I was so excited about a weekend getaway to Joshua Tree in December. I have probably been to Palm Desert more than 50 times and had never been to Joshua Tree National Park.
For most people, Joshua Tree is a day trip from Palm Springs but when you see all the fun things to do in Joshua Tree, you’ll want a whole weekend.
This is the perfect National Park winter trip because it’s warm during the day and a little chilly at night. Also in Joshua Tree in winter, the sky gets dark earlier allowing plenty of time to stargaze in this Dark Sky Park.
Visiting Joshua Tree is an easy drive from Los Angeles. It’s also a great stop on a California Road Trip. This travel guide will give you all the details you need for a romantic getaway, weekend with friends or cool family trip in the 11th most visited US National Park.
Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree
Our trip to Joshua Tree in December made us love this place as a winter trip. But there are reasons to choose Joshua Tree all year long.
Joshua Tree in Spring and Fall are Peak Season
That’s the best time for weather but it’s also the busiest. March-May will see beautiful Spring wildflowers. If you don’t want to experience the crazy crowded times, pay attention to Spring break, Easter vacation, and music festivals when doing your planning. October and November are when summer temperatures start to cool down and is great for hiking.
Joshua Tree in Winter
Winter has dreamy daytime temps but it gets chilly around sundown and into the 30-40s overnight. If you are super lucky, you might see the one day that gets snow. To me, winter is the perfect time to go to have great Joshua Tree weather and visit one of the best west coast national parks with no crowds.
Joshua Tree in Summer is Crazy Hot
Summer is extremely hot (typically between 100-120°) however, if you are interested in astrophotography and getting those cool Milky Way shots, you need to go around the time of a New Moon between April – August. I’ve seen websites that say nighttime temperatures are nice during summer but I disagree.
Joshua Tree in Winter – The Weather in December
Most people have questions about what to expect for Joshua Tree winter weather. Truthfully our weekend in Joshua Tree in December was warm (60s) during the days. Perfect for doing anything active. Right as the sun started to go down it got chilly enough for a jacket but it wasn’t uncomfortable.
Overnight, it dropped down to the 40s and it was chilly when we started in the morning. Snow is a possibility, however only 2 days of rain are expected for Joshua Tree December weather so I would think it’s unlikely. There was no rain or snow for us.
December is not the coldest or wettest part of the winter in California so the weather was what we expected – sunny days and a little chill at night.
RELATED POST: Best Places to Visit in California in December
Getting to Joshua Tree
There are actually 3 gates to enter Joshua Tree depending on the direction you are coming from. The main entrance is the West Entrance in Joshua Tree. The North Entrance is in nearby in Twentynine Palms. You will typically arrive in one entrance and depart out the other. The South Entrance is in Cottonwood Springs.
The lines at the Joshua Tree Entrance can be crazy long on the weekend so I suggest using the Twentynine Palms entrance. The cost ($30 for a 7 day pass at the time of this post) is listed on the National Park website. There are also free entrance days for all the US National Parks.
- From Los Angeles: Always depending on traffic, it’s about a 3 hour drive from Los Angeles to the Joshua Tree main entrance or another 15 minutes to the Twentynine Palms entrance.
- From San Diego, it’s about a 3 hour drive to the Cottonwood Springs Entrance.
- If you are flying in, the airport in Palm Springs to Joshua Tree is approximately 1 hour..
RELATED POST: How to Get a National Park Pass for Free
Best Things To Do in Joshua Tree National Park
1. Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park in December is Ideal
From easy loop trails to difficult hikes with big views, there are multiple Joshua Tree hikes with your name on it. My favorite was an easy 1.3 mile loop called Barker Dam that had a little bit of everything. Another great hike with a big payoff at sunset is the one to Arch rock shown above. From the White Tank Campground, it’s 0.3 miles. You can easily climb up to check it out.
One of the best reasons to visit Joshua Tree in December is the hiking. The weather is perfect during the day with temps in the 60s and the chance of rain is slim.
2. Viewing the Joshua Tree Winter Sunsets
This could honestly be a post filled with sunset view points. Keys View is probably the most popular place to catch those gorgeous hues. It feels like the sky stretches out over the entire Coachella Valley.
The parking gets crowded so get there a little early. Otherwise, you can see beautiful sunsets near Barker Dam, Arch rock and truly anywhere in the whole park.
Sunsets are beautiful all year long. The only thing nice about Joshua Tree in winter is that the sunsets happen at a natural time when you might be ready to leave the park instead of having to wait around.
3. Joshua Tree Has Amazing Rock Climbing
No matter what your skill level, this place is great for rock climbing. You can go with full climbing gear or scramble up easier climbs by yourself. I overheard someone saying it was like a park for adults and I totally felt the same. Skull rock (above) is fun to check out. Around the park, there are areas for more serious climbers.
4. Yucca Trees (AKA Joshua Trees)
I remember seeing yucca trees on the side of the road heading to Mammoth when I was little and wondering why they were so special. But the large Joshua trees are majestic and can be upwards of 40 feet tall. The average lifespan of these tress is 150 years but can last as long as 300-500 years!
When you see how many there are in the park, you’ll definitely understand why they are protected and amazing.
5. The Cholla Cactus Garden & Jumping Cactus
The Cholla Cactus Garden is an especially great place to see cactus and cactus flowers in Spring. Pictured above are the Teddy Bear cactus plants. They look kind of cute but the cactus needles are known for jumping right on you when you walk by so be careful not to bump into them.
