A Perfect November Day in Joshua Tree National Park
A perfect November Day in Joshua tree national park
One hour outside of Palm Springs you’ll find Joshua Tree National Park, a weird and unique park that spans two desert systems, the Mojave and Colorado, and has some of the weirdest rocks and plant life we’ve seen in the United States.
Our first trip to Joshua Tree we did not plan very well and just used our map app to go to “Joshua Tree National Park” and found ourselves in the backcountry entering through a not official entrance and feeling like we really didn’t get to see the park. This time we mapped ourselves to the Western Entrance Station which gave us a great start to see all the obligatory Joshua Tree features.
Quail Springs Picnic Area
Once we entered the park we had almost four hours of daylight left before sunset. We made our first real stop around 20 minutes into the park at a place called Quail Springs Picnic Area. There’s a trail at the back of the picnic area, but we stayed nearby the parking lot.
In this area, we observed some birds and snakes and were able to climb around some of the rock formations. The higher elevation gave us an amazing view of Joshua Trees as far as the eye could see.
Hidden Valley & Intersection Rock
Less than 10 minutes’ drive away is our next stop, Hidden Valley. This popular location was beautiful but we did more of a drive-by on our way to our next stop. Intersection Rock is in the parking lot and you’re able to drive around it which is cool. We had limited time due to our late start so we were prioritizing the stops we got out of the car for.
A short drive from Intersection Rock is the trail to Barker Dam. This trail is a loop, however, part of it was closed and we were hesitant to hike the trail at first till a returning hiker told us how great it was so we decided to give it a go. Turns out it was one of the most beautiful hikes of the day. It starts off as a pathed off-trail where you eventually have to start climbing rocks and are surrounded by giant rock structures. This is a moderate trail, no major rock climbing but there are some steps you’ll have to take.
Soon you are in the open desert. We noticed some arrows pointing a direction the other hikers seemed to ignore. Since we’re always curious we took that path and we were rewarded with some incredible petroglyphs! I’ve never seen any so close before outside of being in a museum. They were incredible.
Barker Dam Nature Trail
We headed back to the part of the trail we turned off and continued our hike through some open desert with a beautiful landscape. There were several stands with information describing the plant life you were seeing, I always take photos of these to remember them later. Soon we arrived at some taller rocks and we could tell we were getting close. A small climb up the rocks led us to the dam which was surprisingly filled with water! Remember, this is November and we were expecting it to be dried out. The water makes such a beautiful and unexpected shot of this desert scene. Once done enjoying the view we made our way back the same part of the trail we came in on as half of the loop was closed.
As we got to our car we realized how little time was left. We still wanted to visit the Cholla Cactus gardens and had a bit of a drive left to get there. There were also some rock structures we were hoping to see along the way. That’s the downside of travel in the fall and winter, the sun sets pretty early.
The drive to the Cholla Cactus garden was full of ooh’s and ahhs. On our way there we saw Skull Rock, a popular rock formation that looks a little bit like a skull. Personally, I think the view from the right gives it the most skull-like looks. This rock formation was pretty close to the street which had some areas to pull over and park. If you have limited time to break, this is definitely one of the cooler rock formations to stop and see. There’s parking on the street right near the rock formation and a trail.
Cholla Cactus Garden
After checking out Skull Rock we got in the car and started the drive to the Cholla Cactus Garden. The Cholla (pronounced choy-yah) Cactus Garden is located at the merger of the upper Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert, two completely different types of deserts, and there’s a quarter-mile loop trail giving you access to some strange and alien-looking cacti.
The benefit of a late start in the park means you’ll definitely get to see a Joshua Tree sunset. Just about everywhere in the park offers some kind of spectacular looking views. Drive careful and enjoy the views!
Some people try to find a specific stopping point to wait for the sun to set, however, we were still trying to beat the sun and get near the Hidden Valley which we weren’t successful at. We still got amazing views where we pulled over to stop and enjoy a couple of times.
All in all, November felt like a perfect time to visit Joshua Tree National Park. The heat was a bearable 75-80 degrees. The evening wasn’t too cold, and the views were still out of this world. We were surprised to see the Barker Dam filled as I’ve read reviews of others visiting around this time seeing an empty dam, however, we suspect it was the major rainstorm the park experienced a couple of weeks earlier that may have helped. As with any trip to a national park make sure you do your research and come prepared. We had plenty of water and a game plan for what we planned to visit the park. Remember your phone map will more than likely not work. Get your photos but also take a few moments to soak it all up and experience it all.
What to know before you go
- There is an entrance fee ranging from $30 for cars to $15 for bikes or on foot.
- Come prepared for the adventure you seek. We’re casual hikers but we bring plenty of water and other supplies.
- Watch where you are walking, especially when climbing rocks. This park has Rattlesnakes and other critters hiding in the nooks and crannies.
- Leave it better than you found it! Bring your trash back out, don’t climb the Joshua Trees, don’t add graffiti to the rocks.
Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? Tell me about your favorite parts of the park in the comments below!