This post is part of Just Ahead’s Joshua Tree Trip Planner—our guide to everything you need to know to plan your trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Click here to see the complete series, and be sure to download our Just Ahead smartphone audio tour of Joshua Tree before you head to the park.
Naming the top 10 best sights in Joshua Tree National Park is like naming your favorite child, because we love every sandy, rocky, scrubby, wildflowery acre of Joshua Tree. But here we go anyway: a selection of our favorite places described in the Just Ahead tour of Joshua Tree National Park. Note: These are not in any particular order. Because remember, we love them all.
- Barker Dam. After a summer rainstorm or a rainy winter fills the basin behind it, it’s a very special—and unlikely—place: a lake in the middle of a bone-dry desert. Birds love it.
- Hidden Valley. If we were cattle rustlers, this is where we’d stash our ill-gotten gains. Huge boulder formations surround a serene enclave. Climbers love it. Kids, too: great nature trail.
- Keys Ranch. Worth reserving a spot on a tour—the only way you can see it—to behold the home and grounds of Bill Keys—the Mojave’s answer to Thomas Edison who was also a convicted gunslinger. Click here for information about reservations.
- Samuelson’s Rocks. They’re so hard to find that we don’t necessarily recommend the search, but adventurous sorts might make it to this collection of granite boulders painstakingly carved with arcane inscriptions by Swedish hermit John Samuelson.
- Cottonwood Spring Oasis. Rising from this moist oasis in the southern part of the park are dozens of tall palm trees filled with singing birds. Go very early in the morning and you might spot a bighorn sheep or a coyote slaking its thirst.
- North Entrance Visitor Center. We’re suckers for exhibits and information, plus the advice of park rangers who are up to date on current conditions and activities. We like to ask for new hiking suggestions. And Greg’s kids dig the Junior Ranger program.
- Cholla Garden. Cholla cactus are weird enough, but a whole forest of them? A must-see. Look but don’t touch.
- Ryan Mountain. The hike to the top of this 5,461-foot summit in the heart of the park rewards you with a dazzling view of the Wonderland of Rocks, Mount San Jacinto, the Pinto Basin—really, the whole dang world. It’s a great trail, too, with lots of carved stone steps—1.4 miles, climbing 1,100 feet.
- Wonderland of Rocks. Nothing like it anywhere: an 8,000-acre maze of jumbled boulder formations filled with secluded places like Rattlesnake Canyon and unnamed spots where you’ll feel like the first human ever to venture.
- Wall Street Mill. Tough to decide which mining site to include, but this one is exceptionally well preserved and includes a smattering of old cars and trucks resting peacefully in the desert sand.
To see our complete Joshua Tree Trip Planner series, click here.
No matter where you venture in Joshua Tree National Park, be sure to take Just Ahead along for the ride. Our app turns your smartphone into an audio tour guide that will guide you to all of these sights, and dozens more. It’s the best way to get the most from your visit. We point out all the landmarks, including many you might otherwise miss. And we suggest great hikes and scenic side trips. Click here to try Just Ahead for free.