A couple weekends ago we woke up Saturday morning longing to take a break from house projects and instead go on a family adventure. So naturally we jumped in the car and took off within 30 minutes…what can I say? We love being spontaneous.
Don’t forget that if you have a 4th grader you can get into any of the National Parks for free. Just go HERE and scroll down a little until you see “Get Your Pass”. Have your child answer the couple questions and then print the pass before you head out. Thanks to our son we got in free this time!
As for when to visit Joshua Tree National Park, here is an average temp recording of the park. We went in April because we wanted to go before it was too hot but I had ready May-October is the “ideal time”. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. One thing is for sure, no matter what time of the year you go, make sure to bring plenty of water, a full tank of gas and be prepared for NO cell service in the park.
If there is one thing Joshua Tree National Park is known for it is…well…the Joshua tree. These Dr Suess like trees are super fun looking and definitely cover the park. You drive through the park a little bit past the Ocotillos and Cholla Cactus Garden before you start to see the trees but once you do it will amaze you how many there are!
Since we only had one day in the park and not very many hours because of how long our drive was, we were picky about what we stopped for. Our first stop was Skull Rock and it did not disappoint. In fact, most of the family voted that it was our favorite part.
It doesn’t take long to see why it is called Skull Rock. Once you take a picture with the skull there are a bunch of giant boulders to hop around and climb on. It is so much fun. There is a trail you can follow that takes you up and over the rocks but we just stayed close to the entrance and played around a bit before moving on.
Even Tay was getting really into climbing the rocks. So sweet. The older kids had fun finding small crevices that they could jump across.
After Skull Rock we moved on to Hidden Valley Trail. There are also picnic tables all around the entrance of this trail so if you need to stop to eat before or after a hike, this is a good place for that. On the hike a friendly man was telling us the history behind the location. Apparently, according to him, the name comes from cow stealers that would steal cows from nearby ranchers/residents and they would hide them in this valley, hence the name, Hidden Valley.
This trail is definitely kid friendly. It is a 1 mile loop and very easy. Even our 2 year old walked most of the way. There are so many fun crevices to play in a rocks to climb. Keep an eye out for wildlife of course. We didn’t see any snakes but there were plenty of places they could of been out sunbathing. We did come across some lizards but that was it. We were told there were sometimes some big horn sheep there but we missed out on seeing any.
Our final stop before we had to head back home was Barker Dam Trail. I have mixed feeling about this trail but all in all I would do it again to try to find the dam. That’s right, we didn’t even see it. It is an easy trail and just slightly longer than Hidden Valley Trail at a 1.1 mile loop. There was a little more up and down climbing involved so definitely no stroller access but it was easy for our 5 year old still. Our 2 year old spent some times on dad, and my, shoulders because we were on our 2nd hike of the day.
As for the scenery, it was still beautiful in it’s desert sort of beauty. One thing I love about desert hikes is the conversations you can have with your kids about beauty growing in difficult terrain, like the flowers we saw blooming ON a rock.
Or these gorgeous flowers blooming from this extremely prickly cactus.
There was still plenty of Joshua trees…
…and more climbing on rocks and hiking through desert.
We never made it to the dam though and the only thing I can think of is when you see the arrow/sign pointing for you to turn left to start the loop back to the parking lot you should still keep hiking further past it to see the dam and then back track a little to get back to walking the trail back to the parking lot. We’ll have to find out for sure next time we go. I had read your best chance for seeing bighorn sheep and deer was at the dam since they come down to get water.
Places we wanted to get to but ran out of time this go around:
Lost Palm Oasis – that is right there is an oasis with warm sand & large California palms right in the middle of the dessert! It is a quick stop as you don’t have to hike long to go to it but we were just running out of daylight and needed to start our 4 hour drive back home.
Keys View – this is the highest viewpoint in the park giving you breathtaking views of the mesas, rocks and valley along with a glimpse of the infamous San Andreas Fault!
If you really have time to spend at the park you can set up a tour of Keys Ranch (only available with a paid tour) that really does look pretty cool. The tour gives you a glimpse into how settlers and natives lived on this land for so many years.
To sum it all up, you can still have a great experience at Joshua National Park, even if you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to it. Could we have spent more time there, absolutely! With that being said, we felt like we spent the perfect amount of time there to experience the park but not tire our littles out too much. I don’t think any of us are DYING to go back but we would love to stop by again at some point.
We even got a gorgeous sunset seeing us off as we got back on the highway to head home.
I’m grateful for these memories made with our family and I’m grateful for the reminder of just how beautiful this planet we get to call home is.