1. Remember, it's a Desert
"The Park" is a massive desert. It's over 790,000 sq. acres. It fact, it's bigger than the state of Rhode Island. Yes, it's Magical. Yes, it's Amazing. Yes, it's Freaky - but it's still a desert. And like most deserts, it can be hostile and unforgiving. In the desert there is:
NO WATER (bring 1 gallon per person)
NO STREET LIGHTS
NO FOOD SERVICE (bring your own food and supplies)
…only Camping (but there is no water or electricity!)
NO CELL RECEPTION (see below)
2. Actually... it's two Deserts
The park is so large that it spans two desert ecosystems - the division is primarily delineated by elevation - and roughly divides the park down the middle,
The Mojave Desert (western park) is the high desert - and is home to the Joshua Tree. The west half of the map below is in the Mojave Desert. The Mojave extends north of the park into Nevada.. Generally, if you see a Joshua Tree, then you are in the Mojave desert.
The Colorado Desert (eastern park), which is lower in elevation, exists in the east half of the map below. The Colorado desert extends well into Arizona and is part of the larger Sonoran Desert ecosystem. It is generally barren in comparison to the plant life of the Mojave ecosystem..
The Cholla Cactus Garden is near the mid point of the Park, and these two ecosystems. It resides in the Colorado desert, so you will notice the absence of Joshua Trees when you visit there.
3. Stop by the Visitor Centers
If you're arriving at the main Joshua Tree Entrance on Hwy 62, there is a Park Visitor Center on Park Blvd. Stop in and purchase your park pass. Pick up a book on the local plants/animals, or wildflowers, or the History of JT.
These are handy resources to have in the park and they also make great memories to share with friends. Plus, they'll come in handy when researching your next trip to the park.
There is also a Park Visitor Center near the North Entrance (in 29 Palms) on Utah Trail.
4. Get an Annual Pass
When you get to the park entrance, you'll need to make a decision: Do you get a "Day Pass" or do you get the "Annual Inter-Agency Pass". It's a no brainer. Get the Annual Inter-Agency Pass. Yes, it costs more, but...
an Inter-Agency Pass
gets you into every National Park
for FREE for the next twelve months
Think about the possibilities! ...and, you'll have a very good reason to come back to visit the park again soon!
Make sure to ask for a Map and the current newsletter. Hint: Try not to arrive at "Noon" on Saturday, that’s rush hour. There can be 10-100 cars/RVs in front of you. (note: if you have an Annual Pass, sometimes you get to cut in line and pass those RVs!)
If you are entering the Park at the West Entrance, make sure to fill up your water containers there, it's your last chance. Also, if you arrive after hours (when the park entrance station is not staffed), you can still enter the park (Free maps are in the brown box). When you exit the park, you will be asked to show your receipt as proof of payment. So, if you got in free, you will have to pay upon exit.
Standard Entrance Fee - Auto - $30 - good for 7 days
Motorcycle - $25
Individual - bicycle or walking - $15
Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass - $55/year
"All National Parks" Pass - $80/year
Senior Pass (62+) - $80/lifetime
5. Visit on a 2019 "Free" Day!
As an additional incentive to visit the park - If you plan ahead, you can come on a day when there is no admission fee.
January 21: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 20: First day of National Park Week
August 25: National Park Service Birthday
September 28: National Public Lands Day
November 11: Veterans Day
6. All Park Entrances
are always "OPEN" (normally!)
Normally, you can always enter and exit the park, from any entrance, at any time of day. If there is staff present, then you have to pay. If no staff is present, you can enter the park without paying. But when you leave, if the entrance is staffed, you'll need to show proof that you paid to enter the park - otherwise you will need to pay upon exit.
Please obey the speed limits in the Park! The roads are single-lane and narrow, with lots of curves. You pay for campsites separately (see our Camping Section).
7. From Los Angeles,
Use the 29 Palms (North) Entrance
on Busy Weekends
99% of visitors from Los Angeles use the Joshua Tree / West Entrance. I've seen lines over a mile long to get into the park on weekends (it's still a single lane road). Instead, travel about 15 miles East on Hwy 62 to the 29 Palms / North Entrance - There are typically no lines there. This saves you a lot of frustration - and about 30-45 minutes in line - plus you are now 'deep' in the park. And, after spending the day in the park, you can exit thru the Joshua Tree entrance and never have to backtrack - saving you another 1-2 hours!
8. Cell Phone Reception
is very limited!
There is "no cell phone reception" in the park, officially... For the vast majority of the park, your cellphone will be useless (remember, the park is bigger than Rhode Island). But, there are a few secrets. To get Cell Phone reception in the park, hike up to the top of one of the hills/rock piles (cell phone reception is kind of a reward for hikers). Service is very good up high.
is best near the Park Entrances,
Keys View, or high up on the rocks
If you don't feel like hiking/bouldering, then try this: Cell reception gets better the closer you get to one of the entrances. Look on the map and find the nearest entrance, then drive towards it. Cell phone reception is best on the West side, starting around Boy Scout Trailhead you can at least text. Also, reception is strong at the top of Keys View Road, overlooking Coachella / Palms Springs.
9. Coyote, The Trickster!
Coyotes are the park's spirit animal.
You're in their territory now! You'll typically see them wondering around during the twilight hour (after sunset) and very early in the morning. They are just passing thru, but remember: They are wild.
Do not engage with them or feed them, just be happy that you got to see them. If you're lucky, and fast, you can get a picture.