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Are you planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park with kids and wondering what there is to do in Joshua Tree with kids? There are lots of things for families with young kids to do in Joshua Tree National Park. Whether you’re visiting Joshua Tree with toddlers or older kids, read on for our family friendly suggestions.
How to get to Joshua Tree National Park
If you live in Southern California like we do, Joshua Tree is just a short drive away. From LA, Orange County and San Diego, the drive will take 2.5-3 hours, depending on traffic.
If you’re visiting from out of state, the closest airport will be Palm Springs. There aren’t many flight into that airport, so our suggestion would be to fly into one of the bigger airports like Ontario, just 1.5 hours from the park. Alternatively, you can combine your trip to the desert with a beach trip and fly into LAX, SNA, LGB or SAN.
Best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park
The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park will be in the spring (March-May) or fall (September-November). The summer temperatures get above 100 degrees, making hiking and outdoor activities unbearable. Winter temps can be cold and while snowfall is rare, it does happen! We visited in mid-November, and the temperatures during our stay were in the high 70s and 80s, perfect for exploring the desert.
Where to stay when visiting Joshua Tree National Park
The two main towns closest to Joshua Tree National Park are Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. Joshua Tree is smaller without many hotels or amenities but Twentynine Palms has everything you’ll need if you aren’t camping inside the park.
Camping in Joshua Tree National Park
There are several campsites within Joshua Tree National Park. During peak times, these do fill up quickly so be sure to make reservations in advance if you plan to camp. During our stay on random weekdays in November, all campgrounds had signs saying they were full. If you opt for camping, be sure to research best tent camping gear for families so your trip goes off without a hitch!
Best family-friendly hotel near Joshua Tree National Park
As mentioned above, your best bet for hotels will be in Twentynine Palms. The Oasis Visitor Center is located here as well as several hotels.
Because we have Marriott points, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Twentynine Palms-Joshua Tree National Park. It was less than 15 minutes to the park entrance, making it a perfect location for exploring the park.
Another option for families is the Best Western Joshua Tree Hotel & Suites or the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Twentynine Palms-Joshua Tree.
AirBnB near Joshua Tree National Park
Things to bring when visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids
- Snacks: Chances are you’ll be hiking and away from your car for several hours so be sure to pack some snacks! We like RX Bars and trail mix.
- Kid-Size Binoculars: We bring these binoculars on all of our outdoor trips. They’re really well made and work great.
- Hiking Backpack: Because you’re going to need something to haul the water and snacks! We love the Osprey Daylite hiking backpack. It’s light and even Milana can wear it comfortably.
- National Parks Journal: We love this journal and Milana fills it out every time we visit a new park. I purchased National Park stickers to put inside by each park and we have them stamp the inside of this book instead of the kid passport. After trying a few different journals, this one has been by far the best!
Things to do when visiting Joshua Tree National Park with Kids
Spend lots of time outdoors! You’re going to be hiking a lot, so we have compiled a list of the best kid-friendly hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park.
Best kid friendly hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park
- Skull Rock Nature Trail: Skull Rock is one of the most visited attractions in the park. Most people come to see the massive rock shaped like a skull and then leave. But don’t be that person! You can do a loop hike (1.7 miles) or play on the massive rocks! Milana loved this part of the park and said it was her favorite. If you have little climbers, don’t miss this spot!
- Cholla Cactus Garden: While I wouldn’t classify this as a hike as it’s only 0.2 miles in length, it’s a must see! There are so many cacti, it’s like walking through a cactus forest! If you’re coming with toddlers, be aware that it’s quite painful if they touch any of the plants! Chollas are known for barbed spines that attach to skin, fur and clothing.
- Hall of Horrors: This 0.6 mile loop trail is perfect for little ones. You can veer off and go towards the rocks to climb, but we opted not to climb here.
- Ryan Mountain Trail: This 3 mile out and back trail is super popular and often packed. We didn’t experience crowds when we came, in fact we were the only ones on the trail! Keep in mind that this is better suited for older kids as you are literally walking up a staircase for the majority of the trail!
- Cap Rock Nature Trail: This 0.7 mile loop trail is perfect for kids of all ages. You’ll have some amazing views of Joshua trees while walking here!
- Arch Rock Nature Trail: This is a 1.2 miles out and back trail. It gets super hot during warmer months, so come early in the morning or later in the day. It’s an easy hike, perfect for kids of all ages.
Junior Ranger Program
Stop at any of the visitor centers to pick up your Junior Ranger booklet, badge and passport stamp. We stamp our National Parks Journal, which I highly recommend getting if you plan on visiting more than one park! The Junior Ranger booklet is filled with lots of facts about the park you are visiting along with some age-appropriate activities, making it an awesome learning experience.
Where to eat near Joshua Tree National Park with kids
So the towns of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree aren’t very exciting, so don’t come here expecting some great dining options. They’re both pretty dull and Twentynine Palms, where we stayed, is the more happening of the two!
We didn’t eat out much but we did go to Campbell Hill Bakery to pick up some sandwiches to take into the park. You will pass the bakery on your way to the Oasis Visitor Center and it’s definitely worth a stop! They have pre-made sandwiches that are amazing! Milana chose the ham and swiss one, which had a ton of melted cheese on top. I had the Italian Stallion and it was awesome. They also have a nice selection of cookies, muffins, pastries, etc. Definitely worth a stop!
Another place we tried was Yamahana Sushi, directly across from our hotel. We had takeout and it was actually good. We ordered a CA roll, shrimp tempura roll and miso ramen. While it’s not the best sushi or ramen you’ll have, we enjoyed it.
There was also a bbq place down the street from our hotel, a Chinese food restaurant and several fast food places (BK, McDonald’s, etc) but we didn’t try any of them. If you need a supermarket, Stater Bros is directly across from the Marriott.
We stayed in Twentynine Palms and entered the park near the Oasis Visitors Center. There was never anyone in line to get into the park at this entrance, so we breezed right in. We left via Joshua Tree and on our way out one day, there was a huge line of cars in line waiting to get in! Something to keep in mind when selecting where you stay and which way you enter. We also found that most of the trails mentioned in this post are closer to Twentynine Palms and the days we were there, we didn’t encounter many people on any of the trails which was nice!
If you do make it to the Joshua Tree side, take a short detour to Pioneertown, a working Western movie set. We hope you find this Joshua Tree with kids guide useful and helpful when planning your next trip!