All you need to know to plan a visit to Joshua Tree with kids: child friendly hikes, what to carry and best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park as a family.
Visiting National Parks is one of our favorite activities, as a family.
Living outside of the US, we cannot get our National Park fix as often as we would like but, when we do, we truly savor every minute of our time there.
The one that got us hooked to this National Park travel obsession was Joshua Tree NP in California, which was special both for us and the children.
The park is wonderful: the landscape here is unique and like nothing our kids had ever seen before.
There are plenty of beautiful family friendly hikes, animal to spot and a many opportunities to learn about Joshua Tree and its very peculiar ecosystems – we learned lots of fun facts about Joshua Tree while there and they added even more to the experience.
If you are planning a visit to Joshua Tree with kids and wondering if and how to plan your trip, keep reading!
This is how we visited and the many reasons we loved Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Joshua tree with kids: best time to go
Joshua Tree National Park is open all year round and can be visited in all seasons.
However, seasons differ from each other widely and the best time for visiting Joshua Tree depends on the type of experience you want and how much or how little you suffer the heath.
At a glance, the best time to go to Joshua tree national park with kids is
|Season||Best time to visit Joshua tree for||Downsides of the season||Advanced accommodation booking|
|Spring in Joshua Tree||Mild temperatures, flowers in bloom, good weather for outdoor activities||Large crowds at weekends especially||Recommended|
|Summer in Joshua Tree||Great star gazing opportunities, low crowds||Very hot, not suitable for middle of the day hikes||Usually not needed|
|Fall in Joshua Tree||Pleasant temperatures, several activities available including kid-oriented ranger talks||Crowded but usually less than in spring||Recommended|
|Winter Joshua Tree||Low crowds, good temperatures for hiking||Cold temperatures at night (if planning on camping)||Recommended|
You can check official weather channels for a more detailed picture here
Is Joshua Tree dangerous for kids?
When I told my kids we were going to see the desert in Joshua Tree, they had a reaction I did not expect.
Instead of being curious, they grew terrified by the prospect of being in the desert and desperately asked us ‘why oh why are we going to the desert? It is hot, it is empty and it has rattlesnakes, we don’t want to go!’
It is hard to argue with this remarkable knowledge of the desert environment in California and indeed, Joshua Tree does have rattle snakes and is a desert.
However, while you do need to take precautions and be careful, Joshua Tree doesn’t have to be the death trap my kids envisaged (in case you are wondering, they were fine when in the park itself and no one got injured!).
Joshua Tree National Park is a protected natural area where two desert systems meet: the Colorado desert and the Mojave.
The area is under the supervision and care of the wonderful National Park service and this means that it poses some risks but information and help are available to minimize them.
The main thing to look out for, in Joshua tree, is the weather. We visited the park in summer and you can read our full itinerary here.
Tips for keeping your kids safe in Joshua Tree National Park
- Pick carefully the time of year you go. The summer can be incredibly hot in Joshua Tree and this can quickly become too much for young children. The same goes for winter nights: make sure you are equipped for the cold temperatures, especially if the kids are expecting to camp.
- Make yourself known to the rangers. Before setting out on a hike or drive, pop into the visitor centre and have a chat with the rangers. They will be able to advise you about suitability of hikes, potential hazards from (and to) wildlife and specific threats. They will also be a remarkable source of information, definitely do not skip chatting to them!
- Bring a lot of water. Joshua Tree National Park is the desert and, as such, is poor of water. Make sure you have a proper amount with you at all times. There is no such thing such as drinking fountains to replenish your bottle in the middle of a hike so you have to bring your own
- Dress appropriately. Make sure you have proper shoes if hiking and give the kids closed toe shoes if exploring areas such as the cholla cactus garden
- Beware of wildlife and bees. Despite the name, deserts are not deserted of wildlife and Joshua Tree makes no exception. Joshua Tree wildlife includes snakes, bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, black-tailed jackrabbits: some of them can pose threats to people but there is a higher chance of people posing threats to them, so always act wisely for everyone’s safety.
