Joshua Tree National Park with Kids

Joshua Tree National Park with Kids

600 500 Kristi Corder

Have you been reading travel blog after travel blog gathering information for a trip you are planning to Joshua Tree National Park with kids? Then you’re probably overwhelmed with all the one-day itineraries out there. And you’re probably thinking one day to explore this national park with kids in tow just isn’t possible.

Take it from me…a mom, too. Don’t cram a visit to this national park into one day. Plan for a week!

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Or if you’re thinking of heading to Yellowstone National Park, check out Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park with Kids.

Joshua Tree is a national park in southern California that covers about 800,000 acres. Its southern entrance is located along I-10 and its northern and western entrances are located on highway 62. It’s just about a 2 hour drive east from Los Angeles.

Joshua Tree National Park with the kids at the entrance sign

This national park has such diverse scenery that you’d think you were in another world. While we haven’t visited every national park in the U.S., the landscape throughout Joshua Tree seems to change more frequently than any other we’ve visited. From giant rocks, to “jumping cactus”, to trees that look like they came out of a Dr. Seuss book, Joshua Tree National Park is sure to please the senses of both young and old and will leave you wanting more.

Joshua Tree National Park with kids capturing the beauty

Once you start your journey through this amazing national park, you (or maybe your kids) will want to spend several days here. So read on for things you can do when visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids.

Plan on Camping

Camping makes for family fun and easy access to the national park so grab your RV (or rent one) and plan to do some camping. There are numerous camping areas within the park, or if you’re budget conscious like we are you can camp for free just outside the southern entrance to the national park.

Joshua Tree National Park with the kids our campsite

As you drive north from I-10 towards the south entrance, there are dirt roads to the left and right before the big Joshua Tree National Park sign. You’ll most likely see all the RVs parked off the road before you even reach the area. This is designated as BLM land and you can set up your RV and camp here for free.

Other RVs at Joshua Tree BLM South

Be aware that there are no water, electricity, or sewer hookups on the BLM land or at the campgrounds inside the national park. This means that your RV needs to be equipped for boondocking. If you don’t have solar panels, a generator, or big enough water tanks to keep your family comfortable for a week, then you might want to spend the extra money to camp at an RV park in a neighboring city.

View from our living room window while boondocking at Joshua Tree National Park with the kids

We set up down the dirt road to the left of the main road right next to the first big wash. The area was quiet and the view out our living room window was amazing. The kids had a wonderful time in the afternoons playing in the wash and finding all kinds of treasures (rocks, bottle caps, wildflowers, and more). And our nearest neighbor was probably over 100 feet away.

Just Drive

Take a day and just drive around the national park and surrounding areas.

Driving through will allow you to admire the amazing scenery without having to adhere to any other plans. It’ll also give you and your kids a feel for what areas you want to spend more time exploring another day.

If you’re staying at the BLM camping areas, be sure to drive those dirt roads. You never know where they might take you.

Visit the General Patton Memorial Museum

Do you have a child who loves history? Or maybe you have one that is enamored with tanks. If you take the drive along the BLM dirt road to the right of the main road into Joshua Tree, you may just stumble upon the back side of the General Patton Memorial Museum.

Tanks at the General Patton Memorial Museum

The museum is open 7 days a week from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $4.50 for kids 7-12 years old with kids under 7 getting in for free.

The museum was closed for the day on the evening that we discovered it, so we didn’t get a chance to check it out. It will be on our list to do the next time we visit Joshua Tree National Park with the kids.

Go Hiking

Our kids aren’t much for long, difficult hikes. But tell them it’s less than a mile and they’re good to go! Here are a few of the hikes we enjoyed with the kids while visiting Joshua Tree National Park.

Bajada Nature Trail

Joshua Tree National Park with the Kids exploring Bajada Nature Trail

Want to hike a great educational trail? Bajada Nature Trail is a 1/4 mile loop trail just north of the south entrance at Joshua Tree. Take a stroll, read the signs, and learn to identify the different varieties of plants and flowers native to the area. If you homeschool like we do, it makes for a great botany lesson!

Cholla Cactus Garden

Joshua Tree National Park with the Kids exploring the Cholla Cactus Garden

Want to hike a trail that will visually blow your mind? The Cholla Cactus Garden is a 1/4 mile loop trail found dead center in Joshua Tree National Park. Be sure to keep small children close at hand, take your time, and spend a few moments standing in amazement in the midst of this garden of “jumping cacti”.

Skull Rock

Joshua Tree National Park with the Kids at Skull Rock

Want a hike that will appease your little climber in the family? Skull Rock is a 1.7-mile loop trail with plenty of huge boulders to climb. While we didn’t do the entire hike, we did a portion of it and stopped for a great photo of its namesake, Skull Rock.

