Depending on how you’ve scheduled your trip to Joshua Tree National Park, you may need or prefer a day or two outside the park’s boundary. Occasionally, this is due to travel, crowds, or simply you’ve exhausted everything you wanted to see inside the park.
Here are 10 places within a 2-hour drive from Joshua Tree National Park that you should definitely find time to visit. They are a mix of other parks, towns, historic places and everything in between. Each one is interesting in its own right, and is worth the time it would take to get there.
In the map below, we list all 10 places you should visit that are just outside of Twenty-nine Palms, CA, which is the home of Joshua Tree’s main entrance. The orange boundary marks the extent of the national park.
1. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Distance: 45 minutes from Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a popular attraction that takes visitors on a scenic ride up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. It is the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world. It was opened in September 1963 as a way of getting from the floor of the Coachella Valley to near the top of San Jacinto Peak (8,516 ft). Tickets cost around $30 per adult and $18 per child.
2. Salton Sea Beach
Distance: 1.5 hours south from Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
Located about an hour and a half southeast of Joshua Tree National Park, the Salton Sea is a large, saltwater lake that was created accidentally in 1905. Salton Sea State Park surrounds a huge blue salt lake, beautiful to look at (not swim), near an almost a ghost town with less than 400 residents and the abandoned buildings from days gone by.
3. The Integratron
Distance: 25 minutes north of Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
Located about a half an hour northwest of Joshua Tree National Park, the Integratron is a unique dome structure that is said to have healing and rejuvenating properties. Designed by ufologist and alien contactee George Van Tassel in 1957. This U.F.O.-like dome with sci-fi origins has become a mecca for spiritual seekers looking to zone out on its sound baths.
4. Pioneertown, CA
Distance: 20 minutes west of Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
Located about an hour north of Joshua Tree National Park, Pioneertown is a historic movie town that was built in the 1940s for Western movies. There is no fee to visit – its an actual town! There are several restaurants along Mane Street to eat at, which makes it a perfect place to stop after a long day of hikes at Joshua Tree NP.
5. Coachella Valley Preserve
Distance: 1 hour north of Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
Located about an hour north of Joshua Tree National Park, the Coachella Valley Preserve is a nature preserve that is home to the endangered Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard and other desert wildlife.
For thousands of years, particles of sand from the San Bernardino Mountains and Indio Hills washed into the Coachella Valley, forming a system of dunes. Today, these dunes are part of the Coachella Valley Preserve System, a 20,000-acre sanctuary that is home to several species of increasingly rare wildlife.
Just west of the Preserve is the Coachella Valley Vista Point, which is a great viewpoint right along the road.
6. Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
Distance: 10 minutes from Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, located in the town of Joshua Tree, features over 100 sculptures made from found objects and recycled materials. Free to the public from sun-up to sun-down, the self-guided tour starts at the kiosk when you arrive.
7. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Distance: 25 minutes west of Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
This nature preserve, located about 425 minutes west of Joshua Tree National Park, is home to over 250 bird species and a variety of plant life. Nestled among the Little San Bernardino Mountains in the Sand to Snow National Monument, the desert oasis at Big Morongo Canyon is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian habitats in California.
8. Mojave Trails National Monument
Distance: Slightly more than an hour northeast of Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
Singing sand dunes, cinder cone volcanoes, a large Joshua tree forest, and carpets of spring wildflowers are all found within the 1.6-million-acre Mojave Desert National Preserve.
After seeing all you can see in Mojave, head south to spend the night in Twentynine Palms, which also happens to be the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.
The Kelso Dunes are among the largest sand dunes in the country, and have some great trails to see the dunes up close.
One of the most popular attractions at Mojave National Preserve is the Lava Tube. 27,000 years ago, lava flowed over where the desert is today. The top cooled to form rock, but the bottom kept flowing… creating this fascinating tunnel under old lava flows.
The Rings Loop Trail is a popular 1.5 mile hike that takes you past beautiful scenery and ancient petroglyphs. This is a moderately difficult hike, and generally flat until you need to climb rings bolted to the side of the Banshee Canyon.
9. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Distance: 2 hours south of Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
Located about two hours south of Joshua Tree National Park, the largest California state park offers stunning rugged desert landscapes, wildflowers, and opportunities for hiking and camping. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park landscape was largely formed by the forces of erosion attacking the uplifted mountains. The higher the mountains rise, the harder they are attacked by the weather. The park has 500 miles of dirt roads and 12 wilderness areas within its boundary.
10. San Gorgonio Wilderness
Distance: 1.5 hours west of Joshua Tree’s northern entrance.
Hike trails that surround the San Gorgonio Mountain, which is the highest mountain (11,500 ft) in Southern California. Big Falls Trail (1 mile, easy), Falls Creek Trail (7.6 miles, moderate), Vivian Creek Trail to the peak (19 miles, hard) are all great trails in this wilderness area. Entry to the San Gorgino Wilderness requires a permit.