I'm in Joshua Tree for a short visit before heading to Sedona and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It's a magical place, even more so at sunrise and sunset when brilliant colors linger in the sky, making the landscape with its bizarre plants and ginormous boulders seem even more alien-like.
If you've never been, it's a place you'll want to put on your must-visit list only two hours from Los Angeles. It's popular with rock climbers, but my favorite thing to do here is to hike. There are short treks like the one-mile Hidden Valley loop trail that will bring you through a traquil valley encircled on all sides by towering rock formations, also passing a wide variety of desert plants and Joshua Trees - each one is unique and they all seem to have their own "personalities."
The 3-mile round trip Ryan Mountain trail ascends 1,075 feet in just 1.5 miles, culminating at an elevation of 5,457 feet. At the top you'll enjoy spectacular panoramic views of jumbled rock formations and Joshua Tree forests surrounding the peak through the Queen, Lost Horse and Pleasant Valleys.
49 Palms Oasis is 3-mile roundtrip hike where you'll find towering stands of fan palms at its end. They create a canopy over pools of water that are surrounded by large boulders, providing an especially scenic area for contemplation.
Another one of my favorite spots is the Cholla Cactus Garden. There's a short nature trail that winds through hundreds of different cacti of varying sizes, shapes and colors like the cholla cactus, or Teddy Bear cactus.
At the end of the day, one of the most popular things to do is watch the sunset from Keys View - a crowd gathers here every evening just before dusk. As you drive back to the western entrance of the park near Joshua Tree village, the sky continues to get even more brilliant until the colors finally fade away to reveal millions of stars. If you visit, you might want to check out my article on Trips To Discover for even more things to do here.