Joshua Tree National Park is the meeting place of two deserts, the Colorado Dessert and the higher and cooler Mojave Desert. Each area has its own distinct ecosystem with diverse territory. The Mohave Desert is the only place on earth where the Joshua tree grows. This 774,000-acre preserve has a rich history and flourishing natural scene with wildlife and plant-life.
If you’re a shutterbug like me, you’ll understand how I love to explore and photograph all kinds of subjects. The last time I visited Joshua Tree a was very pregnant so I couldn’t venture out too much. But the below list contains all the locations I hope to explore on my next visit!
My Top 13 Photography Spots in Joshua Tree
Wonderland of Rocks - We took our photos here, next to Skull Rock. These round and bulbous rocks where formed by glaciers long ago and make for some great photos. They are fairly close to the main road and easy to climb. There’s so many crooks and pathways you can find for a unique photo. It’s also easy to walk to some desert area where the Joshua Trees are growing.
Desert Flowers - If you’re planning on visiting dessert blooms, it’s important to know their relationship with the rainy season. Dessert flowers only bloom after the winter rains. If there isn’t enough rain, they save their water and wait for the next year to bloom. The blooming season can begin as early as February but it’s mostly in early spring which falls around March and April. Be sure to check the blooming conditions before you head out.
Colorful Dessert Flowers in Joshua Tree
Chia Flower - Spinky pink flower grows on a long stalk
Notch-leaved Phacelia - Small purple flowers are also called scorpionweed
Dessert Mariposa Lily - Orange Flower
Desert Dandelion - Pretty yellow flower with a red center closes up at night
Joshua Tree Flowers - We all know about the funky looking Joshua Trees (which are actually not trees at all), but not everyone knows that they bloom with white clusters of flowers. They don’t bloom every year so it’s extra special if you’re able to catch it and the perfect time. If they do bloom, it will be sometime in the spring, but only if there’s been enough rain in the winter.
Quail Mountain - The tallest mountain in the park and you must be an experienced hiker to reach the top. There are no developed trails on Quail so I don’t recommend it to anyone unless you’re real Gung-ho for adventure. But you can definitely photograph it from some great view points.
Ryan Mountain - The second tallest mountain in the park and visitors can trek to the top without too much difficulty. The hike to the top is about 1.5 miles. The views from the top of Ryan Mountain are amazing!
Sunset Skies - Joshua Tree has the best sunset skies and you can actually see the stars at night. The colors are so clearly defined and come out beautifully in photos.
Climbing Routes - If you’re feeling adventurous, get a new perspective from up above. Joshua Tree has over 800 climbing routes.
Lost Horse Mine - Long ago miners arrived in the park in the 1800s. If you’re into ghost towns, there are nearly 300 abandoned gold and silver mines in Joshua Tree Park (see our adventures at the Ghost Town Bodie!).
To get to Lost Horse Mine, it’s a gradual 4 mile trail and a great opportunity to see some wildflowers during the right season. If you continue another mile down the trail, there’s a great overlook spot as well. Full disclosure, the mine is blocked off so you have to admire it from a distance and get creative with your camera.
To get to the trailhead: From Park Boulevard, take Keys View Road south 2.4 miles and turn left onto a dirt road leading to the trailhead for Lost Horse Mine. There’s no permit required for this trail, yay!
Cholla Cactus Garden - Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus grows here and in my opinion is one of the most photogenic areas of the park. It is one of the signature sights of Joshua Tree. The hike is only a quarter mile and leads you straight into a beautiful lush garden of these adorable cacti. The trailhead access is at Pinto Basin Road on the way to Cottonwood Springs. From Park Boulevard, take Pinto Basin Road for 12 miles. The Cactus Garden is on the south side of the road.
Springs and Water Oases - You don’t usually think of bodies of water in the desert but actually there are five water oases in Joshua Tree Park and few springs too. I could write an entire blog post on just these gems but I will just give you some highlights for now.
The most popular spring is Cottonwood Spring which surprisingly has lush green palm trees. This trail is quick and easy, perfect if you only have a few hours. Although it's not an ambitious trail, there are still some great photo opportunities along the way.
Fortynine Palms Oasis is much more secluded with a 3 mile roundtrip hike to find it. The trailhead is located away from the main road which makes it much less frequented. To get to the trailhead from inside the park, exit the north entrance and make a left on Route 62. Drive 5 miles through the city of Twentynine Palms and turn south on Canyon Road. Drive 1.7 miles to the parking lot at road’s end.
Colorado Desert - The main reasons for the divide between the Colorado and Mojave desert are based on climate, elevation, and the types of plants that thrive in each area. From a photography standpoint, the Mojave Desert usually gets all the love.
But the Colorado Desert actually has some of the best colorful blooming flowers which are great in photos. Some of the best flowers only found in the Colorado Desert are:
Desert ironwood - A beautiful blooming tree with pink/purple blossoms.
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) - This super tall succulent-looking plant has red flowers at the end and totally make for awesome portrait photos (aka selfies!).
Desert Lavender - This plant looks very similar to traditional lavender, but found in the desert.
Agave Deserti - Mostly known as a common houseplant, these beauties are even better in the wild. They grow super tall stalks with yellow flowers, great fro photos.
Other Trees - We all know about the Joshua Trees but within the park there’s also has piñon, pine, juniper, and live oak trees. Juniper trees are especially photogenic because they have dramatic twisted trunks which totally add drama to a photograph.
Wildlife - If you want to try your hand at wildlife photography, species that live inside the park include birds, bighorn sheep, snakes, and lizards.
Snow Scene - The park is often closed when there’s snow but if you get the opportunity to photograph the desert after some fresh snow has fallen, it’s so beautiful!
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