We enjoy teaching our kids to appreciate the beauty of nature, so hiking in Joshua Tree National Park was a perfect fit. A lot of people come spend one day in Joshua Tree, but if you have the time, there are enough enjoyable things to do in Joshua Tree National Park to fill several days.
We love hiking with our kids when we travel. In fact, one of the main reasons we chose to visit Palm Springs was that we wanted to go hiking in the Joshua Tree Park with our kids. We spent four days in Joshua Tree with kids (aged 4 & 6) right at the start of their peak season in mid-February.
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Is Joshua Tree Good for Kids?
Getting outside and enjoying nature is one of the best ways to connect as a family. America’s national parks are special places which are full of adventures just waiting to happen.
Joshua Tree National Park gets its name from the unique trees which thrive in the park. But, let’s be honest – adults will appreciate the unique beauty of the trees, but most kids won’t be impressed with the Joshua Trees.
What makes Joshua Tree good for kids is the adventures. Joshua Tree National Park has a unique landscape dotted by large rock formations. Exploring the areas around these huge boulders is one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree with kids.
The boulders in Joshua Tree have a jagged texture which makes them super easy to climb. If your kids are monkeys who love climbing rocks (like ours!), they will love exploring the Joshua Tree park. The boulders are usually scattered in close proximity, making it an adventure for kids to explore the tight paths between the rocks.
There are many ways to enjoy the boulder formations in Joshua Tree. Camping is a fun place to start as many of the campgrounds are nestled inside the unique rock formations. There are also many great Joshua Tree hikes with kids that lead you through the most beautiful places in the park.
Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park with Kids
Hiking Ryan Mountain Trail
Ryan Mountain Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. This enjoyable hike leads hikers to the summit of the second tallest mountain within the national park.
The walk to the summit is a very scenic one. Aside from the namesake Joshua Trees, there are no trees anywhere, so there is nothing to impede your views as you get higher and higher up the mountain.
The 360-degree views from the top are outstanding and really give you a sense for the special rocky landscape within the Joshua Tree National Park. It’s no wonder that Ryan Mountain Trail is also one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.
Read more about Ryan’s Mountain Trail (coming soon).
Hiking the Skull Rock Trail
The Skull Rock Trail is one of the best easy hikes in Joshua Tree National Park.
Skull Rock is one of the most popular roadside attractions in Joshua Tree National Park, featuring a huge boulder which looks like a human skull. The vast majority of people park, walk a few feet to take a picture of Skull Rock and then hop back in their car.
This is a shame as there is a great little walk which starts right below Skull Rock! The Skull Rock Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park for kids.
Hiking the Split Rock Trail
Another easy Joshua hike is the Split Rock Trail, which is an enjoyable alternative or companion hike to the Skull Rock Trail. The trailhead is just a few minutes down Park Boulevard from Skull Rock, so the terrain for both hikes are very similar.
Split Rock gets its name from the gigantic rock at the trailhead which has a huge crack in it. This kid-friendly hike is a bit longer than Skull Rock, but you’ll be treated to more scenic variety.
Keys View is a popular roadside attraction offering amazing views over the Coachella Valley. It’s a super short, slightly inclined walk along a paved pathway to the viewpoint.
Cholla Cactus Garden
Another popular roadside attraction in the Joshua Tree National Park is the Cholla Cactus Garden. The Cholla Cactus literally glows in the brilliant California sun and getting to see thousands of them growing side-by-side in a huge garden is a pretty impressive sight.
Hiking the Arch Rock Nature Trail
Want to see a little bit of Arches National Park within Joshua Tree National Park? Try the short Arch Rock Nature Trail to see a small, but impressive natural rock arch. After seeing the rock arch, spend some time letting the kids explore the rocks surrounding the arch; they will love it!
Hiking the Panorama Loop Trail
For our final day in Joshua Tree National Park we decided to do one last big hike in the Black Rock area, a region of the park we hadn’t yet explored.
The Panorama Loop Trail offers hikers a variety of terrain and scenery. It begins through a forest of very healthy Joshua Trees, before transitioning to a rocky, well treed valley. The southern leg of the Panorama Loop is the highest point on the hike and offers nice views of the Coachella Valley as well as the surrounding hills and mountains.
The NPS rates this hike as “strenuous”, but it’s one of the easiest “strenuous” hikes we’ve ever done. Despite being out of the main area of the park, we felt the beauty of this area makes it one of the best places to visit in Joshua Tree National Park.
