National Park Guide

How to Plan a Joshua Tree Stargazing Trip in 2024

If you love stargazing, there are a few great places in the world that are surely on your must-travel-someday list. The Grand Canyon is surely on that list, as well as every Dark Sky Reserve. If you’re in the U.S., you probably have Joshua Tree on your list too. This National Park is known for its amazing vegetation, stunning rock formations, and pristine dark skies. The park was even honored with Dark Sky Park status by the DarkSky International, and ranks among the best national parks for stargazing.

Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park Hero
Photo credit: NPS/Lian Law

That said, it’s hard to find great resources on exactly how to plan a Joshua Tree stargazing trip. Feeling that frustration, I’ve taken several trips to go stargazing in Joshua Tree – in both 2018 and 2020. My goal was to go stargazing and shoot some night sky photos in the national park, then create a guide so other space enthusiasts could do the same.

Now, here’s everything you need to know about taking a stargazing trip to Joshua Tree National Park.

In this post, I promote traveling to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Yuhaaviatam/Maarenga’yam (Serrano) and Newe Sogobia (Western Shoshone) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally posted in May 2018, and was updated most recently in March 2024.
Featured photo by Lian Law for the National Park Service via Flickr

How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park

If you plan to visit Joshua Tree, the closest major airport is Los Angeles International (LAX). It’s a 2.5-hour drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park on I-110, I-610, and I-10, with no traffic; in the likely event there is traffic, you can expect the drive to take up to four hours. Base yourself to explore the national park from the towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, or Twentynine Palms.

If you don’t want to drive, another option is to hop a flight to Palm Springs International Airport. From here, it’s a 45-minute drive to the Cottonwood Springs entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, or a 55-minute drive to the West Entrance. In this case, you may choose to base yourself in Palm Springs; this guide doesn’t offer additional information about attractions in Palm Springs, so I recommend booking accommodation in Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, or Twentynine Palms as mentioned above.

In either case, you’ll definitely need a car to get to and explore the national park. Both airports have all major car rental companies; another option is to rent a car through Turo which can be more budget-friendly.

How to Go Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park

Camping in Joshua Tree National Park - NPS/Hannah Schwalbe
Photo credit: Hannah Schawlbe for the National Park Service via Flickr

Once you arrive at the national park at night, you’ll see that the whole park is one gigantic stargazing spot. The National Park Service has three general guidelines for stargazing in Joshua Tree:

  1. If you are not staying overnight in Joshua Tree, you can use any of the roadside pullouts to safely move your car off the road and stargaze from these areas. Do not move more than 20 feet from your car, as you’ll have limited visibility and the terrain can be uneven.
  2. While camping in Joshua Tree, most campgrounds have good stargazing right in the area. If you explore the area, be sure to bring lights and water and be aware that the terrain may change suddenly beyond the camping area.
  3. If you are exploring the backcountry in Joshua Tree, you will need to register for a backcountry permit from the National Park Service and note your intended route and destination. Backcountry areas are not open after dark unless you have a permit.

Most visitors to Joshua Tree fall into the first two categories, so you shouldn’t need to roam far from your car or campsite to have an amazing view of the night sky.

Where to Go Stargazing in Joshua Tree

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park - NPS/Hannah Schwalbe
Photo credit: Hannah Schwalbe for the National Park Service via Flickr

While you can see the night sky from basically everywhere in Joshua Tree National Park, there are some spots that provide a little more interesting view.

  • Skull Rock: This famous rock formation is right near the road, and there are good roadside pullouts available to park your car in.
  • Cap Rock: There’s plenty of parking and a short, well-maintained trail to the rock formations at Cap Rock, as well as Joshua Trees all around – making for perfect foreground silhouettes in your astrophotos. Additionally, it is close to the most popular entrance to the park.
  • The Ocotillo Patch: Located on Pinto Basin Road within the park, this is one of the darker areas for stargazing. There is no trail or seating, so if you plan to stay for a while, be sure to bring your own camp chairs.
  • Arch Rock: Near the White Tank Campground, this rock formation provides a great ‘gateway’ through which you can admire the night sky. (Note: Arch Rock is only accessible by night if you are staying in White Tank Campground. Parking and walking in is not permitted and you will likely be ticketed by the Park Service.)
  • Roadside Pullouts: It might seem uninspired to simply pull off the road for stargazing. With one of the darkest skies in California, there’s no need to get fancy in Joshua Tree. Throughout the park, roadside pullouts will give you a stunning view of the sky without needing to walk or camp in the park.

