Escape to the Desert on a Joshua Tree Day Trip
Our comprehensive guide to enjoying a day trip to Joshua Tree, from when to go to what to eat.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Joshua Tree is a magical place. Traditionally a location for escape, pilgrimage and spiritual reflection, it gets visitors from all over the world hoping to experience the supposed mystical vibrations found here. However level-headed you might consider yourself to be, when you step out of your car and into the strangely spiky desert landscape, you’ll feel as though you truly believe in the power of beauty. Plum Guide is ready to guide you through your Joshua Tree day trip, and if you’re looking to stay overnight, we have plenty of luxurious accommodation as well.
When to go
While Joshua Tree is a great place to spend a longer amount of time, it’s very possible to see many of the sights and have a good experience visiting just for the day. It’s the ideal spot to stop if you’re on a road trip, and because it's a desert, the temperature is warm all year round. The high season is June to September, which is also when the desert is at its hottest (at least 32 degrees and much higher some days) and when the park is at its busiest, although there’s enough space to accommodate all visitors. The winter is less busy and less hot, with cold nights. Whenever you visit, we recommend wearing light layers so you can add or subtract if necessary.
How to get there
A car really is the only way. Joshua Tree is around a two hour drive from Los Angeles, traffic depending, and around three hours drive from both San Diego and Las Vegas. Even if you manage to get here without a car (helicopter, perhaps?) you’ll need one to get from house to town and town to national park.
If you’re looking for a nearby rest stop, Palm Springs is around 40 miles away and the two spots are popularly visited together. Around 60 miles from Joshua Tree is Salvation Mountain, a living art installation just made to be featured in your holiday scrapbook.
Where to stay
If you want to turn your Joshua Tree day trip into a longer stay, you're in the right place. This modern house is in the middle of the desert (but close enough to amenities to be convenient), elevated, so it has incredible views in every direction. You have the eight acres of grounds to yourself, including a pool, fire pit, and patio with outdoor seating.
This desert oasis is an artist’s paradise, with Moroccon rugs on the floor and art by local artisans hung on the wall. Outdoors, you can choose from the outdoor bathtub, shower or plunge pool to cool off, before flopping into one of the many hammocks.
A cute wooden house just ten minute’s drive from famous saloon Pappy and Harriet’s, everything here is solar powered by the sun - which is handy, because there’s a lot of sun here. A wood burning stove will keep you cosy in the frigid desert nighttime temperatures and there are walking trails to take right from your doorstep.
For a few days of true solitude, Orion House is an ideal option. Made up of two separate shipping containers, you get the best of urban and rural living when you stay here. The hosts provide all sorts of extras, from farm-fresh eggs to a private chef, in-house yoga, and massages.
What to do
We’re assuming that like the keen travellers you are, you set off nice and early for your Joshua Tree day trip, which should mean you arrive just in time for breakfast (or brunch, if your teenage children like a lie in). As you’re going to spend the day hiking, you need to fuel up, and Natural Sisters is the best place to do so. Yes, it’s a little hippy (you were probably there the first time around in the 60s, after all) but the food is nourishing, delicious and exactly what you need to keep you going on a long day of physical activity. If you have space in your backpack, we recommend taking a slice of the vegan carrot cake for the road.
Then it’s time to head into the national park itself and see what all the fuss is about. The trails here are like nowhere else on earth, with a view over the desert, the spiky Joshua trees and the strange rock formations that make up this landscape. You can pick your trail based on how long you want to hike for, how challenging you want it to be and the kind of landscape you’re hoping to traverse. Some trails are designed to allow you to clamber over boulders and there are also many abandoned mines, railway tracks and mining equipment in the park, left there long ago. If you can engineer being there to see the sun set, we strongly recommend doing so, as it’s a gorgeous sight.
When you’re all hiked out, head into town to check out a few shops. Ricochet Vintage sells fantastic vintage homeware and clothes, with kitchen equipment a speciality. And you can’t come on a Joshua Tree day trip without stopping in at the crystal shop.
What to eat
No Joshua Tree day trip is complete without an evening at Pappy and Harriet’s, an iconic and beloved saloon famous for its live music. The building was designed to be an 1800 frontier set for Hollywood, and now the old set boasts BBQ, beer and whisky galore and plenty of dancing to the music.
If the hike has wiped you out (and we don’t blame you), head instead to Pie For The Pizza, a New York-style pizza joint which lives up to its name. The pizza is good and there are plenty of topping options for the fussy members of your party.