How to Spend 24 Hours in Joshua Tree with Kids

Our family loves nature and outdoor spaces, and so for the life of me, I can’t figure out what took us so long to get to Joshua Tree. We have a little tradition where we visit at least one (sometimes more) national parks each year. It’s our goal to get to as many national parks as possible before the boys leave home.  We also document our visits to the national parks in our journals where we include favorite photos, drawings of unique places and personal reflections. As we were nearing the end of the year, I realized we hadn’t been to any national parks yet in 2017. So I quickly pulled out a map to see which national park was close, convenient and not ticked off our list yet. It became clear that Joshua Tree would be the one!


How to Organize a National Park Journal

National Park Journal Bundle
As we began making plans for our short visit (to take place over Thanksgiving week), we discovered that hiking and rock climbing were the principal activities in Joshua Tree. In fact, according to the National Park Service, Joshua Tree is considered a world-class climbing destination and boasts more than 8,000 climbing routes. Climbers come from all over the world, and yet, there is something for all levels. That was good news for us since we had no outdoor rock climbing experience. The second thing that became clear in our research was that we would want to spend some time in Pioneertown, located nearby. This short visit included two days in the park and a one-night stay. Keep reading to find out how we chose our rock climbing guide, what else we did while in Joshua Tree, and how we spent our time in Pioneertown.

But First, Some Information:

Where is Joshua Tree?
Joshua Tree National Park is located in the high desert of Southern California, just a two-hour drive from Los Angeles. It encompasses portions of the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert and is characterized by the stark desert landscapes, rock formations, and unique Joshua trees. 

What is a Joshua Tree?
Twisted and bristled, almost Dr. Seuss like, these Joshua trees are what the park has been named after. We learned in the Visitor’s Center that they get their name from Mormon settlers who came through these parts in the early 19th century. The trees reminded them of “Joshua” from the Old Testament who led the people in the desert and lifted up his arms in prayer. These trees reach full maturity in 60 years and usually reach a height of 20 feet.
National Park Facts
Joshua Tree received National Park status in 1994. It includes 1,235 square miles of land, two distinct desert ecosystems, and six mountain ranges. There are ten campgrounds and many hiking and equestrian trails. Joshua Tree can be accessed through three entrances, two located in the high desert (one near Yucca Valley and one near 29 Palms) and one in the lower desert (near Indio).
Visitor’s Center
I think a National Park visit should always begin at the Visitor’s Center. I love talking to the rangers and getting their ideas on where we should go and what we should see. They usually ask how much time we have and go from there. That’s precisely what we did on our first day in Joshua Tree. We enjoyed looking through the educational exhibits and learning more about what we’d be seeing. We also picked up our postcards and NP brochure to use later in our National Park Journals. Many families enjoy stamping their National Park Stamp Books while visiting National Parks, and the stamp station can also be found here.

Park Fees
There is a fee for entering Joshua Tree National Park (just like all NPs). You can purchase a single park entrance (which is good for seven days) for $25 or buy the annual pass for $80 which is suitable for all National Parks. These fees are per car and not per person.

Rock Climbing with The Climbing Life Guides
Once we made plans to visit Joshua Tree National Park, the very next thing we did was begin our research for a reputable rock climbing company to spend the day with. Like always, I started my research on Tripadvisor. There are quite a few rock climbing guides in the Joshua Tree area to choose from. Besides the many great reviews on The Climbing Life Guides, the thing that caught my attention was that other reviewers had mentioned how family-friendly they were.  Indeed they were! And we’re so glad we chose The Climbing Life Guides.
Check here for a complete review of our time with The Climbing Life Guides. Having no prior experience with outdoor rock climbing, traveling with kids, and personally being somewhat of a safety nut, I can't say enough about our choice to climb with this company. They exceeded our expectations, and we had such a great day with Stephen, our guide. Our boys loved this experience, and it was a excellent family-team building opportunity to encourage each other and overcome fears and obstacles to maneuver our way up the sides of these rocks.

Other Family-friendly Activities in the Park:

Drive the Park Boulevard Loop

Enter Joshua Tree National Park from either the Yucca Valley entrance or the Twenty-nine Palms entrance and follow the Park Boulevard Loop. Without any stops, this drive will take about an hour. Of course, you'll want to make many stops, but that helps give you an idea of how far the distance is.

