I have always wanted to visit Joshua Tree National Park. I love seeing the pictures of these Dr. Suess-like trees and seeing the majestic landscape. This year I finally had the opportunity and I was pleasantly surprised to find out how many awesome things there were to do in the park with kiddos. Here are the best activities to do with kids at Joshua Tree National Park.
Play and Hike at Joshua Tree
First, an obvious choice for activities at Joshua Tree National Park with kids is hiking. There are tons of trails in the park. Many of them have plenty of rocks nearby that you can scramble across for added fun. My kids are at an age where they love sandboxes, and the desert is one HUGE sandbox. When our kids needed a bit of motivation to complete a hike, we let them bring a small toy along and took frequent breaks to let them play in the sand.
Hidden Valley was our overall favorite hike. It is a loop trail that is just over a mile long that has a ton of places to scramble over rocks and take in the great views. We loved the Cap Rock trail as a short loop to get close to the Joshua Trees. Check out the Top 5 Hikes with Kids at Joshua Tree for more details.
Rock Climbing with Kids
Certain parks lend themselves to particular activities. Joshua Tree consistently makes the list of top 10 national parks for rock climbing. It is the perfect way for kids to enjoy Joshua Tree whether they are first-time climbers or experienced crushers! Some guide services will take kids as young as 2 years old. My 3-year-old and 5-year-old had a ball and got to face some of their fears. Read more about our experience here.
We loved Stone Adventures. They put a special focus on making sure kids feel welcome. We will happily recommend them, but you can also check out Cliffhanger Guides, Mojave Guides, or the California Climbing School. If you have a lot of experience and want to head out on your own, you can learn more about routes at the Mountain Project.
Junior Ranger Badge
Like other National Parks, Joshua Tree offers a Junior Ranger Badge for its young explorers. Stop by any of the visitor centers and pick up the booklet. It has a variety of different activities designed for kids ages 5-13 years old. Filling out the book teaches the kids more about the park’s unique ecology and gets them engaged in looking for certain animals or plants they can find in Joshua Tree. After the kids finish their books, bring them back to one of the visitor centers, and they get to take a pledge to help protect the park and share what they’ve learned.
Being from Wisconsin, the desert was a pretty different environment for our kids. To help prepare them and get them excited for the park, we found some desert books. For the younger set, try “I Howl, I Growl,” which you can buy from the park store online here. The book shows all sorts of animals that can be found in Joshua Tree. We really enjoyed the “Cactus Hotel” by Brenda Guiberson. While it focuses on Saguaro cacti which are not found in Joshua Tree, it does a great job of introducing how interconnected all the animals and plants are in a desert.
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best places to look at stars with your kids. The park is large and has almost no lights within it. Even the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye if you go on the right night! The perfect night for seeing the stars is when there is a new moon (no moon visible). Even with the brighter moon, you will get a great show. Seeing the park under the full moon’s light is an amazing experience. For information on finding the perfect night, check out this site.
The park has plenty of spots to check out the stars. See the park’s website here for guidelines on where you can and can’t go. As we went with young kids, we didn’t make it late into the night, but it was still beautiful and worth the drive. My kids love when I use the app Skyview which has free and paid versions. It’s a great way to help adults and kids alike visualize and learn the constellations. My kids especially like identifying planets. We also like the book “Sophie’s Night Sky Adventure” for learning more about constellations.
Important Info for Joshua Tree National Park
I LOVED our trip to Joshua Tree with my young kids; there were so many activities to keep them busy. The landscape was magnificent as well. Here are a couple of important things to remember. There is almost no cell service in the park, so plan accordingly. It can be both colder and hotter than you expect. We went in the winter, and I ended up buying the kids windbreakers once we got there because the dry and windy days were less comfortable than we Wisconsinites were expecting. Always bring plenty of water. With kids, it’s important to bring great snacks. Nothing can ruin a hike like a hungry toddler.
No matter the age of the explorers, there is always fun to be had at Joshua Tree National Park. There are tons of hikes and plenty of sand to play in. Rock climbing was fun and challenging for all three generations. At night, the number of stars was astounding. Finally, the kids had fun working on their Junior Ranger booklets, even if they were a bit younger than the target audience. What is your family’s favorite Joshua Tree activity?