The Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree National Park
Updated: Jul 12
Just about 4 hours away from Las Vegas and 2 hours from downtown LA, Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) is one of the most popular weekend getaway spots for Southern Californians. It is also one of the most visited National Parks in the United States. This national park is an iconic symbol of the Mojave Desert and one of the only places in the world where you can see lots of spiky-leaved evergreens. The park is about Rhode Island’s size and it spans 2 desert ecosystems - Mojave (higher and cooler where those Joshua Trees are) and Colorado (the cactus garden).
I’m obsessed with the park’s incredible rock formations and fascinating variety of plants across the desert landscape. Similar to most of the national parks, there is no internet connection inside Joshua Tree National Park, so make sure you save all the spots you want to visit on your Google Map and download the map prior to your arrival.
Joshua Tree National Park itself is pretty straightforward and easy to get around. In this article, I’m going to share the top 8 most photo-worthy spots to hit in (and around) the Joshua Tree National Park:
1. Heart Stone
This is my personal favorite photo spot inside the park. It took us quite a while to find the heart stone as there is no clear check-in spot on the Google Map. However, all you have to do is enter from the Arch Rock Trail and keep finding/following the signs that lead you to the Heart Stone. This is a pretty easy trail and definitely family/kids friendly. The big heart is such a cute rock formation and it does look like a heart from both sides (one side is more obvious than the other). For photo tips, I recommend standing on both sides of the heart so you don’t block the v-shape bottom.
2. Joshua Tree (Yucca) Safari
The Joshua trees (officially named as Yucca brevifolia) are giant succulents that are actually a part of the Agave family (the plant used to make tequila). These wacky plants are a crucial part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem as many animals reside on them. You can easily spot a lot of them from the main street of the park and in most of the hiking trails. Just remember not to lean on/bend them when taking photos.
3. Barker Dam + Joshua Tree Open Trail
In my opinion, this is the most beautiful trail inside the Joshua Tree National Park. The Barker Dam was built in 1900 to collect water for cattle and mining operations. We visited during the winter and there was no water anymore, but the stunning layers of rock formations made it a popular photo spot. However, my personal favorite of this trail is actually the Open Trail followed by the Barker Dam, where you could find a beautiful landscape of densely populated Joshua Trees. If you’re looking to take cute photos with Joshua Trees and cacti, I highly recommend you to explore this trail. You will find so many cute spots for pictures and videos. I was there on a sunny late afternoon, and it was so much fun to play with nature, sunlights and shadows.
4. Cholla Cactus Garden
The cactus garden is no doubt one of the most photo-worthy spots inside the park. This is where you’ll find the cuddly Teddybear Cholla Cactus! These little guys are super cute to look at (and some of them have yellow flower blossoms/fruits) but make sure you don’t go too close to them when taking photos as they’re spikey and poisonous, not cuddly at all!!
A gentle reminder for those of you who are bringing your furry babies to the park. This trail does not allow pets and you should keep your little furry babies away from these Teddybear cacti.
5. Open-Eye Cave
This is one of the more challenging trails in the JTNP. The location is quite seclusive and it’s almost hidden beyond a group of giant rocks so make sure you follow the signs and crowds. The Open-Eye Cave reminds me so much about the Arches National Park in Moab, UT. It’s a beautiful arch where you could frame yourselves inside an eye-shaped cave when posing for photos. It’s a little difficult to get up to the arch so make sure you pay extra attention when taking kids/the elderly up on this trail.
6. Skull Rock
This is one of the easiest photo spots you could find inside the JTNP. The famous skull rock is very close to the trail entrance, and the best angle to snap a picture of this “skull-looking rock” is from the bottom right (if your’re facing it) of the rock. The two giant depressions created by the erosion have turned this giant rock formation into a skull-looking figure. Behind the skull rock, there is the skull rock trail loop, which takes about 2 hours in total to complete.
Fun fact - we actually found the rock looks more like the Squidward guy from the Spongebob Squarepants 😛
7. Hidden Valley
The Hidden Valley Trail used to be a hideout for cattle rustlers in the late 19th century until around the early 20th century. It’s a relatively flat trail (one-mile loop) but it does go through some of the boulder masses in the valley. As how it was named, I love how the valley is sort of hidden behind several giant rocks, so once you reach the end of the roped pathway and get through the rocks, you’ll see a gorgeous valley view right in front of you. What a silver lining!
Just a few minutes drive from the JTNP’s entrance, Joshua Tree Coffee Shop is one of the cutest spots to hit before entering the park! All coffee cups and coffee bean bags are in pink with a cute Joshua Tree painted in the middle. My personal favorite is their Morning Bliss
Joshua Tree National Park is also well known for some of the coolest Airbnbs in this country. Instead of staying in a chain hotel, I would recommend go onto Airbnb or Vrbo to pick a house of your taste. I will also introduce some special lodgings around JTNP in my future articles.