Joshua Tree, CA

LA Day Trip: Joshua Tree National Park

James Shih

A photo journal (summer 2020) of my 1-day itinerary to Joshua Tree National Park.

Photo by James Shih

Joshua Tree National Park is approximately a 2.5 hour drive from Los Angeles and is one of the most popular destinations in California. Located next to the town of Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree National Park is a vast area and one would need to get there early with a reliable vehicle in order to see a good number of the sights. It's a desert so it's recommended that you bring lots of water and snacks in your car, as there are no stores located within the park. Park entry for one vehicle is $30 and that lets you visit any of the areas within the national park. As of now, all campgrounds are closed due to the pandemic, but you can still have tons of fun during the day and watch the stars at night.

The park takes its name from the Joshua tree plant (yucca brevifolia), which is native to the Mojave Desert and can be found throughout the park. Based on ancient tools discovered there, humans have lived in the area for over 5,000 years as hunter-gatherers living off the various flora and fauna distinct to the region. The park was formed in 1936 (then known as Joshua Tree National Monument) thanks to the efforts of conservationist Minerva Hoyt and her colleagues.

Here are some of the top sights that I visited at Joshua Tree National Park this past summer:

Photos by James Shih

Arch Rock

Arch Rock gets its name for the natural rock arch that has been created over millions of years of tetonic movement and erosion. The granite formations surround the White Tank campground. The Arch Rock Trail located at the campground is a short 20 minute hike. You can also spend time walking amongst the rocks and finding quiet small pockets of space to stand between them. At the time we went, there were many photographers taking pictures of the arch. After we had a look, we climbed the rocks and found these hidden areas enclosed by rock that look beautiful in the sunlight and shadow.

Photos by James Shih

Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail is a nice, easy flat hike amongst this beautiful cactus garden. It is a .25 mile loop in an area concentrated by cholla cacti plants. Be careful not to stray off too far from the path, as you might get spiked by a cacti or potentially damage one. These cute cacti have been nicknamed the teddy bear cactus.

Photo by James Shih

Skull Rock

I got into an argument with my friends, they felt like it didn't look like a skull, but to me it totally looks like one. How about for you? Located just off the side of the road, there's no need to hike far to see this natural formation. Formed over many years by accumulated raindrops in small depressions in the granite, over time these depressions eroded the rock to form the eye-sockets of Skull Rock.

Photos by James Shih

Barker Dam Trail

This 1.5 mile level hike leads through boulders and desert foliage to a reservoir. This area can get incredibly dry during the summer (which is when these photos were taken). Be careful when you get to the dam; it's a long fall from the top of the dam to the bottom, especially if the water level is low. It was built over 100 years ago by ranchers looking to gather water and there is a sign on the trail that gives some info.

Photos by James Shih

Keys View

As the name suggests, this is a key spot to catch a view of the Coachella Valley. This is an extremely popular site to catch the sunset, so if you do plan catching the sun go down, be sure to get there early as parking is limited. This spot is located on the Little San Bernardino Mountains and gives views of Indio and Palm Springs. Also, one can see the unfortunate haze caused by air pollution.

Photo by Lian Law (NPS)


This for me was the highlight of the trip. In the city, light pollution obscures the night sky and it's impossible to see with the human eye a vast number of stars and night sky sights. But in Joshua Tree, the desert offers breathtaking views of the constellations and if you're lucky, the Milky Way. That night we saw also the Neowise comet, it's ghost-like tail trailing behind it. Stargazing can be done almost anywhere in the park, we watched the stars from Hidden Valley.

Teddy Bear Cacti. Photo by James Shih

Hope that photo journal inspired you to check out Joshua Tree National Park! As always, be courteous and be sure to clean up after yourselves by not leaving any trash behind in the park. I hope you have a wonderful trip and gain a deeper appreciation for nature and the universe.

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I enjoy writing about film/TV, travel, slice of life, language, Asian American issues, and other interests. Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment or message if you have any thoughts to share =).

Los Angeles, CA

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