When wanderlust strikes, Joshua Tree National Park offers a quick escape for weekend warriors, with enough open space to combat the most severe case of cubicle fever. Just over two hours from Los Angeles, the desert draws rock musicians, UFO hunters, and adventure seekers alike.
Joshua Tree is located in Southern California where the Mojave meets the Colorado desert, producing a unique landscape with a rich diversity of life. Joshua trees grow throughout the park, playfully greeting visitors with their crooked arms.
In November, with all the deadlines and family obligations of the holiday season approaching, I escaped to Joshua Tree for the weekend with a group of women from across the country. We explored the ruins of a gold mine, painted the desert landscape in watercolor, meditated in a time machine, and set early New Year’s resolutions.
Every year, I renew the same resolution: Spend more time outdoors! Joshua Tree is the perfect place to kick off 2016. Here’s your weekend guide to Joshua Tree.
When to Go
- Joshua Tree’s busy season is October through May, when the weather is most pleasant; however, the park receives visitors year-round, despite summer temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where to Stay
- Most of Joshua Tree’s nine campgrounds are first come, first served, which is perfect for more spontaneous adventure seekers. During the busy season, arrive early to improve your chances of scoring a site on the weekend. Reservations for family sites at Black Rock and Indian Cove may be made up to six months in advance for October through May. Group sites at Indian Cove, Sheep Pass, and Cottonwood may be reserved up to one year in advance.
What to Do
Arrive early to score a campsite, then head to Keys View to watch the sunset. After dinner, take a night hike for exceptional stargazing. The Star Walk app will help you identify constellations. Turn up the volume to hear the space-themed soundtrack.
Pack a picnic lunch, and begin your day with a hike on the Lost Horse Loop Trail, a 4-mile round trip hike with moderate elevation gain. The trail leads to remains of Lost Horse Mine, which yielded gold and silver during its heyday. Though you may be tempted to turn around here, continue climbing past the mine for a breathtaking view and unbeatable lunch spot.
In the afternoon, take a driving tour of some unique features in the park, like the Cholla “Teddy Bear” Cactus Garden, Jumbo Rocks, and Skull Rock. Take advantage of endless photo ops.
Before returning to the hustle and bustle of urban life, enjoy a relaxing sound bath at the Integratron, a sound chamber built in 1954 by George Van Tassel, who claimed to have received the plans from aliens visiting from Venus. Van Tassel built what he believed to be a time machine. Make advanced reservations for a 30-minute meditation in which quartz crystal singing bowls are played to provide healing and rejuvenation to the body.
If you frequent national parks and federal recreational lands, consider investing in an annual pass to save on entrance fees.