Skull Rock
Without a doubt, one of the most unique points-of-interest along Park Boulevard is Skull Rock. You can’t miss it, located in the “Jumbo Rocks” area, Skull Rock is a fun spot to snap a family picture and explore the area. Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that involves climbing on large boulders without the use of any ropes or harnesses. The area where Skull Rock is located is FULL of large stones, perfect for trying it out. Every skill level and every age can get in on the fun. As long as you know your boundaries, everyone can have a great time bouldering. Of course, young children should be supervised.

Best Family Hike – Hidden Valley Loop
On our first day exploring Joshua Tree, we only had time for one hike since it was getting late and the sun was going down. We chose the Hidden Valley Loop and loved it! This one-mile loop is mainly flat with lots of scrambling and bouldering opportunities. First, park at the well-marked parking lot and make your way between the two rock walls into Hidden Valley. We read at the trail head that this valley was used by rustlers in the 1800s to hide stolen cattle. You’ll come to a "T" in the hiking path, and then you can choose to make the loop by going left or right. It's a loop, so either way, you'll end up back where you started. This hike took us about an hour and would be very appropriate for young children as it is mostly flat and has no cliff areas.

Pioneertown is located about 20 minutes away from the Yucca Valley entrance to Joshua Tree NP. Of course, there are closer places to stay in Joshua Tree, but when we heard about this unique spot, we had to check it out. Pioneertown was built in the 1940s as a movie and television set. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were among the original investors, and more than 50 western movies and TV shows were filmed here. Main Street looks like something you’d see right out of cowboy movie with saloons, stables and a jail. Some of the buildings are just facades and some house actual stores and shops. The Pioneertown Motel is where we stayed.  Although a bit rustic, the beds and linens were comfy. The real highlight of our time in Pioneertown was a family-friendly honky-tonk bar and restaurant by the name of Pappy and Harriet’s. We love live music and were fortunate to be there on a Monday night when they have open mic. As we munched on delicious burgers and brisket sandwiches from the barbecue, we enjoyed country music from some very talented folks. Best of all, their Monday night open mic nights are family-friendly. It was a fun evening for all!
Check in at the Pioneertown Hotel
Check in at the Pioneertown Motel
As you can see, we loved our short visit to Joshua Tree National Park and Pioneertown. In fact, we loved it so much we are planning a return visit with friends in the near future. For anyone who makes their home in Southern California, you HAVE to schedule a visit! And for those planning a road trip through America’s Southwest, it’s a worthy stop. Within a few hours of Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree is conveniently located to other locations that are likely to end up on your southwest itinerary.

Have you been to Joshua Tree? What did we miss? What should we include next time?


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Brenda Tolentino says... (Reply)
"We've always wanted to visit The Joshua Tree National Park, it's always fascinated us. It''s great to know about The Climbing Life Guides, our daughter loves climbing and they sound like the perfect people take good care of her. Thanks for the tips." (1/14/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"You'll have to give it a try. I think your daughter will love it!" (1/16/18)
Maggie says... (Reply)
"I keep hearing about how great Joshua Tree is, as we live nearby as well. My husband used to go camping here all the time as a child, and it just sounds great. Thank you for the tips!" (1/14/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Hi Maggie, glad you found them helpful. We were in the same boat as we don't live too far away, but just hadn't made the time. We're glad we did!" (1/16/18)
susanna/A Modern Mother says... (Reply)
"I grew up in California - but have never made it to Joshua Tree! I've heard all about it for years though. Thanks for the tips!" (1/14/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Glad you found them helpful!" (1/16/18)
Ariana says... (Reply)
"We really hope to get to Joshua tree this year so your itinerary is perfect as we will be short of time. we hope to combine the visit with a trip to Yosemite and Sequoia NPs, your 5 day itinerary was very interesting. We will be going from Los Angeles and hope to have about 10 days in all. " (1/15/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Wow Ariana! That's an exciting itinerary. California is so diverse with so many wonderful places to see!" (1/16/18)
Katja says... (Reply)
"I've always wanted to visit the Joshua Tree National Park and it's magical scenery. It's great to know about the Climbing Life Guides, my middle child LOVES climbing rocks! " (1/16/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Hi Katja, Sounds like a great place for your son! Our boys were very happy to explore Joshua Tree by climbing and jumping over lots and lots of rocks!" (1/16/18)
Nicky @Go Live Young says... (Reply)
"What a fantastic write up on all there is to do at Joshua Tree National Park. We are hoping to tour some of the US National Parks so will pin for future reference." (1/16/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Great Nicky, glad you found it to be helpful. Happy adventuring!" (1/16/18)
Kirsten says... (Reply)
"Such a comprehensive review of Joshua tree. I know where to go if we ever get out west!" (1/17/18)