In April, our family spent time in beautiful Southern California, and my husband and I really wanted to visit Joshua Tree National Park, since neither of us had ever been there before. We had our three-year-old in tow that dislikes long car rides, and a six-year-old who prefers time at the pool, so we didn’t know how things would go. Luckily, Joshua Tree was close and just strange enough to keep their attention. The vegetation and rock formations are so interesting and otherworldly that you would think you were on another planet!
We entered the park via the southern entrance and popped into the Cottonwood Visitor Center where we met two park rangers that were eager to tell our girls about the animals and plants in the park, and where to look for the evasive Desert Tortoise. We learned that the tortoise sometimes can be spotted on or near the hot road, but that we were only to ever touch/move one if it was in imminent danger of being hit by a vehicle. It is a threatened species and they are often hit by cars passing through the park.
The kids were also given awesome Junior Ranger booklets to fill in with drawings of their observations and checklists to complete. When finished, they were to show their work in the booklet to a Ranger and earn their Junior Ranger badge. We all had a fun time trying to hunt down the plants, insects and animals in the booklets. Did you know that all US national parks offer their own unique Junior Ranger program? We were really impressed and strongly recommend completing the park activities with your kids!
At the Cholla Cactus Garden we saw signs reminding visitors that dogs shouldn’t walk on the paths and a ranger was telling us that the cacti reproduce by shooting off little mini cacti which then grow into the soil and become a new plant. The paths can have these little offshoots on them, and it would hurt quite a bit to get one stuck in your foot or a paw! Proper shoes are recommended!
By lunchtime we were getting hungry, so we left the park via the north entrance and had a quick drive through Twentynine Palms to find lunch. Twentynine Palms is home to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the largest Marine Base in the world. We ate and returned to the park to finish our drive through. Our last stop in the park was at Keys View, a lookout at 5,000 ft. over the whole Coachella Valley where on a clear day (everyday in the desert!) you can see all the way to Mexico.
We left via the west entrance to the park and stopped in at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center where our oldest showed her work to the friendly ranger and recited her Junior Ranger oath to protect wildlife and received her Junior Ranger badge and a lovely book called “A Joshua Tree Named Lily” as a momento (our youngest had fallen asleep in the car by this point!).
We highly recommend a trip to Joshua Tree if you are in Southern California, and it is a fun day trip that kids will enjoy as well. From the beautiful sights to exploring crazy rock formations and seeing the wildlife, it really is a park for everyone.
Our next trip in Southern California comes this fall, when we visit San Diego (without kids). I would love to hear about your recommendations for food/entertainment, especially in the Mission Beach area! Please leave a comment below 🙂