I have to be honest with you: within all the National Parks that we had in mind for our trip, Joshua Tree was the one that least caught our attention. After all, it is one of the hottest and driest regions of the country. And after touring the unforgettable Yosemite National Park, we thought that nothing would surprise us anymore.
But as John Muir said: “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Quickly Joshua Tree National Park, in California, became one of our favorites. In this article we want to tell you the reasons. We invite you to discover its best hikes, and we will give you advice to take into account when visiting this wonderful desert.
Welcome to Joshua Tree! Shall we start?
- 1 JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK: WHERE TWO DESERT MEET
- 2 THE 4 BEST HIKES IN JOSHUA NATIONAL PARK
- 3 HOW TO GET TO JOSHUA TREE
- 4 WHEN´S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT JOSHUA TREE
- 5 WHERE TO SLEEP IN JOSHUA TREE
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK: WHERE TWO DESERT MEET
The Joshua Tree National Park is located at the intersection of two large American deserts: the Mojave and the Colorado. Despite what one can imagine of a desert, in Joshua Tree 831 species of plants, 40 families of reptiles, 41 types of mammals, and 240 species of birds, coexist in a wonderful environment.
Joshua Tree National Park protects about 700 archaeological sites, 88 historical structures, 19 cultural landscapes, and has more than 230,300 objects in its museum collection. So it is a park not only rich in landscape but also at a historical level.
But let’s discover what we, the travelers, are most passionate about in a national park: its hikes. Those which allow us to be in pure and direct contact with the great nature that surrounds us. And Joshua Tree has a lot to offer.
THE 4 BEST HIKES IN JOSHUA NATIONAL PARK
As we always clarify when we talk about “the best hikes to do in …”, this is written from our own experience. The Joshua Tree National Park has infinities of hikes and activities to do. But we are going to tell you what we experienced in our three days in the park.
JOSHUA TREE WITH KIDS
Keep in mind that walking in the desert with young children is not the best idea. That’s why at the time of choosing hikes to do in Joshua Tree with the little ones it is better to choose short and simple.
These are the three best hikes to do in Joshua Tree with children:
1. CHOLLA CACTUS GARDEN:
Approximately 20 kilometers away from the north entrance of Joshua Tree, is this beautiful cholla cactus garden. It is a flat walk of 0.4 km across 4 hectares of this type of cactus that is enjoyed at its best during sunrise or sunset, when the sun is closer to the horizon and reflects the intense color of the plants.
It’s a very simple walk to do with children, but you have to have two fundamental precautions:
- Cholla cacti are extremely dangerous. It is necessary to avoid approaching these plants since at the slightest touch they can dig into the skin. But unlike other cactus, this family is stuck and hooked inside the skin making it almost impossible to remove the spines without the help of tools. So caution 1: always stay within the demarcated path and avoid children walking alone.
- In the parking area there are africanized bees that are attracted by the air conditioning water of the parked car. So when getting off the car, you have to leave doors and windows closed so as not to return to a car infested by these aggressive insects.
But beyond these two dangers, it is a small hike worthwhile to enjoy a special desert landscape surrounded by mountains.
2. SKULL ROCK
It is a circular hike of 2.7 kilometers of very easy access to do with children. It was perhaps one of those moments in which we ended up falling in love with Joshua Tree.
We must admit that we went off the trail a bit (this is not something to be done, do not say we did not warn you about it) to climb the incredible rock formations that characterize Joshua Tree. Such is the case of the rock that gives this walk its name: the Skull Rock.
As much as we do not recommend leaving the path (NEVER!) we have to give you a bad advise and ask you to make a small exception and climb to the top of the rocks (always with extreme care) to get an unparalleled view of the Joshua Tree desert, its rock formations, its immense magnitude, its silence and solitude.
3. HIDDEN VALLEY TRAIL
With 1.6 kilometers, this hike is perhaps the first you should do with children in Joshua Tree. In it you will discover great rock formations that during the sunset can resemble a Martian landscape.
It is one of the best known hikes of Joshua Tree and runs along a valley separated from the “outside world” by large rock walls. Hence its name “Hidden Valley”.
During the hike you can see some examples of the Joshua Tree.
These three previous walks can be done in a day without any inconvenience. But as we always say, there is nothing better than traveling without haste and enjoying a place without being attentive to the hands of the clock.
JOSHUA TREE ON YOUR OWN
Another thing we always insist on when traveling with children is that you have to make time for yourself. That sometimes involves taking turns and being able to do things that could not be done with children, like the next hike I had the good fortune to do early in the morning (while our son slept with his mother).
4. MAZE LOOP
This hike is NOT to be done with young children. It is a long hike of 10.4 kilometers through the desert with ups and downs that can take about two hours to do. With children the times are doubled – or tripled – and it would not be good to be 4 hours with children walking in the midday sun.
First let’s see the tips for this hike:
- Fundamental: carry at least 2 or 3 liters of water for these 10 kilometers. It sounds like a short hike, but I assure you that the heat starts to feel very early and the possibility of getting lost in the desert if one gets distracted on the way is not low.
- Start the hike very early: the ideal is to start at 7 in the morning to finish the hike before the strong heat begins.
