Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park: Guide and 1 to 2 Day Itinerary

A weekend (1 or 2 days) in Joshua Tree National Park satisfies different kinds of travelers. For some, it’s an easy way to immerse in nature. Others, on the other hand, dream of spending a weekend in the Joshua Tree National Park area, stargazing and soaking up rustic vibes of nearby towns. 

Weekend (1-2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park - Roads and Destinations

How to Spend a Weekend (1 to 2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park

Whether you spend the whole weekend or choose to stay in Joshua Tree National Park for just one day, a plethora of outdoor activities awaits you. From hiking to rock climbing and admiring desert vegetation, the area satisfies ample interests and needs.

First-time visitors often drive around and mostly explore the area through car windows. For these travelers, one day is usually sufficient to see some of the main attractions of Joshua Tree National Park. A long weekend (or at least 2 days) in Joshua Tree National Park, on the other hand, enhances your outdoor adventures, inspiring to plan new trips before you even leave.

Yet if you’re concerned about the desert, dust, and tiresome hiking pursuits that keep you away from the area, think again. Nestled near some of the eccentric cities and towns, Joshua Tree National Park promises a weekend filled with more than just outdoor adventures.

But for those who focuse solely on the park and a myriad of things one can do in the area, here is our weekend guide to Joshua Tree National Park that includes 1 and 2 day itineraries.    

Weekend (1-2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park - Roads and Destinations

Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park: Location

Joshua Tree National Park has surrounded itself with the bohemian small towns and some of the largest cities in the American Southwest. This close proximity to civilization ensures the easy-breezy trips to the area with plenty of choices on how to entertain yourself here.

Furthermore, being sandwiched between such big cities as Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas takes care of some of the travel logistics. So if you plan to escape the hustle and bustle of the Hollywood Capital for a quiet weekend (or 1-2 days) in Joshua Tree National Park, jump in your car and head to the desert. The park sits just 2 hours 20 minutes away.

The distance from San Diego to this region is nearly 3 hours, while Palm Springs, another popular destination in Southern California, nestles only 50 minutes away. Outdoor enthusiasts traveling from Las Vegan or Phoenix, should plan to spend about 3 hours 10 minutes on the road.

Considering this rather insignificant (based on the American standards) drive time, many visitors shorten their Weekend in Joshua Tree itineraries and adhere to relaxed one-day trips. 

How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park

By Car

  • The national park has three entrances. The West Entrance and the North Entrance can be accessed via Highway 62 (the Twentynine Palms Highway). This route works best for the weekend visitors traveling to Joshua Tree National Park from Los Angeles or San Diego. 
  • Follow Interstate 10 to access the park from the South Entrance. It’s the shortest route for the travelers from Arizona.

By Plane

Flying into one of the above-mentioned cities and then driving to Joshua Tree National Park fits best the weekend travelers from overseas or other states. Here are a few airports you can fly into before starting your weekend adventures in Joshua Tree National Park. 

  • Palm Springs International Airport. Set less than 1 hour away, the Palm Springs International Airport is the closest to Joshua Tree National Park airport in the area.
  • McCarran International Airport. Located in the Las Vegas Valley, a little bit over 3 hours away, this airport allows you to start your outdoor adventures the same day, considering the flight isn’t tiring.
  • Los Angeles International Airport. Los Angeles is the second popular city to fly into with intention to start your weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park the same or following day. The city sits about 2 hours 20 minutes away.
  • San Diego International Airport. Similar to the above-mentioned airports, the San Diego International Airport suits the travelers visiting Joshua Tree from afar. 
Weekend (1-2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park - Roads and Destinations

The Best Time to Spend a Weekend (1 to 2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park

Thanks to Southern California weather, you can spend a weekend or even one day in Joshua Tree National Park all year round. Temperatures, however, may vary drastically depending on the season. This, in its own turn, can presenting some obstacles, but never interfere with your plans. 

Spring and Fall

The best time to spend a weekend in Joshua Tree National Park is from March though May and October though November. The weather is comfortable enough to embark on short and long hiking adventures. Mild temperatures also help preserve your energy for rock climbing and ensure a pleasant camping experience in the desert. Apart from it, spring often rewards the weekend visitors of Joshua Tree National Park with vibrant wildflowers.  

