Located in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park attracts around 2.8 million visitors every year. Famous for its iconic breed of Yucca, commonly known as the Joshua Tree, you can separate the park into the high desert of the Mojave and the low desert of Colorado.
It takes 1 hour 40 minutes to drive through Joshua Tree National Park. Along the 67-mile route you can hike through the high and low desert, look out from Key Views and admire the amazing landscapes of Skull Rock, Arch Rock and Pinto Basin Sand Dunes.
Hiking, rock climbing and camping are popular attractions in Joshua Tree National Park, and depending on what time of day you visit it's also home to spectacular sunrises, sunsets and stargazing. With so many miles of spectacular desert landscapes to enjoy, it makes an unforgettable drive, so keep on reading to start planning your trip.
Can you drive through Joshua Tree National Park?
|Park Boulevard||40 minutes||25 miles|
|North-South||1 hour||40 miles|
|West-South Route||1 hour 40 minutes||70 miles|
You can drive through Joshua Tree National Park in under 2 hours, making it a fabulous one day trip if you're spending time in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Palm Springs or Las Vegas.
If you don't have your own vehicle you can also take a jeep tour across the national park. These are efficient and safe, however they can be costly compared to a self-driven tour through the park.
There are a variety of routes that you can take across the park. We recommend using either the North, South or West Entrances, as these main entrances let you follow fully paved roads and take in some of Joshua Tree National Park's most famous landmarks.
The West-South Route is the most comprehensive drive through Joshua Tree National Park. You'll drive from the West Entrance through the heart of the national park before leaving at the South Entrance.
On this route you'll see the distinct desert landscapes of the high and low desert, with notable stops at Keys View and Skull Rock. There are also plenty of trailheads to choose from with varying levels of difficulty.
The Park Boulevard Route is much shorter. This drive also starts at the West Entrance but takes a shorter 25-mile route to the North Entrance. You'll still get to see Skull Rock and find trails to walk. Plus, there are picnic areas and campgrounds en route if you're looking to stay overnight.
The North-South Route is a middle ground between these two options. It will take around 1 hour to drive.
How to drive through Joshua Tree National Park on the West-South Route
Our longest route through Joshua Tree National Park starts near the town of Joshua Tree. From CA-62 take Park Boulevard south through the town then on into the national park.
Carry on along Park Boulevard and you'll pass Maze Loop Trailhead and Quail Springs Trail before arriving at Hidden Valley. You can camp here, or explore the surrounding area on foot.
When you reach Cap Rock, take a detour along Keys View Road to see this stunning overlook, then return to Park Boulevard to continue on across the national park past the iconic Skull Rock.
Turn right onto Pinto Basin Road and you'll soon reach Arch Rock Nature Trail. The road then continues on to Cholla Cactus Garden Trail and Pinto Basin Sand Dunes Trailhead.
As you approach the park's South Entrance it's also worth dropping into Cottonwood Visitor Center and nearby Moorten's Mill before you complete your drive and head out onto I-10.
Driving through Joshua Tree National Park on the North-South Route
From the town of Twentynine Palms on CA-62, take Utah Trail down to the park's North Entrance Station where you'll join Park Boulevard heading south through the park.
Just a few meters from the entrance station, take a hike along the Contact Mine Trail before continuing south to join Pinto Basin Road. From here you'll follow the second half of the West-South Route, including Arch Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden Trail and Pinto Basin Sand Dunes.
When you approach Cottonwood Campsite, turn onto Cottonwood Road and follow it to the interstate to exit the national park.
How to drive through Joshua Tree National Park via Park Boulevard
This short route also starts out from Joshua Tree, and you'll mostly follow the same waypoints along Park Boulevard until you reach the junction a couple of miles past Skull Rock. You can skip the detour to Keys View if you want to limit the time you spend driving.
Here, turn left to continue on Park Boulevard. This will take you towards the park's North Entrance at Twentynine Palms, and along the way you can stop to hike the Contact Mine Trail or visit the Sky's the Limit Observatory and Nature Center.
How long does it take to drive through Joshua Tree National Park?
Wherever you start out, the drive through Joshua Tree National Park shouldn't take more than 1 hour 40 minutes if you head straight across the park without stopping.
