Tips for Hiking in Joshua Tree

There's a lot to think about when hiking in a desert!

Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree

Last week my husband and I were in Palm Springs and we got up early one morning to drive to Joshua Tree and go hiking. As someone who loves hiking but doesn’t do it nearly enough, I wanted to share some tips so that if you are planning to go hiking in Joshua Tree you are prepared.

Personally I didn’t make any huge mistakes (besides not bringing chapstick). I’m typically an overthinker/overpacker in general so I usually have everything I need, but the desert is an entirely different beast when hiking. I’m no hiking professional, but these are my tips for hiking in Joshua Tree.

Boulders in Joshua Tree


+ Go really early in the morning. Especially in the summer months. I can only imagine what the weather would be like in June, July, and August. Since we went in late May, an early morning hike was perfect. We were sweaty but not hot. By 11 am on our second hike we were really hot and ready to be done. Going early in the morning also helps you avoid crowds.

+ Bring a lot of water. It is a desert so it’s very dry. You will need more water than you think, and there isn’t anywhere in the park to get it, so get plenty before you go into the park. Drink water even if you don’t feel thirsty. A gallon per person per day if you aren’t doing much activity. Two gallons per person per day if you are doing any activity.

+ Get an actual map. Either download a map to your phone or get an actual map. There isn’t much cell service in Joshua Tree so if you are relying on Google Maps to help you navigate to your next hike, you are going to be frustrated. We had to drive for a while to get service to be able to look at the map.

+ Protect your skin. The sun is intense! Especially if you aren’t used to it, or haven’t been in the sun lately. Make sure to wear sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, use a bandana to protect your neck, and don’t forget your ears. I wore a thin white long-sleeved shirt to protect my shoulders and arms from the intense sun and it was a good decision. I had a layer of sunscreen on under it and all over my body but the long-sleeve shirt was key.

+ Bring SPF lip balm. Don’t forget to put SPF on your lips! If you use chapstick regularly, you’re going to want to make sure you have some with you. My lips were dry within a few hours.

Ryan Mountain Hiking Trail in Joshua Tree

+ Wear proper footwear. I saw a few people on a more moderate 2-hour hike in sandals. I mean, if you are really experienced, fine, but I recommend hiking shoes, or tennis shoes with a lot of traction. My running shoes were fine, but I would have preferred something with more traction, especially if we were to have done even harder hikes.

+ Have a plan. Joshua Tree is HUGE — 1,235 square miles — so you will have to drive between hikes. I recommend making a plan of which hikes you want to do, in what order, and map them out. We decided to do a longer/harder hike first (about a 2-hour hike which included me stopping and taking photos and videos constantly) while it was cooler and less crowded, and I’m SO GLAD we did it that way. After that hike we did a short 30 minute hike and it was much hotter and more crowded. I used Modern Hiker to help me pick what hikes to go on.

+ Bring snacks. Hiking will take it out of you, you want to make sure you have energy!

+ Be very careful around the cholla cactus or jumping cholla (Opuntia bigelovii). Literally do not touch the cholla or get close to it — even with the slightest touch the spines will cling to you and you will be in agony trying to get them out.

Cacti on Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree.

+ Stay the night in Joshua Tree or camp in the park. If you want to do more than just one day of hiking and exploring, I highly recommend either camping in Joshua Tree if that’s your thing, or staying at an Airbnb in the town. I would have loved to have done another long hike the next morning, and driven through the park at night to admire the stars but we stayed in Palm Springs/Palm Desert which is 60-90 minute drive. You can of course stay in Joshua Tree all day and into the night and then drive back to your hotel, but after a sweaty morning hike I was ready for lunch and a shower.

+ For the best stargazing, plan to go when the moon is not in the sky.

+ Bring a flashlight. If you are planning to explore in the dark, you will definitely want a flashlight or headlamp. There are no street lights!

+ Enjoy the town of Joshua Tree. There are local restaurants and art galleries to peruse and get some local flavor. The main downtown intersection is Hwy 62 and Park Blvd.

+ Bring cash or pay via the app. We paid with cash at the entrance station when we exited the park. The stations aren’t manned 24/7 so if you don’t pay when you go in, you will have to when you leave. You can also pay using an app. Here is all of the fee & app information. The park is open 24 hours a day.

Cacti in Joshua Tree

+ Make sure your car is reliable. Remember, with little to no cell service, you could have some trouble if your car breaks down. Also there are no gas stations in the park, so make sure you have a full tank.

+ Bring everything you need. There is no running water or electricity even at the camp sites. There are restrooms, but they aren’t the type you flush if you know what I mean, so just FYI.

+ Go rock climbing or take a photography class. Make the most of your experience by going rock climbing with a guide (The Climbing Life Guides, Cliffhanger Guides, Uprising Adventure Guides) or taking your photography skills to the next level with a workshop or a night class.

+ Stop, take a breath, and take it all in. Knowing I was going to write about the experience I was constantly taking photos and video and making mental notes. But I always try to take time to just enjoy the experience and take it all in.

+ Focus on the hike and stay safe. I mostly mean this when you are hiking and trying to get a cool shot on your camera or phone — safety first! Don’t be so focused on your camera that you miss a step or trip on a rock and fall! There are plenty of places to stop and pull out your camera versus trying to do it while moving.

Trail on Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree

Photos by Meg Biram

See more of my adventurous travel here!

This post was not sponsored, however, I want to thank to Palm Springs for bringing me out to enjoy the greater Palm Springs area and Joshua Tree, and also the JW Marriott Desert Springs and the Riviera for hosting me.