Need to get out of LA? You’ll love planning a Los Angeles to Joshua Tree road trip. It’s the perfect way to relax for a weekend and enjoy nature a bit more than you might in the city. There are plenty of places to stop along the way, and you might be surprised at some of the things you discover. The first time I did this drive, I thought I’d just be stuck in traffic the entire time, but was happy to find many roadside attractions to check out on the trip.
While a road trip from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park is a fun vacation, it can also be a long, tiring drive if you don’t take any breaks along the way. I’ve done this drive twice and know how frustrating it can be to be stuck in traffic, which is why I started exploring different stops on the way there.
In this article, I give you my best tips for a Los Angeles to Joshua Tree drive based on my experiences as well as all my favorite stops that you’ll want to get out and see, so let’s dive in so you can start planning your trip!
Tips for a Los Angeles to Joshua Tree Drive
Here are several factors to consider before going from LA to Joshua Tree National Park.
- Take advantage of alternate routes, such as taking back roads or highways instead of interstates when possible, to avoid heavy traffic during peak times and get more out of the sights along the way. I tend to plan to stop for dinner during times I know will be crowded, such as Friday afternoon.
- Download offline maps or have a paper map, as there are many spots in the park where you won’t have service. You can get a paper map of the park when you pay your entrance fee.
- Research the weather ahead of time, as the park is located in a high desert climate, and temperatures can range from mild in the summertime to freezing in the winter. I was just there in February, and it was actually really cold the entire time, even during the day (something I didn’t expect).
- Pack plenty of snacks and water in case you’re stuck in traffic or don’t pass any stores for a bit. This is always one of my top road trip tips, as nobody wants to be hangry. You’ll especially want to have road trip snacks for kids if you’re on a family trip to keep them happy.
How long does it take to drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park?
The driving time from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park is between 2-3 hours, but this can vary greatly depending on traffic. If you leave on a Friday afternoon, you can expect this to double as everyone else wants to get out of LA.
When I left Coachella years ago and went from Joshua Tree to Los Angeles, it took me five hours, and I missed my flight. I wish I had road trip trivia games on hand to provide some entertainment!
What is the distance from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree?
The distance from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park is approximately 130 miles. This varies depending on which part of the park you want to visit first.
What is the best time to go on a road trip from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park?
The best time to go on a LA to Joshua Tree road trip is during the spring or fall. In the spring, temperatures are mild, and days are warm, which makes it much more comfortable for hiking. The park’s wildflowers begin to bloom as early as February, painting the desert with vibrant colors.
As opposed to many other places, like going on a road trip to Crater Lake, summer is a time you do not want to come here, as it can easily get up to 110°F. Even the locals tend to leave during this time of the year.
Where to stay on an LA to Joshua Tree National Park road trip
Joshua Tree is in the middle of multiple cities, and I’ve stayed in both the north and south side.
I split up my hotel recommendations based on the area; here are some accommodations on the north side:
- Fairfield Inn & Suites Twentynine Palms – Joshua Tree National Park is air-conditioned, has an outdoor pool, and has a daily breakfast buffet.
- If you’re on a budget, the Motel 6 Twentynine Palms is an affordable choice close to both downtown Twentynine Palms and the entrance of the park. I actually stayed here on my first trip, and it was ideal for providing a bed to sleep in at night and being a convenient base.
Here are some hotels south of the park closer to Palm Springs:
- The Desert Riviera Hotel is the perfect destination for a luxurious LA to Joshua Tree road trip. This modern hotel has a variety of amenities, including a full-service spa, outdoor pool and hot tub, complimentary breakfast buffet, and two restaurants.
- Experience the best of sunny Palm Desert on your road trip from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree with a stay at the Marriott’s Shadow Ridge I – The Villages. This beautiful resort offers guests spacious suites, a private balcony or patio, and fully-equipped kitchenettes. There are also two outdoor pools, an 18-hole golf course, and five restaurants.
Los Angeles to Joshua Tree road trip map
I go into detail on all of these stops below, but here is a quick map to look at to see where you’ll be going.
10 Stops to Make on a Los Angeles to Joshua Tree Road Trip
Now that you’re feeling prepared for your trip, here are some of the best places to stop on the way to Joshua Tree from Los Angeles.
