As avid travelers and hikers, we knew as soon as we had our baby we wanted to start taking him to National Parks. Our family is based in Arizona and fortunate to have access to many great parks within driving distance. At six weeks old, we took our son Chase on a road trip around Utah National Parks and Arizona. We quickly realized we wanted to share more parks with him and began planning a California trip including Joshua Tree National Park.
We planned our road trip to Joshua Tree National Park with a baby over Memorial Day Weekend. Chase would be just shy of 7 months old. We were in the sweet spot of a non-crawling, bottle fed baby. We planned a jam-packed weekend starting in Joshua Tree National Park, followed by San Diego with our baby (heading to SeaWorld and staying a night on Coronado Island).
We were excited to spend a day and a half in Joshua Tree as neither of us had been to the park previously but heard great feedback from friends of the desert landscape and starry sky. As hikers, we were excited to explore walking trails and sight-seeing all the unique rock formations and Joshua Trees.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Joshua Tree National Park with a Baby:
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Joshua Tree National Park can be accessed from multiple airports with a bit of driving. The closest airport is Palm Springs. San Diego and Los Angeles are both a little over a two-hour drive to Joshua Tree NP.
Joshua Tree National Park no longer offers a shuttle service so it will require transport by car. We found that having a car was the best way to be flexible and explore Joshua Tree with a baby.
We live in Southern Arizona and my mom lives in the Phoenix area, making for a great hub to drive from to multiple locations. We drove to Phoenix the night before our big trip and took advantage of the free babysitting for one evening. We started our road trip with a baby early (not too difficult with a baby), fed and changed Chase, ate breakfast, and re-packed the car for the road trip.
We had a 3.5 hour drive from Phoenix which provided plenty of time for Chase to take a morning snooze but not too much time where we needed a true stop. We drove to the Joshua Tree south entrance, Cottonwood Visitor Center, one of three entrances.
Do you have an older child? Don’t miss our tips on road trips with a toddler.
We were staying the night near the north entrance and decided the best route was to start from the bottom and work our way through the park. The entire drive through the park is long. It would take about two hours without any stops. By actually stopping and seeing the park, you are signing up for almost a full day and need to be prepared.
There are no gas stations within Joshua Tree National Park or close to the south entrance, for that matter. Knowing that we would be hours away from gas and food, located close to the north entrance in Twentynine Palms, we gassed up some ways out and ensured we had plenty of water and snacks for the day.
While we had a fantastic time over Memorial Day weekend, visiting Joshua Tree National Park in May is not the most ideal. Smack dab in the middle of the desert, Joshua Tree National Park can experience high temperatures between the months of May and August. Peak times to visit are March to May and October to November when you can enjoy warmer weather but not scorching heat. Be advised that Coachella, the music festival, occurs annually in April near-by and would impact lodging availability and crowds.
Coming from Arizona, we were not strangers to hot weather and planned accordingly. During the heat of the day, we were in the 80s requiring plenty of sun coverage, staying hydrated, and taking breaks in the air-conditioned car. A benefit of coming in the warmer months, the park was not crowded at all. We had no lines coming into the park, much different than our experience at Glacier National Park. We saw groups at each of the many stops but really had open walkways to ourselves and plenty of photo opportunities.
Many visitors come to Joshua Tree National Park for stargazing. While not specific to a particular time of year, if you have any flexibility in your trip dates, it might be good to check the visibility ahead of time for clear starry skies. The National Park website has a weather section and other Joshua Tree National Park information important to check before going. We were fortunate to have a cloudless sky and enjoyed looking at the stars during our stay.
Joshua Tree National Park is a must-see park in my opinion. Visiting Joshua Tree National Park with a baby was especially great! It is not a huge park and can easily be seen in 1-2 days.
We decided to take it slow with Chase and chose to spend a day and a half there. This still allowed us plenty of time to see the popular spots and do a few hikes with our baby. Since it is a small park, we did not have to do much research in advance. On our drive in, I started to bookmark the stops I wanted to explore and by the time we got to the Visitor Center we had plotted our first day.
We spent around 6 hours in the park on our first day. We included a longer hike at the end of the day which extended our visit close to dinner time. We had decided to spend the night near the park, approximately 5 minutes from the main visitor center, making it easy to come back for a few more walks in the morning. We had estimated staying around an hour the second day but ended up enjoying a trail we found and spent two hours before heading back out and on our way to San Diego.
