Ten Tips For A Family-Friendly Vacation At Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is an easy place for adults to enjoy, but let’s face it - getting the kids excited about the outdoors sometimes requires a little research and extra prep work. Read these ten tips to plan and have a great vacation your kids will talk about for years to come.

Tip 1: Build excitement about the trip ahead of time.

Share photos of the park and inquire what they’ll be most excited to see. Explain that the park is home to over 50 different mammal species, 45 species of reptiles, and over 250 bird species.

Are they most excited about the possibility of seeing bighorn sheep, roadrunners, iguanas, or tarantulas?

Tip 2: Purchase each child a disposable or digital camera

Photography can be a lot of fun for kids of all ages.  Encourage them to take photos, create a scrapbook and frame photos for their bedroom or as gifts. (you can find old smartphones for as little as $25 on E-Bay. )

Tip 3 Don’t miss the Joshua Tree Visitor Center

The kids will enjoy the small exhibits, children’s books, and souvenirs. While you’re there, ask for a Junior Ranger activity book.

The Junior Ranger Program gives kids an interactive park experience with activities just for them including drawing, picking up trash, documenting the animals and plant life, and talking with park rangers.  Those who complete their booklet earn a badge and get to be “sworn in” as a Junior Ranger.

Be sure and encourage the kids to talk to the park rangers throughout the park and ask questions – they often have very interesting stories to tell.

Tip 4: Inspire a love for geology with family-friendly hikes in Joshua Tree 

Kids love rocks and Joshua Tree National Park is a great place to share how rocks were formed. Before your visit, explain how volcanic activity created the interesting rock formations they’ll see at Joshua Tree.

Then, take them to see Skull Rock. It’s a fun and easy 1 1/2 mile hike for kids located off the main park road.

Another place to see some really cool rocks is at Hidden Valley. It was formerly a cattle rustler’s hideout and offers an abundance of plant life throughout its one-mile loop.

Kids (and adults) will love climbing the rocks there. You may see some of the more advanced rock climbing hobbyists while there, be sure and take a moment to watch them climb.

Be sure to explain to the kids the “take nothing but memories” principal and remind them they can’t take rocks home with them so they remain in the park for others to enjoy. You can purchase rocks from the area at the visitor’s center or other local rock shops.

Hiking is one of the most popular activities at Joshua Tree, so be sure and check out our guide to other Joshua Tree Hiking trails your family may enjoy. 

Tip 5: Check out the views

Drive over to Key’s View lookout area, a handicap-accessible and child-friendly spot only 20-minutes from Park Boulevard.

Show the kids the breathtaking panoramic views of the San Andreas fault and the Coachella Valley, and have them play “I Spy” locating the high peaks of San Jacinto, the snowy San Gorgonio, and the shiny surface of the Salton Sea out in the distance. If you bring binoculars, you might even be able to see Signal Mountain in Mexico on a clear day. 

Tip 6: Take a history tour

There is a ton of historic sites throughout the park with evidence of the Native American Tribes, miners and cattle ranchers that made this area home over the centuries.

Let the kids climb rocks to see the drawings and petroglyphs made centuries ago along the Barker Dam Trail.

If you visit between October and May, be sure and take the Key’s Ranch Tour, where kids can see the old buildings, mining and ranching equipment, and old vehicles.

This area is a perfect backdrop for family photos. You may need to plan and buy tickets in advance as it is a popular, ranger-led tour.

Tip 7: Create a nature & wildlife “scavenger hunt”

There is so much flora, fauna, and wildlife throughout Joshua Tree, and finding different specimens may be the highlight of the trip.

Purchase a guide book in the visitor’s center with photos of the many wildflowers, plant life, birds, animals and insects found in the park.

Look for wildflowers at Indian Cove. Kids will also enjoy the boulders as well as the 1 1/2 mile-long nature trail and picnic area. 

Cottonwood Springs was once home to the Cahuilla Indians, prospectors, and then miners. Today, it’s a very popular bird-watching area. Have the kids listen and look for different types of birds, guessing what kind (or color) they might be.

Keep your eyes out for Big Horn Sheep which an often be found in areas where large boulders are found such as Barker Damn. They can also birdwatch, climb boulders, possibly spot bighorn sheep, and hike the one-mile climbing loop.

Other animals often found in the park include the Desert Tortoise, many types of lizards and jackrabbits.

Tip 8: Get up early 

The sunrises (and sunsets) in Joshua Tree National Park are legendary. Be sure to let the kids experience this.  Wake them early one morning and show them one of nature’s most beautiful moments – sunrise.

This is something most children don’t get to experience, and they’ll remember it throughout their lifetime. (Don’t forget the cameras.)

Tip 9: Stargaze  

Joshua Tree is an International Dark Skies Park and is one of the top spots in North America to see stars, moons, planets, and satellites.

Be sure to check out our tips for stargazing in Joshua Tree to make the most of your experience.

You may also want to visit the Sky's The Limit Observatory in 29 Palms. 

Tip 10: Keep it simple

Often, the most memorable or enjoyable moments are the unscripted ones.

Allow your kids to choose their own adventures, and make plenty of time for resting, relaxing and playing outside of the park.

Safe travels!

Joshua Tree Vacation Rental

Vacationing with kids can create beautiful memories - if you keep in mind their tolerance level for activity and riding in the car, hunger, fatigue, etc.

Be sure and find great accommodations nearby so you can get back quickly for nap time or relax. Check out our Joshua Tree Airbnb near the Indian Cove Entrance in 29 Palms.

Perfect for kids, the home features a huge game room with video games, board games and ping-pong, pool and shuffleboard as well as a swimming pool and multiple indoor and outdoor lounging areas to rest up for more adventures in the park.