Phoenix With Kids

Joshua Tree National Park With Kids

Looking to get the kids out into nature without venturing too far from home in Phoenix? Joshua Tree National Park makes for the perfect family-friendly weekend trip! Located just 5-6 hours away by car, this unique desert landscape offers scenic beauty and fun adventures little ones and grown-ups alike will enjoy. 

Lindsay Lutes

Joshua Tree National Park With Kids. Looking to get the kids out into nature without venturing too far from home in Phoenix? Joshua Tree National Park makes for the perfect family-friendly weekend trip! Located just 5-6 hours away by car, this unique desert landscape offers scenic beauty and fun adventures little ones and grown-ups will enjoy.

How to get there:

JTP is situated north of the I-10 on the way to California and south of the CA towns, Twentynine Palms, and Yucca Valley. You can enter the park from three different locations- Joshua, Twentynine Palms, and off of the 10, a bit west of Desert Center and before Palm Desert/Palm Springs. We preferred entering from the North entrances, as those are some of the best areas of the park to visit!

What to do in JTNP:

Take short, scenic hikes to spot wildlife and explore rock formations. Easy trails are listed below!

Join a ranger-led program like a junior ranger swearing in or nature walk. The visitor center in Joshua is the perfect place to stop!

Try rock climbing on beginner routes and boulders. Many local outfitters offer lessons. Also, it is fun to just watch rock climbers as you picnic or walk trails!

Go geocaching and letterboxing using clues to find hidden treasures in the park.

Have a picnic surrounded by the whimsical Joshua trees that give the park its name. There are picnic tables all throughout the park and offer a perfect place to stop and enjoy a picnic together- my favorite spot is the Hidden Valley Picnic Area– the kids can play on and in between the rocks while picnicking!

Join a night sky party to gaze at stars, planets, and meteor showers illuminated by dark park skies.

Create crayon rubbings of textures like Joshua tree bark or imprints of fossilized tracks.

Photograph the quirky desert landscape and all its natural wonders.

Here are some of the best hiking trails for families in Joshua Tree National Park:

Skull Rock Trail (1.7 miles roundtrip) – This short trail takes you to an iconic rock formation that looks like a skull. It has little elevation gain, making it a nice easy hike for kids of most ages. If you head across the street, you can also do the Discovery Trail loop and see “Face Rock’ also.

Hidden Valley Trail (1 mile loop) – This flat trail loops you through a valley with cool rock formations all around. There are lots of opportunities for kids to explore and climb on rocks safely.

Barker Dam Trail (1.1 mile loop) – Easy hiking along a pond that often has wildlife sightings. There’s usually water in the pond which is a big attraction for kids in the desert landscape.

Hall of Horrors (.6 mile loop)- This easy hike takes you around some of the amazing rocks of Joshua Tree and around the back, you can find a slot canyon known as the Hall of Horrors” it is a bit hard to find and does require some climbing– but it is really fun!

We always use AllTrails to find the perfect kid-friendly trails. Also, there are many places to stop in the park and just climb fun rocks! And we did that quite a bit as well!

Other spots not to miss:

Keys View/Keys View Trail (5 miles roundtrip) – For older kids able to handle more distance, the hike to Keys View has incredible vistas at the top overlooking the valley. Part of the trail is along paved paths making it doable for most. If you do not want to do this hike, you can still get a great view from the road- there is an amazing lookout for Sunset! DO NOT MISS THIS SPOT! 

The Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park dazzles with thousands of the infamous “teddy bear” or “jumping” cholla cacti as far as you can see! A quarter mile loop trail wheelchair accessible trail takes visitors through this forest of cacti covered in fuzzy-looking but barbed and spine-covered branches. Adventurous kids will love gazing at these crazy spike ball plants and the birds nestled amongst them, but remind little ones to walk slowly and not get too close to avoid getting prickled!

Where to stay:

Camping

There are several campgrounds in Joshua Tree if you enjoy tent or RV camping. Popular spots include Jumbo Rocks, Ryan Campground, White Tank, and Indian Cove. There are also campgrounds outside of the park.

Hotels

Hotels near the north entrance in the towns of Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley or Twentynine Palms offer convenient access. There are some unique hotel choices, including Autocamp Joshua Tree. There are also name brand hotels. You can also stay in Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, or Palm Desert.

Airbnbs

This is what we chose! There are so many cool Airbnbs located in the area- we stayed in Yucca Valley and it was the perfect place for our family!! We had a stargazing deck and gaming room!

What to eat

There are a lot of local restaurants outside of the park- we grabbed breakfast every day at the Roadrunner Grab+Go just north of the Visitor Center. We packed picnic lunches each day (there are plenty of grocery stores near by).

For dinner, we ate at Pioneertown, which is just about 25 minutes and a fun place to visit. We ate at the famous Pappy and Harriets, which also serves as a music venue!

A few days in Joshua Tree is the perfect start… or end… to another California vacation. We spent a few days exploring the park and then went on to a different kind of park…. Disneyland… but my children will definitely tell you that Joshua Tree National Park is a better amusement park any day!

Author

  • Lindsay Lutes

    Lindsay is a Mesa, AZ native and mom of two! Lindsay loves hiking, traveling, staycations, cats, coffee, and Disney! Her goal is for her kids to have a fun-filled childhood that they will cherish throughout their lives! She works full time as a nurse and her husband is a teacher, so they try to fill school breaks and weekends with a lot of family fun!

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