Summer

Come summer, and the heat becomes the main hurdle to a relaxed getaway to the area. June through September is the hottest time of the year. Daytime temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. During this time, you might want to either adhere to shorter hikes or explore the park during sunset or sunrise.

Campers usually avoid spending a weekend in Joshua Tree in summer. Due to the excruciating heat, some of the campgrounds and attractions such as Keys Ranch also close for the season. 

Winter

Lower temperatures from December through February assist mostly the day visitors. Daytime temperatures are endurable and quite pleasant for the desert. Spending 2 days or a long weekend in Joshua Tree National Park in winter is still possible. Be sure to pack extra layers, though, as the temperatures drop to 30 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

Looking for snow in California? Joshua Tree National Park comes in handy as well. In winter, thin, snowy blanket occasionally covers high elevations. The snow may not be deep enough for a slide. Yet the pleasure of eyeing the white cover and possibly having a snowball fight is undeniable. 

Weekend (1-2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park - Roads and Destinations

Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park Itineraries

While the park is not exempt of the perpetual crowds every day of the week, locals usually flock to Joshua Tree on weekends. As expected, popular hikes and the central areas can get pretty busy at this time.

Yet don’t let this stay in your way to spending a weekend in Joshua Tree National Park. Plan ahead and explore the most popular areas at sunrise or sunset when the maddening crowds are nowhere to be found. The remote sections of the park remain relatively empty at any time of the day. 

How Many Days do You Need in Joshua Tree?

A weekend is sufficient to see some of the highlights and lesser-known attractions in Joshua Tree National Park. To make the most, you can extend your visit to three days. Having an extra day guarantees enough time to explore such cool nearby places as Pioneertown or the town of Joshua Tree. For those who are satisfied with everything Joshua Tree National Park has to offer, set aside enough time in your weekend to pamper yourself with glamping.

If one day is all you can afford to spend in Joshua Tree National Park, go for it. You can see quite a lot even in such a limited time, especially if you are into scenic drives and short hikes.  

Joshua Tree National Park Weekend Guide: 1 Day Itinerary

  • Pioneertown
  • World Famous Crochet Museum
  • 49 Palms Oasis Trail
  • Oasis of Mara
  • Arch Rock
  • Skull Rock
  • Hidden Valley Nature Trail 
  • Barker Dam and Barker Dam Nature Trail
  • Wall Street Mill Trail
  • Keys Ranch

Map of the Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park over the Weekend: Day 1

Joshua Tree National Park Weekend Guide: 2 Days Itinerary

Day 1 of the Weekend Guide to Joshua Tree National Park

Follow the same itinerary as if you would spend just 1 day in Joshua Tree National Park.

Day 2 of the Weekend Guide to Joshua Tree National Park

  • Keys View
  • Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail
  • Ryan Mountain Trail
  • Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Cottonwood Spring Oasis
  • Lost Palms Oasis Trail

Map of the Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park over the Weekend: Day 2

The Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park During a Weekend

Pioneertown

Start your weekend escape to Joshua Tree National Park in Pioneertown. Located in the High Desert, the charming town revives the Old West. Everything in this quintessential place reminds of the the bygone days. From rustic structures in western style to vintage shops, and rich Golden Era heritage, the place itself worth the whole day.

Since you have only one weekend to spend in the Joshua Tree National Park area, try to wrap up your visit quickly. Before you leave, though, stop at the Pioneertown General Store or the Custom Leather & Saddle Shop and buy some vintage props for your photo shoot in the park.

“I’m not that into photography or modeling.” I feel you. Yet you don’t need the whole weekend to realize how popular Joshua Tree is with models and professional photographers. Watching one photo shoot after another quickly catches up with you. A few more minutes, and you are ready to recreate some of these epic images.

TIP: Vintage clothes certainly come in handy in this western surrounding. Furthermore, no need to hire any professionals. Just use your creativity and pose like no one is watching. In most cases, nobody will be around to see it anyway. 

READ MORE: Visit Pioneertown: Everything You Need to Know

World Famous Crochet Museum

Jump onto another short, but memorable adventure. The self-proclaimed World Famous Crochet Museum should definably be on your Joshua Tree weekend itinerary especially if you travel with kids. Located in the town of Joshua Tree, the place is as tiny as a one-hour photo booth. In fact, the Crochet Museum is indeed set in a former photo processing booth.

The place is open every day. Free admission and parking nearby further pursue you to add the eccentric museum to your Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park itinerary. Just stop by and enjoy the expansive crochet collection.  

