Southern California is renowned for its picturesque desert landscapes, year-round sunshine, and famous national parks.
One of the most well-known of these parks is Joshua Tree National Park which protects unique Joshua Trees, teddy bear cholla cacti, and spectacular rock formations that pull in visitors from across the globe. On a trip from San Diego to the iconic national park, there are numerous world-famous hiking trails, natural wonders, and SoCal attractions to explore together as a family for a memorable vacation.
On this San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park road trip guide, we’ll provide the best points of interest to visit along the drive. Don’t forget the camera to capture all the best moments along the journey to look back on with the family!
Distance from San Diego to Joshua Tree
The distance from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park is roughly 150 miles by car. It takes about three hours to reach the destination. Two main routes reach Joshua Tree National Park from San Diego, both incredibly scenic, featuring the diverse landscapes of California.
Temecula Wine Country Route to West Entrance
The first route drives through Temecula, Cabazon, and Palm Springs, which leads to the park’s west entrance. It takes less than three hours to drive if it is timed right (to avoid the morning and evening rush hours), extending around 145 miles.
This wonderful scenic route goes through the luscious wine country of Southern California’s vineyards. As it passes Palm Springs, the route leads into the desert, offering up polar-opposite scenery that is incredibly worthwhile to see.
Whilst Temecula Valley is one of the most beautiful places in California, unfortunately, this route is more inclined to get congested by traffic as it nears Los Angeles.
Borrego Springs Route to South Entrance
The second route drives through Borrego Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and past Palm Springs, which courses to the park’s south entrance. This route is around 160 miles and takes less than four hours.
On this route, you will be taken past local vineyards before reaching the Anza-Borrego Desert, famous for its slot canyons and hidden oases. You are less likely to hit traffic on this route as it uses more minor roads and doesn’t get too close to Los Angeles.
If you only have a day to spend in Joshua Tree National Park, we recommend taking the Temecula route. On the other hand, if you’re looking to take your time and make unforgettable memories with the family at the numerous attractions along the way, then the Borrego Springs route is the way to go!
How Long do I Need Driving San Diego to Joshua Tree?
You will only need a day for a nonstop drive from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park, as it only takes a few hours to reach your destination.
We recommend taking a few days for a sightseeing drive and stops at notable points of interest from San Diego to the park. This is so that you and the family can take your time exploring the different attractions along the way and savor the memories you’ll be making!
Best Time of Year to Drive from San Diego to Joshua Tree
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, the best time of year to visit Joshua Tree National Park from San Diego is from November to February, during the colder months.
To catch spring’s thriving splendor as flowers bloom, we recommend taking this Joshua Tree scenic drive from April to May, as June through August can get very hot (temperatures of 100 degrees and up!).
During the spring season, flowering cacti are among the many plants that bloom and decorate the landscapes on this scenic drive.
Best Stops on a San Diego to Joshua Tree Road Trip
In this detailed San Diego to Joshua Tree road trip guide, we’ll show you points of interest along the Borrego Springs route to avoid traffic!
San Diego – Balboa Park
Before hitting the road, stop by one of San Diego’s top attractions, Balboa Park! An oasis of entertainment, Balboa Park homes some of the best tourist attractions, including the famous San Diego Zoo.
The park is home to 17 museums, numerous botanical gardens, and other noteworthy spots to enjoy with the family. Mere minutes from downtown San Diego, Balboa Park is an iconic cultural center you should take advantage of. It’s the perfect start to an awesome road trip!
Pacific Crest Trail
Officially named the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail is an extensive trail that runs from Mexico to Canada and aligns with portions of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges.
The San Diego stretch of this popular trail is located 50 miles east of downtown San Diego, on the way to Joshua Tree National Park on the Borrego Springs scenic route. On the numerous trail options are opportunities to witness breathtaking views of the desert and hillsides teeming with chaparral.
Important Note: Bring plenty of water and look out for poison oak and rattlesnakes.
Montezuma Valley Scenic Viewpoint
A famous scenic spot in San Diego, the Montezuma Valley Scenic Viewpoint was named after the Aztec emperor of Mexico.
