5 Things You Absolutely Must See Near Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is one of my favorite national parks. You can spend several days hiking the numerous trails in the park like Barker Dam, Lost Horse Mine and Hidden Valley and never finish them all. Joshua Tree is also a premiere destination for rock climbing, attracting enthusiasts from all over the world. To be honest, just watching the sunset from Keys View merits a visit to Joshua Tree itself.

Joshua actually encompasses an area of over 1,200 square miles, which is just slightly larger than the entire state of Rhode Island, so there is a lot to do. Most people who visit the park only see a small fraction of what this area has to offer. If you truly want to experience the California desert, you’re going to have to get outside the main section of the park and do some exploring. Here is my list of 5 things you absolutely must see near Joshua Tree National Park.

1. Indian Cove Campground

Indian Cove Campground
The Indian Cove Campground is located within the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park, but most visitors never see because it’s not accessible from the main road inside the park. Personally, I love that this campground only gets a fraction of the visitors as the rest of the park. Even when it’s busier, the Indian Cove Campground is surrounded by giant boulders which isolates you from your neighbors. As an added bonus, there are literally hundreds of amazing bouldering and rock climbing routes located all around the campground. This area of the park also affords some of the best stargazing anywhere in the United States.

 Indian Cove just happens to be located next to my favorite hike in Joshua Tree, which is Rattlesnake Canyon, but more on that later. One of the best aspects of Indian Cove is that you don’t have to pay to enter this section of the park, unless you plan on camping. You can just drive in, park, and start exploring. Camping rates are reasonable and range from $12-50 per night.  If you do plan on camping in Joshua Tree, you won’t find a better spot than the Indian Cove Campground.

2. Rattlesnake Canyon Hike

Rattlesnake Canyon Hike

My favorite trail in Joshua Tree has to be the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail. The word “trail” is a bit misleading, as Rattlesnake Canyon is really a maze of giant boulders you’ll have to hop, squeeze through and climb until you've had your fill. There are countless small caves and crevices to explore among the boulders. We even found a few small arches. This is also a popular spot for rock-climbing. Be warned: This not a hike for beginners or small children. Do not be misled by other sites claiming this is a moderate hike. If you plan on getting off trail and climbing through the boulders, Rattlesnake Canyon will challenge you and kick your butt.  

3. 29 Palms Inn
29 Palms Inn

A lot of people don’t like camping, which I totally understand. By the time you buy a tent, a sleeping bag and the rest of your camping gear, you could easily end up spending more than you would have for a hotel room. To be honest, I don’t always camp myself. Recently, I stumbled upon a little hotel near Joshua Tree called the 29 Palms Inn that was so perfect I almost hate to mention it for fear of spoiling it. The 29 Palms Inn is literally an oasis in the desert. Literally. It has a real oasis right in the middle of it. The “hotel” is really a collection of bungalows and cabins. My room looked like something out of a Wes Anderson movie. The hotel restaurant is actually pretty amazing. You can enjoy dinner and cocktails by the pool while you listen to live music.  The hotel also has an art studio where you can take painting and pottery classes or buy artwork from local artists. The 29 Palms Inn is easily the best hotel I’ve stayed in while visiting Joshua Tree.

4. Pappy and Harriet’s

If you’re visiting Joshua Tree National Park and you only had time to eat at one restaurant, Pappy and Harriet’s should be that restaurant. Billboard Magazine named Pappy and Harriet’s one of the ‘Top Ten Hidden Gems’ in a 2012 issue. The restaurant has also been featured in several television shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations If you’re lucky enough to catch an open mic night, you can sit back and enjoy an 18oz Porterhouse steak while you watch traveling musical artists from all over the country. This is not open mic at your local coffee shop. Artists like Feist, Ke$sha, Matt Costa have all made appearances at open mic night here. 

On a weeknight, there is no hipper place to be than Pappy and Harriet’s. The wait time for a table can get quite long as the restaurant is frequently filled to capacity. But it's worth the wait. Make sure to check the events calendar on the website because the restaurant frequently closes at night to host major acts. Paul McCartney, Queens of the Stone Age, Neko Case, Arctic Monkeys, Band of Horses, Sean Lennon and Billy Corgan and countless other big label acts have all performed here.

5. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Mount Jacinto

View from the Desert Trail on Mount Jacinto
No vacation to Joshua Tree is complete with taking a side trip to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up Mount Jacinto.  Mount Jacinto is the sixth largest mountain in the lower 48 states. Its unique because the base of the mountain is located at sea level which gives Jacinto one of the steepest vertical ascents in the United States. The infamous Cactus to the Clouds Trail involves an elevation gain of over 10,000 feet from the base to the summit of the mountain. It is purported that John Muir once said "The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!"

Thankfully, reaching the summit can be simplified by taking a quick ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which cuts about 8,000 feet off the climb. A round-trip hike from the observation deck at the top of tram to the peak of Mount San Jacinto is about 11 miles, but may take as long as 7 hours to hike it because of the thin air at this elevation.  There is also great campground at Round Valley if you don’t want rush your trip and plan to stay the night on the mountain. You should be aware that temperatures on Mount Jacinto can differ from those on the desert floor by 60 degrees or more, and sub-freezing nighttime temperatures are possible even in the summer. Pack accordingly.

If you don’t plan of hiking to the summit, you can still see some amazing views from the observation area at the top of the tram which overlooks all of Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. Families with children should consider checking out the easy 1.5 mile Desert View Trail which also starts at the top of the tram.


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