Joshua Tree National Park in Four Hours or Less

We're an outdoorsy family. And by that I mean no pretention. We are not experienced backpackers, long-distance hikers, professional campers. We just love being outside in nature whenever we can.

Last November (I can't even believe how long ago November seems), our friends at REI invited us to participate in their latest campaign, #optoutside. The company closed its doors on black Friday and instead encouraged folks to skip the bargain-hunting and to head outdoors. That was our original plan anyway, so after a sweet Friendsgiving in Palm Springs, we headed to Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park is a 40-minute drive from Palm Springs. We got a late start, so our plan was to hike and explore in the afternoon and head back to town early evening. The forecast for the afternoon was a sunny 50 degrees. By the time we got to the park entrance, we noticed flurries of snow. Actual snow. It was instead 38 degrees and overcast.

It didn't snow for long at all, but not totally prepared for that kind of weather with a toddler in tow, we ended up doing most of our exploring by car. We drove through a big portion of the park and stopped a few times for quick hikes, sightseeing, and pictures. Just being there was enough of a treat, and I was grateful to even set foot in this amazing park.

Our first stop was at Jumbo Tree campground - which was completely booked, even in that weather! We did a short hike up to Skull Rock (you can also drive right up to it), while our little slept completely bundled up and cozy in his baby carrier/cocoon. Skull Rock is one of the most popular trails, and even though it was a holiday weekend and there were people everywhere, it wasn't overwhelming and overly crowded at all.

Now, the absolute best part about Joshua Tree NP was its sheer vastness; sometimes it felt like we were in an entirely different planet. Nearly 800,000 acres of mountains and rocks and Joshua trees and trails as far as the eye could see. I already miss that about the west - so much space, so much silence. (Fun fact: two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park).

Can you see the TINY person in black on the right? For perspective.

The park's website is quite helpful, and it lists a ton of activities depending on how much time you have to explore and what your level of experience is. There are several short nature hikes (some are wheelchair accessible), longer hikes, rock climbing, camping, backcountry roads, backpacking, mountain biking, and so on. Pets are limited to certain areas only, so we left our little guy back in Palm Springs with his cousin Zoe.

The Story Behind the Name

The JTNP website writes that according to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the promised land. Others were not as visionary. Early explorer John Fremont described them as “…the most repulsive tree in the vegetable Kingdom."

Harsh eh? Shoot, I like them. For more on Joshua Tree National Park (including fees and hours) click here. As usual, linking up with these blogs for the week!

Have you ever visited JTNP? What was your favorite aspect?

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About the Writer

I'm Louise, a Tampa Bay based Brazilian-American travel blogger. Join us as we learn and share the ins-and-outs of traveling with a toddler and our sweet rescue pup Oreo, while promoting local nonprofits and wellness along the way.