I would say that you would not be short-changing yourself to visit Joshua Tree National Park in a day. However, if you love camping and a desert vacation Joshua Tree may also be nice for a longer vacation especially if your little one is experienced in camping or visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids who can do a lot of their own hiking.
Joshua Tree National Park is very popular for campers both in and outside the park. While walking, we saw some really cool camping spots and thought we would enjoy stargazing without having to leave the park. We have enjoyed camping as a couple but worried about having our first go at camping with a baby far from home. Additionally, a big concern of ours with camping was the hot temperatures so we chose to split the difference and glamp!
Since we were visiting during a not so busy time, we had a full range of choices with lodging. Thanks to Coachella occurring nearby, there are many private lodging options near the park for camping and glamping. If that is not your style there are other traditional Airbnbs and hotels in close proximity!
We have always been a big fan of Airbnb – it allows us to interact with hosts, stay in unique places, and usually stay closer to where we want to be. This trip was no different! We rented an Airbnb just north of the park.
We stayed in a glamping yurt hosted by Tad. It was a perfect balance between wanting to stay in the outdoors but also giving us a few more amenities to feel comfortable staying as a family. The Airbnb was down a long dirt road in the middle of a desert. Tad met us at the location and was very helpful to get us settled.
We had our own yurt with a queen air mattress and additional space to set-up the travel crib for Chase. We had a picnic table area outside our yurt with a cooler for any food or drinks we had brought as well as a jug of water for refueling and brushing our teeth. There was an outdoor shower set-up perfect for my husband and I to clean-up but would not be ideal for a baby. However, this was fine for staying one night.
There was also a porta-a-potty, a nice luxury while camping. Our favorite was a hammock outside our yurt where we enjoyed rocking Chase before bed. We had been concerned about the heat before going and had requested a swamp cooler in the yurt which Tad had included in the listing. We had no issues with the temperature or sleeping at all, just something to be cognizant of when taking a baby to Joshua Tree National Park.
Visiting Joshua Tree National Park with a baby was incredibly convenient by car. We had a stocked car with a diaper bag, bottles, snacks, and baby travel toys prepared for a full day in the park. The car gave us the flexibility to stop when Chase needed to eat, a place to change him, and to cool down since we were heading there in the heat.
We stopped at the visitor center on our way in to pick up a Joshua Tree National Park map to highlight the sights we wanted to see and plot our route. We made an effort to plan particular distances that would allow Chase to get out of his car seat for a decent amount of time and that lined up with his feeding schedule.
Having our car made it easy to pull off if Chase ever got fussy or we needed to do a quick change. There is plenty of parking near the trailheads and popular photo spots so we had no issues driving around and getting to where we wanted to be.
With Chase at nearly 7 months old, we had finally upgraded to the long-awaited baby hiking backpack carrier (we chose the Deuter Kid Comfort Active carrier) in lieu of our trusted Ergobaby baby carrier. I love using the Ergobaby, however, we were very excited to use the hiking backpack so Chase could have a better view and we could avoid a sweaty front.
Chase slept well in the carrier, maybe even too well…Chase ended up with a small rug burn on his forehead where he was laying his head on the carrier. We thankfully have not had that issue again but have been mindful to monitor his head placement while napping.
Most of the trails are sandy walking trails. We were glad to have the hiking backpack and would have been hesitant only coming with a stroller. We saw a handful of families and would imagine Joshua Tree with toddlers would also be ideal since none of the trails are too difficult and there is plenty of space to explore.
What is special about Joshua Tree National Park is the distinctive rock formations and famous Joshua Trees. We based our itinerary off popular sites with walking trails to allow us to get out of the car and move around. Most, if not all, the trails in Joshua Tree were baby friendly!
Below are some highlights from our Joshua Tree National Park itinerary with a baby:
Cholla Cactus Garden
Our first stop was the Cholla Cactus Garden. Located not too far from the Cottonwood Visitor center, we used this as our first stop to feed and change Chase as well as stretch our legs. We also used this opportunity to apply sunscreen to all of us as the sun was beating down.
Cholla is a unique type of cactus and this stop has no shortage of them. It was really neat to walk around and look at the field of cacti. This may be a spot where you keep the little ones close or in a carrier for anyone visiting Joshua Tree National Park with a toddler. You don’t want them getting too close to those spikes.
Arch Rock Trail
Our next stop was Arch Rock Trail. Hitting up the walking trails is one of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park with a baby in our opinion. We loaded Chase up in the Deuter kid carrier and wandered to the trail. The trailhead is very easy to find.
