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.
The best way to get to Joshua Tree National Park is by car. Park entrances and park roads are not easily served by mass transit, and the park does not run shuttle buses. Here are estimates of driving time from common locations:
- Los Angeles or San Diego: 3 hours
- Las Vegas: 4 hours
- Phoenix: 4½ hours
- Death Valley National Park: 4½ hours
- Yosemite National Park: 6 hours
- Grand Canyon National Park: 6 hours
- San Francisco: 8 hours
The main park roads are paved, so standard two-wheel-drive will serve you just fine for seeing Joshua Tree’s main sights. Many of the park’s dirt roads are graded for two-wheel vehicles, though they’re subject to washouts in rainstorms. The park is also laced with many miles of rough backroads—those require high clearance and, generally, four-wheel drive. ATVs cannot be used anywhere in the park.
Joshua Tree has no automotive services, so be sure to fill up with gas before you enter the park. It’s also smart to make sure your car’s tires and cooling system are in good shape. Mobile phone service is virtually nonexistent in the park, so you won’t be able to call for roadside assistance. (Park rangers patrol the roads regularly, of course.)
Flying to Joshua Tree
The closest airports are Palm Springs International—45 minutes from park headquarters—and Ontario International, about an hour and a half from the park. Los Angeles International, Burbank, and Long Beach Airports are all about two to three hours away.
Getting Oriented and Choosing an Approach
Joshua Tree covers nearly 800,000 acres of high and low desert, spreading about 65 miles east to west and 40 miles north to south. It has five access points, four of them reachable from State Highway 62, also known as Twentynine Palms Highway. The south entrance is reached from Interstate 10. By the way: Just Ahead guides you through the park no matter which entrance you choose.
The Black Rock entrance, accessed from the town of Yucca Valley, leads only to Black Rock Campground and adjacent hiking trails and does not connect with roads in the rest of the park. Black Rock has a small visitor center.
The West Entrance, by far the most popular entrance, is accessed from the town of Joshua Tree, is the most direct route to Hidden Valley, Keys View, and other attractions in the west part of the park. The West Visitor Center is right on the way, and has exhibits, maps, and books.
The road to Indian Cove from the town of Twentynine Palms leads to Indian Cove’s campground and hiking trails, but does not connect with the rest of the park. Indian Cove has a small ranger station with water.
The road to 49 Palms from the town of Twentynine Palms leads only to a trailhead for a hike to 49 Palms oasis, and does not connect to the rest of the park.
The North Entrance, accessed from the town of Twentynine Palms, leads to the Pinto Wye Intersection, where you can continue south to the low desert and Cottonwood Springs, or connect to the central and western parts of the park. Park headquarters and the North Visitor Center, with exhibits, maps, and books, are right on the way to this entrance.
The Cottonwood Entrance, accessed from Interstate 10 about 50 miles east of Palm Springs, leads north to Cottonwood Springs and Pinto Basin, and then connects to the rest of the park at the Pinto Wye Intersection. Cottonwood has a small visitor center with maps and books.
If you’re camping, your choice of approach might be dictated by your choice of campground. Click here for our rundown of Joshua Tree National Park’s camping options.
- Entry fee is $15 for a seven-day vehicle permit or $30 for an annual pass. You can pay at visitor centers and entrances. If they are unattended when you enter, pay on the way out.
- You can also buy an annual America the Beautiful pass good for admission to all national parks and federal recreation sites. For information, click here.
To see our complete Joshua Tree Trip Planner series, click here.
No matter how you approach Joshua Tree, you can count on Just Ahead to guide you to the park and to all the great sights within its 800,000 acres. Our app turns your smartphone into an audio tour guide that narrates everything you’re seeing along the way. It’s the best way to get the most from your visit. Click here to try Just Ahead for free.