The Best Short Hikes in Joshua Tree Park for One Day
We were all all enjoying our time in Los Angeles, not really planning to do much simply because we’ve all already been there before. Los Angeles, for us, was meant to be more of a rest point up until one of my Instagram friends messaged me about East Jesus and Joshua Tree Park. I’ve explored several US parks in the past, 2 years ago to be precise—some examples were Yosemite, Yellowstone National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Lower Antelope, Zion, and more. I’ve always been in love with nature and quirky art spots so when she informed me about East Jesus and the Joshua Tree Park, something within me brewed, and I knew from then on that I wanted to go.
Things I had to consider:
- We needed a car and a driver. Luckily, Audrey could drive. Unfortunately she was the only one who was able to, unlike the rest of us—so we did our best to make her happy and well-fed to give her the energy she needed to last the entire drive.
- An itinerary. I quickly geared up my research skills and created an itinerary on Roadtrippers while Audrey focused on our car rental. Since we had previous experience with enterprise in our drive from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye, we decided to use the same company.
- The hiking experiences of my companions. Audrey and Sab didn’t really hike much and weren’t too keen on adventure climbing so I had to look for easy hikes they could enjoy! That was a big consideration but the mere fact that they were willing to go made me more than willing to make that compromise. Besides, the small walks are beautiful as well – no complaints there.
How to Get from LA to Joshua Tree
There are 3 entrance stations to the Joshua Tree Park you can choose from. If you are coming from certain locations, however, it might be best to enter via a certain entrance for the sake of your convenience.
Those coming from Arizona can enter Cottonwood Visitor Center or the South Entrance
Those coming from Las Vegas can enter Oasis Visitor Center or the North Entrance
Those coming from San Diego/Los Angeles , it’s best to go through the Joshua Tree Visitor Center or the West (Main) Entrance
I realised that the Joshua Tree park is the nearest park to San Diego and Los Angeles. Both cities were a part of our itinerary therefore we decided to just make a go for it.
The Roadtrip to Joshua Tree Park from Los Angeles
First things first.
We rented a car from Enterprise. It cost us 169 USD for 5 days including insurance. Because the price was split between 3 pax, it was pretty reasonable. We could have potentially gotten a cheaper vehicle but we had huge bags along with us, therefore we had to consider luggage space.
We started our drive at 8 in the morning. LA traffic was pretty bad, so we probably should have left earlier. It took us a total of 2 hours and 40 minutes to get to our first stop.
1. Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum
This spot was a suggestion from my friend’s boyfriend since he knew that I had a fondness for quirky stuff, and that this would be right up my alley. This place felt very Instagrammable although the only catch was that we were practically being baked under the heat.
All of the sculptures in the museum are made out of all sorts of recycled and salvaged items ranging from foldable chairs to bowling balls and old televisions. The story behind the museum is that the artist lived his last years in Joshua tree and spent his time creating all of the odd sculptures and junk art seen today.
The art was wonderful, although we only wish there was more of an explanation to the art so that we could better envision it but besides that it was still very interesting. But at the same time the lack of titles or explanations to the pieces also invokes thought – the strange sculptures and mish mash together of seemingly random items such as dominoes, mirrors, and mannequins might seem a little strange but it also encourages the audience to think for themselves as to what the reasoning or symbolism behind each of the pieces are. There is also no sequencing or given path to follow – we are to decide for ourselves what we want to see and what we want to understand. Purifoy has truly made outstanding creations that hold up even after his death and more likely than not, will still continue to do so for many years to come.
From here on, we headed to the Joshua Tree Park.
Entrance Fee to Joshua Tree Park
TICKET PRICE: We paid $25 per vehicle which was good for one week. Too bad we were only staying for a day since we were trying to catch up with my cousins from San Diego. For motorcycles, it costs $12 each.
We drove 44 minutes from the Noah Purifoy museum to the Skull Rock which was literally on the side of the road – you could just park your vehicle off to the side and walk up to it for pictures and such. The title definitely isn’t there just for fun; the rock really does look like a skull, and an extremely large one at that. The rock was formed naturally via erosion over many years, which is an interesting fun fact.
The area is also filled with rocks, perfect for bouldering, snapping pictures and all. There are trails in the area which you are free to explore around and just find your own way, revel in the atmosphere. If you’d like to stop and take a rest, the Skull Rock is also a nice place to do so because there are picnic areas and bathrooms nearby.
It was quite pretty and definitely a worthwhile stop especially since it’s so easy to get to – you can literally easily see it from the middle of the road when driving.
Hidden Valley – 5 minutes from Skull Rock
The Hidden Valley is a popular location for rock climbers as well as campers. Aside from the great opportunity for physical exercise, it also offers stunning views of the desert down below.
Hidden Valley Trail
The nature trail which circles around the rock formations in the valley is a mile long and will take you around 20 to 30 minutes to complete depending on your pace.
The trail starts at the picnic area of the Hidden Valley – a great way to regain your energy again after a hefty meal. The hike isn’t extremely hard, perhaps average at best. You’ll still be a little winded but will likely still be left with a bit of energy for photoshoots and sightseeing afterwards – especially after you see the view.
Those interested in rocks and geology will also have a great time. The rocks in the area are called monzogranite which formed over 100 million years ago!