49 Palms Oasis Trail

The real Joshua Tree weekend adventurers start their trip with a visit to the 49 Palms Oasis area. The place sits near Twentynine Palms and astounds with a patch of palm trees towering over a few pools of water. The 3-mile round-trip 49 Palms Oasis Trail presents some challenges, though. The path climbs uphill for about half a mile and then abruptly descends to a rocky canyon, home to the oasis.

TIP: Desert wildlife and birds make the hike even more pleasant. Touching, feeding, or otherwise disturbing the desert inhabitants, however, is not allowed. Similarly, you should find a dog sitter for your pet before going to Joshua Tree for a weekend or even one day. Unfortunately, the dogs are not welcomed on most trails in the park.

Time. Furthermore, remember that the 49 Palms Oasis Trail is a day-use area only. The road to the oasis is closed from sunset to sunrise. 

  • Distance: 3 mile round trip
  • Elevation Gain: approximately 636 feet 

Oasis of Mara

Whether you plan to spend one day or the whole weekend in Joshua Tree National Park, devote a few hours to its enchanting oases. Unlike the 49 Palms Oasis, the Oasis of Mara can be reached via a short walk, rather than a tedious hike. A 0.6-mile loop trail leads to the spring-fed oasis and back and charms the weekend or day visitors with incredible views of the California fan palms.

History. While the views are certainly worth a short walk, the story of the area impresses every history buff. Instructed by a local medicine man, the Serrano settled the Oasis of Mara centuries ago. The settlers called it “Mara”, which means “the place of little springs and much grass”. Per further instructions, the locals would plant a palm tree each time a boy was born. In the first year after their arrival, 29 palm trees adorned the area. 

  • Distance: 0.6-mile loop trail
  • Elevation Gain: 16 feet  

Arch Rock

No weekend in Joshua Tree is complete without walking under the famous arch. The popular Arch Rock is indeed hard to miss. The large natural rock formation sits along the 0.5-mile loop trail that starts near the granite formations surrounding the White Tank Campground. And if you ask me, climbing these rocks is an adventure on its own.

Parking in the campground is reserved only to the weekend visitors of Joshua Tree National Park that base themselves here. Those who spend only one day in the park or camp somewhere else should park at Twin Tanks Backcountry Board /Arch Rock Nature Trail lot.

TIP: The distance of the path more than doubles from here, resulting in a 1.2-mile lollipop loop trail. Hikespeak has detailed instructions on how to get to Arch Rock. Overall, devote approximately 30-60 minutes to this outdoor pursuit if you decide to add it to your Joshua Tree weekend itinerary. 

  • Distance: 0.5-1.2-mile loop trail
  • Elevation Gain: Nearly 100 feet

Skull Rock

Planning to spend a weekend in Joshua Tree climbing rocks? Don’t skip Skull Rock then. This skull-shaped rock formation is one of the popular places to visit in the park. And as you can expect, the place almost always packed. You have more chances of having it to yourself on a weekday or at sunrise.

While speculations about rock’s origins abound, the real story behind its unique shape is fully-explanatory. They say, rain drops gathered in tiny depressions centuries ago. Eventually, the stored water started to erode the rock. As the depressions deepened, more water accumulated. It continued on and on until two recognizable eye sockets formed.

TIP: Skull Rock is an easy pull-off with a parking lot located just across the road from the rock formations. Yet you might need to look for an empty stop by the side of the road as the parking lot gets full quickly.

Hike. Those who long to see Skull Rock, but don’t intend to slow down when spending a weekend in Joshua Tree, can access the rock formation along a 1.7-mile nature trail loop. The trailhead is located near the Jumbo Rocks Campground. 

  • Distance: 1.7-mile loop trail
  • Elevation Gain: 120 feet

Hidden Valley Nature Trail 

The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is popular all year round. It gathers even more Joshua Tree National Park’s weekend visitors in spring. A 1-mile loop trail winds through a dirt area and massive boulders, offering stunning wildflower displays. The trail sits just off Park Boulevard. Rumor has it, cattle rustlers used it as their hideout almost a century ago. Today, it’s one of the favorite hikes and rock climbing areas in Joshua Tree. 

