Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California. Come explore for yourself.
- NPS Website
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 137 miles, 2-3 days
Season: Recommended October - May. The route can be driven anytime of year, but summer temperatures regularly exceed 100 F during the day.
Technical Rating: Green and with some blue sections on jeep trails.
Typical Terrain: A combination of wide dirt and sandy roads, and rocky and rutted jeep trails (Berdoo Canyon, Pinkham Canyon, Old Dale Rd).
Recommended Vehicle: High clearance SUV or truck with 4 low and all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: Sportsmobile and Quigleys only. Sprinters not recommended on trails like Berdoo Canyon and Pinkham Canyon.
Alternative Routes: Yes! See bottom of route guide for details.
Permits: There is an entrance fee to enter the Joshua Tree National Park. Check the park's website for current fees.
Need a Rig?
We partner with respected rental outfitters throughout the continent. If you or someone in your party needs a fully equipped adventure vehicle, please consider one of our partners, and be sure to tell them that Overland Trail Guides sent you.
Topo Terra (San Diego)
Like many of our national parks, Joshua Tree has exploded in popularity thanks in part to Instagram and its proximity to several major metropolitan areas. However, those "in the know" have been coming to the park for decades, in search of spiritual awakenings and the desert magic that seems to pervade this corner of Southern California. While the route traverses through some of the more popular areas within the park, you'll also get to experience the rugged backcountry in and around the park, that few get to experience. Despite its proximity to the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, Joshua Tree is renowned for its clear desert skies, especially during the warmer months. It's a place where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet. The drier Colorado dominates the lower elevation, while the greener Mojave sits at above 3,000 feet. Visitors are often amazed by the stark contrast of these two desert ecosystem. Within the park there are a number of palm oases , Lost Palms and 49 Palms are the two favorite and both be reached by hiking trails. Rock climbing is one of the most popular activities in the park. With its golden granite monoliths, it's easy to see why so many rock climbers flock here during the cooler months. Spring tends to be the busiest time of year at Joshua Tree, as visitors flock to witness the perennial blooms of wildflowers, cacti, and other desert flora. History buffs will enjoy the rich mining heritage of the park. Joshua Tree and the surrounding area was a hotbed for gold minders in the 19th century, with many of these abandoned mines still accessible today. If you enjoy exploring abandoned mines and ruins, be sure to check out the Old Dale Mining district and the mines in the surrounding mountains. The route begins on pavement at the 29 Palms Visitor Center, where you can pick up your park pass. A short jaunt down 29 Palms Highway leads you to Gold Crown Road, a wide sandy road. The surrounding hills and mountains are loaded with mines, and you'll soon reach the Old Dale Mining district, which is a great place to stop and explore. Gold Crown Road soon turns into Old Dale Road. There a few semi-technical sections on Old Dale Road, so be sure to stay on your toes! As Old Dale Road makes it ways south, it passes the Cottonwood Visitor Center (be prepared to show your park pass). From the Cottonwood Visitor Center, swing a hard right onto Pinkham Canyon Road. Pinkham Canyon is a true jeep trail with numerous ruts and rocks. A stock 4x4 with high clearance and 4 low should be able to manage the the trail, but some of the sections require slow going. If you haven't aired down, now would be a good time to do so! As you make your way to the bottom of the mountain, Pinkham Canyon spits out right next to Interstate 10. From here you'll take a series of dirt BLM roads that connect to another favorite jeep trail among the locals-- Berdoo Canyon. Much like Pinkham Canyon, you'll need to reduce your speed to navigate the ruts and rocks. 11 miles later, Berdoo Canyon intersects with Geology Tour Road, and the narrow and rocky jeep trail straightens into a wide and sandy byway. If you're in the mood for exploring, there are a number of hiking trails that begin and end on Geology Tour Road. Jumbo Rocks, Skull Rock, and Split Rock are a favorite among visitors in this section of the park. The final leg of the journey makes quick work of Queen Valley and Bighorn Pass before exiting onto the pavement of Park Blvd. As it makes its way towards the west entrance, Park Blvd passes a number of great hiking trails. The route concludes in the city of Joshua Tree, at the aptly named Joshua Tree Visitor Center.
Alternative Routes Those seeking something a bit more rugged and technical may consider skipping Gold Crown Road. A few miles down the the highway from Gold Crown Road lies Ironage Road, a true jeep trail. Plan on putting your lockers and 4 low to good use if you intend to take Ironage around the mountain until it meets Gold Crown Road. If you want to test your technical driving skills and push your rig to the limit, conside exploring the numerous jeep trails in this section of the park, many of which lead to abandoned mines. Sliders and armor may be warranted for many of these trails.
Dispersed camping is not permitted with within Joshua Tree National Park boundaries, but you dispersed camping is allowed in the surrounding BLM land. Joshua Tree offers some amazing campgrounds in the park. If you'd like to stay in one, plan ahead and reserve online as these sites tend to get booked well in advance.
Our favorite campgrounds in Joshua Tree NP:
Hidden Valley campground
White Tank campground
Jumbo Rocks campground
Indian Cove campground
Recommended Points of Interest
Old Dale Mining District
Lost Palms Oasis (7 mile hike)
49 Palms Oasis (3 mile hike)
Cholla Cactus garden
Hall of Horrors
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (NPS Visitor layer, NatGeo Trails illustrated layer, Gaia base layer)
Joshua Tree NP Paper Map
Download GPX files
TIP: To expose alternative routes and points of interest in Google Maps, open the sidebar and select the desired layer.