Travels and Tourism

San Francisco to Joshua Tree National Park | Experience the majestic beauty of the California coast and desert on this road trip

San Francisco to Joshua Tree Road Trip

You’ll love going on a San Francisco to Joshua Tree drive to enjoy the best of California outside the bustling city. Before going on a Joshua Tree road trip, you’ll explore charming seaside towns along the way.

Begin your trip in Monterey, where you can appreciate the scenic beauty of the 17-Mile Drive, visit the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, or take a stroll down Cannery Row.

Next, travel to Santa Barbara, another breathtaking oceanside city. There are plenty of activities here, such as surfing, sunbathing, or walking along the shoreline, in addition to dozens of restaurants to choose from.

While en route to Joshua Tree, take some time to unwind in Palm Springs, a luxurious desert resort city known for its hot springs, spas, and shopping. There are also plenty of museums when you need to escape the heat.

Finally, head to Joshua Tree National Park, where you can experience the unique Joshua trees and rock formations, hike through the breathtaking landscape, go on an adventurous rock climbing expedition, or gaze at the stars at night.

  • Start: San Francisco
  • End: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Number of miles: 580
  • Recommended length of road trip: 4 days

Distance between San Francisco and Joshua Tree National Park?

Nonstop drive: 544 miles or 875 km

Driving time: 9 hours, 10 minutes

This is a pretty long drive, so it’s not very realistic to drive nonstop. To get a better idea of how long this road trip would really be, scroll down to calculate how many hours it would take if you drive with stops.

What are some things to do in Joshua Tree National Park?

This section could be endless, so rather than trying to suggest every local activity or attraction, we’ll leave it open-ended.

Of course, Trippy is the perfect place to ask questions because there’s an entire community of travelers talking to each other and sharing tips and advice. Trippy is where you can get answers personalized for your tastes, budgets, trip dates & more!

For example, here are some questions people have asked about Joshua Tree National Park.


Start in San Francisco.

Drive for about 55 minutes, then stop in San Jose and stay for about 1 hour. Next, drive for another 2 hours then stop in Merced and stay for 1 hour. Drive for 1.5 hours then stop at Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant and stay for 1 hour. Drive for 2 hours then stop in Bakersfield. Stay overnight.

The next day, drive for about 1.5 hours, then stop at Six Flags Magic Mountain and stay for about 1 hour. Next, drive for another 1.5 hours then stop at Orange County and stay for 1 hour. Drive for 1.5 hours then stop in Palm Springs and stay for 1.5 hours.

Finally, drive for about 1.5 hours and arrive at Joshua Tree National Park.

Nearby National Parks around Joshua Tree National Park?

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a large, 790,636-acre park that was originally designated as a national monument in 1936. The park was declared a national park in 1994. This unique park’s most well-known denizen is the Joshua tree, a yucca plant in the agave species that resembles a cross between a twisted pine tree and a cactus. The park contains portions of both the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, each of which has distinct features, and the San Bernardino Mountains lie in the southwestern region of the park. The Mojave is a “high desert” and has a greater amount of vegetation and humidity, and the Sonoran is a “low desert” with lower humidity. In the Sonoran, you will see creosote bushes, cholla cactus, and ocotillo. There are numerous hiking, biking, and equestrian trails throughout the park.

Death Valley National Park

Contrasts abound in Death Valley National Park. Snow-covered mountain peaks, fields of wildflowers, oases with fish, and the Mojave Desert are some of the ecologically diverse environments you will find within the park. The lowest elevation in North America is inside Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level. This unique area features flat octagons of salt and offers a surreal experience for all who visit. Other interesting sights to see include viewing rattlesnakes at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, touring the salt mounds of Devil’s Gold Course, and hiking on the Telescope Peak Trail.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This 4,650-acre park is home to a 40-acre old-growth redwood forest. The tallest tree in the grove is around 277 feet in height and about 16 feet in width, and the tree is estimated to be around 1,500 years old. There is a short loop trail through the redwood stand, and visitors can pick up a brochure from the visitor’s center to read while walking along the trail. Be sure to stand inside the Freemont Tree and cool off in the Garden of Eden swimming hole. Other interesting areas to explore include a river canyon, an old lime-processing site, and 20 miles of hiking trails.

Chino Hills State Park

Chino Hills State Park is located in the Chino Hills of the Santa Ana Mountains. This region is part of the larger Los Angeles metropolitan area. The park has 14,102 acres and allows everyone to experience a true wilderness retreat not far from the city. The Chino-Puente Hills wildlife corridor runs through the park and provides essential habitat for migratory and native animals. Some popular activities in the park include biking, hiking, and riding horses on the many miles of trails.

