Visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids is definitely an otherworldly trip. It spans two deserts – Colorado and Mojave – with incredible diversity of landscapes, habitats, and wildlife. It is a fabulous place for families of all ages and abilities to explore. We’ve loved finding the best things to do in Joshua Tree!
Learn About Joshua Tree National Park
Before we visit a national park, our family loves learning about it! It helps us enjoy it more and appreciate the people who have stewarded it well before us. We love learning about the indigenous history, as well as about wildlife and ecosystems.
Here are a few ways to learn about the park either before a visit or as part of a Joshua Tree virtual tour! And check out this beautiful video to get a glimpse into the natural wonders that await at Joshua Tree National Park!
Joshua Tree National Park History & Natural Features
- Humans have occupied the land presently known as Joshua Tree National Park for at least 5,000 years. It is believed the Pinto Culture were among the earliest inhabitants, followed by the Serrano, Chemehuevi and Cahuilla indigenous peoples.
- Joshua Tree National Park includes two unique ecosystems – Colorado and Mojave desert. Each is home to distinct plant and animal species.
- Native peoples collected acorns, mesquite pods, pinyon nuts, seeds, berries, and cactus fruits for food and medicine. Other plants were used to make baskets, weapons and tools.
- The desert tortoise is the most studied animal in the park and was placed on the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1990. Read more about desert tortoises in the park here.
- Mining and cattle ranching grew increasingly popular in the 1800s, driving out indigenous peoples by 1913.
- The construction of roads in the early 1920s began land development efforts and brought cactus poachers to the area. Minerva Hoyt, a desert plant enthusiast, advocated for protection of the area and played a significant role in the establishment of Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936.
- Joshua Tree became a National Park on October 31, 1 994 via the Desert Protection Act. (Source) (Source) (Source)
Joshua Tree Indigenous History
- Indigenous peoples, including the Chemehuevi, Serrano, Mojave, and Cahuilla have called the deserts of Joshua Tree home for at least 10,000 years.
- Serrano people call the land Mara, “land of little springs and much grass” and planted palm trees. The palm trees planted by the Serrano were used for “food, clothing, cooking implements, and housing.” Palm fronds were also used to make baskets and hats.
- The Chemehuevi and Serrano lived together peacefully, irrigating the Oasis and cultivating a garden. Descendants of both tribes are now members of the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians.
- The Chemehuevi continued to practice traditional techniques of hunting, gathering and cultivation through the 19th century. However, as more settlers arrived to the area, resources were depleted and tribal peoples were forced to supplement with non-traditional foods.
- After the devastation of smallpox and increased presence of settlers, tribal peoples moved away to other areas of the desert. Then, in the early 1970s, the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians invited the Twenty-Nine Palms Band to take over 210 acres of the Cabazon Reservation.
- After the Twenty-Nine Palms Band petitioned Congress, President Gerald Ford signed legislation in 1975, recognizing the tribe and those 210 acres as the Twenty-Nine Palms Reservation. (Source) (Source) (Source)
Featured Joshua Tree Picture Book: Life in the Slow Lane: A Desert Tortoise Tale
Joshua Tree Packing List: What to Pack For a Joshua Tree Family Vacation
Joshua Tree National Park Packing List
- Carry-all backpack
- Sun protective gear
- Sturdy shoes
- I like these hiking boots for women and men, and these hiking sandals for women and men.
- I’d recommend either sneakers with good tread or hiking shoes when exploring Joshua Tree trails with kids. My kids love either hiking sandals, hiking boots, or regular sneakers depending on the type of hike. (I like these and these for kids because they’re also waterproof.)
- First aid kit and my favorite bandages
- I LOVE this kind and it smells amazing! I also love this kind for kids – it’s great for sensitive skin. This is my favorite facial sunscreen for myself.
- Insect Repellent
- It can definitely get buggy around here, especially in the summer. We like this bug repellent in areas that don’t have a high prevalence of disease-carrying mosquitos (we use Deet in Zika/dengue/malarial areas).
- Quick-Dry Towel
- We like to have one of these quick-dry towels on hand in case of rain or any spills, or to head to the beach.
- This is my favorite hiking hat and my favorite hat for babies.