Have you ever heard of a Jumping Cholla Cactus? They look like the willow tree version of a cactus and they have jumping capabilities so they can duplicate. Gotta love Mother Nature! Pets are not allowed on the Cholla Cactus trail for good reason.
6. Joshua Tree in December is Perfect for Star Gazing
This is the place to come to see a gorgeous star filled night sky. Since it gets dark early in December, you’ll have plenty of time for star gazing. Download the free Star Walk App and you’ll have the best time identifying constellations.
If you are an expert or novice astrophotographer, this is definitely the place to come practice your craft. As an official International Dark Sky Park, you are guaranteed an ideal environment for seeing stars.
Joshua Tree is big draw for fashion photography so we used the chance to get a few quick Instagram photos. If you are a nature photographer, you can capture amazing shots. The color, lighting and landscape diversity make it a dreamy spot to take pics. It also makes a great backdrop for family photos.
8. Camping in Joshua Tree
There are multiple campgrounds and places to camp if you love camping. If you don’t, there are some great Airbnb properties that will make your Joshua Tree weekend that much better. I’ll be honest, I’m a glamper, not a camper but here is a list of campgrounds for those of you looking to pitch a tent.
If you are visiting Joshua Tree in December or winter, it will be really cold at night for camping.
- Hidden Valley Campground
- White Tank Campground
- Belle Campground
- Jumbo Rocks Campground
- Ryan Campground
Where to Eat In Joshua Tree
Most of the restaurants in Joshua Tree town are really easy to find on Twentynine Palms Highway, the main road. This area is very low key with a mix of organic and fun hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Just be prepared for a wait especially if you are there during high season.
If you are just coming to Joshua Tree for the day, specifically a Saturday between 8am-1pm, you can enjoy the Farmer’s market. Make sure you stop by the Joshua Tree Coffee Company Booth and grab a bag of their delicious organic coffee.
The Natural Sisters Cafe – We went here for lunch because it was the first place we saw and it was soooo delicious!! It’s a vegetarian restaurant that is wildly popular. You can count on waiting in line, which is totally worth it. Our lunch was so good, we may have to go back to Joshua Tree just to eat there again.
Crossroads Cafe – We’re not big breakfast people so we didn’t go here but it’s a popular spot. Also open for lunch and dinner too.
Pie for the People Pizza di Circo – Had delicious pizza and a packed restaurant to prove it. We got our food to go because we were too hungry to wait for a table.
La Copine – Foodies, make sure you stop at this delectable eatery in Yucca Valley. It’s recommended to make reservations ahead of time.
La Casita Nueva – Also in Yucca Vally is this delicious Mexican restaurant and you’re in Southern California so Mexican food is kind of a requirement. You can also drink a Cadillac Margarita and start singing karaoke if so inclined.
Where to Stay for your Joshua Tree Weekend Getaway
Joshua Tree has some chain hotels and lost of cool vacation rentals. You can also say in an amazing boutique hotel in Palm Springs and do a day trip to Joshua Tree.
Unfortunately, we booked at the last minute and had to stay in one of the chain hotels. The Holiday Inn Express and Fairfield Inn & Suites are both really decent if you end up in the same predicament.
For camping, check the National Park Website.
All that said, with some advance planning you can stay somewhere really cool in Joshua Tree. Here are our recommendations.
This is the newest Autocamp location when you can stay in an Airstream trailer complete with a bedroom and amazing bathroom. Each trailer has a personal patio with a fire pit, chairs and outdoor dining. They also have a clubhouse with a bar and multiple areas to hang out. We stayed at Autocamp in Yosemite and loved it. Check rates
If you want a totally unique cool place to stay, this 3 bedroom, gorgeous modern villa with an indoor pool is it. Check rates and see photos of the interior.
An upscale boho vacation home with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen. Check rates
Joshua Tree Green Oasis has a variety of accommodations that range from studio size to two bedrooms. Check rates
Made in the Shade is a sunny 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom vacation home with a hot tub, full kitchen and comfy beds. Check rates
FAQs About Visiting Joshua Tree
How Many Days Should I Spend in Joshua Tree?
A weekend is the perfect amount of time. It will give you a chance to do all of the activities that are available.
Can you do Joshua Tree in a Day?
You can definitely do a great Joshua Tree day trip from Palm Springs or even Los Angeles but if you are planning to camp or star gaze, you definitely need 1-2 nights.
What is the best time to visit Joshua Tree?
Avoid the summer months unless you are going to see the Milky Way at night. Peak season is Spring and Fall with the best weather. Winter also has nice weather that gets chilly at night and has less people.
Which Joshua Tree entrance is best?
The North Entrance in Twentynine Palms has much shorter lines. If you are coming from the south, the Cottonwood Springs Entrance is best. Only use the main West Entrance if you are going first thing in the morning.
If you have any questions or need any further travel tips for Joshua Tree, feel free to put questions in the comments below. Our Joshua Tree weekend was the perfect amount of time to relax, unwind and feel like we had a mini vacation. If you are looking for another California weekend getaway, definitely check out Ventana Glamping in Big Sur. There’s nothing like camping in the middle of a redwood forest that is part of the gorgeous California coastline.
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