POST SUMMARY: Everything you need to know about visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids and toddlers, including what to do, where to stay, kid-friendly hikes, and tips for ensuring a fantastic family vacation at Joshua Tree.
Joshua Tree National Park, located in Southern California and straddling the stark line between the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, is a fantastical landscape of rugged boulders, vast desert, and of course, its namesake, the gnarly and bizarre Joshua Tree.
But is Joshua Tree family-friendly? In all our travels to the National Parks, we consider Joshua Tree to be one of the best national parks for kids.
If you’re considering visiting Joshua Tree with kids, you should absolutely do it. It’s easy to get to, other family activities are nearby, and the landscape is a giant playground for kids.
Any active kid will delight in the limitless rock jumping, rappelling, light-free star gazing, and hiking trails that weave through massive rock boulders.
In this complete guide to a Joshua Tree family vacation, we’ll cover family-friendly hikes, the best things to do in Joshua Tree with kids, what to bring, and tips for having an enjoyable time in the park. Scroll through the article or use the table of contents below to jump to specific sections.
CHECK OUT OUR OTHER GUIDES ON VISITING NATIONAL PARKS WITH KIDS:
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*This Joshua Tree with kids post may contain affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission if you purchase from them. This is at no extra cost to you! We only recommend products and services we genuinely think are helpful.
QUICK FAQ GUIDE TO VISITING JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK WITH KIDS
IS JOSHUA TREE TODDLER FRIENDLY?
Yes, Joshua Tree is an excellent park for toddlers and young kids. While every national park can pose a threat to young kids, visiting Joshua Tree with a toddler is a great choice. Plenty of short hikes and small boulders for them to enjoy playing on.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN JOSHUA TREE WITH KIDS?
Two days is enough time to visit Joshua Tree with kids, although many people visit the park as a day trip from Palm Springs. You can see the park’s highlights in one day, but an extra day will allow you to move at a leisurely pace and dive a little deeper.
3-4 days will allow you plenty of time to explore Joshua Tree National Park and make a few side trips to neighboring attractions and cities.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK WITH KIDS?
When making a Joshua Tree itinerary with kids, the question that inevitably comes up is, what is the best month to go to Joshua Tree?
The short answer is that October is the best month to visit Joshua Tree National Park.
The more in-depth answer is you’ll want to visit Joshua Tree when the weather isn’t scorching hot or uncomfortably cold. You may hear the word desert, and you think it’s hot year-round, but Joshua Tree in winter does get cold and has a few snowy days in parts of the park at a higher elevation. We visited in March, and it snowed while we were there!
The early spring and late fall are the most comfortable times (weather-wise) of the year to visit. However, the spring and winter holidays are when the park is the most crowded. If you can only see the park at that time, you’ll want to plan for a weekday trip to avoid crowds.
Ideally, the optimal time to visit is late fall when the weather is still pleasant, and the crowds will have reduced.
Here’s a chart for weather averages in Joshua Tree National Park. These are averages and aren’t set in stone, but it’s a good starting point for understanding the weather at Joshua Tree. The park sprawls a large territory with varying elevations, so any weather app might not be completely accurate.
HOW MUCH IS ADMISSION TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?
$30 per car, and the pass is good for seven days.
If you are traveling with a child in the 4th grade, you can get a 4th Grade Pass allowing free admission to your child and everyone in the family (if you’re in one vehicle). You can learn about getting a 4th Grade Pass here.
If you plan to visit multiple National Parks within one year, you might be better off buying a National Parks Pass. The pass grants admission into every National Park, including 2000 federal recreation sites. We bought ours for our Utah National Parks Road Trip and came out ahead. You can learn more about the pass and buy it here.
IS THERE FOOD IN THE PARK?
There are no food concessions or grocery stores within the park. You’ll need to bring in food and have a picnic at one of the many picnic areas or leave the park and eat at one of the neighboring cities.
Don’t forget to bring water in a refillable water bottle. There are water refill stations at the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, the West Entrance Station, Black Rock Campground, Cottonwood Campground, and the Indian Cove Ranger Station.
HOW TO GET TO JOSHUA TREE
There are three entrances to the park:
The WEST ENTRANCE (main entrance) in Joshua Tree Village
The NORTH ENTRANCE in Twentynine Palms.
The SOUTH ENTRANCE near Cottonwood Spring.
Most people fly into Joshua Tree from Los Angeles’s two airports, LAX and the Hollywood Burbank Airport. We highly recommend Burbank Airport over LAX.