- Camera equipment (see below)
- We love this water bottle and this water bottle for adults.
- This hydration backpack for kids is a favorite. (Also available here.)
- My older kids LOVE this water bottle.
- This and this are our favorite water bottles for toddlers.
- Child hiking carrier – Joshua Tree has a number of wonderful hikes, and we love having a carrier to pack along a baby or toddler when visiting Joshua Tree with kids. This is our favorite backpack hiking carrier for visiting Joshua Tree National Park with toddler that also has plenty of room for snacks and even our big camera. We also love this soft structured carrier for younger babies.
How To Get to Joshua Tree National Park
- The closest airport is in Palm Springs, about a 1 hour drive.
- Alternatively, you could fly into Los Angeles, about a 3 hour drive – potentially longer depending on LA traffic.
- San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix are all about 3.5-4 hours away.
How Many Days Should I Spend at Joshua Tree National Park?
Where to Stay Near Joshua Tree National Park: Joshua Tree Lodging for Families
Camping in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree, CA Lodging with Kids
Where to Eat near Joshua Tree National Park
- Roadrunner Grab + Go – this one is attached to the visitor center and is a great stop to grab picnic items before heading into the park for the day.
- Natural Sisters Cafe
- Crossroads Cafe
- Frontier Cafe
Here’s where to eat in Twentynine Palms:
How to Get Around Joshua Tree: Joshua Tree Transportation
Best Time to Go to Joshua Tree: Joshua Tree National Park Weather
The rest of the year, Joshua Tree can be quite lovely to visit. There are wildflower and cacti blooms in spring, especially at the south end of the park. The Joshua Trees also bloom in spring. Spring is the park’s busiest season, so consider visiting in late spring if you want to avoid crowds but still visit this time of year.
Fall is quite lovely in Joshua Tree National Park. Temperatures cool down after September, but it’s still quite warm during the day and cooler at night. It’s wise to pack a couple layers for cooler mornings and evenings. Sun protection is still a must!
Day Trip to Joshua Tree: Top Joshua Tree Checklist of the Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
- If possible, catch a Joshua Tree sunrise (Arch Rock and Cholla Cactus Garden are spectacular)
- Hike Hidden Valley
- Drive up Keys View
- See Skull Rock and Split Rock – there are picnic areas for lunch near both
- Hike Arch Rock
- Visit the Cholla Garden for Golden Hour
- Drive back through the park during sunset to enjoy spectacular vistas before heading out
Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park: Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary & Unique Things To Do in Joshua Tree
1. Visit the Joshua Tree Cultural Center
2. Guided Ranger Programs: Talks, Walks, Coffee, And More
3. Junior Ranger Program
4. Hike A Joshua Tree Trail: Best Hikes Joshua Tree National Park
5. Biking in Joshua Tree National Park
6. Climbing, Bouldering and Scrambling in Joshua Tree National Park
7. Drive the Geology Tour Road
8. Birding in Joshua Tree National Park
9. Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park
10. Spring Wildflower Viewing
Spring is a wonderful time to view the desert wildflowers in Joshua Tree National Park. Though, the density of the blooms can vary year to year, there’s usually blooms happening somewhere in the park throughout the season. Keep an eye on the Joshua Tree National Park Wildflower Watch to see which species are blooming and where. You might even get lucky and hit a desert superbloom!
11. Horseback Riding in Joshua Tree
With over 250 equestrian trails, on horseback is a wonderful way to see Joshua Tree National Park! Check out this page for trail information, camp sites designated for horses and trailer parking areas. Be sure to check regulations about grazing and watering before you go.
12. Spot Petroglyphs in Joshua Tree National Park
While the Barker Dam Trail is popular, it’s rarely super crowded and many don’t realize there are petroglyphs to explore near one end of the out-and-back adventure. The 1.5 mile round trip trail is perfect with kiddos and they’ll love viewing the ancient carvings.
13. Photography in Joshua Tree National Park
- 70-200mm lens (for wildlife)
- 24-70mm lens
- 15-35mm lens (for astrophotography)
- ND Filter
Desert Tips: Staying Safe in the Desert
Enjoy Your Visit to Joshua Tree National Park with Kids!
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