Mount San Jacinto State Park

Mount San Jacinto State Park is located in the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, which are near Los Angeles and San Diego. Mount San Jacinto is the park’s main attraction and is the second-highest peak in Southern California, rising 10,834 feet above sea level. You will find a variety of landscapes that include subalpine forests, meadows, and granite peaks. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes passengers from Palm Springs to the top of the Mount San Jacinto summit, and there are numerous amenities at the top station. You can also access the extensive hiking system from the station. The Pacific Coast Trail is a 2,653 multi-state trail that stretches from the U.S. border of Canada to the border of Mexico, and a portion of it runs through Chino Hills State Park.

How far is Joshua Tree National Park from San Francisco, and how long will the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip routes between San Francisco and Joshua Tree National ParkRoute Distance Driving Time
Lake Tahoe Route 720 miles 13 hours 15 minutes
Pacific Coast Highway Route 600 miles 13 hours 10 minutes

Take the Lake Tahoe Route and you will cover 720 miles taking around 13 hours to complete. You can always add on the option to detour to Mojave National Preserve, a couple of hours east of Barstow, to hike this impressive landscape.

The incredibly scenic Pacific Coast Highway Route covers a shorter distance of 300 miles, however, it takes the same amount of time at around 13 hours.

With so many incredible sights along the way, we suggest taking 3-4 days to take it all in and making the most of this trip.

Best road trip route from San Francisco to Joshua Tree National Park

If you are looking for a road trip with beautiful coastal views and incredible inland scenery, then this journey from San Francisco to Joshua Tree National Park is a must. It showcases California at its very best.

The stunning Lake Tahoe Route is a beautiful scenic journey packed with parks, forests and lakes to explore. South Lake Tahoe is an ideal stopping-off point to see these up close, and relax in breath-taking surroundings.

Follow the renowned Pacific Coast Highway Route and you will weave along the spectacular Californian coastline. There are places to stop to hike, surf and sunbathe throughout the trip, with unrivaled ocean views throughout.

If you’d like to extend your trip on the Pacific Coast Highway (which we highly suggest you do!), here is our guide for the ultimate itinerary for driving on California’s greatest road along with some of the best places to stay en route.

Lake Tahoe Route

Head away from San Francisco east along Interstate 80 (I-80) towards Sacramento, before joining the Highway-50 past the impressive Eldorado National Forest for hiking and fishing fun, before arriving at South Lake Tahoe.

The scenery at South Lake Tahoe is unrivaled, from the epic mountain ranges to the beautiful lake, and a night or two spent here will be a highlight.

From South Lake Tahoe take US-395 south where you can climb Mount Patterson, explore Stanislaus National Forest and paddle through Lee Vining Creek, before reaching the famous Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks.

Now journey south towards Barstow with an optional detour along Interstate-40 to Mojave National Preserve. Afterwards return back towards Barstow to CA-247 to arrive at the destination, Joshua Tree National Park.

Pacific Coast Highway Route

Start this route from San Francisco to Joshua Tree National Park tracking along the Californian coastline. Start at the historic sights of Monterey before admiring the landscape and waterfalls across the Big Sur.

Make several stop-offs to admire the Big Sur before continuing along CA-1 to Pismo Beach. A stopover here gives you the chance to enjoy the beautiful area famed for surfing and seafood delights.

Highway-101 then arrives at Santa Maria for a vineyard visit, Oxnard for entertainment and Point Mugu State Park for whale watching. Shortly after Monica Mountains National Recreation and Topanga State Park follow.

Continuing on you will arrive at Los Angeles which is not short of things to do. Spend enough time here for a Hollywood sign selfie and rides at Universal Studios.

From the ‘City of Angels’ you’ll travel on the I-10 passing Riverside and then Palm Springs, where a hike across the Indian Canyons is a must, before arriving in the renowned Joshua Tree National Park.

Best places to stop between San Francisco and Joshua Tree National Park

The journey from San Francisco to Joshua Tree National Park is packed with ocean views, forest walks and city thrills, and with so much to enjoy along the way here are our favorite stop offs to make the most of your trip.

Take a restful break at picturesque Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, located a little over 3 hours from San Francisco, enjoys unrivaled views, incredible landscapes and plenty of outdoor recreation, so when you are traveling along this route there really is no better place to stop for a night or two.

Make sure to visit The Gondola at Heavenly, where the 2.4-mile stretch of cable car track reveals the best views of South Lake Tahoe. Take time to enjoy the observation deck at the top too.

Emerald Bay State Park is a must-see on foot. The beautiful scenery here is not to be missed, as well as a visit to the interesting site of Vikingsholm Castle. Then take to the crystal-clear waters to enjoy a kayak tour across the lake.

Set right in the heart of the South Lake Tahoe area, the renowned Landing Resort and Spa is the perfect place to stay while you explore South Lake Tahoe, with stunning lodge-style décor and a full-service spa.

Why not take advantage of the heated outdoor pool and hot tub, ideal for a dip ahead of dinner? Afterwards head to the delicious on-site Jimmy’s Restaurant, offering wood-fired and “Mountain Chic” California Cuisine.

Enjoy a post-dinner drink on the glorious rooftop terrace with fire pits and lake views, and plan out your next day, with popular sights including a variety of beaches, Al Tahoe Fields and Zephyr Cove Park right on the doorstep.

