It’s much easier to score a great campsite during the hot summer months, even on weekends. Temperatures are delightful at night, and August is famous for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park depends on what you’re looking for. Want mild temperatures perfect for hiking or rock climbing? Visit in the early spring , when desert wildflowers bloom, or late fall , when soft autumn light illuminates the park. Looking to avoid the crowds and score a campsite at one of the best campgrounds?
Traditionally, Joshua Tree’s winter months were fairly quiet, with relatively few visitors. However, the increased popularity of rock climbing in the park has caused a fairly large influx of winter visitors. Joshua Tree’s winter weather varies between mild 60ºF (15ºC) daytime temperatures and nights that are well below freezing. That being said, snow does happen occasionally at higher elevations, though isn’t a common sight down at most of the campgrounds. While you certainly can visit the park during the summer, especially if you want to beat the crowds, you should be prepared to handle these potentially dangerous daytime temperatures. Joshua Tree is an excellent place to horseback ride, though the desert heat can be hard on horses.
One of the unique rock formations in the park, Skull Rock resembles a human skull. Over many years, water pools eroded the rock, hollowing out what looks like eyes. This is an excellent hike for families and kids who want to climb on the boulders. The nearby picnic area is the perfect place for a post-hike lunch. Cattle ranchers removed the boulders and discovered this previously hidden valley.
580 Total Climbs
Summer is the least popular season in Joshua Tree due to the scorching hot daytime temperatures. This is the desert, after all, and daytime temps in June, July and August often top 100˚F (38˚C). This makes outdoor activities like hiking and rock climbing uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. In the summer it’s best to limit physical activity to the early morning or late afternoon.
Due to the wildflowers and pleasant daytime temperatures, you may experience long lines at the park entrance. It’s also a good idea to arrive at or be in the park early in the morning, so book a nearby hotel or camp overnight. Each season brings a new type of beauty to the landscape, and the changing temperatures make it possible to enjoy hiking, rock climbing, or camping, depending on when you visit.
Prepare for your long day of exploring by packing lunch and plenty of snacks ahead of time. I like to pack things that don’t need refrigeration, like PB&J, protein bars, trail mix, and beef jerky. If you choose to camp in Joshua Tree in the winter, bring warm layers, as overnight temperatures will be near freezing from December to February. It’s easy to navigate, allowing you to see the major highlights in a single day. Joshua Tree is the perfect weekend trip from major cities like Los Angeles or Las Vegas.
There is a notable increase in the average temperatures, approximately 30°F difference. For instance, nighttime temperatures drop to an average low of 46°F (7°C), so you’ll want winter layers such as gloves, scarves, and hats if you’re camping overnight in the park. The best time to camp in Joshua Tree National Park is in September and October. During these months, the nighttime temperatures are mild to warm, and there are no strong winds.
Getting To Joshua Tree
Luckily, the old adage “the mountain will always be there tomorrow” is equally applicable to national parks. There’s a perfect visitation window for just about any activity that’s high on your list, and Joshua Tree is massive enough, at 800,000 acres, to return to year after year. If you aren’t a rock climber, I highly recommend checking out this area. The tall boulders and trees are stunning, and there is even a trail called Hidden Valley Nature Trail. You only need 1-2 days to explore most Joshua Tree National Park. The trails are pretty straightforward in this park, and the views are effortless to get to.
You’ll be changing into climbing shoes for your trips up the rock, and putting your regular shoes back on to walk around at the bottom. When you hire a climbing guide, their primary job is to set up these safety systems and manage the risk so you don’t need to. A good guide takes this extremely seriously and is more conservative than many independent climbers would on their own.
Joshua Tree offers challenges for all ability levels with more than 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 boulder problems, and hundreds of natural gaps to choose from. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, Adventure Journal, REI Journal, and Backpacker, to name a few. When she’s not sleeping in the dirt, she’s frantically working on a book about visiting every U.S. national park, slated for release in November of 2022. Joshua Tree has been designated a silver-tier dark sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association.
There is a 1.7-mile loop trail, and you can also view the skull from the main road without even getting out of your car! Joshua Tree is open 24 hours a day, but the rangers request that you leave the trails by sunset. Sadly it was like a jet engine was placed in front of us as the winds were ferocious both times we visited. In different conditions it is the kind of place you could sit for hours looking out over the spectacular mountain ranges.
In Joshua Tree National Park an expected maximum for an April day is 82°F (27°C), with increasingly warm temperatures by the end of the month. The mid-April Easter weekend brings holiday crowds, but even by then, visitors may stay in the shade most of the day. Due to the day’s warmth, you should get at least four liters of water per person per day. To get the best chance of seeing a zillion stars, you’ll need to do a little planning before your trip. For the best view of the stars – you want to visit when the moon is NOT in the night sky. Now, you’re probably not a werewolf, so you don’t live by the light of the moon, but the next time you plan to head to the park, check the moon rise calendar below.
It is apart from the rest of the park and is at least 21 miles away from any other walk. An hour or two before sunset, make the scenic drive out to Keys View, stopping to capture the Joshua Trees in the late afternoon sun. Be sure to arrive at the Keys View parking lot at least 45 minutes before sunset.
Cholla Cactus Garden is the longest journey in the park and is 35 miles from Joshua Tree town . The nearest other hike to it is Skull Rock which is 12 miles away. We recommend combining this walk with the Barker Dam trail if you plan on doing both as they are pretty close together and neither take very long to complete. Black Rock Canyon Campground is 9 miles away from Joshua Tree town and should only take 15 minutes by car.