Plan A Stargazing Trip To Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park has been known for decades as one of the best places in the United States to experience the desert - the challenging hiking and biking trails, unique rock formations, unusual plant life, and amazing sunsets, but in the last few years it has become a favorite destination for Astro-tourism, or stargazing.
Although you may be visiting Joshua Tree for hiking, rock climbing or photography, you will hopefully be able to experience the dark skies on a moonless night while you are there.
With the rise of astro-tourism, more and more people are flocking to places like Joshua Tree National Park to find the biggest, darkest skies to view the stars, planets, and galaxies far far away…
If you are a budding astronomer, or just like the idea of staring up at the sky pointing out constellations, you may already have Joshua Tree on your list of places to visit this year.
The park has become an increasingly popular destination for photographers as well as amateur and professional astronomers to set up their gear (or iPhones) and explore the night sky.
In 2017, Joshua Tree was honored with Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark-Sky Association, showing the park and surrounding communities’ commitment to creating a place to experience the stars.
Where To See The Stars In Joshua Tree
Although you can view the stars from almost any spot inside the National Park there are a few choices for a more interesting view with the Joshua Tree, other plant life and unique rock formations in the foreground of the vast starry skies overhead.
One of the best areas for the kids to see the starry skies is along the Cap Rock Trail. Come in through the main entrance at 29 Palms and drive to the trailhead parking lot. You'll travel down this short, well-maintained trail about one-quarter of a mile to see the rock formations and trees.
Bring a blanket and camp chairs and spend a couple of hours picking out your favorite constellations. (Be sure and check out our tips for a family-friendly trip to Joshua Tree.)
Pro Tip: Use the SkyView App to help guide your searching. This app is especially great for little ones who can’t make out all the constellations, planets and other objects on their own.
To really experience the darkness, head as far away from city lights as possible into the Pinto Basin area of Joshua Tree where you can pull off into any of the roadside pullout areas south of the Cholla Cactus Garden area. Take your camp chair, blanket, and an evening picnic to see the stars from one of the darkest places in Southern California.
Imagine the view of space from a remote wilderness trail. For the truly adventurous, set out on a nighttime hike on one of the backcountry trails in the southeastern section of the park (not advised for young children). Be sure and get a pass for Wilderness Backpacking and understand the dangers before starting out. Be sure and understand all the rules and regulations for wilderness backpacking/camping.
When To Visit Joshua Tree National Park For Stargazing
There isn’t a right or wrong time to visit Joshua Tree for stargazing other than do not visit during a full moon and hope for clear skies when you come. To experience the most darkness, be sure and plan your trip around the phases and times of the moon.
During the winter months, the night lasts longer, sometimes getting dark before 5 pm so you will have time to view stars without staying up too late, perfect if you have little ones who need to be in bed! In the summer months, you have less night sky, but this is also the best season to view the Milky Way in all its glory.
In September each year, the park along with the Sky's The Limit Observatory welcomes tourists and residents to the Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival with workshops, star viewing, interactive hikes, and more fun.
Visit the Sky’s The Limit Observatory And Nature Center while you are here to enjoy more stargazing programs. Check out their website to help you plan the perfect time for your trip.
What To Bring On A Stargazing Trip To Joshua Tree
Red Lights Only
Do not use bright white flashlights, headlamps, or cell phones. It takes 20-30 minutes for the human eye to fully adjust to very low light conditions. Bright lights delay this process. You can turn a regular flashlight or cell phone light into a red light by covering it with red cellophane, tape, fabric, paper, or similar materials.
Temperatures drop quickly in the evening. Bring extra layers of warm clothing.
Chair Or Blanket
You may be on your feet and looking up for long periods of time. A lightweight folding chair will help keep each person in your group comfortable and reduce strain. Do not trample vegetation and be aware of cacti in your area.
Binoculars or Telescope
You will definitely want to bring a telescope or binoculars with you to make it easier to search for and find certain stars or other important galactical finds.
Find The Perfect Joshua Tree Airbnb
You might think that you have to camp in the park to experience the dark skies, but this is far from true. Set up your home base at our Joshua Tree Vacation Rental in 29 Palms and head out in the evening to find the perfect spot to settle in.
My vacation rental near Joshua Tree is perfect for families or groups of friends. With a game room, pool, and plenty of space for everyone.