This is such a hard post to begin with since there is so much to tell! I think you can write books on the American National Parks and could spent a lifetime exploring them. And if I would live close enough, that sure is something I would do since these visits really took my breath away more than once. I’m not sure how to cover everything you need to know – and I don’t think I will be the best person to do it – but I will try and give you a glimpse on how we planned everything and where we got our information and such!
Not sure how these series will evolve, but I’m planning on handling one National Park at the time. It’s possible that for some I will cover two or three in one post, according to how much there is to tell. I will also be giving tips on where to stay, eat, what to wear and where to get your information.
Let’s start with summing up our full three week itinerary.
3 week itinerary
These are all the main stops we made and things we did. I’ll be covering most of them in different blogposts. I already wrote a post on Los Angeles and will be doing others on San Francisco and Las Vegas. I highlighted all the National Parks (+ other parks that don’t fall under national parks) we visited.
- Los Angeles
- Palm Springs
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Montezuma Castle
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Horseshoe Bend
- Monument Valley
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Arches National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Zion National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Las Vegas
- Death Valley National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Santa Cruz
- San Francisco
So let’s start with our first two stops after we visited Los Angeles, Palms Springs and Joshua Tree National Park!
This was actually our first stop and one I was very excited about since I love this kind of architecture. Palm Springs was actually very small and there isn’t much to do unless you’re staying in one of these super fancy houses (or if you’re visiting during Coachella). We drove around taking a look at some celebrity houses (like the one Elvis used to live in). We didn’t visited the interior, but we mostly did some sightseeing by car or by foot.
Palm Springs was actually a short stop for us, we spent about 2 hours cruising around, looking at all those amazing houses and enjoying the sun. I didn’t feel like this was too short, but I could also see myself staying there for a day or two.
We decided to do this as a stop on our route to Scottsdale. We started leaving L.A. quite early in the morning so we reached Palm Springs before 10 A.M. Afterwards we went on to Joshua Tree National Park, only to end our day in Scottsdale.
Joshua Tree National Park
Location: Colorado Desert, Mojave Desert
Nearby cities: Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Scottsdale
Known for: Joshua Trees and large boulders
Climate: hot desert climate
Our first real ‘nature’ stop was Joshua Tree National Park, one I had been looking forward to for a very long time. Ever since I started planning our trip and read about the Joshua Trees, I became fascinated with these cool plants! They are part of the Yucca plant family and grow so tall! I mean, just look at them… they are so cool!
I started gathering information about the nature in this park (I’m quite the nerd on this area) and wanted to now everything there was to know… from what kind of sand and rocks you find over there, to how old the plants are. I always feel as if I can connect more to the places I visit when I know about its history. It makes you feel so tiny in the face of the universe when you know these trees are hundreds of years old. I love it.
Most information I found on several blogs and wikipedia. When you stop at the visitors center to buy your ticket, you also get a super handy brochure (with map) and like a little newspaper on the highlights of the season. And if you are more the type to get basic information, this is more than you need. All credits to the people working at the National Parks!
Also, Americans are SO HELPFUL. At every visitor center they will inform you and answer all your questions! Don’t be afraid to ask, they love to give you plenty of information.
Main highlights of the park
You could easily spend over two days at this park, but we saw a lot of beautiful things on just half a day as well. This park is also great for outside activities such as camping, rock climbing and hiking. There is actually one long road in this park, the Pinto Basin Road which brings you to the other side of the cottonwood mountains and which was our route to Scottsdale.
Most highlights are situated around the Joshua Tree Visitor Center (near Yucca Valley) and the Oasis Visitor Center. The Cottonwood Visitor Center is at the end of the Pinto Basin Road and at the other side of the park.
- Oasis of Mara
- Fortynine Palms Oasis
- Keys Ranch
- Barker Dam
- Hidden Valley
- Keys View
- Ryan Mountain
- Lost Horse Mine
- Geology Tour Road
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- Cottonwood Springs
- Indian Cove
- Skull Rock
What we did
We had about half a day in Joshua Tree (I could’ve spent a whole day), so we had to be selective in what we did and didn’t do. We did a short and easy trail in Hidden Valley, stopped for pictures at Skull Rock and drove all the way through the park, also stopping to see the Cholla Cactus Garden. At the moment I thought we saw so much, but looking back there is still so much we didn’t do. Just know, if you’re going on a road trip visiting multiple National Parks it’s almost impossible to see EVERYTHING.
- Skull rock
- Cholla cactus garden
American National Parks are so stretched out! They just seem endless and it’s for good reason there are so many safety warnings when you enter the park. For starters it’s very hot in those deserts and they aren’t kidding when they say they bring you close to nature… You really are in the midst of nature and won’t find shops or whatsoever in the hearts of the park. The only stops are the visitor centers, some camping spots (some don’t even have water or electricity) and basic toilets. So it is important to bring a lot of water and food on your trip. If you think you can buy something to eat at a visitor center, you’re wrong. So be prepared, we weren’t…
Another thing you need be prepared for is no cell service in the park. You would think this isn’t so bad, but if your GPS works on a 4G signal it’s not the most practical thing.
Since we did some easy walking – and I mean, easy hikes are REALLY easy – I just took my slippers or sneakers and wore a long flowy dress to shoot some nice pictures around here. You do have to be careful around the Cholla Cactus because it really is a jumpy cactus that will attack you. Most people would dress a little more hiking appropriate but since this was quite an easy walk and it’s not dirty at all, it was possible to wear normal to a bit more fancy clothing. Just don’t forget to protect yourself for the sun.
So there it is, my quite short guide to visiting Joshua Tree National park. I can’t say it enough, but there really is so much to say about this beautiful piece of earth!
Have you ever been to Joshua Tree National Park and what were your highlights/ must do’s?