  • Distance: 1-mile loop trail
  • Elevation Gain: 114 feet 

Barker Dam and Barker Dam Nature Trail

During our weekend trip to Joshua Tree, I had to see Barker Dam before exploring any other remote areas of the park. Something about a lake in the desert felt almost unreal. As fate had it, we didn’t find any water there. Well-defined lines on the rocks around the reservoir clearly marked how much liquid the place usually stores after rainy seasons.

Despite the slightest disappointment (I can’t deny it), the Barker Nature Trail surprised us with rather denser vegetation and ancient petroglyphs. So be sure to give the area a go on the day or weekend after it rains in Joshua Tree National Park. 

  • Distance: 1-1.1-mile loop trail (conflicting information at trailhead and online)
  • Elevation Gain: 50 feet

READ MORE: Visit Barker Dam in Joshua Tree: Location, Hike, and the Best Time

Wall Street Mill Trail

Add other short hike filled with both natural and human history to your Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park itinerary. Located in the same area as the Barker Dam Nature Trail, the Wall Street Mill Trail takes you to an old gold processing mill. The trail is easy and suits all skill levels. 

  • Distance: 2-2.2-mile round-trip trail
  • Elevation Gain: Less than 100 feet

Keys Ranch

If you are anything like me and like to dive into history of Joshua Tree National Park before spending a weekend (or 1 to 2 days) here, the name of Bill Keys can’t escape your attention. A successful cattleman played a significant role in human history of the region. From reconstructing Barker Dam to building the Wall Street Mill, the man didn’t loose any opportunity to prosper in this desert area.

With that said, the character of Bill Keys is interesting enough to visit his old abode, the Keys Ranch, during your weekend visit to Joshua Tree. The place was built between 1910 and 1969 and is known as the greatest example of the early settlement in this area.

TIP: Only guided tours are allowed on the property. Thus, plan you visit in advance. Furthermore, the Keys Ranch remains closed from May until October. 

Keys View

Keys View is the pinnacle of a weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Being the highest viewpoint in the park, the place if famous for ifs panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, the Santon See, the Santa Rosa Mountains, and San Jacinto Peak.

TIP: To access Keys View, drive to the Keys View Parking Lot. A short, wheelchair-accessible path takes you up the hill to the viewpoint. 

  • Distance: 0.2-mile loop trail
Weekend (1-2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park - Roads and Destinations

Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail

A weekend in Joshua Tree National Park not only allows you to stretch your legs, but also learn a lot about the history of the area. Similar to the Wall Street Mill Trail, the Lost Horse Mine Trail amuses with remains of a once successful mining mill. To say “successful” is simply an understatement. From 1894 to 1931, the structure produced more than 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver. Today, it would be worth approximately $5 million.

Yet don’t hope to find any precious gems and become rich after just one day or weekend in Joshua Tree National Park. The gold in this area dried up a log time ago. The place itself became a part of Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936.

Hike. The 4-mile out and back hike, however, still allures Joshua Tree National Park’s day and weekend visitors. Furthermore, the accessible year-round trail burst into vibrant colors in spring when wildflowers bloom. Those who long for a longer hike can adhere to a 6.8-mile loop.

TIP: Regardless of the trail you take, don’t jump across fences and try to explore the mine. Despite its visual sturdiness, the area is highly unstable and can sink under a person’s weight.

  • Distance: 4-6.8-mile round-trip trail
  • Elevation Gain: 550 feet

Ryan Mountain Trail

The second day of your weekend getaway to Joshua Tree National Park is filled with longer hikes. While the 3-mile round-trip Ryan Mountain Trail seems like a piece of cake, it might feel a bit tedious if you’ve already gotten miles and miles of walking in the desert under your belt. Yet the epic hike with panoramic views of the rock formations is worth pushing yourself a little bit more.

TIP: On the other hand, the area gets too hot in summer. Thus, it’s recommended to skip this hike when spending a few days or a weekend in Joshua Tree National Park between June and September. Alternatively, you can hike the Ryan Mountain Trail early in the morning or evening. 

  • Distance: 3-mile round-trip trail
  • Elevation Gain: 1.050 feet

Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the easiest hikes in Joshua Tree National Park that you can do whether you have a few hours or the entire weekend to spend here. The 0.25-mile Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail winds through nearly 10-acre area filled with teddy bear chollas. 

Apart from the charming cactuses, the area is famous for its location. Set at the merger of the upper Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert, it combines the best of each terrain. 