Hit the waves at Pismo Beach

A great mid-point stop-off along the Pacific Ocean Highway Route is Pismo Beach, known for incredible surfing, seafood, and sunsets.

Pismo Pier reveals stunning ocean views, particularly if you catch the sunset. You can enjoy a seafood supper from a food stall here during your meander.

A popular 11-acre beachfront destination is Dinosaur Caves Park. Head here for a stroll, for some fishing action, or live entertainment. There is plenty going on and fun for all the family.

Where to stay when you reach Joshua Tree National Park

For great access to Joshua Tree National Park, the Holiday Inn Express Indio ticks all the boxes, set about 30 minutes away along the Interstate.

Close to Joshua Tree National Park, there are also plenty of other popular attractions close by such as Yucca Park, Indio Community Park and Burr Park.

This is a beautiful and modern hotel, packed with exciting extras such as an outdoor swimming pool to enjoy, and the impressive fitness center is a particular draw for those that want to keep on the move.

Enjoy the delicious American breakfast option available each morning to start your day right, and with free parking on site you have peace of mind when you return to the hotel.

Things to see on a road trip from San Francisco to Joshua Tree National Park

You can be sure of a scenic and interesting road trip from San Francisco to Joshua Tree National Park whichever route you choose to take.

Take a look at our recommended places to stop off at below, and you can be sure your journey will be teeming with fun and delight throughout.

Lake Tahoe Route

  1. Walnut Creek – So much to see in this interesting and exciting city. Make sure to visit the popular Ruth Bancroft Garden to stroll around the pretty gardens and observe unique, native plants.
  2. Mount Diablo State Park – Spread over 20,000 acres, make sure to start at the Summit Visitor Center introducing you this exciting park, before hiking Eagle Peak for great views across the lush woodlands.
  3. Eldorado National Forest – This impressive forest is ideal for fishing fans, with the lakes and streams teeming with interesting catch of the day. Want to stay longer? There are plenty of campsite options here too.
  4. South Lake Tahoe – The scenery at Lake Tahoe is unrivalled, from the epic mountain ranges to the beautiful lake. Paddle across the crystal-clear waters for jaw-dropping views.
  5. Topaz Lake – Found in both California and Nevada, this expansive lake is ideal for outdoor recreation. Make a stop off here for lunch on one of the picturesque picnic spots.
  6. Mount Patterson – Set within what’s known as the Sweetwater Range of mountains, the landscape is interesting in color and formation. For experienced hikers, July-October are best times to take it on.
  7. Stanislaus National Forest – An expansive destination, packed with waterways and trails to explore. Rafting along the Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River is a highlight.
  8. Lee Vining Creek – Follow this beautiful 16-mile-long stream, with waterfalls and impressive views dotted along the way.
  9. Yosemite National Park – This iconic park is a must-visit. Make sure to hike to Half Dome to photograph and climb, and wander amongst the incredible giant sequoias. A jaw-dropping place to stop.
  10. Death Valley National Park – You won’t get bored with a visit to some of the three million acres here. Highlights here include Badwater Basin and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
  11. Mojave National Preserve Detour – Arrive at Barstow and a detour to the Mojave National Preserve is certainly worthwhile. Head along the Hole-in-the-wall Rings Trail, a fun hike with rock scrambling en route.

Best time to go on a road trip from San Francisco to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is open all year round, although the summer months can be oppressively hot, making it more difficult to explore the beautiful area as temperatures often reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

In summer even evening temperatures sit around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but regardless of when you choose to visit make sure to pack well, bringing more water than you think you need, sun hats and suncream.

Head before or after peak summer, or in the winter months, and you can be sure of visiting all the sights but in far more pleasant circumstances.

Seen as the best time to visit, spring and fall have welcoming weather with temperatures set around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It does get warmer as the day goes on, so head for hikes and attractions early in the day.

Similar to spring, fall is a great time to visit when temperatures are easing. This is also a very pretty time for a visit with the fall colors creating a stunning backdrop, and there are usually decent deals on accommodation.

In winter, temperatures can really dip and tourist numbers fall, so it is quieter for exploring. Many of the excursions also work well in the winter months, such as rock climbing, plus usually, there are no snow restrictions either.

There are many events happening in Joshua Tree National Park throughout the year, with many taking part later in the day or outside in peak summer heat.

From June to August, the popular Milky Way Photography Workshops are ideal for admiring and photographing the unspoiled night sky. Star gazing certainly is a highlight when you visit this area.

The Night Sky Festival in September also centers on the night view, where this ‘fun-filled day and star-filled night’ is held at the Sky’s Limit Nature Center and Observatory with unrivaled opportunities to view the dark night sky.

In October, the Joshua Tree Music Festival hosts a mix of genres and styles to suit all tastes, with a busy dance floor guaranteed. The Open Studio Art Tours at Morongo Basin, also in October, is packed with local artists’ work and wares.

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