If you are looking for the perfect place for the best stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park, you have come to the right place. We have the scoop on all of the secret and not-so-secret locations all celestial enthusiasts swarm to when they want to get a good look at the galaxy.
Before you start planning your upcoming trip to South East, California, check out these must-see locations. Before grabbing that telescope, we have compiled a great list of places to go for the most spectacular views and everything you should know.
Best Places in Joshua Tree for a Great Stargazing Experience
Joshua Tree State Park is one of the most beautiful places in Southern California. It is situated East of Los Angeles and just north of Palm Springs. It is home to various wildlife, gorgeous foliage, and serene landscapes.
Here you have access to over 800,000 acres of desert space, with the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert coming together to create a unique yet magical combination of two different ecosystems living simultaneously.
You can access the park one of three ways: through the Twentynine Palms on the north side, Cottonwood Spring to the south, and Yucca Valley on the west. Each route will take you directly to the park’s main entrance and visitor center.
This park is one of the most sought-out spots for stargazing because of its dark skies at night, thanks partly to the community’s dedication to keeping their skies as free as possible from light pollution. This effort got them placed on the list of International Dark Sky Parks.
With all that land, nature, and lack of red lights, let’s get into our favorite places when we want to take a peek into what the Universe is hiding behind the clouds.
Heart Rock for Experienced Explorers
Heart Rock is a beautiful, natural landmark that is quite romantic. This distinct rock is shaped like a heart and is situated deep into the desert.
While this spot is ideal for a great view into some of the darkest skies, it should only be ventured by avid hikers. The hiking trail leading to this spot is unmarked, making it a dangerous location to navigate in the dark by those who are less experienced.
Cottonwood Campground Has the Darkest Skies in the Park
Many visitors believe that the Cottonwood campground offers the darkest skies for stargazing. It is also one of the most accessible places since it is located near the visitor center.
This is one of the most convenient spots to go for stargazing, hands down, because you can take all of your equipment, have a safe space to store it, and have a cozy spot to cuddle up and enjoy the scenery.
Pull off the Road and Park on Pinto Basin Road
You don’t have to go to specific parking lots to glimpse the fabulous night sky. You can simply pull off the road and park in wide open spaces. The best spots are typically found between Cholla Cactus Garden and Cottonwood.
The skies here are often darker, and the traffic is more sparse.
Skull Rock Is a Unique Option
Not all rock formations are as sweet and romantic as Heart Rock. Some are quite the opposite, like Skull Rock. Skull Rock can be found on the east-west park road in Joshua Tree. You can pull over at spaces along the road, or you can park in the rest stop area right across the street.
If you enjoy hiking, consider heading to this exciting location during the day. Their gorgeous hiking trail offers a 1.7 hike from start to finish.
The Ocotillo Patch Is Remarkable and Perfectly Imperfect
Located in the park on Pinto Basin Road, the Ocotillo Patch is nestled quietly in its secret corner, far from the beaten path. This quiet space is ideal for stargazers because it is secluded, and the skies get very dark.
The Best Time to Go Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park
The best time to stargaze in Joshua Tree National Park is typically during spring, Autumn, and winter. This is known as the observing season by astronomers and is the best time to see the Milky Way in the park.
Skip the Summer When Possible
Although the summer months will still provide wide, dark skies, it will also be uncomfortably warm, and the nights are much shorter, giving you less time to find whatever it is you are searching for.
If you decide to visit Joshua Tree during these months, dress comfortably, take plenty of water, and plan ahead, so you don’t spend the short time you have searching for constellations, fidgeting with equipment, etc.
During the winter, you will have nice long nights giving you optimal viewing time. These months are the best time to go stargazing in Joshua Tree Park. You get extended periods with darker skies and total darkness just after 5 pm.
Go Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park on the Full Moon
How frustrating would it be to pack up, head to the park, and get into position, only to find out there is too much natural light to see much of anything? Plan your trip around a full moon.
The moon’s natural light dims the lighting that comes from the massive amount of stars. This ensures absolute darkness for the most successful stargazing experience possible.
What to Bring With You When Stargazing in Joshua Tree
You will want to bring many items along when you are stargazing. This isn’t only true for Joshua Tree but is essential no matter where you are.
Dress in Layers
Temperatures will quickly drop once it goes from daytime to night. You want to ensure you have enough clothes to keep you warm and comfortable while you are outside in nature for hours.
Bring a Red Flashlight
You should never take a blue-light flashlight with you when stargazing. It is better for your vision and ability to focus on the dark night sky when your light is warmer.
Grab a Couple of Folding Chairs
Most places around Joshua Tree are ideal for a tremendous stargazing experience but don’t offer comfortable places to sit. Or, really, any place to sit at all. Keep the night enjoyable by bringing your own seat and making the experience more relaxing.
Download a Quality Stargazing App
There is an app for everything nowadays, so why not utilize one while navigating the night skies? There are many different stargazing apps you can choose to download to your phone, making it easy to find exactly what you are looking for fast.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t always like to cooperate, leading to imperfect weather and uncomfortable conditions; these interferences can cause last-minute cancellations or nights without much luck.
It is also important to remember that finding what you are looking for in a dark, crowded sky can be challenging. Stay calm and keep at it; the result is worth it.
Bring a Telescope or Quality Pair of Binoculars
Although it is possible to see many great sites with the naked eye, you will find bigger and better objects with powerful high-quality tools. You can also bring accessories to make utilizing these products easier and more efficient.
Some accessories you might want to grab include:
- Moon and planetary filters
- Finder scope
- Dew remover shields – these are great for summer night sessions
- Star charts
- Laser pointer
- CCD camera to capture great pictures of your favorite constellations
Joshua Tree National Forest Celebrates Stargazing
As a Dark Sky Park, Joshua Tree celebrates its success at keeping the night skies free from light pollution and preserving their dark skies for easy celestial observation. That is why this park has an annual Night Sky Festival.
Every year for the last eight years, the park partners with Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center to truly enjoy the stargazing experience. These festivals are full of fun, food, new experiences, and tons of stargazing.
Why Visit Joshua Tree National Forest for Stargazing?
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best locations on the planet to go to when you want quick and easy access to the darkest skies at night. The area limits light pollution, and the natural scenery and peaceful landscapes make every experience more enjoyable.
If you are considering heading to California for a vacation, check out Joshua Tree National Park and bring your telescope along.