Joshua Tree National Park is 143 miles from Burbank Airport, making it a 2.5-hour drive…on a good day. As someone who lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, depending on what time you leave, you can expect the drive to be 3-6 hours. When planning your Joshua Tree itinerary with kids, keep in mind that the Palm Springs area is a VERY popular weekend destination for Los Angelenos.
Additional options to fly near Joshua Tree is The McCarran Airport in Las Vegas (182 miles, 3 hours) or the Palm Springs Airport in Palm Springs (45 Miles, 1 hour).
WHERE TO STAY IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK WITH KIDS
STAYING INSIDE OF THE PARK
Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t offer any typical hotel-style lodging so camping is the only option if you want to stay in the park. We highly recommend camping at the park if you enjoy family camping. It’s a fantastic place to camp! The campsites are beautiful, and experiencing Joshua Tree at night is incredible. There are nine campgrounds, five campgrounds requiring reservations, and the other four are first come, first served. You can learn more about the different campgrounds here.
If pitching a tent isn’t your idea of fun, but staying at the park is intriguing, you can also camp in the luxury of a campervan or an RV. We love to look for privately owned campers and RVs through Outdoorsy or rent a campervan through Escape Campervans. Escape Campervans is one of the largest renters of campervans and has locations all over the country, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
READ NEXT: How To Enjoy Camping With A Toddler
STAYING OUTSIDE OF THE PARK
The two main entrances to the park, Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree are the best places to situate yourself if you want to stay outside of the park and close to the entrances. Twentynine Palms is slightly closer to the park’s main attractions, but Joshua Tree offers a bit more restaurants and amenities. The difference is marginal, and they are only 20 minutes apart, so you should find the one that’s better for your budget and itinerary needs.
Here are some highly-rated and well-reviewed hotels in Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree:
- Autocamp is a hip, dreamy “hotel” where you stay in an Instagram-worthy Airstream. The property has a pool and a fun community pool. It’s glamping at its best—a fun experience for kids.
- Fairfield Inn & Suites is your standard all-suites Mariott hotel with a complimentary breakfast and outdoor pool. We tend toward home rentals but always use Marriott when choosing hotels since they have a great reward points program.
Visiting Joshua National Park with kids means you might want to opt for a home rental through VRBO. For us, the benefit of more room, a kitchen to cut food costs, a washer/dryer, and a backyard to play in are huge perks that a hotel can’t offer. Also, you can often find a rental with a pool.
Here are some highly-rated and well-reviewed VRBOs in Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree:
- The Bird’s Nest: 2 Bedrooms, Sleeps 4, chic modern style home perfect for a family that wants peace and quiet.
- Joshua Tree Retreat: 1 Bedroom, Sleeps 4, Hot Tub and Pool
- Peaceful Retreat: 2 Bedrooms, Sleeps 6, Hot Tub, Pool, Fire Pit
You can look through VRBO for more options here and to filter the search results for your specific needs.
WHAT TO PACK WHEN VISITING JOSHUA TREE WITH KIDS
Here’s a shortlist of what to pack when visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids and toddlers.
WATER BOTTLE: Bring more water than you think you need. Joshua Tree is an arid desert landscape, so you’ll need lots of water to stay hydrated and safe. The typical advice is to bring one gallon per person. It’s probably unnecessary for a family to tote around all that water on a short hike, but it’s never a bad idea to have extra water in the car. We fill up our Hydro Flask water bottles in the morning, and they stay ice cold all day.
SUNBLOCK: The sun can be brutal there, so pack a great mineral sunblock for kids. We prefer to use Blue Lizard sunscreen on our son because we like that it’s free of parabens and fragrance.
SPF CHAPSTICK: Sun and wind make for chapped lips. Bring a chapstick with SPF.
SUN HAT: If you haven’t guessed yet, it’s all about sun protection! Bring a wide-brimmed breathable hat to protect their face and head.
POLARIZED SUNGLASSES: Lastly on the sun protection list, bring sunglasses to protect their eyes.
CLOTHING OPTIONS: If traveling in the winter, be sure to have warm clothing you can layer on for chilly days and nights. A kid’s fleece from REI is a great option, along with other typical winter gear like a beanie and gloves. Bring light-colored, breathable, long sleeve UPF 50 clothing if traveling from late spring to fall. We like to use quick-dry shirts from Vapor Apparel since they aren’t tight and protect their arms and chest.
