"In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks." ~ John Muir
My husband and I recently took a trip to Joshua Tree National Park in California to disconnect and escape into the beauty of Nature, and, for us Chicagoans, the unfamiliar desert. Like many city-dwellers, we held the misconception that the desert was a barren place, but this was nothing like that. No, it was so beautifully alive! It was nature stripped down to its bare minimum. I cannot describe the beauty and peace we felt there, the calm silence and breathtaking views of expansive, orange, rugged rock formations amongst gardens of twisted, bristled Joshua Trees.
Never have we seen something so peaceful and inviting to explore. And the best part is, you can! There were no restrictions or fenced off areas. The entire park was there for us to roam at our leisure, rock formations waiting to be discovered and climbed. In fact, we enjoyed our trip so much that we’re already talking about going back this year!
Here are some helpful tips and cool places we discovered along the way :)
Tips for Visiting the Park
- Park Entrance fee is $20/vehicle but your pass is valid for 7 days with unlimited in and out privileges.
- Bring lots of water and snacks! They don’t have anything for purchase in the park, and the dry heat and higher elevations are definitely dehydrating. There’s also no cell phone reception so you want to be prepared in case you get stuck.
- Wear layers. The weather changes pretty quickly out here.
- Watch the sunset at Keys View. This wheelchair-accessible lookout provides stunning panoramic views of Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and San Jacinto Peak. Definitely worth the 20-minute drive up!
- Geology Tour Road. This is an 18-mile self-guided tour that takes you through the desert valley. We definitely recommend doing this drive early. With no cell phone reception and limited cars passing through, you don’t want to be lost out here after dark. Oh and please be careful driving. It’s all dirt roads and we nearly flipped over on one of our turns. Yikes!
Where to Eat
- Natural Sisters Cafe. If you’re looking for something fresh and healthy then this is the place for you. With fresh organic food, juices, smoothies, and tea this is a great spot for breakfast or lunch. They also have an assortment of freshly baked pastries with Gluten-free and Vegan options if you’re craving something sweet after all that hiking! Their lunch portions (sandwiches and salads) were pretty huge though so you may want to consider sharing if you’re not super hungry ;) Location: The cafe is located outside the park entrance and down the main street. There’s also a great natural health products store right next door.
- Pappy & Harriet’s. This is a popular spot for dinner with great food. All meat and fish is made to order and cooked outside on a mesquite wood grill. There are lots of different outdoor and indoor seating areas, and, best of all, they have live music every night! It definitely gets busy in the evenings so make sure to make a reservation. We made this mistake and wound up having to sit at the bar (our growling stomachs couldn’t take the wait :P). Location: About a 15 minute drive away from the national park in Pioneertown.
Where to Stay
There are a ton of beautiful and affordable Airbnb options out here but the one we stayed at, Serenity Escape in Joshua Tree, was absolutely amazing. It had a huge private yard with a hot tub and fire pit lounge area, which were perfect for stargazing and enjoying our surroundings at night. This midcentury modern home was beautifully decorated and made us feel right at home. They also had a ton of neat gadgets in the kitchen for all you cooking lovers ;) Location: Yucca Valley. About 15-20 minute drive from the national park and restaurants.
For RV camping trips, check out this guide!
Interesting Things to Do
Lastly, here are some things we wanted to try but didn’t get a chance to this time around. Write in and let us know how they are!
- Saturday Farmer’s Market. Support local farmers and sustainable farming practices by visiting the Joshua Tree Certified Farmers’ Market. Location: Downtown Joshua Tree. Saturday from 10am - 1pm.
- Sound Bath Integratron. If you’re seeking a new way to relax and rejuvenate, a Sound Bath may be for you! They offer 60-minute sonic healing sessions to increase mind/body relaxation and heightened awareness through playing a sequence of quartz crystal singing bowls. You have to make an appointment in advance. Private sessions are extremely pricey, so I recommend trying the Pop-Up Sound Bath which is $25-35 per person. Our minds and bodies felt pretty good after all that hiking and observing, but we would have loved to try this if we had more time. Location: 30 minutes from the national park.
- Instant Karma Yoga. They offer a variety of classes here for $12. Location: Downtown Joshua Tree. 2 minutes from the Visitor Center and down the street from the Natural Sisters Cafe.