Spring and early Fall are wonderful times to visit the California desert. Nestled next to Palm Springs, you can enjoy a Joshua Tree day trip in perfect 75-degree weather. If the state is lucky enough to receive torrents of rain (as we did this year) then the desert in bloom is a wonderful sight to behold. Here are a few quick tips and hiking trails to get you on your way.
First Stop: Joshua Tree Visitor Center
Similar to Yellowstone, Joshua Tree National Park is basically a long, curved drive with lots of stops and hiking trails throughout. Start early, arm yourself with information from the Visitor Center, and take your Joshua Tree day trip super slow. The Joshua Tree Visitor Center is the first stop for park visitors headed towards the West Entrance. Amenities include restrooms, maps, exhibits, and a bookshop. Additionally, there is a little cafe outside the building where you can stop for morning coffee or sandwiches.
Wall Street Mill Hike
If you only have time for one hike, we recommend taking the Wall Street Mill trail. Add some on-site learning to your Joshua Tree day trip with a little slice of history. The easy, 1.8-mile, 35 min hike takes you to an old mill site that was used to process gold by colorful prospector Bill Keys. If you stay on the path close to the rock formations, you will come across an old, rusted truck. This is the first of a few vehicles along the trail which are fun to look inside and take pictures of.
The Old Windmill
Next along the trail, is an old windmill, water pump, and reservoir. It’s so fun to see the artifacts from this time of history live and on location during a Joshua Tree day trip. The area is rich in prospecting history and Bill Keys (as mentioned earlier) was quite a character in the area. After the windmill, you will see an old marker that Bill erected announcing the killing of neighbor Worth Bagly over a road access dispute. The marker reads: “Here is where Worth Bagly bit the dust at the hand of W. F. Keys, May 11, 1943.” Beautiful. We need to add phrases like “bit the dust” into our modern lexicon.
The Old Mill Live and In-Person
At the end of the trail, you’ll come to the old mill itself. Learning about how the mill was used during the early 1940s is a great way to make your Joshua Tree day hike fun and informative. Thankfully, they have a large plaque nearby that explains how the mill was used. Read it and then go take a look.
Love Those Junky Old Cars
Scattered around the mine are more old cars, dilapidated and cankered with rust. If you have a love of cars then, that may be the highlight of your Joshua Tree day trip. The colors blend in beautifully with the desert wash and they are really fun to photograph. Hopefully, you were instructed at the Visitor Center to bring water and maybe even pack a lunch. You will want to consume plenty of both during and after your hike.
Other Notable Stops
If you take our earlier advice and stop at the Visitor Center, you can pick up a map of the other hikes and sights along the road. A Joshua Tree day trip is pretty straightforward and easy on your vehicle. The road is well paved and people drive slowly and make multiple stops. It’s all a part of the experience! Some other hikes to consider, from our perspective, would be the Barker Dam via Keys Ranch Road hike (easy, 4.40 mi, 1.5 hrs), Qual Springs, Bigfoot, Maze Loop (hard, 14.20 mi, 5.15 hrs), and Cottonwood Spring (easy, .10 mi, 2m) (currently closed as of Aug 23, 2023, so check before you go).
Great For All Ages and Party Sizes
The scenic drive is sprinkled with parking lots that are next to large rock formations you can climb and interesting placards that teach you about them. A Joshua Tree day trip is just as fulfilling for solo travelers as it is for couples and families. There are plenty of easy trails to meander down and stops for kids to get out their wiggles. Make sure you pick up a map because there is no cell service in the park, which is a lovely benefit in itself.