If you’re running particularly short on time and only have enough for one more hike, then choosing to take the Hidden Valley Trail will be a smart decision. It’s a relatively easy walk which most people will be able to do because it is for the most part, flat land – and it is very worth it once you come to the end. The Hidden Valley also isn’t called the Hidden Valley for nothing – it’s hidden away from the other areas because it is surrounded by rocks and was known as an area for storing cattle back in the 19th century. All in all, the Hidden Valley is a great place for some exercise, geological features, flora, and stunning views. Because of its beauty, the Hidden Valley tends to be rather crowded especially on weekends and holidays so it might be best to come early in order to avoid the people for the best, unobstructed pictures.
Barker Dam Trail – 15 minutes from Hidden Valley
The dam was created back in the 1900s by the Barker & Shay Cattle Company as a way to secure water sources to provide for their cattle, as well as their mining ventures. The dam was created because it rained so little in the desert – only around 10 inches per year – and it was really the only good way to gather enough water. Nowadays, however, it is the centerpoint of the 1.3 – 1.5 mile round trip Barker Dam Trail which takes around an hour to complete. The trail is, for the most part flat but there will still be some rocks you have to walk over – best take a sturdy pair of running or hiking shoes along with you.
The trail to the actual reservoir is not very well marked but you can locate it better by finding the sign talking about water birds because the trail is located right next to it. It really is true when other people say the trail wasn’t marked – there were small signs but still no clear path so people tend to get lost. I remember a couple who got lost on their way back that asked us if we knew where the exit was – well, why were they asking me? I honestly have no sense of direction but thankfully at that point I had a semblance of an idea of where to lead them.
As we went to the dam, we just kept on following paths or creating our own to where we saw other people were walking away from. When we got closer, we asked the people coming back to the exit where exactly it was so they pointed us to the right direction. That was easy, but as the day gets later and nearing sunset, there are less and less people so finding your way becomes more confusing.
To be honest, we got to one park and we were like, “What is this?” “Where’s the water?”. It was not until I noticed a group heading back out we finally figured out where it was. Then again, if you’re there earlier when there are more people it might help out more. Point is, people kept on asking each other for directions because the trail is not clearly marked.
The actual body of water is a popular rest point and is a good place for spotting birds and sometimes even sheep. Another highlight of the trail is the abundance of beautiful Joshua trees and the ancient petroglyphs inscribed on some of the rocks – but make sure not to touch or erase any of the historic art.
5. Keys View
Keys View is a great spot for those who want panoramic pictures and an amazing view. It rests atop the Little San Bernardino Mountains and from there you can even catch sight of the San Andreas fault line – another point of interest for those who might like geology. On really clear days you might even see the mountains in Mexico.
To be honest, we still wanted to visit the Cholla Cactus Garden as shown in our plans but then again, we already went in November. Sunset fell at around 5 PM or even before that, so we were on very limited time. By the time we left Barker Dam the sun was starting to set but we still really wanted to make it to Keys View. It took around 27 minutes to get to Keys View from Barker Dam, and the sun was setting fast – but we still kept our hopes up that we would make it there in time to catch some views.
Thankfully, things worked out for the best. Since we weren’t there for the main sunset event there were only around 3 cars left. There was barely anyone else and a good hue of the colors in the sky and the clouds was still available for viewing. It was a little darker but there were still pretty pinks and purples in the sky, and it was quiet and serene. It was a good sunset view.
We spent at least 30 minutes there just appreciating everything and appreciating what we had accomplished the whole day. We had a good trip, despite it being super impromptu – so impromptu we had literally planned it all the night before!
Someone told me that you could easily do East Jesus and Joshua Tree Park in one day, but we didn’t account for the fact that it was November when the sun usually sets at around 5 PM whereas the person who told me did their trip during the summer when I believe the sun sets much later. Daylight is important. This is definitely not the last time I will visit but, unfortunately, this is when we realised that East Jesus and Salvation Mountain just wasn’t going to happen given our plan to drive to San Diego that night.
NOTE: There is no signal in the park! Good think I downloaded GOOGLE MAPS OFFLINE beforehand. Ysabel, who was navigating the whole time, didn’t get any signal to be able to mark our path but since I had downloaded the map we were able to work our way through the park as efficiently as we could given our little time frame so DON’T FORGET TO DOWNLOAD YOUR MAPS BEFORE THE TRIP.
Anyway, we had to troubleshoot. When we exited in 29 palms, I finally got a signal and quickly searched for an Airbnb nearby and yet near East Jesus too. I found one in La Quinta Cove which was another 1 hour and 25 minutes. We decided to go for it especially since it cuts the driving time the next day, as well as being close to a destination we really wanted to visit.
It was a really pretty Airbnb! All worth it! We didn’t really appreciate it so much at night but when we woke up we were surrounded by mountains. Wow, La Quinta was a gem and this Airbnb was a great find, especially given that it was a very last minute and impromptu decision.
We stopped by a Korean unlimited buffet before checking in. Did I tell you that we had barely eaten all day? We ate in the car to save time. We had salami, sausage, dips, rice (yes, we still had rice – we love rice). Ysabel and I took turns feeding Audrey, our dedicated driver. Yes, we were bent on making the most out of the day. We had so much fun though and we felt as if we needed and deserved a good dinner so we went for a Korean buffet and then checked in.
We had such a good day and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, we will be headed to East Jesus, Salvation Mountain, and Salton Sea which I will tell you about in my next post.