Joshua Tree National Park is the ultimate destination for those who love the great outdoors. It’s named after the unique Joshua trees that grow throughout the area and is a popular spot for hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Plus, photographers will love this place. You can easily spend your entire trip capturing photos of the funky cacti, the iconic rock formations, the otherworldly landscapes, and the incredible star-speckled night sky.
Aside from the fantastic natural scenery, Joshua Tree is also home to some interesting manmade attractions, like the futuristic Integratron building, the unique Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, the 1880s-themed Old West movie sets in Pioneertown, and cute towns with quirky shops and diners.
Finally, you’ll also find some great grub here. You’ll love the super juicy burgers at Pappy & Harriet’s, while the diner-style breakfasts at Joshua Tree Country Kitchen will fuel you up for a day of exploring.
With so many things to see, do, and eat in this massive national park, it can be hard to know where to start. To help you make the most of your time, we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Joshua Tree for you.
These activities are perfect for adventurers of all skill levels, whether you’re flying solo or traveling with the entire family. Stick to these fun and unique Joshua Tree bucket list recommendations, and you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable time on your trip!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 15 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Joshua Tree
1. Enjoy a Picnic at Hidden Valley
The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is one of the easiest and most accessible trails in Joshua Tree. This makes it perfect if you’re bringing kids along or you just want to take a leisurely stroll.
This trail leads you inside a bowl-like area, hence the “hidden” part of the name. During the one-mile loop hike, you’ll come across colossal boulders, rock walls, desert plants, wildflowers, and big rocks that are strewn about the landscape. It’s a short and lovely walk with plenty of photo ops!
Hidden Valley also has a nearby picnic area complete with tables, benches, and barbecue grills so that you can make a day of it. You can also pitch a tent or park an RV here for overnight camping.
We did notice that parking can be a challenge around midday since Hidden Valley is such a popular spot. Try to come earlier or later in the day to avoid the crowds.
2. Take a Sound Bath at The Integratron
Taking a sound bath at The Integratron is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Joshua Tree! The Integratron looks so out of place in the middle of the desert, but that’s part of its charm.
This futuristic-looking dome was designed by ufologist George Van Tassel who claimed that The Integratron was capable of time travel, anti-gravity, and rejuvenation.
We’re not sure about the first two claims, but the sound bath was actually pretty relaxing! You lie down on a comfortable mat inside the dome while someone uses crystal singing bowls to produce healing sounds while ambient music plays in the background. The whole experience lasts about an hour.
You can also join a guided nature walk for an outdoor version of the sound bath. Instead of staying inside The Integratron dome, you’ll be taken to a boulder cave to meditate and take a sound bath. We recommend timing it just before sunset so you can enjoy the gorgeous desert views as well!
3. Squeeze Into the Hall of Horrors
Yes, that’s actually its real name, but don’t let it scare you off. The Hall of Horrors is a great beginner-friendly slot canyon since it’s not too narrow and there’s plenty of light that comes in. To get there, you’ll need to take a 0.8-mile hike that’s not too strenuous and loops around several boulder stacks.
You’ll need to do some detective work to find the actual slot canyons. Head to the far boulder stack, which actually has two slot canyons. They can be tricky to find, and you’ll need to do some rock scrambling to reach the entrance, but don’t give up!
It’s a lot of fun, and while the slots can be a tight squeeze in a few places, most kids and adults will be able to make it through. Don’t forget to bring your camera because you’ll find plenty of photo ops along the way.
4. Check Out the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum
Another one of the most unique Joshua Tree attractions is the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum. This open-air museum has acres of interesting sculptures and art installations.
The museum is open daily from sunup to sundown, and it’s totally free. You can even bring your pet with you, as long as they’re well-behaved and you pick up after them.
Some of the more popular sculptures here include a rickety house made out of bottles, metal, and wood, a robot made of metal grills, and a wooden barn with bikes on top. Half of the fun is figuring out what each sculpture is!
Get ready to take a ton of pictures here because there’s truly no other place like this!
5. Camp Out at Jumbo Rocks
Joshua Tree’s Jumbo Rocks Campground is one of the most popular camping spots in the park. And for good reason too! The campsites here are nestled among massive boulders, so you’ll feel like you’re camping in the middle of a giant rock garden.
Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring, and there are also flush toilets and showers nearby. One thing to note is that you need reservations to camp here from August to June when the park is at its busiest, but other than that, it’s first come, first serve.
