Palm Springs To Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary

Just an hour’s drive from the resort oasis of Palm Springs lies the otherworldly desert landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park. This proximity makes Joshua Tree an ideal destination for a day trip or even a half-day local getaway from the Coachella Valley. 

During our week-long stay in Palm Springs, we dedicated half a day to explore the iconic park – and were amazed at how much we could pack into just a few hours!

Joshua Tree boasts stunning geological features like twisted rock formations, endless boulder fields, and the park’s namesake twisted yucca plants. But the desert wonderland offers more than just incredible natural scenery. 

The quaint towns on its outskirts, like the artsy Twentynine Palms, are brimming with quirky attractions, cool art installations, and delicious plant-based eateries. To make the most of your Palm Springs to Joshua Tree day trip, get an early start and follow this comprehensive itinerary.

Know Before You Go

Respect the land:  when visiting Joshua Tree. Native American groups like the Pinto, Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, and Serrano peoples originally lived in this area. Stay on the marked trails, do not take anything from the park, and follow all the rules and signs.

Post Cost: It costs $30 to enter Joshua Tree National Park with your personal vehicle. This entry fee allows you to visit for 7 days. To save money, consider getting the America the Beautiful annual pass if you plan to visit at least 3 national parks over the next year. The $80 annual pass covers entry fees at all the national parks.

No Service: You probably won’t have cell phone service inside Joshua Tree National Park. Before your visit, download any maps or apps you may need onto your phone so you can access them without service in the park.

What To Pack For Joshua Tree

What To Pack For Joshua Tree
  • Water bottle
  • Layers of clothing 
  • Walking/hiking shoes 
  • Comfortable, anti-theft Backpack
  • Camera
  • Sun protection

How To Get To Joshua Tree National Park

If you’re coming from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park, start by driving north on Indian Canyon Drive. Then turn right onto the CA-62 E highway. Stay on CA-62 E until you reach the Utah Trail exit. Turn right onto Utah Trail and it will take you straight into the park.

When you arrive, stop at the North Entrance station to pay the entrance fee or show your annual national park pass. If you get there really early in the morning before the station is staffed, you can drive through and pay or show your pass when exiting later. 

There is also a West Entrance to Joshua Tree, but for this itinerary we’ll enter through the North Entrance and exit through the West Entrance. That way you can drive in a loop to see different areas.

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Things To Do In Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park offers many different activities and attractions. Since we only had a day trip from Palm Springs, this list covers just the highlights for a fun and efficient visit. 

Follow these stops in the order listed to make the most of your day exploring the park easily and smoothly.

Arch Rock Hike

Kick off your desert adventure with a scenic warm-up on the Arch Rock Nature Trail. This easy 1-mile out-and-back hike culminates with views of the park’s famous Arch Rock formation. 

The iconic rock arch was carved over millennia by water erosion, creating a stunning natural sculpture to marvel at. For those wanting a little extra adventure, there are rocky steps and ledges to scramble up that provide a closer look at the unique arch. Just be cautious of the rough rock surface.

How to Get to Arch Rock

Park at the Twin Tanks parking area off Park Boulevard. From there, follow the Arch Rock Nature Trail signs across the road towards the White Tank Campground area where the original trailhead begins. Continue along the marked trail until you reach the breathtaking Arch Rock vista.

Pro Tip: The White Tank parking area is now closed, so Twin Tanks is the only access point for this trail.

Skull Rock

Skull Rock

One of Joshua Tree’s most iconic and aptly-named attractions is the incredible Skull Rock. This massive rock formation, hollowed out by ancient erosion, bears an uncanny resemblance to a giant skull when viewed from certain angles. It’s both mesmerizing and eerie!

How to Get to Skull Rock

You’ll find Skull Rock just steps away from Park Boulevard, no hiking required. There is roadside parking available – just look for the telltale line of cars. Cross over the street and this famous rock “skull” will be right in front of you, making for terrific photo ops.

Hall of Horrors

For those wanting to stretch their legs further, consider the Hall of Horrors trail. This path winds through fields of twisted Joshua Trees and jumbled boulder gardens, earning its name from the seemingly nightmarish (but beautiful) desert landscape.

The main loop trail is around 2 miles, but you can opt for shorter routes as well. More adventurous hikers can navigate through the narrow slot canyons that gave this area its ominous moniker.

How to Get To Hall of Horrors

From Skull Rock, continue heading west along Park Boulevard until you see signs for the Hall of Horrors parking area on the right side of the road. The lot has vault toilets available.

Barker Dam Trail

One of the park’s most family-friendly trails is the easy 1.1-mile loop around Barker Dam. This flat dirt path provides an up-close look at Joshua Tree’s iconic twisted trees and massive boulder piles.

At the end of the loop, you’ll find the historic Barker Dam itself along with areas displaying ancient petroglyphs. If you’re short on time, you can take a shortcut at the fork and just visit the petroglyph section.

How to Get There

Simply continue west on Park Blvd after the Hall of Horrors until you reach the turn-off for Barker Dam Road on the right side. Follow this road to reach the Barker Dam trailhead parking lot with vault toilets.

Things To Do Near Joshua Tree (Twentynine Palms)

Things To Do Near Joshua Tree (Twentynine Palms)

After exploring Joshua Tree’s alien landscapes, head over to the quirky nearby town of Twentynine Palms. This funky artists’ community, located just outside the park’s west entrance, is brimming with cool art installations, unique shops, and charming cafes.

Even if you don’t have time to actually enter Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms itself makes for a worthwhile day trip from Palm Springs.

