Activities For Dogs In Joshua Tree National Park

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Introduction

When it comes to gorgeous desert parks, there are few better than California's Joshua Tree National Park. What may just look like another desert to the laypersons's eye, this fantastic sandy sprawl is absolutely loaded with a massive variety of plants from the park's namesake to classic cactuses to the vibrant yellow blossoms of the Blue Palo Verde tree, not to mention the wild array of native birds, reptiles and mammals. Considering the park encompasses an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, Joshua Tree offers tons of backcountry roads, campsites and wildlife to see throughout multiple seasons that each provide their own wonders. Although dog-friendliness is a bit restricted like many other National Parks, there are still plenty of activities for you and your dog to enjoy.

Take a Hike

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Sunny Day
Cheap
Easy
30 - 180 min
Items needed
Water
Sunscreen
Pop-up Shade
Leash
Dog Bags (or Shovel)
Map
Activity description
While many dog-owners may be deterred by the somewhat stringent rules for Joshua Tree, which are primarily that dogs are not allowed on trails, must be on a 6-foot leash at all times, must not be left unattended and must be within 100 feet of a road, picnic area or campground, many also don't know that you don't have to stick to the main roads or trails to get in a good hike. Joshua Tree has miles and miles of backcountry roads that are dog-friendly, see little traffic and offer plenty of places to go, so with a good map and the right supplies, you can get in a beautiful hike in just about any type of weather, all for the cheap cost of the park's entry fee.
Step
1
Pick your route
While anyone adventurous enough could easily show up, randomly pick a backcountry road and hike it, preparation is the key to safety, comfort and enjoyment. Consider what you'd like to see and then plan your route around it. For instance, April is generally the best time to go see many of the plants bloom and the temperatures usually aren't too hot either (mid-70s) - which is why it's one of our best recommendations - but if you don't pick a route that features those plants, you may not see what you want. Peruse the park's website and take a look at what main and backcountry roads you and your canine partner can take, then pick which ones will accommodate what you'd like to see (and your safety as well, as children and the elderly are generally safer close to main roads should anything go awry), as well as picking roads with lengths and difficulties appropriate to your and your dog's skills.
Step
2
Weather the weather
Once you've selected your route and picked a day, you'll want to check the weather. Most sunny days in the desert end up being hot, unless they happen to be during the 3 to 4 months of cooler weather. You can either pack supplies accordingly or try to go later in the day. But remember, the mountains may get you an early sunset and relief from the heat, but it also means you'll have less light to navigate. Regardless of temperature, water is essential, as are dog bags and a leash if you're going to adhere to park rules. Light colored clothes made of breathable material are best for keeping you cool, while a portable shade and extra cold water will help your dog.
Step
3
Hike it!
Once you've got your supplies and your route planned, grab everything, hop in the car and go! You can purchase a pass ahead of time or get one once you arrive. Cars are $30 each for a single use, so if you plan on going more than once (even if it's only twice), get an annual pass, as it's only $55. Make sure to ask any questions you may have about navigating to your selected route or additional suggestions on where to best see certain plants, animals and landscapes. Once you've got all your info you can don your gear and hike the (actually) dusty trail! Keep an eye on your dog's energy level and be certain to stop for water breaks often, whether you think it's necessary or not.
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Camping!