Split Rock Loop

Joshua Tree National Park with the Kids at Split Rock

Do you have kids who like a little bit longer hike than the easy trails provide, but you don’t want one hike to take up a majority of your day? Split Rock Loop is a 2.5 mile loop trail that provides two great photo ops (Split Rock and Face Rock), boulders to climb, and beautiful desert scenery. Pack a lunch, hike this trail in the morning, and then when you’re done, have a bite to eat at the picnic area at the beginning of this trail.

Play Amongst the Rocks

You can’t go to Joshua Tree National Park with kids and NOT play on the rocks. As I mentioned above, there are quite a few trails that offer you the opportunity to climb on the huge boulders. But if you don’t want to go on a hike to find them, there are plenty of other areas where you can have some rock climbing fun.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Jumbo Rocks
  • Hidden Valley Picnic Area
  • Skull Rock
  • Split Rock

View the San Andreas Fault

So I hear there are spectacular views of the San Andreas Fault at Keys View in Joshua Tree. And I hear the sunset at Keys View should not be missed.

Because Brent works during the week, we chose to do Keys View on the weekend. This is what it looked like on our drive up:

Drive to Keys View at Joshua Tree NP

We hope to get better weather the next time we head to Joshua Tree National Park with the kids so that we can actually experience this for ourselves.

Become Junior Rangers

Every national park has a Junior Ranger program kids can participate in at the visitor’s center. Be sure to stop in, grab the activity books, and have the kids fill them out during your visit to Joshua Tree National Park so they can get their Junior Ranger badges before you end your trip.

Joshua Tree National Park with the Kids getting their Junior Ranger badges

There are so many things to do at Joshua Tree National Park with kids that one day just won’t be long enough. Ditch the one-day itinerary and plan to stay a week in this desert wonderland.

Have you made a family visit to Joshua Tree National Park? Leave a reply in the comments at the bottom of this page and let us know what your family enjoyed the most during your visit.

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  • We haven’t been to Joshua Tree National Park yet but it is definitely on our bucket list and hopefully we’ll get to visit it over the next summer. Would love the watch the beautiful sunset at Keys View as you mentioned. Hiking the 1.7 mile Skull Rock loop trail sounds like a fun activity and I’d love to include that in our itinerary. Thanks for sharing this informative post.

    • You’ll love it, Aditi! We didn’t do the entire Skull Rock loop trail, but would love to when the weather is better. I hope your view at Keys View is better than ours was. 🙂

  • Oh I’m so bummed for your drive to the fault! But at least you have a pretty solid reason to head back! And it looks like you all still got to get to some pretty iconic places.

  • I love going to Joshua Tree NP and I have been lucky enough to have visited half a dozen times, I think it is great for families and kids – easy hikes and rock climbing, etc.

  • This looks like such a great time. Your pictures of the rainbow and the sunset are beautiful, and I’m digging skull rock. Honestly, this post took me back to my childhood when we used to go camping all the time! Love it!

  • I don’t have little kids anymore (they are grown) but Joshua tree is on my bucketlist of US parks that I want to go to. The recommendation to take the 1st day to drive is awesome. I would have never thought of that. I also know now to give myself more than a couple days at this park. Thanks for this!

    • Definitely…though you could possibly do quite a bit without kids. Our kids just don’t like all the driving. Definitely a park to spend a week at with kids.

  • I have always wanted to go there! That rainbow is gorgeous!!

  • Julie Gazdecki May 12, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    Great photos!! I love the rainbow one!! So crazy you can just camp right outside the entrance for free!! Great tip!

  • It is legit impossible to not play on rocks like that! Also… do they let adults in the junior ranger program?

  • I’ve never been to JTNP but it’s my kind of place esp. that there’s hiking involved!The sunset photo is beautiful!

    • So much hiking! Joshua Tree National Park has so much to do and so much to look at. It’d be a great trip for sure!

  • Marianne Blackham May 11, 2019 at 3:18 am

    I always enjoy visiting JTNP.

  • Joshua Tree is great with kids!

  • Good to know about planning the appropriate amount of time to visit this park. 800k acres is impossible to see and enjoy in 1 day. The rocks look really cool!

  • I love the junior rangers! Thank you for the tips!

  • Great post! Always enjoy seeing a story that involves great experiences for kids.

  • Those sunsets are unbelievable!! We’ll have to spend more time in Joshua Tree than just driving through.

  • Yes, we have visited and camped there. We like the hikes.

  • Great info to visit with kids…great photos…love the skull rock! And love your “sunset” view! Ha! My husband and I had a similar experience last year when we went to the top of the One World Observatory in NYC…rainy day and nothing but clouds/fog to see.

  • We are so lucky to have National Parks all around us! I’ve never visited this one, but I’ll have to give it a try!

  • Wow, this looks great. I have heard of it, but I have never seen any photos or looked into it. If I am every out that way, we will need to check it out.

  • Great post! I really learned a lot about Joshua Tree. Ilots of great info and great photos!

  • Lisa Manderino May 9, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    I love the Junior Ranger Program! It makes national parks so fun for kids!

  • What a cool adventure – I would love to get here someday.

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