Art Queen

One of Twentynine Palms’ most Instagrammable spots is the Art Queen courtyard and store. Walk through the alleyway between shops until you spot the Art Queen sign mimicking the classic Dairy Queen logo. In the back courtyard you’ll find an eclectic collection of artworks, murals, and Art Queen’s main store selling upcycled clothing and art items.

World Famous Crochet Museum

Adjacent to Art Queen is the delightfully quirky World Famous Crochet Museum. Despite its grand name, this tiny museum consists of just a handful of crocheted exhibits inside a miniature yarn-bombed building. It’s well worth a peek just for its sheer wacky novelty!

Fun Fact: The Crochet Museum was created by the owner of Art Queen and is so small, only 1-2 people can enter at a time.

The Station

Note: The Station was closed during my visit but is a popular spot when open

This unique gift shop and snack stop is housed inside an old converted gas station, hence its name. In addition to cool souvenirs, The Station offers a selection of specialty drinks, snacks, and shaded outdoor seating for weary travelers.

Muffler Man

Standing sentinel outside The Station is one of the iconic “Muffler Men” statues. These towering roadside figures were popularized in the 1960s as advertising gimmicks for repair shops and have taken on cult status over the decades.

The Twentynine Palms Muffler Man is sure to catch your eye and makes for a fun photo op! Read up on the fascinating history of these folk art giants.

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum

For one of Joshua Tree’s most unique art experiences, don’t miss the free Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. 

Located off the main strip in Twentynine Palms, this bizarre open-air gallery features thought-provoking sculptures and installations constructed entirely from discarded materials and everyday junk.

As you wander through the eerie, post-apocalyptic landscapes, see if you can spot the famous orange “spaceship” Airbnb rental peeking over the horizon.

Photography Tip: The museum’s strange, industrial artwork makes for incredibly interesting photography subjects when set against the barren desert backdrop.



On your drive back towards Palm Springs, plan to stop in Pioneertown – an eccentric little desert village with some Old West charm. 

Originally built in 1946 as a filming location for cowboy movies and shows, Pioneertown’s wooden false-front buildings and rundown structures have been left intact.

While it may look like an abandoned ghost town at first glance, Pioneertown does have a small population of residents along with some shops and restaurants worth exploring during your pit stop. 

You can grab a bite, wander around snapping photos of the vintage movie sets, or even catch occasional live entertainment on certain nights.

Quirky Tidbit: In 2019, the kids’ music group Kidz Bop used the Pioneertown movie sets as the backdrop for their music video covering Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road.

Where To Eat In Joshua Tree

Where To Eat In Joshua Tree

Thanks to its laidback desert vibe and proximity to trendy Palm Springs, the town of Joshua Tree is filled with laid-back cafes and eateries emphasizing healthy, plant-based cuisines. Here are two tasty restaurants to refuel at after your park adventures:

The Natural Sisters Cafe

We opted for brunch at the vegetarian-friendly Natural Sisters Cafe thanks to their ample breakfast/lunch options and positive reviews. 

I decided on their incredible egg sandwich made with fresh local ingredients, but they also have an array of vegan dishes and baked goods available.

Crossroads Cafe

Just steps away from Natural Sisters is the Crossroads Cafe, another local favorite with a focus on organic, locally-sourced fare. 

In addition to vegetarian/vegan choices, Crossroads serves up classic American diner-style dishes with their own healthy spins.

Here is the continued comprehensive blog post on the Ultimate Palm Springs to Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary:

Where To Stay In Palm Springs

If you’re using Palm Springs as your home base for the Joshua Tree day trip, there are plenty of iconic hotels and vacation rentals to choose from in this desert resort town. A few of the top-rated options include:


  • The gorgeous mid-century modern Portrait House – a quintessential 3-bedroom Palm Springs home with private pool/hot tub


  • Hotel California – A Spanish-style boutique hotel with rustic-chic decor and lush courtyard
  • The Saguaro – This colorful hot spot is famous for its rainbow-colored exterior and poolside party vibe


  • Inn at Palm Springs – A simple but stylish hotel offering free bikes, pool, and breakfast

Fun Bonus Option:

  • Twin Palms Resort – This classic Palm Springs resort caters specifically to the LGBTQ community

No matter where you stay, Palm Springs offers the perfectUpscale yet laidback homebase for your Joshua Tree adventure!

Where To Stay In Joshua Tree

Where To Stay In Joshua Tree

If you’d like to extend your desert travels, Joshua Tree has no shortage of unique and eccentric vacation rental properties. From dome homes to funky art-filled bungalows, here are some of the highest-rated quirky accommodations:


  • Cosmic Rabbit – A gorgeous private 3-bedroom home with outdoor pool/spa
  • Dome on the Range – Massive dome structure alongside a standard 3-bed home



No matter your budget, staying overnight in Joshua Tree allows you to fully immerse yourself in the area’s unique energy and landscapes.

Important Tips:

  • Joshua Tree has very limited cell service, so download offline maps beforehand
  • The park is located in a desert, so bring sunscreen, hat, and LOTS of water
  • Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle, or free with an America the Beautiful Annual Pass
  • Be prepared for sudden weather changes by packing layers
  • Stay on marked trails and practice Leave No Trace principles

Whether you opt for a full day exploring the wonders of Joshua Tree or just a half-day detour, this eccentric desert park offers the perfect complement to the glitz of Palm Springs. 

With strange rock formations, mystical landscapes, and funky art scenes, the contrasts of Joshua Tree are sure to stay etched in your memory!

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