Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park is known for its unusual concentration of Yucca Brevifolia, more commonly called Joshua Trees, and its stunning nighttime skies. From desert hiking and stargazing to rock climbing, these are the must-dos when visiting Joshua Tree NP.
Joshua Tree landscape is made up of the areas’ namesake trees, along with desert scrub oak, cactus and California juniper interspersed between the land’s many boulder piles, which lend the area an otherworldly appeal. This unique landscape makes a great backdrop for hiking and backpacking and the area has many beautiful sites and trails to explore. Queen Mountain is one such trail; moderately difficult, the 4-mile trek features lots of boulder scrambling, 360 degree views at the peak and stretches that are quiet and relatively untraveled.
Another popular hike is Lost Horse Mine. A California Gold Rush relic, the well preserved mine dates back to Johnny Lang, a rancher who bought the property for $1,000. Lost Horse Mine is accessed either by hiking the entire loop around Lost Horse Mountain (6.7 miles), or by an easier out-and-back hike directly to the mine (4 miles round trip). Barker Dam, also known as Big Horn Dam, is also a popular tourist destination. The 1.5 mile loop to the dam is an easy, scenic walk and often done around sunset.
Joshua Tree boasts some of the darkest nights in Southern California. Each season offers visitors a new nighttime attraction. In the summer, the Milky Way can best be seen on a moonless night while the Summer Triangle can be easily observed in the east at dusk. In the fall, the Great Square Pegasus and the Andromeda Galaxy steal the show, while Orion, Gemini and Taurus are the show stoppers in the winter. Visitors in the Spring will enjoy Arcturus, a brilliant star that appears in the eastern sky at dusk.
Nearly all the camping in Joshua Tree is first come first serve. Joshua Tree is considered the high desert, so evenings can get very, very cold. Even the summer temperatures can be chilly when the sun goes down. Make sure to pack warm clothes and an appropriately rated sleeping bag.