No matter where you choose to stargaze, seeing Joshua Tree at night is the kind of stargazing experience you won’t likely forget. For many travelers, it’s your first chance to see the Milky Way in all her glory (and you know how I feel about that…).

Skys the Limit Observatory - NPS/Hannah Schwalbe
Photo credit: Hannah Schwalbe for the National Park Service via Flickr

While inside the national park is by far the best place to get away from light pollution, you can certainly see the night sky from the surrounding region.

Just outside the Twentynine Palms entrance, the Sky’s the Limit Observatory (pictured above) is open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. You can come and admire the stars with your eyes, or peer through local telescopes to see certain astrological features in greater detail. (

Where to Stay Near Joshua Tree

Where to Stay Near Joshua Tree National Park - Photo of House at Night by Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re staying in the three towns north of Joshua Tree National Park – Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, or Twentynine Palms – there are lots of accommodation options to choose from.

National Chain Hotels in Joshua Tree

From Motel 6 or America’s Best Value Inn to Holiday Inn or Best Western, you have your choice of hotels in towns like Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. Most hotels fall in the $75-$100 per night range.

Almost all hotels in this area are in the 2-star and 3-star range. If you’re looking for luxury accommodations, you’ll be better served by staying in Palm Springs south of the national park.

Independent Hotels in Joshua Tree

Prefer to stay local? There are choices:

Airbnb & Vacation Rentals in Joshua Tree

You’ll be shocked at the amazing range of choices on Airbnb and other vacation rental sites in the Joshua Tree area. You can stay in a 1970s airstream (from $92 per night), a colorfully decorated adobe (from $88 per night), or this stargazing cabin that’s a splurge (from $375 per night) but worth it for the wide-open starry skies you can admire from the bed or outdoor tub.

If you’ve never booked on Airbnb before, you can also receive $40 in travel credit by clicking this link before you book.

What to Do During the Day in Joshua Tree

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park in the Day 1

The best part about taking a stargazing trip to Joshua Tree is that you’ll have the daylight hours to enjoy all the park has to offer. Obviously visiting the national park is at the top of the list for ways to spend time between stargazing sessions.

Joshua Tree National Park can be accessed by three entrances: the Cottonwood Springs entrance in the south, the West Entrance near Yucca Valley, and the Twentynine Palms entrance. On your first entry, you’ll need to pay $25 for a seven-day access pass to the national park. After that, you’ll be able to drive in and out of the park as often as you like.

One of the most popular sights in Joshua Tree National Park is the Cholla Cactus Garden. This is a beautiful garden full of cholla cacti (pictured above), which look dramatically different than other cacti throughout the national park. Photographers will love to visit at sunrise to watch the sunbeams light up the semi-translucent needles.

Rock formations, including popular stargazing spots like Skull Rock and Arch Rock, are also popular during the daytime. You’ll get a better sense of how beautiful these unusual formations are. Other great rock formations to check out include Hidden Valley, where a one-mile trail wanders through a beautiful series of rocks; Split Rock, which is a massive rock that looks exactly as the name suggests; and Jumbo Rocks, one of the campgrounds ringed by massive boulders.

At several campgrounds throughout the park – Jumbo Rocks, Indian Cove, and Cottonwood –, you can also enjoy sunset and evening talks by national park rangers. On great nights for stargazing, rangers teach visitors about the constellations and other sights in the night sky.

Outside Joshua Tree National Park, one of the main sights is Pioneertown. This town may look historic, but it was actually built in the mid-20th Century for filming movies. Now, visitors can wander the streets and on alternating Saturdays, you can watch a Wild West show performed by local volunteer actors. The Joshua Tree Saloon has a similar vibe, is popular with the locals, and hosts karaoke a few nights a week.

Other FAQ About Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park

Astrophotography in Joshua Tree

When is the best time to go stargazing in Joshua Tree?

You can go stargazing year-round in Joshua Tree; each month, the best time is to go during the days surrounding the new moon. Curious about what the moon will be like during your trip? Check this handy lunar phase site.

Milky Way in Joshua Tree National Park - NPS/Brad Sutton
Photo credit: Brad Sutton for the National Park Service via Flickr

Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Joshua Tree? What time of year?

Yes! Joshua Tree is an amazing place to see the Milky Way. It’s easiest to see the Milky Way in Joshua Tree National Park in the summer.

When is the national park open?

Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. You can visit at any time. During daytime hours, expect to pay the $25 access fee for a seven-day pass to enter the park.

Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park - NPS/Hannah Schwalbe
Photo credit: Hannah Schwalbe for the National Park Service via Flickr

Are there guided night tours in Joshua Tree?

As far as I can tell, there are no guided stargazing tours in Joshua Tree; most national parks have pretty strict rules about guiding tours and that usually precludes most small tour companies from going inside park boundaries at night. Luckily, the Sky’s The Limit Observatory is right outside the park bounds, which brings me to…

Is there a Night Sky Festival in Joshua Tree?

There is no official night sky festival hosted by the National Park Service in Joshua Tree National Park, but Sky’s The Limit Observatory holds its own event each autumn. Last year (2023), it happened on October 13-14th, and the dates this year will likely be similar; tickets usually go on sale in mid-July, so the dates are always confirmed by then. Be sure to keep an eye on the event page for any updates.

Do you have other Joshua Tree stargazing questions? Let me know in the comments!

Share this to help others enjoy the night sky!

Avatar photo

Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She grew up in Alaska, has lived across the U.S., and traveled around the world to enjoy the night sky from many different perspectives. Join her on this journey to explore space right here on earth.


    • Avatar photo

      Valerie Stimac

      Not that I’m aware of! Most places (nationally, not specific to J-tree) that used to rent haven’t been doing so for the past few years…

  • Michelle Witte

    We are planning to be in Joshua Tree on March 2nd for the New Moon. We were planning on going to the Cottonwood Campground on the east side, which is said to be darker. Is there a specific time of night that’s best for stargazing when it’s a new moon? Do you think we can see the milky way in March? Thanks for any guidance you might give.

  • David

    Thanks Valerie, this is a great article. My wife and I are preparing to be at Joshua Tree soon. I will be bringing my telescope to set up for a night of astrophotography. I’ve scheduled a night at Cottonwood campground. I don’t see that on your list of popular spots, so I am wondering if there are any specific problems with astronomy from that campground.

    • Avatar photo

      Valerie Stimac

      Thanks for reading, David. There aren’t specific issues with Cottonwood, but it’s quite off the beaten path for most travelers and fewer people end up stargazing in that part of the park. Have a great trip!

  • Jonathan

    Great article. Also bringing Observatory Retreat to your attention. It’s the only private observatory rental in the world and it’s right next to Joshua Tree!

  • Kara

    How long after sunset do you recommend staying to see the stars? Is it beneficial to wait 2-3 hours, or does it usually get dark enough earlier?

    • Avatar photo

      Valerie Stimac

      It depends on the time of year – during the winter in the northern hemisphere, sunset is faster and it gets dark within about 45 minutes; in the summer, it takes much longer, up to 90-120 minutes.

  • Steven Caron

    There are offerings for guided night sky tours in and around Joshua Tree National Park. 29 Palms Astronomy offers fantastic private night sky presentations with large telescopes led by expert astronomers. I will also second the mention of Observatory Retreat.

    • Shahryar

      Thank you for the Twentynine Palms astronomy club recommendation. We visited last night and had a great experience with “Starman” Steven. It was 2 hours long and we saw a bunch of noteworthy stars, constellations, the Milky Way, nebulas, other galaxies and Saturn. I highly recommend making time for this.

  • Dennis Steele

    I live in Palm Desert and have tried Joshua Tree more than once. It is a great venue. There is also the GMARS site in Landers — not too far away. You might want to take a look on-line for it. You’ve mentioned LAX as the closest airport and maybe so, but don’t forget the Palm Springs International Airport. It is closer, I think, but regardless, the traffic is FAR LESS an issue as is the traffic from LAX. Regardless, enjoy a most beautiful and intoxicating dark-sky site.

  • AM

    To ALL, I visited Sedona, AZ, In June 2023, I am 56 years, I NEVER SEEN so much Stars in the sky BEFORE, then in August I visited Moab, Utah, it was disappointed NO Stars. I used to lived in Bould, Colorado. I saw two shooting or picking Stars or Meteor, We call it Stars. In August Now Boulder, Co. the area have too many Night light. Where can I find a Picking stars in the Autum, or in the Fall. I am NEW to watching the Stars, however, Sedona, AZ, is the Best area so far.

  • AM

    Hi Valerie Stimac,
    WHICH States I can visit for a weekend, finging shooging stars or Meteor, I am living in New York City. Thanks in Advance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *