Visiting Joshua Tree National Park with Kids

This week was Spring break for my kiddos. Whenever possible, I like to use these breaks from school as an opportunity for our family to explore new places. Believe it or not, I had never been to Joshua Tree National Park, even though it's less than 3 hours away from San Diego. I opted not to camp on this trip because I didn't know how cold it was going to be, and if there's one thing I am NOT a fan of it's being cold. Also, there is no running water inside this national park and I didn't want to have to worry about bringing enough water for 6 people for 2 days. So we found a cute Air bnb in the town of Joshua Tree and slept in comfy beds, showered off, and enjoyed flushing toilets during our stay.

We spent 1 night and 2 days at Joshua Tree. Here is what our itinerary looked like.

Day 1

Arrived at the Air bnb house at noon. Unpacked bags. Ate lunch.

First Stop: Oasis Visitor's Center. Picked up our Junior Ranger booklets and some maps of the park. (This visitor's center is located outside of the park. To enter into the park it cost $30 per vehicle, and the pass is good for 7 days.)

Second Stop: Cap Rock (About a 25 minute drive from the visitor's center) We went on the 2:30 "I speak for the trees" ranger led hike that was a total of .4 miles. A great start to our trip because it was easy and the ranger taught us a lot about what we would see during the rest of our stay. I highly recommend this hike!

Third Stop: Hidden Valley Trail, 1 Mile

After that first little saunter the kids were excited to hike around some more and find other plants and animals to check off in their junior ranger books. The Hidden Valley Trail was perfect because it's flat and there are many different areas that have fun rocks to climb on. I was blown away by how beautiful the desert was. We came at a great time because the Joshua Trees were in bloom, which I was told only happens every 3-4 years. It was also a little overcast this day, which helped us stay much cooler than we would have been if the sun was blaring on us all day.

Fourth Stop: Barker Dam, 1.1 Miles

I was ready to see some water after all of the hiking around we had done! The hike to Barker Dam is supposed to be a loop, but part of the trail was closed for maintenance so we had to go out and back the same way. The hike was flat and had all sorts of interesting plants and rocks, and the dam itself was neat to see. There was a sign up prohibiting anyone from walking on the dam which was kinda disappointing, but I guess it's for our own good, right? The kids really liked seeing the ducks in the water, and I was glad for a minute to stop and enjoy the beautiful scenery. On our way back to the trail head we stopped to look at some petroglyphs carved into a small cave. It was my first time seeing petroglyphs in real life and I was kinda geeking out about it! The kids weren't as impressed as I was, but they still wanted to get as close up to them as possible.

Fifth Stop: Skull Rock

Luckily, this one isn't a hike per say. You can see the skull shaped rock from the road, so two of the kids opted to stay in the car with my husband while me and the other two got out and walked up to the skull for a quick photo op. There are tons of huge boulders right around the skull to climb around on, so we did that for a bit and then headed back to the car because by this point we were super hungry and the sun was starting to set.


I made pancakes and eggs for breakfast before we packed up and left the Air bnb. I knew we had a long day ahead of us, so I didn't rush it in the morning. I wanted the kids to have time to play around at the house before we got to the hiking.

First Stop: Hi-View Loop, Black Rock Campground, 1.3 Miles

Of all the hikes we did, this one was the most strenuous. Most of the others had all been mostly flat, but this one had a pretty good incline as it went up the side of the hill. I had read that this was labeled "moderate" so I chose to tackle it first thing when everyone was fresh. My 5 year old was able to walk/run the whole trail without help, so it's doable. The view from the top was definitely worth it! My kids were especially excited about writing their names in the log book when we arrived at the summit. With all of the rain we've been getting this year, the desert has really come alive. I enjoyed seeing all the different kinds of flowers that carpeted each side of the trail. The kids were still super into their books even at this point, and they were always on the lookout for something they could check off. Timmy found that this juniper was "something that creates its own shade." I just can't emphasize enough how much enjoyment the kids got from participating in the junior ranger program! Why have I never had them do this before??!! It became a truly educational experience for all of us.

Second Stop: Keys View (Overlook)

If I could go back, this is probably the one attraction I would have missed. It was about a 45 minute drive from High View Trail to Keys View, and I was hoping certain little ones would nap on the way there, but no one did. Keys View was less spectacular than what I was anticipating. I was expecting this grand view of the San Andreas Fault, but none of the signage up at the view point specifically pointed out the fault line so I just took my best guess as to which line of hills it was. If your time in the park is short, this is one I would save for next time.

Third Stop: Jumbo Rocks

When we turned in the junior ranger books and the kids got sworn in, the ranger asked each one of them where their favorite place in the park was. All 3 of them said Jumbo Rocks. We had a great time climbing up on these gigantic boulders and admiring the view. I am happy to report that we only had a few minor skinned knees and one pair of ripped shorts at the end of our time in Joshua Tree, but Jumbo Rocks made me the most nervous as a mom. Many of the boulders had rough surfaces and I think our guardian angles were working overtime at this point. The kids could have stayed longer here, but the longer we stayed the greater our chances were of disaster, so we lured the kids back to the van with promises that our next stop would be the long awaited for receiving of the badges!

Last Stop: Oasis Visitor's Center

We made it full circle by stopping at the same visitor's center that we had arrived at the day before. The kids presented all of their hard work to the ranger and they got their cute, super official-looking badges! We checked in on the gopher snake the kids had seen before, made one last bathroom break, and then began our drive back to San Diego.

I hope you find this information useful if you are planning to visit Joshua Tree National Park soon. There were so many kid-friendly hikes that we didn't even get to all of them! Here's a link to the official Joshua Tree National Park Website for more hikes and info. We didn't see the mine or even make it to the entire southern half of the park, but that's ok because now I have a reason to head back there another time! If you have any questions for me about our experience here please ask in the comments below. I consider it a blessing to live in a state with gems like Joshua Tree scattered all around, where we can enjoy Mother Nature's beauty in so many forms. Let's teach our children to appreciate that every chance that we get!



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