You’ll find over 120 campsites for individuals and families, and there are also designated grills and fire rings for visitors to use. Be prepared to rough it because there’s no on-site water, firewood, staff, internet connection, or even cell phone reception here. We actually prefer that, though, because it just means you can focus on relaxing and connecting with nature.
At night, you can take a short hike to the nearby astronomy field to do some stargazing. The night sky in this section of the park is absolutely incredible!
In the morning, wake up early to watch the gorgeous sunrise over the desert. Then, go for a hike or boulder scramble around Jumbo Rocks before it gets too hot.
6. Stroll Through the Cholla Cactus Garden
The Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the most beautiful things to see in Joshua Tree. It’s nothing like any garden you’ve ever seen! You’ll find an expansive field of cholla cacti that looks like a scene from another planet.
The best time to visit the Cholla Cactus Garden is in the late afternoon or early evening. That’s when the light hits the cacti in just the right way and makes them glow. It’s truly a magical sight and will make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale.
Just be careful not to get too close to the cacti. They may look soft, but they’re covered in sharp spines that will stick to your clothes and skin. Some people even call them “jumping” cacti because of how quickly they can attach to passersby!
If your schedule permits, we suggest going to the garden during spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom! You’ll see a colorful carpet of desert blooms that looks especially stunning amid Joshua Tree’s dry and dusty desert landscape.
7. Take a Selfie at Joshua Tree’s Famous Rocks
There’s no shortage of rocks, pebbles, and boulders in Joshua Tree, but some are extra special. These famous rock formations have been featured in countless movies and TV shows, and they make for a great photo op!
One of the most popular rocks is Skull Rock. As its name suggests, it looks like a human skull! It’s located near the Jumbo Rocks Campground, so you can easily walk there from your campsite.
Another must-see rock formation is the Heart Rock. You can find this one along the Arch Rock Trail (home to another very famous formation, the Arch Rock). It’s a huge rock that’s been worn down over time to form a heart shape. It’s the perfect place to snap a selfie with your significant other or take a picture of your kids!
8. Eat Breakfast at the Joshua Tree Country Kitchen
You’ll need to fuel up for all your adventures in Joshua Tree, and there’s no better place to do that than the Joshua Tree Country Kitchen. This diner-style restaurant is a local favorite, and it’s known for its delicious food and friendly service.
The breakfast menu features all your favorites, like pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage. If you’re fueling up for an epic day of hiking or rock climbing, try the Prime Steak-N-Eggs or the Big Biscuit Combo.
For a tasty surprise, there’s also some Cambodian fare on the menu, thanks to the previous owner. Think Thin Rice Noodle Salad and Stir Fry Yakisoba Noodles.
For lunch, you can choose from a variety of sandwiches, burgers, and salads. Or, if you’re planning to have a picnic or camp out, you can also order to-go boxes from the Country Kitchen.
9. Take a Hike to Barker Dam
Joshua Tree is a hiker’s paradise, and taking a walk to Barker Dam is one of the top things to do in Joshua Tree. This easy one-mile loop hike takes you to a beautiful manmade reservoir that’s surrounded by rocky cliffs.
The first part of the trail is a moderate incline, but it levels out after a while. Along the trail are ancient petroglyphs, a dam straight from the early 1900s, plus lots of informative signs offering facts about the local fauna and flora.
Try hiking Barker Dam close to sunset to see wildlife like jackrabbits and birds! After you’ve rested and soaked in the scenery, follow the trail back to the visitor center. This is a great hike to do in the morning or evening when it’s not too hot.
10. Go Bouldering, Rock Climbing, Highlining, or Canyoneering
Exploring Joshua Tree from the ground is great, but standing on top of one of its rocks is something else! If you’re the adventurous type, there are plenty of ways to get your adrenaline pumping in Joshua Tree.
For instance, try rock climbing or bouldering. Joshua Tree is one of the best places in the world to boulder, and there are routes and heights for all skill levels. If you’re a complete beginner, you can even take a guided tour or lessons before you start.
If you’re confident about your balancing skills, then test your limits by highlining! This extreme sport involves walking along a narrow line that’s suspended between two rocks. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s an unforgettable experience!
You can also try canyoneering, which is a combination of hiking, rappelling, and swimming. There are several canyons to choose from in Joshua Tree, and each one offers its own challenges. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or just looking to try something new, you’re sure to find an activity that you’ll love in Joshua Tree!
Don’t worry if you didn’t bring any equipment. You can rent everything you need from one of the several companies that offer outdoor adventure tours in the park.