WALKING SHOE: You’ll want shoes with EXCELLENT traction and a thick sole, so if they step on any cactus needles, it won’t go through to their feet. Since jumping on and off the rocks is a popular kid’s activity in Joshua Tree, I can’t stress how much you want you’ll want shoes that will help them stick to the rocks. Since we were visiting in the winter, regular tennis shoes with socks worked out well. I suggest the Merrell Altalight Shoe for big kids or little kids since they are lightweight enough to be used all year.
SALTY SNACKS: To balance out the electrolytes your child will lose when sweating in Joshua Tree, bring salty snacks to go along with your water.
BASIC FIRST AID SUPPLIES Basic first aid supplies are necessary when visiting Joshua Tree with kids. There are many opportunities for minor scrapes and cuts. Bandaids, Neosporin, tweezers for any cactus barbs (more on that later!), and cold packs are a good start. You can also choose to do a pre-made first aid kit.
BABY/TODDLER CARRIER: If traveling to Joshua Tree with a toddler or baby, you’ll want to bring a hiking carrier since the trails aren’t conducive to strollers. The Deuter Kid Comfort Pro is the premium choice when looking for a hiking backpack to carry toddlers. You can read about other great carriers in our guide to toddler carriers for travel.
THINGS TO DO IN JOSHUA TREE WITH KIDS
Here is our list of the best things to do in Joshua Tree with kids. As you can see from the map above, the main attractions are all around the same location. The first thing you’ll want to do when arriving at the park is head to the Visitor’s Center (there’s one near each entrance) and collect a paper map. I also like to ask the park rangers if they have a hike they particularly love, rather than the conventional highlights they tell everyone to go to. No one knows the park better than a park ranger!
The great thing about the park is there are numerous kid-friendly hikes in Joshua Tree. Here are some of the best hikes for families at Joshua Tree National Park.
HIDDEN VALLEY NATURE TRAIL: This was one of our favorite hikes, and we think it’s one of the best Joshua Tree hikes with kids. It’s a one-mile loop trail that leads you into a small valley surrounded by towering boulders. Your kids can also learn about the plants and animals from the informational signs along the way. It’s a popular spot for rock climbers, so you might be able to watch a few scale the whitewashed rocks.
BARKER DAM LOOP: This 1.1-mile loop trail is a popular hike in Joshua Tree that offers a pleasant change in scenery. The trail can be hit or miss for some, especially if the dam is low or has no water in it. It’s such a short walk that stopping by is an easy add-on to a Joshua Tree itinerary. Besides the dam, the trail also has unique rock formations, beautiful views, petroglyphs, and sometimes you can spot big horn sheep.
ARCH ROCK NATURE TRAIL: This short 1.4-mile lollipop hike will take you to a 30 feet-high natural arch that you can climb around and take fun photos of together. We enjoyed scrambling the rocks and playing along the giant boulders. It is more of a “walk” through a giant boulder field than a classic hiking trail.
SKULL ROCK TRAIL: This is a popular roadside attraction as everyone parks their car to get a photo of a large rock slightly resembling a skull. We checked out the skull but opted out of taking the Skull Rock Nature Trail, a 1.7-mile loop trail since we had just come from Arch Rock Nature Trail and it felt pretty similar. Also, it was crowded and the hike ran along the road so it didn’t feel too compelling to us. Perhaps it would have been more attractive if there were fewer people or if we had done it before Arch Rock.
RYAN MOUNTAIN: For a family looking for a more challenging hike, the 2.9-mile out and back hike takes you to one of the best views of the park. It’s a moderately challenging hike with a 1062 feet elevation gain. The incline is steep, with most of it being rocky stairs, but the 360 views at the top make it worth the short burn.
2. Rock Climbing
Joshua Tree draws people from all over the world who want to try out rock climbing on the 8000 climbing routes in the park. Everyone from beginners to experts can find a slab of rock that’s right for them. For families visiting Joshua Tree with kids, it’s ideal to go with a trusted guide who has all the equipment and know-how for the best kid-friendly rock climbing spots in the park. Stone Adventures offers a highly rated and popular four-hour tour geared specifically towards families. You can read reviews and get prices here.
3. Rock Hopping
If you’ve got a child that is too young for rock climbing or isn’t interested, spend an hour or two jumping from rock to rock. Joshua Tree is essentially a giant rock playground for kids. One look at the smooth creamy boulders and my child was like, “PULL OVER! PULL OVER RIGHT NOW!” He still talks about how much fun it was to jump, skip, and scramble on the rocks.