- Be attentive to the path: it is a natural path, demarcated basically by stones placed in the shape of a path. But in some places you have to follow more the logic of the footprints than a path in itself, so you have to try to look down from time to time. Not for nothing is this hike called Maze Loop.
Now, the hike.
This hike -to me the most beautiful of Joshua Tree- begins next to the main road, less than 10 minutes away from the north entrance to the Park. It does not have a sign so it is best to ask at the entrance.
They are 10 kilometers of an arid but wonderful landscape. Rock formations, cactus of all kinds, mountains in the distance, a large valley in the middle. Drops and climbs. Firm ground and soft sand. Oranges, yellows and ochres. And a loneliness that impacts. This hike is not the most touristy of Joshua Tree so it can be enjoyed almost in solitude.
Nowadays where technology invades our lives, where cities impose their frenetic pace, a walk through the desert, listening to the footsteps on the earth, brings us back to our origins. Those times where the word “wander” was an ideal: that of the man who walks aimlessly, for the simple pleasure of walking, of existing.
As the French sociologist and anthropologist Le Breton says:
“Walking introduces us to the sensations of the world, and you have to do it just for the pleasure of tasting time. Walking implies humility before the world and indifference towards technology, when everything simply consists in existing. The worries that overwhelm the hasty and restless existence of our contemporary societies and give us back the sensation of self, of anonymity, of not being there for anyone”.
And as sometimes words are not enough, and there is not much more to say about the hike, I prefer to give you some photos instead.
HOW TO GET TO JOSHUA TREE
Joshua Tree is the closest National Park to Los Angeles (241 km) and San Diego (241 km). From Los Angeles International Airport, you can get to Highway 10 East to Highway 62 to Joshua Tree. From the San Diego International Airport, you can take 15 North to 215 North to 60 East to 10 East to Highway 62 to Joshua Tree.
There are three entrances to the Park. The recommended one, and the main one, is the northern entrance in the town of Joshua Tree, which is closest to the main trails of the park. It’s the one you take when you arrive from Los Angeles or San Diego.
For those coming from Las Vegas is the eastern entrance, at 29 Palms, where the entrance queues are much shorter on weekends and holidays. And finally the southern entrance, for those arriving from Phoenix, or New Mexico, takes you through the entire park, and is on Highway 10, east of Palm Springs / Indio.
WHEN´S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT JOSHUA TREE
The best time will depend a lot on what you enjoy doing. Summer, the hardest time in terms of temperature, is ideal to enjoy the starry nights and the Milky Way. The autumn or spring season is ideal for walking. Therefore, recommending the best time to travel would be almost useless. It will depend on your tastes.
But I leave this table of temperatures to guide you a bit about what you will have to expect.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN JOSHUA TREE
Our time in Joshua Tree could not have been so wonderful had it not been for discovering this magical place. A place where we traveled in time, where we felt part of the desert, and from where we did not want to leave.
We are talking about the Thunderbird Lodge Retreat, without doubt one of the most incredible lodgings we experienced during our trip through California.
It is a complex of seven houses distributed along an immense lot on the “banks” of the Joshua Tree National Park. As for location, nothing can beat this place. In fact, one of the houses, the Park View House, has the private garden door that literally overlooks the National Park.
AN ARTISTIC EXPRESSION IN THE HEART OF THE DESERT
But I will not talk about the other 6 houses, but of the one where we stayed. What I do want to tell you is that absolutely all are wonderful, artistic, unique, unrepeatable, and charming. We were lucky to be in the house called Ranch House & Saloon.
Imagine this situation: you leave the paved road to enter a dirt and sand road, between desert vegetation and some running rabbits. After five minutes you arrive at a wild wild west town, called El Dorado. There is the prison, the sheriff’s office, the bar where people drink and fight, where they bet with the cards and look at the mountains.
But that town is not real, although it seems like it is. It is part of the delicious scenery that the owner and artist of the place put together, the lovely Lori Portillo, a lover of the recycling of elements, of the desert, of the fantastic, of the imagination, and of art. The house is huge and comfortable, but all that comfort and quality takes second place when we see what she did with the exterior: more than a lodging, a work of art.
Getting up in the morning and going to have breakfast in the lounge of your own town in the far west enjoying the uninterrumpted views of the desert, is priceless.
Lori came to the desert as a girl: “My grandfather and grandmother came to the desert in the late 30’s and homesteaded in the early 40’s. I came to the area as a child with my mother to visit them. It was such a free feeling to come here from the LA area that I remember rolling down the window and hanging my head out like the big dogs you occasionally see doing the same, as soon as we got close. I feel those dogs excitement when I see them. ”
Who was her influence?
“My mother was artistic and creative, always painting a wooden box to make an end table. Her brother’s wife, my aunt Lola was probably the strongest influence though. She was working on a red and black mosaic coffee table with a dragon in it when I was young. It opened my mind to art being more than a landscape on canvas”.
Undoubtedly she has done wonders. I leave here the link of the place and some photos for you to enjoy: https://thunderbirdlodgeretreat.com/
This article was somewhat extensive but it is that Joshua Tree has not left us indifferent. Discovering this park was a jewel in our journey through California, and I hope that after reading this you will be encouraged to discover it with your own eyes.
Keep enjoying nature that is the most wonderful thing that life gives us. And do it with the family, which is life itself.
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