48 Hours in Joshua Tree—Here’s How to Do It Right
From sustainability writer and photographer Katherine Guerrero
While most flock to Joshua Tree as a welcome escape from winter, the high desert at this time of year shouldn’t go ignored. Mornings and evenings are delightful, the crowds are sparse, and the stargazing is all time.
Fall in Joshua Tree begs to be lazily enjoyed, especially when the Autocamp home base includes a pool and a mid-century modern Clubhouse that’s designed for writing love letters, postcards, or staring out into the abyss. Sipping a Madre Mezcal Desert Water is optional, though highly encouraged.
The real magic of Joshua lies in its ecological wonders—the desert demands deep observation. With over 50 species of mammals, 700 types of plants, and 40+ reptile species, you’ll definitely have a run-in with a new genus. Straddling the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert, Joshua Tree National Park’s arid character makes for a resilient and impressionable ecosystem.
Make the most of a quick low-season jaunt to Joshua Tree—just remember to drink water, wear a hat, and apply plenty of sunscreen.
Check into your airstream and check out of reality.
29 Palms and Yucca Valley, hubs for Joshua Tree adventures, have become some sort of a haven for far-flung artists and seekers. You’ll find an eclectic mix of creatives, naturalists, musicians, and self-proclaimed desert rats who continue to redefine what the desert community can become.
To escape the mid-day heat, stop into Industry of All Nations. Friends of Autocamp and champions in approaching design and business with ecology in mind, IOAN is known for its structured jackets and casual tees made with considered natural fibers. While you’re in the mood for sourcing desert treasures, be sure to pop by nearby storefronts The Bottle Shop (this will be important later!), Mojave Flea Trading Post (a very well-curated collection of goods), and Hoof and The Horn (hello, Western wear).
By 5:30, you’ll want to be back at AutoCamp to sink into golden hour Bottle Shop Wine Tasting with sommelier Katie Chamerlin. She’ll guide you through the flavor profiles of 6 wines and answer any and all questions about terroir, tannins, and the fan-favorite orange wine. In our eyes, the Birichino Malvasia Bianca Pet Nat of Santa Cruz was the clear winner — but you’ll have to find out for yourself. Note that the tasting menu shifts on a weekly basis.
There’s no better place to spend your first evening in the desert than by the fire, talking story with new and old friends. Order an artisan pizza from the kitchen and indulge in delightful gluttony. We recommend you get to bed early to prepare for the next day.
Up and at ‘em. Take advantage of the cool mornings to take a walk around the property and enjoy the sunrise. Brew a cup of Canyon Coffee and enjoy your little slice of desert paradise.
Before it gets too hot, you’ll want to head out to Joshua Tree National Park: day passes start at $30 (though we recommend investing in a yearly National Park pass for 50 bucks more). We can’t stress it enough: bring plenty of water, shade protection, and snacks. There’s nothing worse than being dehydrated in the desert.
As a great morning hike and introduction to the park, head to Hidden Valley. It’s a quick one-mile loop beloved by rock climbers and naturalists. You’ll see plenty of Joshua Trees, as well as Mojave Yucca, Pinon Pines, and the Creosote bush…iconic fauna of the high desert.
If temperatures are still reasonable, we recommend visiting the Barker Dam Nature Trail (1.1 miles) for more of an overview of the ecological landscape. Even in the height of the summer, there may be some water in the dam. Regardless, it’s a nice hike that helps you feel way way out there. Keep an eye out for petroglyphs and desert bighorn sheep.
As you head back to Autocamp, nourish yourself at Crossroads Cafe. Then, the afternoon is yours—nap, laze poolside, take a dip, read, relax.
For dinner, head to Kitchen in the Desert for inspired Trinidadian food about 20 minutes away from camp. Offering a cool desert vibe, this gem of a restaurant has live acoustic music with a country twang, fire pits, eclectic drinks, and an ambiance that will make you want to sit down and stay a while. A reservation is advisable.
Put that day pass to good use and head back into the park to experience the stars in their full grandeur. You can pull over just about anywhere on the side of the road to fully take in the dark twinkling sky.
Today’s mission: experience the sunrise deep in the Joshua Tree. This means you’ll have to wake up while it’s still pitch black, but it’s well worth it. While you really can’t go wrong for sunrise locations, our favorite spot for a perch is among the Hall of Horrors trail. With the sun just beginning to rise, scramble onto a boulder of choice and experience the desert start a new day.
It will be plenty early, so it’s a good opportunity to visit all the classics: Cholla Cactus Garden, Arch Rock, and Skull Rock. Because the heat can reach extremely high temperatures, we strongly recommend sticking to short trails. Depending on how you’re feeling you can just take a stroll or stack micro-adventures as you feel fit.
While check-out is technically at 10am, you’re welcome to use Autocamp common space for the rest of the day. So, yes, please do jump into that pool and soak up the last of the desert sun.
See you out there!