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Sunny Day
Cheap
Easy
24 - 48 hrs
Items needed
Tent
Sleeping Bags
Food Prep Items
Food
Water
Leash
Dog Bags
Sunscreen
Activity description
Outside of hiking the backcountry roads, one of the most rewarding experiences you can have in Joshua Tree is camping, as it not only extends your stay but gets you that much more in touch with nature. We recommend camping in sunny weather as rain, floods and snow can make it pretty miserable if you're not prepared, but otherwise it's cheap, as most sites are $20 or less per night and in the off-season (summer) they are on a first-come, first-served basis, making even last minute plans possible. Above all else, it's a great way to make the best of your stay as you won't feel as rushed to get in all that you have planned.
Step
1
Research
While most of the available sites are first-come, first-served during the summer months, that doesn't mean it's as easy as just showing up. You'll want to do some research first to find out what peak months are and make a small list of back-up plans and even reservations if necessary. It's a good idea to look up what the temperature highs and lows are throughout the day and night. It might be a desert, but since there is little to retain heat, it still gets pretty cold at night, even in the summer months. Knowing the daily and hourly temperatures will help you better prepare with necessary supplies. Don't forget to check out which campsites offer certain amenities as well, or what kind of views they are, as these are often some of the most important details for some campers! Make sure to have a backup plan of other sites in and out of the park in case options are limited.
Step
2
Supplies
Once you've picked your preferred locations as well as days and times to visit, check the weather to make sure you're appropriately prepared for any sudden changes in weather. Consider how long you plan to stay so you can pack an appropriate amount of supplies, including food, water, first aid, and food prep items if need be as well. It's also a good idea to think about what kind of ground you'll be sleeping on. Some spots are sandy while others are nearly pure rock, which may necessitate extra bedding and padding for sensitive sleepers. And don't forget all of your dog's supplies as well, including a dog bed, extra water, dog food and toys or treats you may want or need for them.
Step
3
Pitch your tent
Once you've picked a spot and a day and made your list of supplies, stock up, pack up and go! You'll need to pay the entrance fee to the park as well as filling out camping information and paying for appropriate spots. During slower weeks, months and seasons, many of the sites have forms to fill out and envelopes and safe drop spots for money on-site, which means you can drive in, pick your spot, THEN pay and fill out the necessary info. Keep a close eye on your dog as you set up camp so that they do not wander off. Settle in and enjoy the rest of your plans for the park until you have to crash for the night!
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See the Sights

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Sunny Day
Cheap
Easy
45 - 180 min
Items needed
Leash
Dog Bags
Sunscreen
Water
Map
Activity description
While camping and hiking will give you a better sense of Mother Nature's Joshua Tree ecosystem, complete with plants and wildlife, there are still several things within the park that can't be missed that have tons of cultural, natural and historical significance. This activity is best reserved for days of sunny or at least mild weather where there is no major precipitation, but can truly be done just about any time of the year. It's as cheap as the park's entrance fee and a small amount of research beforehand will produce an easy map of locations you can walk or drive to (as long as they're dog-friendly).
Step
1
Spot your spots
Of course, the caveat for this activity is that you have to follow the park rules. This will force you to choose only the dog-friendly sites, of course, as this trip is for you and your dog! There are numerous resources scattered all over the Internet, so you'll want to do a little research first. While there are plenty of cool little spots to stop, our best recommendation is Keys View (it happens to be one of the most gorgeous spots in the entire region). There are also several abandoned mining sites that make for incredible pictures, as well as the ever-elusive locations of the photo taken for the Eagles debut album as well as the site where Phil Kaufman attempted to cremate the remains of Gram Parsons.
Step
2
Mark your map
Once you've picked a few interesting places to stop, mark them on your map and see how accessible they are via vehicle or foot and paw. Then figure out which order you and your dog want to explore them in, which is usually easiest when working off an official park map, as you can link roads, picnic sites, and more to safely and appropriately navigate from one to the other.
Step
3
Go sightseeing!
Once you've got your locations picked, marked and your supplies packed, hit the trails with your tails! When out on your journey, don't hesitate to ask other park-goers or even park rangers of other interesting sites nearby. Often those who live nearby, frequent the park or work there have the best insights as to the coolest spots to check out, as well as which one's are dog-friendly. Put your pup in the forefront as far as what you will attempt to see in one day; fatigue and soreness may not be too far off if you push your dog to be on the go. Rest often and rehydrate more than you think you need to.
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More Fun Ideas...

Plan a Seasonal Return

Once you've experienced Joshua Tree in one of the ways listed above, consider returning during a different time of the year. Spring brings blooming plants, summer brings animals and desert heat, and winter brings a completely different view when the sands are plastered with snow.

Hit the Local Attractions

While they may not be directly in the park, you should definitely check out some of the local attractions and oddities in nearby Joshua Tree (city), Yucca Valley and beyond. You can see an old Hollywood western town in Pioneertown, see a psychedelic crystal cave and even see some historic landmarks that tell the story of how Joshua Tree (the city and park) came to be.

Conclusion

While Joshua Tree may not offer you and your dog an all-access pass, there's still plenty of activities to do that won't compromise the natural integrity of the park. Between backcountry roads for driving and walking, tons of gorgeous campsites, endless amounts of plants and wildlife and unique spots you won't find anywhere else in the world, there are plenty of opportunities for you and your pooch to make the best of your time in Joshua Tree National Park.