We've been to Joshua Tree National Park four times and each time did some of the same things and some different. There is no way I can go into detail about all of our activities in one blog post. However, I'm going to share the highlights and some tips if readers plan on checking Joshua Tree out for themselves.
Joshua Tree has several campgrounds, but only two of them allow reservations. During the winter, the campgrounds fill up so, to play it safe, we made reservations at Black Rock Campground when arriving on Friday evenings. There is a lot of hiking to do from this campground and this campground has running water. However, you don't feel like you are actually in the national park because the entrance to the campground is about 20 miles west (or before if heading from Los Angeles) of the main park entrance in Twentynine Palms. One time we reserved a spot at Black Rock for Friday night, and risked finding a spot at Jumbo Rocks on Saturday morning. We made sure we were at Jumbo Rocks right at check out (for last night's guests) and we got an awesome spot! Jumbo Rocks is a way cooler campground (in my opinion), so I recommend staying there at least one night. If you aren't camping, make sure to check out the Jumbo Rocks area anyway. This IS Joshua Tree.
Here are some of the activities we did while in Joshua Tree:
49 Palms Oasis Trail (3 mile round-trip hike; 300 feet elevation gain both directions)
This is a terrific hike! We've done this twice. This was the first time I'd seen Sonora Barrels and I love photographing them! The oasis is really cool. There is no shade until you get to the oasis, so go early and wear sunscreen! More information about this hike can be found here.
Jumbo Rocks (camping; scrambling/climbing; walking/hiking)
Sunsets here are out of this world. I could spend all day scrambling around this seemingly never-ending rock pile. Serious climbers go elsewhere in the park, but this is a great place for regular folk to scramble and climb and just explore. From the campground, we went off exploring for hours. No need to even get in the car. There is also a 1.7 mile nature walk that we did one afternoon, just to stretch our legs. Expect this trail to take you longer than you anticipate because there is just so much to explore!
California Riding and Hiking Trail (35 mile trail on which you can backcountry camp)
We went out for a 6-ish mile hike (3 miles out and back) starting at the backcountry registration area on Geology Tour Road. This was a really mellow hike and we drifted off the trail for a bit to explore some of the rocks. You can see for a long way on this hike. Great if you just want to zone out and take a nice walk. Our 6-ish miles got us to some of the Jumbo Rocks, but even a shorter walk on this trail would be pleasant.
Cycling in the Park (anywhere; We started at Jumbo Rocks and went down Keys View Road and back.) Always fun to check out a place a little differently than you usually do. Hiking, you can only go so far. Cycling, we got to see a lot more at one time and it's a lot more fun than driving!
Cholla Cactus Garden (.25 mile loop)
For most of our visits to Joshua Tree, we came and went out the north entrance because it's a quicker way back to the west. However, we wanted to see the other part of the park at least once, so we drove out the south to Interstate 10. I recall this part of the park being a little less exciting, but the Cholla Cactus Garden was pretty cool. Easy walk and really cool plants!
Ok, I may lose some of you here. But stay open minded. As a musician and hippie-at-heart, I just had to check this out. It was one of the weirder things I've ever done. We went with two of our friends and the four of us experienced a "sound bath" at the Integratron. We laid down on the floor with our heads to the center of the room, while a guy played crystal bowls over to the side. He would stay on one tone and then move to the next. I wasn't sure I was going to make it up until the 3rd tone, and then I literally thought I was floating and can't remember the rest of the tones. I tell this story laughing, but I'm really glad we did it. The dome is built over a confluence of 3 underground rivers, which is what makes it a geomagnetic vortex.
Hiking from Black Rock Campground
On one trip to Joshua Tree, we hiked with our friend to Eureka Peak (9.5 miles round trip). On another trip, we hiked with two friends to Warren Peak (5.35 miles round trip). Both were moderate hikes because we were basically walking in sand and climbed some elevation. Both had pretty good views at the top. I wouldn't recommend doing both in one visit, but I'd recommend either. Eureka might not be worth the distance. If I had to recommend one, it would be Warren.
Bottom line...Joshua Tree is awesome. It may not seem like it would be, but I hope my pictures prove it's beauty and uniqueness are worth a visit (or many!) I look forward to moving back to California, so we can make a trip back to where it all started for us. Thanks Joshua Tree for giving us so many amazing memories!