Joshua Tree National Park

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park, you'll see lots of strange, spikey Joshua trees, as well as cholla cactus gardens and colorful ocotillos. Keep your eyes peeled for roadrunners, desert iguanas and lizards, quail, jackrabbits, cactus wrens, bighorn sheep. Joshua Tree also has impressive rock formations, huge boulders tossed up like a kids' playroom.


Oasis Visitor Center - Before heading into the park, stop at the visitor center for an excellent introduction to the wildlife, plants and geology of Joshua Tree. Touch exhibits have four different kinds of rock you'll see, plus a cross section of a Joshua tree and cholla cactus. Check out the dioramas of animals that live in the desert, especially those that live under the ground - desert tortoise, tarantulas and trap-door spiders. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet, complete the activities and kids get a badge.
Hidden Valley - The one mile loop trail begins with sneaking through a bunch of big boulders, coming out into a wide open valley, surrounded on all sides by high rocks. In the 19th century, it's rumored that cattle rustlers hid their cattle here. Kids will enjoy this "wild west" landscape and a largely level trail. Bring your lunch, there's picnic tables and restrooms.
Lost Horse Mine - Older kids and teens can stretch their legs on a hike to Lost Horse Mine, 4 miles round trip. The mine produced 9,000 ounces of gold, the richest mine in Joshua Tree. Today, you can see the stamp mill (for crushing the ore), winch and other rusting mining equipment lying around. At the mine, stay around the marked areas, don't wander off to unfenced parts of the mining operation.
Skull Rock - Kids naturally leap out and climb all over Skull Rock - it really does look like a huge skull, with rounded nooks and crannies to explore. Take the 1.7 mile loop trail from Skull Rock, around through the Jumbo Rocks campground, across the road, stopping to play on the rocks at you go. Kids can imagine all kinds of creatures in the shapes of the boulders.
Jumbo Rocks campground also has wonderful rocks to climb on, with tiny boulders for little kids and much larger rocks for bigger kids.
Arch Rock Nature Trail - From White Tank campground, take the .5 mile loop trail around Arch Rock. Along the nature trail are informative descriptions of the geologic forces that shaped the rock into an arch.
Cholla Cactus Garden - It's unusual to see a whole garden of cholla cactus (also called teddy bear cactus); in this part of the valley the conditions are just right, so the cactus appear all over. Pick up the brochure for the self-guided nature trail, with information about the cactus, as well as animals. Kids will need to stay on the trail and the teddy bear cactus look fuzzy, but don't get too close, the spines come off easily.
Go camping - Joshua Tree is a great place to camp. At the campground in Jumbo Rocks, the sites are set right in amidst the huge boulders (some boulders have openings, perfect for kids to play and hide). There are ranger programs in the evenings and campground talks. You'll want to reserve a campsite in advance, especially during holidays.
Tips for enjoying Joshua Tree
When to visit - June to August are the hottest times in the park, where temperatures are often over 100 degrees in the day. Fall and spring are a great time to visit, with warm daytime temperatures.
Cactus - Stay back from cactus, especially the cholla cactus. A cactus might look fuzzy, but you don't want to spend your time picking spines our of little fingers and arms.
Bring water - In the desert, even on a short hike, always bring along water for everyone in the family.
Climbing on rocks - When climbing on the rocks, watch where you put your hands; there are rattlesnakes in Joshua Tree.
Desert tortoises - Desert tortoises are threatened species and need to be protected. If you see a desert tortoise in Joshua Tree, don't pick it up.
Family House Rentals

Lots of fun things to do with kids in Joshua Tree National Park, but you'll need a fun place to stay.

Here's Travel for Kids list of family house rentals, all styles and price ranges, convenient to the national park:

Joshua Tree vacation rentals
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