While you can stay on the designated trail, it really is more of an area to meander around and explore the different rocks. We enjoyed walking around to wherever looked cool and letting Chase look around. We were not in any rush so we spent more time here than may be needed. The true trail is 1.4 miles out and back and takes around 30 minutes.
Skull Rock is one of the most popular photo spots in Joshua Tree National Park. Thankfully for those less interested in hiking out to a cool sight it is located right along the road. By the time we got to Skull Rock we were tired of getting in and out of the car, at some point you are only willing to buckle and unbuckle a car seat one more time. We chose to pull off, snap a picture from the car and keep moving. However, if you do decide to get out and explore there is a 1.7 mile trail right by the campgrounds entrance near Skull Rock.
Ryan Mountain Hike
Since we love hiking, we sought out a trail with higher elevation and headed to Ryan Mountain. Ryan Mountain is a 3 mile out and back trail near the north entrance of the park. It should take an average of 2 hours.
It is a more difficult hike but for those who like a little challenge, it is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park with a baby. We had started the trail intending to complete the out and back but started later in the day than we wanted. We decided to go about a mile in before turning around to make sure we could get out of the park in the daylight and in time for dinner.
However, the views from the trail were amazing to see across the park and the vastness of the desert. We would definitely recommend taking in all the landscape!
The next morning we came back to the park to explore Barker Dam. We took it easy in the morning coming back in with coffees for a nice morning walk. Barker Dam is a 1 mile loop to a water reservoir however we were met with a very empty sand pool.
The walk was still really cool to see Joshua Trees and get one last taste of the desert before heading out.
We packed our lunch the first day to allow ourselves to remain in the park and hike around. Like most smaller National Parks, there are no restaurants or grocery stores within Joshua Tree.
Since we were only in Joshua Tree for one night, we did not get the opportunity to truly explore the Twentynine Palms area. Right outside the north visitor center are a handful of restaurants like JT Country Kitchen which we looked at for dinner.
We stopped at Joshua Tree Coffee Company Saturday morning before coming back into the park. Yucca Valley to the west also has a handful of establishments.
We came over prepared for being in the desert in a hot month with a baby. However, here is a list of prioritized items.
Joshua Tree National Park Packing for Parents:
- Camelback or water bottles – I cannot stress enough the importance to bring lots of water into the park since there is limited access to supplies throughout
- Sunscreen – Think wide open desert skies, don’t get caught unprepared
- Snacks – Again once you are in the park it could be a long time until you are driving out, I would recommend packing lunch
- Hiking/walking shoes – Joshua Tree National Park is great for exploring the desert
What to Pack for baby at Joshua Tree:
- Baby carrier for travel– We love our Ergobaby and Deuter kid carrier, the trails are mostly sand so best to have a carrier and not rely on a stroller to get around.
- Car seat – This may go without saying but Joshua Tree is a car friendly park so a car seat is a must for getting around the park.
- Sunscreen – We use Babyganics sunscreen and made sure to reapply multiple times through the day.
- Baby sun hat – I think there’s not much cuter than a baby in a sun hat, we were given a Sunday Afternoon hat and love it!
- Pack-n-play or travel crib – this is going to vary based on your lodging choice but we chose to set-up our Lotus travel crib right inside our yurt
- Sunshade – we have since gotten the attachable sunshade for the Deuter kid carrier but at the time we used a convertible nursing shawl as a little shade for Chase’s legs while hiking
- Bottles – this will also depend on feeding method, we were in the thick of bottle feeding at the time so packed plenty of bottles, water, and formula for the trip
- We packed a bottle sanitizer bag that can be used in the microwave to clean the bottles at our next location after our night glamping.
- Diaper bag – stocked with diapers, wipes, cream, and hand sanitizer we were ready for the day
- Travel high chair – we love the Summer Pop ‘N Sit Portable Booster Chair for Chase to use as a little lawnchair when we are sitting outside
If camping overnight in the park or nearby, you will want to pack more such as a tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, additional water/food supplies plus these baby camping essentials.
Joshua Tree National Park with a baby is a great travel idea for outdoorsy families. The ability to see a smaller, less crowded park by car gives families a lot of flexibility. This was a very stress-free trip for us knowing we could park the car and get out at any time to feed or change Chase.
Additionally, the trails throughout the park give both the flexibility of longer walks to extend nap time if your little one enjoys hiking naps or shorter trails if you need to get back to the car and move to the next stop.
The wonders of the desert are great for any curious baby or adventurous toddler at Joshua Tree National Park.
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