We mostly played on the rocks near the White Tank Campground, but another popular spot to climb and jump on rocks is near Jumbo Rocks Campground. Truth be told, anywhere you see a big group of boulders is a good spot. Pull over somewhere it’s appropriate to and hip, hop away.
**If the thought of your kids jumping from rock to rock leaves you feeling queasy, it’s just as fun to climb on the rocks and play on the boulders without jumping.
Be sure to wear shoes with excellent traction!
4. Cholla Cactus Garden Trail
The Cholla Cactus Garden is generally considered a must-visit stop in a Joshua Tree itinerary partly because of its one-of-a-kind nature. The area is a small section with a high concentration of Cholla Cacti. There is a leisurely 1/3 mile trail that teaches you about the Cholla Garden and why they are special. It’s an oddly beautiful spot, and your children may find it to be magical. If you have a budding photographer, it’s an excellent place for them to capture sunset photography.
A word of caution, the cholla is also called “the jumping chollas” for their astounding ability to latch onto things. While they don’t literally jump off, if you even slightly brush against them, their spines will attach to your clothing and skin. It happened to us! Brad stepped back, and boom, a few spines attached to his socks.
Luckily he had thick socks on, so they only slightly punctured his skin. They were hard to get out though, and his mom came to the rescue, plucking them out by hand with her hands and a paper towel. We have since learned that you should never pull them out with your hands! That’s why you need to bring tweezers with you when you go to Joshua Tree with kids. Let’s hope you don’t have to use them, but nevertheless, bring tweezers with you.
TIP: If visiting Joshua Tree with a toddler, I would have them in a toddler carrier for this section or take great care to stay on the path.
5. Desert Sunset
Anyone who has ever spent time living in the desert knows the beauty of a desert sunset. Ocean sunsets may get all the glory, but experience a sunset in Joshua Tree, and you may change your tune. One of the most popular spots is Keys View (for good reason, it’s fantastic), but you can also opt to park at Keys View and trek the 1.9 miles roundtrip hike to Inspiration Peak instead. The further distance means there will be fewer people. Make sure to bring a flashlight for the walk back.
Another option is to do sunset at the Cholla Cactus Garden. This spot is more commonly used for sunrise photography, but it’s still beautiful at sunset.
Bring a sweater since the weather drops considerably at night.
6. Star Gazing
Joshua Tree is one of the best places in the US to see the night sky. It’s been designated as an International Dark Sky Park, which means it’s recognized for its exceptional starry nights. The best viewing is in the summer when the moon is in its new moon phase. Some nights you can even see the Milky Way making for exceptional astral photography.
The best way to star gaze with your kids is to camp in the park so you can sit or layout at your site. If you’re not camping in Joshua Tree with kids, you can park at any of the roadside pullouts and set up some camping chairs near your vehicle. According to the NPS site, the area between Cottonwood and the Cholla Cactus Garden has the darkest skies and the least traffic.
Bonus points if you bring hot chocolate in a vacuum-sealed thermos from Stanley and a blanket!
The park also has ranger-led night sky programs. Check their website here to see if they offer any fun programs while you’re visiting with your kids.
7. Driving Tour or Self-Guided Driving Tour
If you’re a family that loves to learn and know about everything you’re looking at, a guided driving tour with a knowledgeable guide is a must-do. This is a great idea for families with older kids who can grasp the information from the guide. It’s also a smart option if you don’t have your own car. Big Wheel Tours has a popular 4.5-hour tour that is highly rated. You can read reviews and see prices here.
If you prefer a more independent day in the park but still want to learn about what you’re seeing, you can do a self-guided driving tour. You just have to download the app, follow the recommended route, and listen to the tour as you go. It’s great since you can stop and start at your own leisure (sometime’s that’s a must with kids!) and teach your kids about the interesting topography of Joshua Tree. You can download the app here.
9. Scavenger Hunt
A fun and unique activity to do in Joshua Tree National Park with kids is a scavenger hunt in the Hidden Valley. Creative Soul Scavenger Hunts will lead your family through a fun, zany, and unpredictable scavenger hunt that will have you interacting with each other and the landscape. Perfect if you’re traveling with the entire family or a group of families. You can learn more about the scavenger hunt here.
10. Junor Ranger
Almost every National Park in the US has a junior ranger program for kids. It usually entails a series of tasks you have to accomplish to earn your badge. They’re educational, fun, and a great way to outsource teaching them about the park! Make sure to pick up a junior ranger booklet when you get to the Visitors Center. You can learn about the programs HERE.
A trip to Joshua Tree with kids will surely be a memorable adventure! Stay safe and have fun.
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