Joshua Tree Park passes are free Saturday: camping, hiking and more

SAN DIEGO- National Parks Week starts Saturday, with some of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the country to explore for free.

Joshua Tree National Park, just a three-hour drive northeast of downtown San Diego, is the closest park for locals looking to take advantage of the offering.

Joshua Tree Park Pass starting at $15 for individuals and $30 for vehicles, so it’s a great opportunity to set off on an adventure at a lower cost. A park spokesperson said rangers will be at the entrances to greet people at the reserve and answer any questions. Until you enter and exit the park again, you probably won’t be asked for a pass.

Never been to this unique slice of the Southern California desert? Here’s what you need to know.

File – A Joshua Tree, from which the national park takes its name, against the setting sun. (Photo: Ella Hinkle via NPS)

When to Visit Joshua Tree

Here’s more good news: Free tours available on Saturday – and special events planned for the ensuing National Parks Week – are coming to the recommended park time for visitors.

This is the desert, so the weather is most comfortable in the spring and fall, as the average high temperature still reaches around 85 degrees. At the same time, you avoid the coldest evenings in the desert, with average minimum temperatures of around 50 degrees.

You will also breathe better air in the spring. When temperatures rise in the summer, the area can experience poor air quality, according to the National Park Service. Joshua Tree has an air monitoring page which updates with the latest data so if you are sensitive you can check before you go. On Thursday, the air quality index for ozone was rated as good.

Joshua Tree is not a “secret place” and the park spokesperson has warned that it’s usually the busiest time of year there. Don’t let that put you off going to the park – just keep in mind that you won’t have the place to yourself.

What to do in Joshua Tree

Rangers like to say the park is “where two deserts meet,” bringing together the unique ecosystems of Mojave and Colorado. The park isn’t full of facilities – it’s 800,000 acres of wide-open wilderness, dotted with rock formations and the iconic Joshua Trees from which the park takes its name.

Check Joshua Tree Hiking Guide and choose your path. There’s everything from short nature walks to moderately challenging trails and hikes tough enough that you’re strictly advised to avoid them in hot weather.

stargazing in the desert is incomparable. You’ll see “a shimmering dome dotted with stars, planets, and passing meteors,” as the national park’s website poetically details. Joshua Tree has some of the darkest skies in Southern California, allowing many visitors to see the Milky Way with their naked eyes for the first time.

And sports activities? If you have a rock climber in your life, you already know that Joshua Tree is one of the most popular spots in the state. Climbing, bouldering, highline and slackline are all allowed in rocky desert outcrops. Guides can give you a day course or a tour if you’re a beginner – just make sure they’re licensed to work in the park. You are also invited to Leave no trace.

FILE – A climber on Dairy Queen Wall in Joshua Tree National Park. (Photo: Glauco Puig-Santana via NPS)

Cyclists should know that there are no bike paths in the park and most paved roads do not have a shoulder that is safe to ride on, but you can take the backcountry roads.

Stay the night? the the park is home to 10 campgrounds with accommodation suitable for everyone, from backpackers to tent campers and motorhome travellers.

If you are looking for more activities, consider photography, bird watching, ride a horse and guided care programs. Do you think you will have enough to do?

Trying to decide where to go in Joshua Tree? The park also has a list of its main attractions.

be ready

The park shares the following safety tips:

  • There is no cell service in the entire park – communicate your travel plans in advance.
  • Always keep plenty of water with you, whether driving or hiking. Rangers recommend a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day; hikers and cyclists should carry two gallons per person per day.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.

If you’re looking for something closer to home this weekend, keep in mind that Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma is also part of the federal park system, so you can visit the tidal pools, lighthouse, and statue there for free on Saturdays.