Well, except the Yucca Trees…
Did you laugh? Good.
So, we spent a whole week dry-camping in Joshua Tree National Park and it was a very beautiful place. We are not desert folks. In fact, when we visited the Lava Tubes National Monument back in July 2019, we were not entirely fond of high desert landscapes. But, Joshua Tree is a different animal. It is gorgeous and totally worth the trek for anyone.
Here is what we enjoyed!
Black Rock Canyon Campground and Hiking Trails
This is where we stayed and according to the National Park Service, this campground used to be home to a Jelly Stone RV Resort. If you haven’t heard of this campground chain, google it and be amazed by the quality of events and of course be astounded by the price per night as well…
Now that this lovely campground is part of the National Park, for a mere $20 a night you can camp under Joshua Trees and have fairly quick access to the towns of Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree. Of course, this campground is a solid 20-30 minute drive to main park entrance and then another 20-30 minute drive to the other enticing spots to explore.
We explored the campground and saw many ground squirrels and quail, and even a few coyotes too. There were a few nearby trailheads, but we only explored a couple of back roads and the first 20-30 minutes of the West Side Loop trail before turning around.
Barker Dam Trail
This was our first trail experience in the park and it did not disappoint. Well, except for the signs warning us to watch for Big Horn Sheep, which got us all excited to see them. Turns out, it is very rare to spot one. Bummer!
Anyway, the 1 mile loop trail was a neat experience. Large boulders to climb on, signs depicting the history of the area, steps to navigate, a view of the Barker Dam about half way through, and then toward the end (or beginning, depending on which direction you take on the loop) there is a spot with petroglyphs! The petroglyphs are a tiny signed detour along the loop, like a 1 minute or less walk. While there were many top moments on this trail, one of the best is not exactly on the trail, but is just past the petroglyphs on the detour path. There is an opening in the boulders and this gorgeous view of the valley full of Joshua Trees. The photo does not do it justice.
Indian Cove Nature Trail
This trail is another easy 1 mile trail that was a neat experience, especially for kids. The nature trail signs were wonderful and gave the kids so much information about the plant and animal life in the area. As part of our roadschool we use the Junior Ranger programs through the National and State parks, as well as Exploring Nature with Children. The week we were in Joshua Tree, we utilized the amazing Junior Ranger activities and we also learned about evergreen trees as part of the Exploring Nature with Children curriculum.
Fun fact, Joshua Trees and the abundant Juniper trees are evergreens and so even though we were not surrounded by redwoods or pine trees (as we were in our hometown), we still got to experience evergreens in the high desert. Ready for another fun fact? Giant Sloths are responsible for spreading the Joshua Tree seeds and making the amazing forests.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
This was probably a favorite for our family. The five-year-old was particularly drawn to climbing boulders and the two-year-old wants to do whatever big brother does, and this trail offered plenty of climbing opportunities. Not only did our little wildlings experience boulder climbing, we also saw a couple adults doing some actual rock climbing, which was a very interesting thing to watch. This one mile loop was full of spectacular views and honestly is probably the one we would recommend everyone hike when in the area.
Want to see an amazing sunset or maybe just amazing views of the San Andreas Fault and Coachella Valley? Well this is the perfect place for that! It is out of the way, a solid 45 minute drive from the West entrance to the park, but so worth it. We totally enjoyed it, even though we had to fight for parking. We actually drove all the way to the parking area on a Sunday early afternoon and waited in a line of cars for 10+ minutes before realizing we were not going to find parking. When we went back on Wednesday at sunset, there was no line, but there was also no parking. We had to get creative. So if this sounds like a place you want to see, make sure to plan ahead, go during the week, and maybe give yourself some time to circle and wait around for parking. The parking lot is right next to the views, so most people are in and out quickly. Except maybe at sunset, because everyone is taking in those beautiful views the parking lot did not have a lot of turnover.
Joshua Tree Visitor Center
We did venture outside of the park. Surprisingly, the visitor center is not in the park. We only went here because we needed to turn in the Junior Ranger book. It was packed and sort of small. This visitor center has a neat educational area, which is where we learned that Giant Sloths are amazing and responsible for spreading the Joshua Trees. But again it was really busy. The kids were uncomfortable and the two-year-old really wanted a stuffed animal and brought me several to consider while we waited patiently for the ranger to be available to swear in the five-year-old. We went on a Friday late morning, so maybe during the week it would be easier to navigate. If you are doing the Junior Ranger program, the educational piece is worth it.
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Sculpture Museum
We decided to check out this really neat museum because the area of Joshua Tree and the desert in general is known to lure and inspire artists. It is a free (donations accepted) outdoor sculpture museum. The artist Noah Purifoy died in 2004, so some of the art is beginning to fall into disrepair, but it is still worth a stop. The sculptures are all made out of thrown out items and it is a solid 10 acres to explore. Plus, there is a toilet sculpture that is sure to excite kids. Well, it made our five-year-old very happy anyways…
Hi-Desert Nature Museum
This place was not on our radar until the end of the week. In fact, searches of things to do with little ones outside of the National Park were met with very little results. We recommend this nature museum because they have native creatures to check out, such as the chuckwalla lizard, desert tortoise, and snakes, and they have some indoor activities to keep little ones busy and happy during unfavorable weather.
Randomness from the Week
Like artists are inspired by Joshua Tree to create, our kids were inspired to lie down randomly.
Honestly, we wish we had more time in the area. A week just was not enough to experience all the places in the park we wanted to see, but we sure did enjoy what we saw. Unfortunately, the area did not have breweries that served food, which is how we keep the kids happy while we enjoy the new local beers.
Next up are our adventures in the Verde Valley area of Arizona! Stay tuned…
Here are the current stats of our adventures!
On the road: 7 months
Miles towing our home: 3,967
Campgrounds visited: 34
Breweries visited: 29
National/State Parks visited: 10