We've been fortunate enough to live just an hour from Joshua Tree National Park for the last three years. Even if you're not into the desert the draw of Joshua Tree is magnetic with its bizarre rock formations that form a million passageways and nooks to scramble up, over, and through. And of course if you climb then it's rather legendary. Most of our trips to Joshua Tree involved throwing our gear in the car and heading over with dreams of scoring a spot in the infamous Hidden Valley Campground. The campground is fairly small with sites tucked back into the rocks in a really enchanting way with great climbing steps from many sites. Naturally, it's extremely popular and entirely first come first serve. Once, Justin scored a spot there with some friends when a snow storm hit and the unprepared packed up, but we never managed to land a spot there again! After a futile pass through Hidden Valley, we usually headed to Jumbo Rocks, which although it is also entirely first come first serve always had some spots left as it is a much bigger campground. Though not all of its sites are as comely as Hidden Valley, it still has some awesome spots nestled into the rocks with a really private feel. On most occasions we only camped out for a night when we had the weekend off and kept ourselves entertained with books and hiking. But the last two times we went we had different plans. The first time I decided to haul my road bike along since the park has a fantastic curvy road that I'd been itching to ride. But when we got there I realized I'd left my bike shoes at home. The next time we went we decided to climb. I, regretfully, have only climbed once but had been agitating for Justin to teach me. So last Christmas he got me a harness and we thought we'd go to Joshua Tree for some trial runs. Somehow we never got around to it until we learned that we'd be relocating to the Pacific Northwest for Justin's work. Suddenly I felt an urgent need to experience the iconic climbs of Joshua Tree. So the next free weekend we went with all our gear for an overnight stay that started with stops at all the sport routes on the way to the campground. They were already packed with climbers. No worries we though. We'll just set up camp and come back later in the day. Camp done... routes still crowded. And the next morning? You guessed it, still packed! And so we moved away from California and Joshua Tree without ever climbing there which feels like a bit of a crime. But I guess that just gives us a reason to go back and visit and maybe, just maybe land a spot in Hidden Valley.
If you've never visited Joshua Tree and live in the area, don't wait any longer. Get out and go - I doubt you'll regret it. Just in case, here are some tips to further reduce your chances of having an unpleasant experience.
Tips For Visiting Joshua Tree
- Check the forecast. It can get EXTREMELY hot which might make you hate me for telling you to go there. Deserts cool off fast though, so even if it is summer you can still enjoy the park if you plan your visit for early morning or evening. The reverse is also true. It can be really cold and snowy there in the winter since it's a high desert. So just be aware and plan accordingly. Fall to early spring is usually the best time to go weather wise.
- Be prepared to wander around for awhile looking for a campsite since so many of their campgrounds are first come first serve. If uncertainty isn't your cup of tea then you can make reservations for the Indian Cove and Black Rock campgrounds during peak season which is October through May.
- Bring water or some descent sized storage containers as water is not as readily available in the park. For example, neither Jumbo Rocks or Hidden Valley have potable water, so if you're camping there you might get frustrated pretty fast running around the park to re-fill your one little bottle ten times to cook some instant noodles. Only the visiter center in Twentynine Palms, south entrance, Indian Cove Ranger Station, and Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds have water.
- If you plan to climb and only do sport then get a climbing guide book for J-Tree. As we unfortunately found out, the few well marked sport sites are pretty crowded so you might have a hard time getting a lot of climbs in. However, there are a number of other sport routes scattered throughout the park but they are pretty impossible to find without friends who have been or a book that guides you there.
- If you forget something, don't panic. The town of Twentynine Palms is located just outside the park entrance and has a number of grocery stores, gear rental shops, and Walmart.