This post was most recently updated on February 23rd, 2020
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the world with 4500 routes to choose from according to “Rock Climbing at Joshua Tree National Park – DesertUSA”. And you don’t have to be a climber to enjoy the numerous other reasons to visit this natural wonder. I just returned from our annual trip to scale the rock faces with youth from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Let’s spend a few minutes reliving that outing together!
Joshua Tree National Park
In the 1820’s fur trapper Jedediah Smith traversed this area. Next, tall grasses provided cattle grazing lands in the 1870’s. Miners then worked the region up until 1936 when Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Joshua Tree National Monument. And 58 years later Congress re-designated it as Joshua Tree National Park. Average high temperatures in winter are about 60F and in summer 100F. Winter low temperatures are mid thirties, with 70F for the summer. Spring and fall are about in the middle of those extremes.
Plenty to do at Joshua Tree
Whether your preference is for feet planted firmly on terra firma or you fancy indulging your inner Spiderman, Joshua Tree is a great destination for you. Besides literally trying your hand at rock climbing there is also camping, hiking, driving, wildlife-spotting, and stargazing to relish. There are 9 campgrounds that charge fees, some accepting reservations and others first-come, first-served. As for our group, we opt for the amenity-free and fee-free experience of camping adjacent to the Boy Scout Hiking Trail. If you are interested in RV camping, I have found this article to be a valuable resource.
With the possible exception of scenic driving in the park you’ll probably want to aim for spring or fall visits to camp, hike, and see the wildlife and stars. Still, for anytime other than Joshua Tree record extremes (115F and 17F) you can make the proper preparations and arrangements to visit the park and maybe have it more to yourself. You can choose walks as short as 0.25 miles all the way to hikes extending 35 miles in length. The longest hikes are not recommended during Joshua Tree’s hottest days.
Where we parked and camped
Due to the gridlock that descends on Southern California every Friday afternoon we find ourselves parking the vehicles along the side of the road for free at the trailhead (map), then hiking in about a mile in the dark. No problem, the trail is well-marked and easy. Hike the trail further if desired but whenever we choose to exit and make camp (also free), be alert to the bushy “jumping cholla” cactus with spines that I swear are magnetic to humans! With camp set up and hot chocolate abrew, we take in the stunning display of stars unfettered by city lights.
As you can see in the map link above our campsite is still within view of the small cities that border the park. Although it is not a sure thing to have cell phone reception throughout the park, we have it at our campsite and will also have it at our rock climbing destination tomorrow. It is not a problem for me to have my mobile device on an outing like this so I don’t find it intrusive. I do love being able to photographically record the adventure and will even send a text or two to family to draw them into the experience.
Joshua Tree desert plants
The dawn awakes us gently and peering out of the tent we see the desert blossom in the pastels of the rising sun. Springtime visits also feature cactus and flowers in bloom. This Spring in Southern California has been especially good for our floral friends, it’s being called a Super Bloom. In fact we have one cactus in particular to thank for the naming of this attractive destination, the Joshua Tree cactus. Whether you travel the park by foot or by vehicle to see these beautiful sights it is a great reason to put Joshua Tree on your bucket list.
ROCK CLIMBING at Joshua Tree
Once breakfast and hot chocolate have warmed our bellies we break camp and return to the vehicles. From there it is a short drive to Indian Cove Road N and fun rock climbing routes. These routes have the added advantage of faces shaded from the sun while we climb. The anchor points are reachable from the backside of the routes scrambling up the rocks and not needing to lead climb. All the youth do a great job. My role is to belay one of the routes. I love seeing the youth accomplish challenges and sharing in their excitement.
As the belayer, I am charged with the safety of my climbers. I stand at the base of the rock face to operate equipment that keeps the climber from falling if they should slip. The belayer checks all the climber’s gear before sending them up the route. Belayers also assist in the mental challenge of rock climbing offering encouragement and suggestions for toeholds and finger holds along the way. The youth not only exercise physically while they climb but also strengthen their determination and problem solving skills.
Joshua Tree Wildlife
After satisfying all our climbing cravings and while cleaning up the gear we spy an observer to the morning’s adventure crossing the dirt road beside us — a Desert Tortoise! A variety of birds as well have cheered us on throughout the morning. Lizards on the rock faces seemed to say, “What’s all the fuss about?” as they climbed alongside us making everything look so easy 🙂 And we might have even been spied upon by bats back at the campsite the night before.
We have yet to spot a bobcat in Joshua Tree Ntional Park. But we have seen Bighorn Sheep, coyotes, rabbits and many crawling creatures as well as birds, with regularity. All forms of wildlife in the park tend to be more active in the mornings and evenings. When it heats up, they find cooler, hidden places to ride out the heat. Naturally, we don’t feed anything we find, best to keep wildlife wild. Just keep your camera handy to record your encounters.
Sightseeing within the park
If a drive through the park is more to your fancy, take Park Boulevard starting at the entrance. Take a right onto Pinto Basin Road to go all the way through the heart of the park. There will be about a dozen places to pull over for viewpoints, nature walks, formations, and campgrounds. Near the end, there’s a visitor’s center. Bring everything you’ll need in terms of consumables as there are no concessions within the park.
It is time for the drive home which mercifully is much faster without all the traffic of the previous day. It is an interesting drive going back through 29 Palms, Joshua Tree city and Yucca Valley. We are surprised at the culinary collection along the route. We see restaurants representing every culture of food that we can think of! As we merge onto Interstate 10 we are awed by the wind turbine farms that cover the valley between the peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. And the spring’s showers continue to treat us to a floral spectacle.
We have accomplished and savored a lot in the 24 hours we have dedicated to Joshua Tree National Park. I hope you have enjoyed the virtual journey we’ve just completed. Perhaps you’ll soon find yourself in the park for real! When you do, it is sure to be a highlight of your trip to Southern California. It will be unique among all your outings. Here’s wishing you many wonderful adventures!
This post has been brought to you by my husband, Darren Wilcox, who is an avid outdoorsman and photographer. Feel free to check out his amazing Instagram account @dwlds. You can also read about his adventures camping in Baja, swimming with whale sharks, or exploring Roatan.