What can kids do in Joshua Tree?
There is plenty to do in Joshua Tree for kids who love outdoor pursuits.
Become a junior ranger
Our kids’ favorite activity when visiting Joshua Tree or any National Park is to take part in the local junior ranger program.
This program is designed to help kids engage and learn about the park in a fun and engaging manner and foresees a mix of child led activities (scavenger hunt, writing, observing, etc) and ranger talks.
It is a wonderful way to learn about the park and may lead your child to gain a ‘junior ranger badge’, something my two kids are very proud of and brought home as a keepsake.
Hiking and bouldering
Hiking and bouldering are two great activities for kids in Joshua Tree too.
Boulders are a typical of part of this desert and scrambling on them (careful when and how they do this) is a great way to experience the park.
You can find a list of our favorite child friendly hikes in Joshua Tree below.
One of the most unforgettable experiences in Joshua Tree for kids and adults alike is stargazing.
The desert is the perfect environment to enjoy dark skies and the mild temperatures of summer nights make this an very enjoyable and educational endeavor.
You can enjoy the stars with your naked eye or go equipped with a portable telescope for kids for even better vision
Child friendly hikes in Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree has wonderful child friendly hikes. Most of them pose no difficulties however, I do recommend you bring good hiking shoes / hiking sandals for you kids so they can get decent grip on the paths and boulders.
If you are new to hiking as a family and you are not sure your child will enjoy it, you may find our tips for hiking with kids here.
The hike to Barker dam is a 1.8 km long and takes about 1 hour.
This is one of the easiest hikes for kids and comes with an little extra: barker dam is where big horn sheep gather in summer so animal encounters here are likely to happen! This is a wonderful Joshua Tree hike to take with the kids for wildlife spotting
Hidden Valley Nature loop
Beautiful, family friendly loop you can hike in about 1 hour. Good hike for views over the desert landscape.
Another easy hiked with an added plus: it is wheelchair (and therefore stroller) accessible. The hike is short, about half a kilometer and can be done in 30-40 minutes. Good to see boulders and Joshua trees.
Discovery Trail from Skull rock
Skull rock is guaranteed to make an impression on kids as it definitely looks like a giant…. skull!
The hike starts from the rock and connects to Split Rock. It is an easy enough hike of about 1.1 km (round trip).
Skull rock is visible from theroad too so if you are in a hurry or not interested in hikes, it makes for a very easy photo op.
Cholla cactus garden
We didn’t stretch to this part of the park but many parents remember this as a highlight with kids.
The walk is described as short and easy, about 0.4 km, and it crosses an area with thousands of naturally growing cholla cacti.
Be careful with kids as the cacti are very prickly (wear closed toe shoes) and, in summer, the area sometimes get swarms of bees (read here about safety in the park).
Where to stay when visiting Joshua tree national park with kids
Unlike other national Parks you may have visited, there are no lodging option inside Joshua Tree national Park aside form campsites.
However, there are several options both in the towns near the Park, Joshua Tree and Twentynine palms and in Palm Springs / Indio area, which is where we stayed (this was our hotel, very good especially because of the child friendly pool).
You can find our full selection of accommodation options near Joshua tree National park here (all budgets)
What to bring when visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids
When planning a trip to Joshua Tree national park, make sure you bring:
- Sun hat and sun screen
- Appropriate clothing / layers for the season
- Comfortable and closed toe walking shoes
- Suitable snacks and drinks (salty snacks and electrolyte drinks suitable for kids are best is sweating profusely)
- Post bite / anti allergy cream
- Fist aid kit: for ideas about what we have in our family one, have a look at our first aid supply list here
I hope you found this article helpful and it helped answer the question: what do I need to know to visit Joshua tree with kids?
Post updated Jan 2021.