The shortest route along Park Boulevard only takes 40 minutes to drive, so if you're short on time this is probably the best route to take. It still packs a punch, taking you through some stunning desert landscapes.
Remember that the times we've given just give you an idea of how long you'll spend on the road. If you want to stop and hike one or two of the trails or sit out and enjoy a picnic with a view then you should add on enough time to suit your group's plans.
Which entrance should you arrive at in Joshua Tree National Park?
There are three main entrances to Joshua Tree National Park, and your choice of arrival point will probably come down to which entrance is closest to the place you're travelling from, and how much time you want to spend driving through the national park.
The West Entrance is just outside the town of Joshua Tree near Yucca Valley, off CA-62, while the North Entrance is a little further along the highway near Twentynine Palms. The South Entrance sits between Cactus City and Chiriaco Summit, just off Interstate 10.
As you've already seen, our three suggested routes across the park have different driving times but they all offer an amazing scenic experience. Take a look at the table below to see which entrance is closest to a number of nearby cities.
|Origin City||Recommended Entrance||Total Distance||Time|
|Palm Springs||West Entrance||45 miles||1 hour|
|Los Angeles||West Entrance||130 miles||2 hours 30 minutes|
|San Diego||West Entrance||160 miles||2 hours 50 minutes|
|Las Vegas||North Entrance||190 miles||3 hours|
|Phoenix||South Entrance||220 miles||3 hours 30 minutes|
|Tucson||South Entrance||390 miles||5 hours 50 minutes|
|San Francisco||West Entrance||500 miles||8 hours 10 minutes|
Best places to stop on a drive through Joshua Tree National Park
You can visit Joshua Tree National Park without making an overnight stop, but if you'd like to spend an evening stargazing then enjoy the cooler temperatures on an early morning hike, here are some of our top picks for places to stay.
Immerse yourself in desert views in Joshua Tree
If you're arriving at the West Entrance to follow the West-South Route or Park Boulevard Route, you'll pass through the town of Joshua Tree, which is an artsy escape with peculiar stays and experiences.
Set in the desert, Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum is a fascinating open-air museum that features folk art and sculptures.
Also nearby is Furstwurld, a hotbed for artists to showcase their talents. Whether it be poets, filmmakers, artists or musicians, there's a creative energy at this interesting venue, so why not drop in and enjoy the vibes?
Book a stay at Autocamp Joshua Tree and you'll be checking in to one of the reconditioned Airstream RVs which have been perfectly adapted to make a spacious and comfortable suite. With a beautiful outdoor pool and on-site restaurant and bar, this location is highly rated by guests.
Alternatively, for a more secluded getaway which includes outdoor spa baths and stunning mountain and desert views, check in to Sacred Sands.
With its oasis-like feel, this unique desert retreat is just a 3-minute drive from the West Entrance, and it's a characterful place to relax while you're spending time at the national park.
Relax and unwind in La Quinta
La Quinta is the closest major city to the South Entrance. It's just over half an hour away from Joshua Tree National Park, but as there are very few places to stay close to the South Entrance, your best option is to drive a little further and enjoy a night or two in this resort city.
Part of the Coachella Valley, La Quinta is famous for its golf. It's a good place to stop if driving west to places such as Los Angeles or San Bernadino after following the West-South or North-South Routes through Joshua Tree.
At the foot of the Santa Rosa mountains is the picturesque Old Town of La Quinta. Here you can enjoy boutique shops and cafes in this quaint and pretty district.
Alternatively, come and see why the area is renowned for golf and enjoy one of the local courses. Heritage Palms Course is local and accepts non-members.
You'll find a relaxing stay at Homewood Suites by Hilton La Quinta, where you can cool down by the outdoor pool after a hot day in the national park. It has spacious and elegantly decorated rooms, with extra large beds.
Just a short drive off the interstate and 10 minutes away from Old Town La Quinta, Homewood Suites by Hilton La Quinta also has free parking so it's a really convenient place to stay as part of your road trip.
Where to camp in Joshua Tree National Park
As you might expect, there are some fantastic camping opportunities in Joshua Tree National Park. Some of the popular camping spots in the national park include Hidden Valley, Sheep Pass, Jumbo Rocks, White Tank, Cottonwood and Belle Campgrounds.