1. San Bernardino
When you’re stuck in traffic from your LA to Joshua Tree drive or even coming from a San Francisco road trip, San Bernardino is the perfect place to stop to break it up a bit. Whether you’re looking for hikes to stretch your legs or fun museums, San Bernardino has something for everyone. Castle Rock Trail is a scenic 3-mile hike you’ll love, or you can do the easy 1-mile Heart Rock Trail.
When you’re in town, check out the iconic Glen Helen Amphitheater to see if any events are going on. This is a beautiful outdoor amphitheater in the United States that’s been known to host some pretty big names over the years.
2. Cabazon Dinosaurs
Located in Cabazon, the Cabazon Dinosaurs are a fun roadside attraction to see on your Joshua Tree road trip, especially if you’re on a road trip with kids. These two giant dinosaurs were originally built in 1965 by Claude K. Bell and stand over 150 feet tall! The larger of the two dinosaurs is an Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) named Dinny, and the smaller one is a Tyrannosaurus Rex called Mr. Rex.
It’s a fun photo-op with your friends or family (so you’ll want to have the perfect road trip caption for Instagram ready!), and you’ll likely recognize them from being in movies over the years (such as Pee-wee’s Big Adventure). After, you can escape the heat by going inside the museum to learn more about dinosaurs and how they used to live.
3. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a beautiful stop on a Los Angeles to Joshua Tree road trip. Located west of Palm Springs, this preserve offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape along with plentiful wildlife and native vegetation. Some people also like to stop here for bird watching, so you’ll love it if that’s you.
There are also plenty of trails throughout the area if you feel like going hiking. While the Big Morongo Canyon Trail is almost 13 miles long, you can easily just pick a few miles and turn back around to make it doable. Just like on a LA to Grand Canyon road trip, one of the best parts of this drive is how many hikes there are to choose from.
Similar to when doing a Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip, there are tons of spontaneous places to discover during your drive here.
My friend and I randomly stumbled upon Pioneertown the first time we did our Joshua Tree road trip, and I was thrilled to find it. The town is an old Western movie set that was established in the 1940s and has since become a popular tourist destination. Located just outside of Joshua Tree, the town is one of my top recommendations for how to spend an afternoon on your Joshua Tree to LA drive.
You can explore rustic buildings and a main street straight out of an old Western movie. They even have reenactors who will act out a pretend draw right on the streets. I stopped at Pappy & Harriet’s for dinner, which is a fun open-air BBQ joint. You’ll love exploring this town while on your Los Angeles to Joshua Tree road trip.
5. Twentynine Palms
One of the few cities located right near Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms is a convenient place for a base. I stayed here the first time I visited the area and found it affordable and close to stores and restaurants, so we could quickly get food and then be on our way.
To beat the heat, you can visit Twentynine Palms Historical Society & Adobe Museum and learn about the area’s past. For breakfast, I stopped at The Natural Sisters Cafe for a delicious burrito before heading into the park.
While not in Twentynine Palms itself, just down the street is Joshua Tree Saloon, which I found to be an entertaining place to get dinner, a drink, and watch some locals perform karaoke.
There are also plenty of bigger stores in this area, so it’s an ideal place to check your road trip packing list for families to see if you’re low on anything.
6. Joshua Tree National Park
You could easily spend days exploring the park, but here are some of my favorite places to stop when I visit:
- Keys View – Make sure to make a pit stop at Keys View, a 5,185-foot summit overlooking the Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto Mountains. I recommend coming here for sunset, as the light is perfect when it sets over the valley.
- Jumbo Rocks – While I love rock climbing, I’m not yet experienced enough to rock climb in Joshua Tree. However, this is the place to watch others who are more adventurous boulder and climb the rocks.
- Barker Dam – I had no idea you could find water in the desert, but there is a small body of water here depending on when it last rained.
- Lost Horse Mine – This was once an old gold mine that has since been abandoned, and you can either hike through its ruins or just look at it from farther away.
- Cholla Cactus Garden – This is my favorite part of the park because these cacti are so unique. The area is full of chollas (jumping cacti) and by far the best place to catch the sunrise at the park. I recommend getting here early because you won’t be the only photographer.
From here, you can also extend your trip and go on a California to Arizona drive.
7. Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is one of the most unique and fascinating destinations in California. Located in Imperial County, it’s a shallow body of water that was created by accident when an irrigation canal overflowed into the basin over 100 years ago. Today, you can now visit this salty lake to do everything from bird-watching to swimming and boating. It’s an ideal place to relax on your road trip from Joshua Tree to LA.
