I would describe Joshua Tree National Park as a contemporary art museum. Rugged rock formations, uniquely shaped Joshua trees and Yucca palms, and overly active little animals running around. This is a beautiful place to visit even if you’re not a super active traveler looking to hit the trails. In this non-hiker guide to Joshua Tree National Park, I’ll talk about several activities you can do on your visit besides hike–from taking a geology motor tour to having tea with a local artist.
When to Visit Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is in the Colorado and Mojave Desert areas. If you are not a burning summer day kind of person, then you might want to avoid anytime between June and July.
How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park
There are 3 entrances to Joshua Tree National Park. You can enter through whichever one is closest to the place you are traveling from.
- From Arizona: Cottonwood Visitor Center
- From Las Vegas: Oasis Visitor Center
- San Diego/Los Angeles: Joshua Tree Visitor Center
Non-hiking Activities in Joshua Tree National Park:
What is there to do in Joshua Tree National Park besides hike? Lots! Whether you are not a very active person or you don’t want to wear yourself out on your trip, here are 7 great activities for non-hikers.
1) Full Moon Walk
I’ll start my non-hiker guide to Joshua Tree National Park by recommending the full moon walk. The park looks and sounds very unique at night, and on this night walk, a ranger guides you around the Oasis Visitor Center during a full moon. From the stories rangers tell, you get to learn about how the park is changing with the surrounding impacts. Since this walk happens only during the full moon, make sure to check the full moon night walk official schedule and plan your trip accordingly if this interests you.
- Cost: Free
- Time Commitment: 8 – 9:30 PM
2) Artisan Tea
Another great activity is to take part in the Joshua Tree National Park’s Artist’s Tea, a program offered through the park’s Council for the Arts. You get to meet with a local artist and learn about the artistic community at Joshua Tree over a cup of tea. As someone who is a fan of all thing arts, I had to throw myself into this tea session. I found myself artistically inspired by the chat, and learned about how art has evolved in the area.
- Cost: Free
- Time Commitment: 9 – 11 AM
3) Oasis Walk
Enjoy a ranger-guided walk around the Oasis next to the Oasis Visitor Center. It’s a great way to learn about the ecology of this unique oasis in the desert.
- Cost: Free
- Time Commitment: 6 – 8 PM
4) Key Ranch Tour
This ranger-guided tour will take you back to the mining boom time in this high desert. Through their stories, you’ll learn about life on this cattle ranch 60 years ago. The tour is available from Thursday to Saturday, but the ticket can ONLY be purchased IN PERSON on the day of the tour at Oasis Visitor Center. If you want to go, plan to purchase your ticket first thing in the morning.
- Cost: $10 for 12 and over, $5 for 11 and under
- Time Commitment: 2 – 3:30 PM
5) Geology Motor Tour
This is a free self-guided tour to the back country area of the park. You will see fewer Joshua trees but more wildflowers and rugged rock. There is a box at the beginning of the road where you should be able to pick up a guide, but just as I expected, people take these guides with them, so there weren’t any there when I visited. To avoid this possibility, I recommend asking the ranger for a guide before you head over there.
The park recommends 4-wheel drive for the Geology Motor Tour. Yes, 4-wheel drive would make thing easier for sure, but if you don’t have it, you can still make it through. If you have successfully driven through Titus Canyon in Death Valley, then this road will be easy peasy. It can be a bit bumpy, though, and you will encounter bigger rocks toward the end.
6) Key View Gaze
Key View is a super quick drive south of the park. It’s one of the best places to watch the sunset in Joshua Tree. From there, you can see Coachella Valley, Palm Springs, Colorado, and the Mojave Desert. Before you go check the road condition to make sure the area is open.
Joshua Tree is a Night Sky National Park. As you drive away from the town and into the center of the park, you have the opportunity of a lifetime to get a clear and amazing view of the milky way. Campgrounds and roadside pullouts are great places to grab a chair and watch the stars pass by.
If you love star-gazing, here are two cool things you should check out before your visit to Joshua Tree:
- Sky’s Limit Observatory:
This non-profit organization provides hands-on learning opportunities for the general public about our sky and galaxy. They are located on the border of Joshua Tree National Park, just past the Oasis Visitor Center. They have a Star Party on most Saturdays (depending on the phase of the moon) where volunteers set up telescopes outside for people to look through.
- Night Sky Festival:
Every fall, the community at Joshua Tree comes together to celebrate the night sky. There are astronomy programs and telescope viewing at various locations of the park. To learn more about when the next one is, check out the Night Sky Festival website.
I hope this non-hiker guide to Joshua Tree National Park inspires you to go and explore this beautiful place even if you are not super active. And even though you’re not a hiker, here are 7 Joshua Tree hikes I think you can enjoy anyway!
Also be sure to check out my non-hiker guide to Yosemite National Park!