Drive 8 miles along Park Boulevard and you'll reach Jumbo Rocks Campground. While we don't recommend camping in the height of summer, the Jumbo Rocks Campground has huge rocks offering shelter from sun at some pitches.
You can hike to iconic Skull Rock from here along a well-signposted trail. As its name suggests, the campground is surrounded by the Jumbo Rocks so you can enjoy other rocky hikes and climbs from here too.
If you're travelling in the cooler months, another great camping option is Hidden Valley Campgrounds - pick a site close to the tall rock formations to protect you from the wind. It's just a 15-minute drive to the West Entrance should you want to leave in bad weather, and campfires are allowed in designated fire rings to keep warm.
Things you need to know about driving through Joshua Tree National Park
It costs $15 to enter Joshua Tree National Park on foot or by bicycle, or $30 per vehicle if you're driving into the national park. You can buy a pass on arrival at the park, but note that the West Entrance doesn't take cash payments.
In return, you can use your one-week NPS pass multiple times at Joshua Tree or use the ticket to see other national parks in the surrounding area.
Here are our top tips when it comes to preparing for a drive through Joshua Tree National Park:
- The speed limit through the national park is 35 mph.
- There are two main roads and three main entrances, so it's easy to navigate.
- There are three other entrances that we haven't included on our routes here which may lead you to dirt roads - we'd recommend sticking to the West, South and North entrances for the most straightforward drive through the national park.
- Download maps in advance or use an offline app as there is little to no cellphone service within the park.
- Always stay on hiking trails as it's easy to get lost in the desert.
- Without stopping for hikes, you could see the attractions in a few hours.
- Flash floods can occur in periods of sudden, heavy rain. Keep up to date with weather forecasts and ask at a Visitor Center for any local advisories. If heavy showers are predicted, you might need to change your plans.
- If flooding does occur, don't attempt to drive through moving water or along roads which may be closed for safety reasons either during or after a period of flooding.
- At night the temperature can drop so come prepared if you're staying in the park or taking a drive in the late evening.
- Bring food and water with you as there are no kiosks or water points in the national park.
Best time to drive through Joshua Tree National Park
All of our suggested routes through Joshua Tree National Park are open all year round, but your trip might look and feel different depending on the time of year you travel.
Joshua Tree National Park is quietest during summer months due to the intense heat. With temperatures regularly reaching as high as 99 degrees Fahrenheit, it's too hot to hike at this time of year as the sweltering heat can make outdoor activities dangerous.
You can still drive through the park in summer, and if you're hoping to go stargazing then the warm evenings are perfect for this.
The winter months are much cooler, with average temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit and sometimes dropping close to freezing. The high desert does sometimes see snowfall - the last snow covering was back in 2019. January and February are the wettest months, but they still only see an inch or less of rain.
Spring and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Temperatures in the high 60s Fahrenheit make for much more comfortable hiking conditions and you can also see the wildflowers blooming in spring. This beautiful spectacle begins in February in the south of the park, but comes later in the higher elevation of the northern part of the park.
Things to see on a drive through Joshua Tree National Park
While the mesmerizing desert landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park hardly need an introduction, these are some of the park's most popular natural monuments which you can visit during your trip:
- Skull Rock - You can see this fascinating natural rock formation from Park Boulevard but it's worth getting out of the car to snap photographs of its skull-like features, including nose and eyes.
- Keys View - A 10-mile detour off Park Boulevard, Keys View offers panoramic views of the Coachella Valley from an elevation of 5,185 ft
- Arch Rock Nature Trail - For a trek through big boulders, this is your hike. It'll lead you to Arch Rock, a 30-foot-wide natural arch.
- Cholla Cactus Garden - Stop here to see how the Mojave Desert blends into the Colorado desert. As the landscape changes, you'll find more cacti, and the garden is the perfect place to walk along a boardwalk and admire the prickly plants.
- Pinto Basin Sand Dunes - A quieter trail leads to the picturesque Pinto Basin Sand Dunes. They're not true sand dunes because the sand here is collected against a ridge of rocks. This more advanced walk is also a great place to see desert flora flowering during spring.
With its iconic scenery and natural wonders, the drive through Joshua Tree National Park is sure to be unforgettable, so lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera and think about when to set off!