You can travel all over the world, but there is no denying some of the best gems are right here in California. What started out as a three-month travel adventure in Central America turned into an 8-month journey that also included several stops in South America and Europe. In August, I decided it was time to go home for a bit, to my home state of California. I like to think I know this place well. Growing up, I lived in a small town by the beach in Southern California and eventually moved to Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. The more I travel and meet other travelers I realize I still have so much to see. It wasn’t until this year, that I visited what are now some of my favorite places – Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Park.
VISITING JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Located East of Los Angeles, the Mojave Desert meets the Colorado desert in Joshua Tree National Park. The drive takes approximately two hours. During the fall, temperatures drop where you feel comfortable being outside in the desert. Not too hot during the day, and not too cold at night.
You can drive through the park in one day, visit for a weekend, or spend several days exploring inside Joshua Tree National Park.
My friend Ashley and I drove from LA and met our friend Ramon who was traveling from San Diego for a hiking and camping trip. We met at the main gate and stopped at the gift shop before making our way to Jumbo Rocks Campsite. Driving through the park, you’ll see countless Joshua Trees, (which are actually a type of yucca) and boulder formations that I was anxious to climb.
The campsite has a restroom, fire rings, and grills, but no water. (Reservations can be made online.)
We set up our tents quickly and started to plan our next adventure. Since it was getting late, we decided not to roam too far from our campsite that afternoon so we could make it back in time for sunset. The journey proved to be worth it, rewarding us with spectacular views.
Once the sun went down, I had no idea the light show that would be in store for us. Of course, weather varies, but that night there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, making way for a clear view of the milky way and countless shooting stars. It was remarkable and one of my favorite memories of the park.
WHAT TO DO IN THE PARK
Skull Rock – The following day we started out by making our first stop at Skull Rock, a massive rock with two hollowed-out eye sockets that looks like a giant skull. It’s located pretty close to the Jumbo Rocks campsite on the main east-west park road.
Barker Dam – It’s a one-mile loop trail that took us about an hour to complete. (We stopped for photos, so I’m sure you can finish it faster if you wanted to.) The path is well marked, and you’ll also see petroglyphs here along the trail.
Hall of Horrors – This is one of my favorite places in the park. You’ll have lots of fun scrambling here. Use your judgment to gauge your comfort level when climbing.
Cholla Cactus Garden – Located 12 miles south of the park’s north entrance you’ll find this .25 mile trail filled with cholla (spiny cacti.) An excellent place to stop and get a snack. (There are no amenities or areas you can buy food inside the park, so be sure to stock up on everything you will need for your trip before you go inside the park.)
Mastodon Peak – We stopped and watched the sunset along this three-mile loop trail located in the Cottonwood Spring Oasis.
WHAT TO BRING
If your camping you’ll want to bring all your essential gear (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, food, and water.) I usually carry 3L of water for day hikes.
Comfortable clothing for hiking and hiking boots, as well as some extra layers for when it gets cooler at night. I like to wear hats during the day, and if you tend to get cold as I do, a scarf and beanie are always nice. Extra shoes might be a good idea if you don’t want to be in your hiking boots all day.
Bring firewood for cooking and keeping you warm at night.
National Parks Pass if you have one. It’s worth the $80 if you plan to visit more than one park.
Don’t forget your camera and your sense of adventure!
Check out my other travel guides for National Parks here.
“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness.
All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir
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