Joshua Tree is one of my favourite places in the US, partly because I have family there and am so lucky as to call the place a home away from home, but also because even though I am a mountain person I find the desert truly magical and because the tiny town of Joshua tree is a great place to hang out. So here is my top seven things to do in this wonderland of rock and dust.
1. Watch the sunset on Ryan Mountain
There is nothing as serene and calm and beautiful as a desert sunset. And to fully take it in do hike up Ryan Mountain (5,461 f / 1,664 m) in the very heart of Joshua Tree nationalpark. The trail is 1.5 miles one way(2.4 km), pretty straightforward and rather easy, though the ascent can be a bit strenous. The way upt to the peak won’t take you much more than an hour from the parking lot. Do bring water and snacks, and also a headlight, because it gets dark fairly quickly after the sun sets, and you don’t want to get lost on your way back. Check the time for the sunset and make your way up there about an hour before that, find a nice spot to sit down and then just enjoy the beautiful show nature will put on for you.
2. Take a climbing lesson
You can’t really experience Joshua Tree Nationalpark without climbing. So even if you are not a climber or a rookie beginner, do treat yourself to a climbing lesson. I was so lucky as to know people who know climbing guide Donnie Reid, one of the 70ies-Yosemite-crowd, served as one of the chief guides of Yosemite Mountaineering School and wrote the climbing guide books for the valley, and who has also been climbing in Joshua Tree for years and years. So a guide who really knows what he is doing plus he is supernice and fun, and patient with people who have no idea what they are doing on the rock and are furthermore scared of heights like me. I did some easy climbs on my first two visits to Joshua Tree and enjoyed it greatly each time, marvelling at the totally new perspective on the park a bit of height between you and the ground gives you. No climbing unfortunately when I went back last summer, since climbing in the desert in August is really not much fun, except if you want to get up in the middle of the night, when the rock is still a temperature that you can actually touch it. But if you visit in any other month: Get in touch with any of the many Joshua Tree Climbing schools and get out onto some rock!
3. Have hearty brekkie at Crossroads Cafe
I love, love, love Crossroads Café – so much, that even when I was starting last years US trip up in Alaska I was already looking forward to the Huevos Rancheros and Pancakes I was gonna treat myself with two and a half months later down in Joshua Tree. The place is not fancy, but super cosy and always superbusy in a good way. You get your tourists, your locals, your long-haired dip-dyed-shirt wearing dropouts and your climbers eating up for an adventurous day out, food is delicious and coffee too (though on my last visit the espresso-machine was unfortunately broken, but I am sure it will be fixed and running again by now 😉 )
4. Hike the Lost-Horse-Mine-Trail
Joshua Tree National Park has many short and eays trails that will take you thruogh its amazing maze of rock and rubble and fancy Joshua Trees. One I especially like is the Lost-Horse-Mine-Trail, that takes you through a beautiful Joshua Tree forest to an old mine and an old mill. The trail is a 4-miles-roundtrip (6.4 km). On all the trails make sure you check how long they are and plan your water supply accordingly, one or two liters of water per person at the least even for a short trail. You are after all hiking in desert country, and it gets hot and people get dehydrated very quickly and if you get lost or take longer than planned on the trail, water becomes literally a lifesaver. Also do take sunscreen and a hat, since you will not find much shade under the Joshua trees, and ideally ware some sturdy boots, because there are rattle snakes around.
5. Shop at the Farmers market
There is a tiny farmers market going on every saturday morning in the town square. Its nothing huge, but its fun to browse the nice selection of local produce and craft products, (make sure to buy some of the organic locally roasted Joshua Tree coffee), and it is of course a great place for people-watching, talking to people and getting to know the local vibe.
6. Explore Pioneertown
Picture yourself in an old western movie, get all those vintage-instagram-shots done, and then head over to Pappy and Harriet’s saloon for some yummy burgers and some great music. Check their events program, they have some rad indie, alternative, rock bands playing there all year round but especially when Coachella is near. When I was in Joshua Tree three years ago they actually had the Pixies play there. Pity I couldn’t get tickets, it was of course sold out weeks before. So a heads-up: It pays out to plan ahead in the case of Pappy and Harriets!
7. Get gear-crazy at Nomad Ventures
A outdoor enthusiasts dream – or nightmare, depending on how your travel budget is holding up and on how well you can resist temptation. Nomad Ventures is the local climbing shop, that accommodates to all your climbing gear needs and also basically anything you might need for your backpacking adventures, plus they stock some books and a tempting selection of cute shirts and tops. They also rent out climbing material, will be able to set you up with climbing instructors and generally know everything that is going on in and around the park. And if after your visit to Nomad Ventures you are still in need for more shopping, try Coyote Corner, the souvenir store just across the street for all your Joshua-Tree-NP-merch. And check out the visitor center just next door for more infos on the park and the desert and activities and evening programs. (Did I say I love Joshua Tree? Just in case you couldn’t tell yet)