11. Tour the Historic Keys Ranch
For a family-friendly activity that’s both educational and fun, take a tour of Keys Ranch. This historic property was once a working ranch, and it’s now an official National Historic Site. Because of this, you can only visit the ranch by taking a guided tour that usually lasts two hours and is offered daily.
It’s actually a pretty exciting tour. You’ll get to see the old ranch house and other buildings like the blacksmith shop, the schoolhouse, and the barn.
We loved all the trivia our tour guide told us about the ranch and its previous owners, such as how the original owners had to hide bottles of alcohol in the walls to keep them from being stolen by the prohibitionists.
If you’re into paranormal activity, do keep an eye out for ghosts. Keys Ranch is said to be haunted, so don’t be surprised if you see a milkmaid walking around or Bill Keys himself!
12. Marvel at the Fortynine Palms Oasis
If you’ve never seen an oasis in the middle of the desert before, the Fortynine Palms Oasis is one of the coolest things to do in Joshua Tree. Here you’ll find 49 palm trees emerging from a natural spring-fed pool.
The best time to visit the oasis is in the spring or fall when the temperatures are cooler. In the summer, it can get pretty hot, and in the winter, the oasis is sometimes covered in snow.
To get to the oasis, you’ll need to hike about three miles round-trip. Most of the trail is easy to follow and is mostly flat, so it’s suitable for all fitness levels. However, it does get challenging in some parts, so be ready for a bit of scrambling and some inclines.
Along the way, you’ll get some amazing views of the desert landscape. Once you reach the oasis, keep an eye out for toads and other animals looking for a drink.
Joshua Tree is also near a few natural springs that are perfect for a refreshing swim. For instance, the Desert Hot Springs Resort has eight mineral pools, and they’re open 24 hours a day, so you can soak the stress away anytime you like!
13. Explore Picture-Perfect Pioneertown
Located 30 minutes from Joshua Tree, Pioneertown got its start in 1946, when a group of actors had the idea to create an 1880s-themed Old West movie set. Since then, hundreds of films and TV shows have been shot in Pioneertown. Fast-forward to today, and it’s now possible to shop, drink, and dine in Pioneertown’s many old movie sets!
If you’re hungry, Pappy & Harriet’s is a legendary restaurant and music venue that’s located in Pioneertown. Go there on an empty stomach, so you have plenty of room for one of their delicious bison burgers and an ice-cold beer!
Aside from being a terrific burger joint, Pappy & Harriet’s is famous on its own, too. It started as a movie set in the 1940s, so if you like Western films, there’s a good chance you’ve seen it in a few. Pioneertown is also home to the iconic Red Dog Saloon if you want to drink and dine where Roy Rogers used to hang out!
If you’re looking for souvenirs, be sure to visit the quirky Soap & Goats shop for locally-made scarves and soaps, then say hello to some friendly goats while you’re at it!
14. Buy Souvenirs in the Funky Town of Joshua Tree
Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it! Just off the Twentynine Palms highway is the funky little town of Joshua Tree that’s filled with art galleries, vintage shops, and cute cafes. The town has a retro vibe that’s perfect for anyone who loves all things kitschy. We also love how everything here is made by locals, so you can feel good about supporting the community when you make a purchase.
Some of our favorite stops in Joshua Tree include Grateful Desert for hand-crafted herbal tinctures and Coyote Corner for quirky souvenirs and cool desert books. If you’re feeling peckish, stop by the Joshua Tree Saloon for some tasty barbecue or by the Natural Sisters Cafe for some healthy vegetarian fare.
Apart from going on a shopping spree, take your time to wander around and take in the town’s unique atmosphere. It’s kinda like stepping back in time in the Old Wild West!
15. Go Stargazing at the Night Sky Festival
Very few places in the US offer such amazing stargazing opportunities as Joshua Tree. The night sky here is so clear that you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye! Go stargazing at night, and you’ll likely see a ton of shooting stars, along with constellations like Orion and the Big Dipper.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Joshua Tree during the Night Sky Festival, definitely make an effort to go stargazing. Held every year during the fall, the festival offers a variety of events and activities, including telescope viewing, astronomy workshops, and night hikes. Tickets are limited, and they go on sale during the summer, so act fast if you want to get your hands on a few.
Don’t worry if you miss the festival, though, because Joshua Tree is still an excellent place to go stargazing any time of year. Just pitch a tent at Jumbo Rocks or Cottonwood and enjoy the show!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Joshua Tree. What’s your favorite thing to do in Joshua Tree?
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