desert”.


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Disclosure:  This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my link, at no cost to you.


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Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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