For more information, hop on over to our Panorama Loop blog post (coming soon).
Oasis of Mara
I watched Looney Tunes as a kid and really wanted to see a roadrunner. We asked a Park Ranger and they told us the Oasis of Mara is one of the best spots to spot a roadrunner in the Joshua Tree National Park.
The paved interpretive Oasis of Mara Trail is located behind the Oasis Visitor Center on the east end of the park. I’ll be honest with you – it’s a pretty ugly little hike and I wouldn’t recommend it to you unless you want to see a roadrunner in the wild.
Read more about the Skull Rock Trail and the others in Six Easy Walks in Joshua Tree National Park (coming soon)
Junior Ranger Program
Joshua Tree National Park offers a fun and educational Junior Ranger program. Kids must obtain a Junior Ranger Handbook (available at the Visitor Centers) and then complete a number of exercises within.
This program is a ton of fun for the kids and they won’t even notice it’s educational too! When our kids completed their assigned tasks, a Park Ranger checked their work, led them in saying the Junior Ranger Oath, “I am proud to be a Joshua Tree Junior Ranger. I promise to help take care of and protect Joshua Tree National Park and all national parks. I also promise to continue to explore, learn about, and respect the natural world wherever I go.”.
After completing the oath, the kids were excited to add their new Joshua Tree Junior Ranger badges to their growing collection!
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park with Kids
There are two main entrances to the Joshua Tree National Park. The road to the western entrance leaves from the town of Joshua Tree, while the eastern entrance leaves from Twentynine Palms. Both towns have a decent number of hotels, restaurants and shopping, but Joshua Tree is the bigger town of the two.
We rented a 3-bedroom house on Airbnb in Twentynine Palms as most of the outdoor activities we wanted to do were closer to the eastern entrance. From here it was a 5-minute drive to the Oasis Visitor Center and only 20 minutes to Skull Rock. By comparison, it’s 35 minutes to Skull Rock from the Joshua Tree Visitor Center.
With two towns so close, there is a large selection of Airbnb rentals near Joshua Tree National Park available in both towns.
If you are looking for a family-friendly hotel near Joshua Tree, check out the Top Picks for Families on Booking.com.
Another fun option for families is one of the Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds. Many of the campgrounds are in super-fun locations nestled in-and-around the unique rock formations of Joshua Tree. Kids will love climbing and exploring the rocks around your campsite.
Approximately 80% of the sites in the Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds are available by reservation only. The remaining sites are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Competition for these sites is fierce on weekends, holidays and springtime.
Before booking your Joshua Tree accommodations, get the lay of the land with a Joshua Tree National Park Map.
Best Time to go to Joshua Tree National Park
The best time to visit Joshua Tree park is between October and May.
The peak season for Joshua Tree is between February and May, as the summer months are too hot. During this time, be sure to have advance reservations and to enter the park as early as possible each day to ensure a parking spot.
Options for Visiting Joshua Tree Park
Joshua Tree National Park is easily reachable from several major cities in the southwestern United States, but is it easy to do a Joshua Tree day trip?
Visiting Joshua Tree from Los Angeles: Depending on traffic, it takes roughly 2.5 hours to get from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park. Given the distance, we wouldn’t recommend a day trip to Joshua Tree from Los Angeles.
We talked to some Angelenos on the Panorama Loop Trail and they opted to stay one night, allowing them nearly two full days to see the best of Joshua Tree.
Visiting Joshua Tree from San Diego: Despite being further away from Joshua Tree than Los Angeles, the option to skip the LA traffic makes the trip from San Diego to Joshua Tree not much longer, roughly 2.75 hours. Again, given the distance, we wouldn’t recommend a day trip to Joshua Tree from San Diego.
Visiting Joshua Tree from Palm Springs: Being less than an hour away makes it is quite possible to make a day trip to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs. Drive yourself or take one of the many great day trip tours to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs.
Visiting Joshua Tree from Phoenix: The 4-hour drive makes it tough to do a day trip to Joshua Tree from Phoenix. We recommend spending several nights to make the amount of driving worthwhile.
We spent four nights near Joshua Tree National Park after spending time in Palm Springs with kids. We took advantage of our close proximity to tack on visits to Disneyland and Legoland after our visit to Joshua Tree.