Where To Stay For The Best Joshua Tree Stargazing Trip
Explore the stars from the otherworldly land of Joshua Tree.
With clear, brilliant night skies, Joshua Tree National Park has long since been a haven for stargazers and photographers trying to get the perfect snap of the Milky Way. As a Dark Sky Park, it’s a year-round attraction, with each season bringing different stars to prominence in Joshua Tree. In winter you’ll have no trouble finding Orion the hunter and Gemini the twins, while summer brings the annual Perseid Meteor Shower where stars seem to rain down on the desert. The sheer variety of the skies here make Joshua Tree a perfect place for a repeat visit – not to mention the fact that there’s far too many Plum Guide homes here for you to choose just one. We think you’d better book your return visit straight away.
Just as stargazers orient themselves in the night sky by finding the North Star, we have to start any Joshua Tree stargazing trip with the eponymous community itself. And, of course, with a list of the essentials – namely plenty of water and snacks to fuel your night of stargazing, a red-light head torch to save you from walking straight into a boulder (or, even worse, a cactus) and let’s be honest, something which tells you exactly which stars are which – unless you enjoy arguing whether that’s the Big or Little Dipper. Luckily, Joshua Tree is well-equipped to offer you all these things. It may be small, but this community is home to a few quirky shops and attractions – stop in at the Joshua Tree Art Gallery for trippy, desert-inspired paintings, and get some tips for your visit at the Joshua Tree National Park Centre on the border of the park.
This small town is an obvious destination for Joshua Tree stargazing expeditions – the town borders the desert and it takes less than thirty minutes to drive to the east of the park where the sky is darkest. Twentynine Palms is also home to the Sky's The Limit Observatory & Nature Center – whether you’re a total novice to stargazing or you’re an experienced astronomer who’d like to learn more about this part of the world, head here for a closer look at the desert skies. There’s a nature trail and a scale model of the universe you can walk through to keep the kids entertained, and they hold an annual Night Sky Festival if you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated than Coachella. Of course, you could also just stargaze from your Plum home – set up some deck chairs in the garden and float on your back in the pool with the universe above you. Just like a flotation tank, but without the claustrophobia.
Buckle up, baby, we’re heading to Pioneertown. The rootin’-tootin’ corner of Joshua Tree is oh-so-kitsch but well worth a visit, with a stop for some fries in the original gas station (now iconic diner Pappy and Harriet’s). Here, the streets may be full of old Western-style film sets, but you’re in search of a different kind of star, aren’t you? Pioneertown is the perfect base if you’re looking to try some stargazing in some different locations around Joshua Tree – the aptly named Sky Valley and Coachella Valley are within an hour’s drive. Or you could choose to drive the 20 minutes into Joshua Tree National Park itself, taking your faithful hound for company. Yes, dogs are allowed in the park, though you’re advised to keep them on the lead – ending up in the vets with your poor pooch full of cactus needles isn’t the ideal way to spend your holiday. But for pups that love a good hike, a midnight trip is the best way to enjoy the desert without the heat of the day and perhaps they’ll prompt you to keep an eye out for Sirius, the dog star.
Now, we may not be astronomers, but we’ve picked up a few tidbits here and there about Joshua Tree stargazing which we’re willing to share with you. Firstly, the best stargazing happens around the new moon – yes, the full moon is very photogenic, but it’s going to out-shine the stars and that’s what you’re really here to see. Secondly, Joshua Tree National Park – surprise surprise – isn’t overflowing with food options. In fact, there’s nowhere to eat or drink inside the park, which preserves the wild, natural atmosphere (and of course, cuts down on light pollution) but does mean you’ll have to eat before you come. Which leads us to our third tip: if you stay in the eclectic, charming Yucca Valley (perhaps in one of our equally charming Plum homes?) you’re not short of dining options. A particular favourite is La Copine, where you can enjoy some modern American cuisine before you go and admire the ancient American sky.