There are also several areas where you can go swimming or boating, such as Red Hill Bay Marina Beach or Bombay Beach—just make sure you bring along some saltwater fishing gear if you plan on catching any fish! You can also explore nearby mud volcanoes and sand dunes, such as those near Niland, on your Los Angeles to Joshua Tree road trip.
8. Downtown Palm Springs
Downtown Palm Springs is the place to be whether you’re looking for a living nightlife or want options for eating. I first came here around 11 am on a Friday, and almost every single restaurant and bar was packed with people, and there were already lines to get in! You can’t help but be in a good mood with all the music playing from each outdoor patio.
If you’re not feeling hungry or thirsty, you’ll find plenty of other things to do, such as viewing art at the Palm Springs Art Museum or admiring aviation at the Palm Springs Air Museum. There are even trails on the outskirts of town, so you can go hiking if you want.
9. Indian Canyons
One part of California’s landscape I love is all the canyons, and Indian Canyons is no different. You can explore ancient Native American trails in this oasis located near Palm Desert and see stunning rock formations from many years ago.
Indian Canyons is best known for its hiking trails among the palm groves and red-rock canyons. The Andreas Canyon Trail takes you through a stream-filled gorge lined by fan palms, while Murray Hill offers beautiful views from its summit overlooking Palm Springs Valley. You’ll want to bring plenty of water here if you hike, as it can get warm and dry.
10. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting the area. Located in the San Jacinto Mountains, this tramway takes you on a ride high above the Coachella Valley. I loved the endless views of Southern California’s desert landscape when I did this 10-minute ride.
The two-and-a-half-mile journey starts at Chino Canyon and ascends almost 6,000 feet to Mount San Jacinto State Park, where you can explore miles of hiking trails no matter what the season is. I came here in February and was shocked that there was snow everywhere, as you always think of sun and pools when you think of Palm Springs.
You can also visit a museum or watch a film to see how the tram was made (which I recommend because it is fascinating). After, head upstairs to get lunch or a drink in the bar before you take the tram back down. You’ll want to add this to your itinerary for your Joshua Tree to Los Angeles drive.
An Itinerary for a LA to Joshua Tree Road Trip
You can pick and choose any of the above places to stop at, but here’s my quick recommendation for what to see on your Los Angeles to Joshua Tree road trip.
Day 1: LA to Twentynine Palms
To start your road trip from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll want to stop at Cabazon Dinosaurs, an iconic roadside attraction with two towering dinosaur sculptures. You can even visit the museum to learn more about these prehistoric creatures. Another quick stop is the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, where you can enjoy the stunning views of the landscape and go hiking on the many trails in the area.
If you’re a fan of the Old West, Pioneertown is a must-visit destination for you. This was one of my favorite stops during my trip, as it’s a western movie set from the 1940s, which turned into a popular tourist spot with rustic buildings, restaurants, and shops.
To end your night, head to Twentynine Palms, a city near the park, with affordable lodging, dining options, and attractions such as the Twentynine Palms Historical Society & Adobe Museum and The Natural Sisters Cafe.
Day 2: Joshua Tree National Park
While I recommend visiting Joshua Tree National Park for several days, not everyone has the time. There are many places to visit in a day, including Keys View, which is a 5,185-foot summit that offers a breathtaking view of the Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto Mountains, Jumbo Rocks, where you can watch rock climbers climb and boulder rocks, and Barker Dam, where you can find water in the desert and see its ruins.
I also like visiting Lost Horse Mine, which is an abandoned gold mine that you can explore, and my personal favorite, Cholla Cactus Garden, where you can catch the sunrise and take pictures of the unique chollas.
Day 3: Palm Springs
For the last day of your trip, head to Palm Springs before returning to LA. Downtown Palm Springs is a vibrant area with various restaurants, bars, museums, and shopping. There’s always something going on down there, and chances are good that you might be sitting next to a celebrity at lunch and not even know it.
When you’re full and shopped out, head to The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This is a fun experience that takes you on a ride high above the Coachella Valley, with endless views of Southern California’s desert landscape and providing access to Mount San Jacinto State Park’s hiking trails. You can even get dinner up there and have a nightcap before catching the last tram of the night.
Now it’s time to start planning your Los Angeles to Joshua Tree road trip and get on the road!