  • Distance: 0.25-mile trail
California - Roads and Destinations

Cottonwood Spring 

While your weekend adventures in Joshua Tree National Park slowly come to an end, don’t expect to linger around uninspired. Regarded as one of the hidden gems, the Cottonwood Spring area surprises with a plethora or irresistible trails and history lessons you can’t miss.

Nestled approximately 7 miles away from the South Entrance to the park, the area was used by the Cahuilla Indians. Miners also stopped here to top up their water supplies. Additionally, the presence of water, a vital part or every gold mining operation, contributed to congregation of gold mines in the area.

No one knows exactly when the mining operations started dotting the Cottonwood Spring region. The first mentioning of a gold mine, however, appeared in a claim filed in 1875.

Hikes. With the abundance of the trails, expect to spend a good part of your weekend in this area of Joshua Tree National Park. From short hikes that wind through a canyon to a dry waterfall, which is quite an attraction during a rainy year, to longer trails that lead to historic sites such as the Mastodon Mine, the area is ought to be explored. 

Lost Palms Oasis Trail

Those who want to end or start (depending on where you travel from) their weekend adventures in Joshua Tree National Park on a strong note should attempt to hike the 7.2-mile out and back Lost Palms Oasis Trail. The hike starts in the Cottonwood Spring area and leads to the largest grove of the fan palms in the park.

TIP: The trail is not a leisurely walk in a forest, to say the least. On top of significant elevation gain, the area gets extremely hot between May and October. Thus, if you plan to spend 1 to 2 days or a weekend in Joshua Tree National Park at this time, feel free to skip the hike. 

  • Distance: 7.2-mile round-trip trail
  • Elevation Gain: 491-1,026 feet. Some say the highest point is over 3,000 feet. 
Weekend (1-2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park - Roads and Destinations

Weekend (1-2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park: Where to Stay

Your options on where to stay during a weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park are broad. With camping, glamping in chic airstreams and bohemian domes, and staying in ample accommodation nearby, you are spoiled for choice.

  • For a memorable movie-meets-desert experience, book a room at the Pioneertown Motel, located in the heart of a still functional old movie set. 
  • The town of Joshua Tree invites to explore its vintage scene with a myriad of lodgings that can be used for both romantic couple’s getaway and a weekend with family. Ready to dive into a hipster culture? Be sure to check into one of five boutique rooms of the Mojave Sands Motel.
  • For a budget-friendly weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park, adhere to the pretty conformable El Rancho Dolores Motel in Twentynine Palms.  

READ MORE: Where to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park: Camping, Glamping, and Nearby Lodgings

What to Pack for a Weekend (1 to 2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park

  • Water bottle. Drink plenty of water even if you have only one short hike in your Joshua Tree National Park weekend itinerary. You can never underestimate the desert. General rule states that regardless of where you are in the park, you should start heading back as soon as your water bottle is half full. 
  • First Aid Kit. Bring Band-Aids, ace wraps, and antiseptic. Missteps and encounters with desert wildlife are real. 
  • A Change of Clothes. The desert is unpredictable. You can start you weekend excursions in Joshua Tree National Park drenched in sweat to only find yourself freezing as the sun goes down. Furthermore, long pants are preferable on the overgrown trails. 
  • Good Hiking Shoes. Non-slip hiking shoes to conquer the dirt and rocky trails of Joshua Tree National Park are non-negotiable. 
  • Sun Protection. You can never go wrong with it. Whether you spend a weekend or an hour in Joshua Tree National Park, keep your skin protected. Lather a generous amount of sunscreen on your face, neck, and arms and don’t forget to wear a cap or wide-brimmed hat. You don’t want to look like a lobster after your weekend trip to Joshua Tree after all. 
  • Map. Don’t rely solely on GPS. Many areas of the park don’t have cell phone reception. So grab a hard copy map at one of the visitor centers and start your weekend in Joshua Tree National Park in old-fashioned style. 

Final Thoughts on Spending a Weekend (1 to 2 Days) in Joshua Tree National Park

This concluded our weekend (1 to 2 days) guide to Joshua Tree National Park. The place is diverse and incredibly beautiful. Surely, you need more than one weekend to see all it has to offer. Yet take it slowly and explore these vast area one destination at a time. To do this, use these Joshua Tree weekend (1-2 days) itinerary as it is or feel free to alter it to suit your preferences.

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