From this viewpoint is outrageously awe-inspiring scenery of the Anza-Borrego Desert with a glimpse of the Salton Sea. The landscape thrives in spring with blooming flowers, fluttering butterflies, and singing birds.
At the viewpoint are informational tidbits to learn more about the impact of the various species of plants and animals that call the desert home. And for more impactful opportunities to revel in the scenery, drive down the Montezuma Valley Road, which heads from Borrego Springs to Ranchita.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Located in the Colorado Desert, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. It sourced its name from the 18th-century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word for sheep, borrego.
Throughout the park are towering slot canyons, prickly cacti, scenic hiking trails, and impressive desert landscapes that draw in visitors worldwide. The park’s most popular hiking trails include the Narrows Earth Nature Trail, Hellhole Canyon, the Wind Caves, the Slot Canyon Trail, and the Cactus Loop Nature Trail.
Right before hitting Joshua Tree National Park is the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake. Though mostly desolate, thanks to the lake’s high salinity, there are plenty of activities and natural wonders to encounter with a visit to the Salton Sea!
One of these activities is the volcanic bubbling mud pools. These mud pools are connected to the Salton Buttes, a collection of five volcanoes. Some of these bubbles, when they pop, can explode high up into the air for an entertaining sight that should be enjoyed at a distance (as they are volcanic and very hot!).
Joshua Tree National Park
A protected area in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is named after the bristled, twisting Joshua trees that scatter across the park.
The park is notorious for its impressive rock formations, such as Arch Rock, Heart Rock, and Skull Rock. The Arch Rock formation can be found off a short trail near White Tank Campground. And all of these rock formations make for unique photo-taking opportunities to remember the San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park trip.
Once you reach Joshua Tree National Park, take your time adventuring some of the best scenic hiking trails in the United States. There are different levels, with kid-friendly hiking trails perfect for the family to take on the challenge!
Joshua Tree National Park Accommodations
The only option to stay within the national park is to camp at one of the 500+ campsites. These can be reserved through recreation.gov up to 6 months in advance.
Outside of the national park, these are two top picks:
Mere minutes from Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave Sands is the perfect family getaway to bask in the unique desert landscapes. This boutique motel offers up stunning rooms, an outdoor BBQ area, a reflecting koi pond, and native desert plants scattered across the property.
There are only 5 rooms at the property, so do book well in advance.
The Castle House Estate
An extraordinary way to experience Joshua Tree, The Castle House Estate is the ultimate glamping stay, bringing tiny home living only minutes from Joshua Tree National Park. The estate is designed with medieval architecture and entertainment on 12 breathtaking undeveloped natural desert acres.
See Further Accommodation Near Joshua Tree National Park
If you are thinking of making a last-minute escape to Joshua Tree, remember you can expect accommodation to be fully booked in the area months in advance over the popular spring period (Mid-February to Mid-May).
You can also expect accommodation to also be full over weekends from October to May.
- Looking for accommodation in nearby Palm Springs may bring you more family options.
More Tips for Road Tripping San Diego to Joshua Tree
- If you plan to skip the crowds and visit Joshua Tree National Park during winter, don’t forget to bring a jacket! It can get pretty chilly at night, and though warmer during the day, any wind chill will soon hinder that. Temperatures range anywhere from the 30s to the 60s during the winter.
- The Milky Way can be best seen in the spring and summer months from Joshua Tree National Park. The park is a member of the International Dark-Sky Association, meaning there’s a higher chance of night sky visibility of the stars.
- We recommend camping overnight in the park to experience the best star-gazing opportunity!
- Pack plenty of water and sunscreen to stay safe while exploring!
- Download Waze to keep in touch with traffic, police cars, and redlight cameras on your journey. This app is great for a safe and optimal route to reach your desired destination using real-time data to account for construction, accidents, traffic jams, and speed traps.
- Remember, cell service within the national park is almost non-existent. Make sure you have maps and any necessary information downloaded to your phone or have a paper backup copy.
- You can find more of our favorite road tripping app suggestions over here.
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