Sojourn to the California and Nevada desert landscapes, best enjoyed in spring, winter and fall. Travel back in time to the Old West with a visit to Pioneertown, and hike through the aptly named Joshua Tree National Park to see its incredible desert fauna and rock formations. Climb the desert dunes of the Mojave Natural Preserve and peer out the window of your car to enjoy vast desert landscapes. Immerse yourself in the extreme and unique beauty of Death Valley before discovering the colorful Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas.

Highlights

  • Get a feel for the Wild West with a stay in Pioneertown
  • Enjoy the sunrise across the desert skyline in Joshua Tree
  • Drive through the Mojave Natural Preserve and climb the Kelso Dunes
  • Take in the distinct natural landscapes of Death Valley
  • Admire the colors with a hike through Red Rock Canyon

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, Visit Pioneertown Pioneertown
Day 2 Explore Joshua Tree National Park Pioneertown
Day 3 Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree Pioneertown
Day 4 Drive to Death Valley through Mojave National Preserve, Stop in Kelso Dunes Death Valley
Day 5 Discover Death Valley National Park Death Valley
Day 6 Death Valley and on to Las Vegas Las Vegas
Day 7 Visit Red Rock Canyon National Reserve Las Vegas
Day 8 Drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, Visit Pioneertown

Pioneertown
Pioneertown

Get ready to disconnect and revitalize in this sojourn through the California desert. Joshua Tree National Park is filled with its namesake tree, and is also home to stunning rock formations and incredible natural landscapes. This picturesque park is perfect for those looking for a little adventure and a big change of scenery. From Los Angeles, jump in your car and head a little over 2 hours (120 miles) east on the I-10 towards Joshua Tree National Park. At Highway 62, turn in and drive to Pioneertown. Before turning in on Pioneertown Road, stop at Frontier Café for a cup of coffee and a light lunch in its colorful, eclectic atmosphere. 

Travel back in time to the Wild West with a stay in this movie-magic town. Built in the 1940s by some big names in Hollywood, Pioneertown was created as the perfect backdrop for an Old West movie set, with 1880s-style facades of saloons, stables, and even jails. Stroll around Mane Street (not a typo) and enjoy the sights and sounds (which sometimes include mock gun fights) before stepping inside Pappy & Harriet's for dinner, live music, and an all-around infectious atmosphere. We recommend a stay in the authentic Pioneertown Motel, or check out an Airbnb in the surrounding area.

Day 2: Explore Joshua Tree National Park

Rock formations in Joshua Tree
Rock formations in Joshua Tree

A note of caution as we venture into the park today and through the desert on subsequent days- this desert area regularly sees temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and up, so it is best to avoid peak summer months in order to properly enjoy hikes and outings. Stay hydrated and start your days early to take advantage of the cool mornings before resting up in the middle of the day back at your accommodation. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks to start, though there are plenty of stops along the way to restock as well.

Beat the heat in the early morning and make the most of your day exploring Joshua Tree National Park. Hop in your car and make the 20-minute drive for breakfast at Crossroads Cafe in the town of Joshua Tree. Our advice, order lunch to go and take it with you for your day exploring! As it's right next door, stop by the Park's Visitors Center, located on Highway 62 and Park Blvd., to grab a map and get your bearings, and from there continue on to the North Park Entrance, another 20-minute drive. Before entering the park, be sure to fill up on gas, and have plenty of snacks, water, and something for lunch. Note, entering the National Park costs $30 USD per vehicle. 
 
There is one main road, Park Blvd, throughout Joshua Tree. You'll drive first to the White Tank Campground, where you can park and make the easy walk over to Arch Rock. Get out and stretch your legs and even climb on this impressively large rock structure for your first stop of the day. Back in the car, head on in the same direction before turning down Park Blvd and stopping at Skull Rock. This granite rock formation has two concave depressions, giving it the appearance of a skull. There are also some short trails around this area you can explore further. 

Hop back in your vehicle and continue the drive along the main road, soaking in the views. Make another stop to see Cap Rock. This area has a well-marked trail for an easy guided walk around the formations. Stay on Park Blvd and head up towards Intersection Rock, close to the picturesque Hidden Valley Nature Trail. Grab a spot on one of the many rock formations and enjoy an incomparable sunset. Then, it's back in your car to continue along the main road until you exit the Park at the West Entrance. 

Right next to the Visitors Center from this morning, you'll find Joshua Tree Saloon, a great spot for dinner. Alternatively, you could make the 20-minute drive back into Pioneertown before grabbing dinner closer to your accommodation.

Day 3: Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree

In the morning, fuel up for a day of adventure with breakfast at Joshua Tree Coffee Company along the 29 Palms Highway. From there, journey into the National Park to continue exploring. 

With incredible rock formations giving way to thousands of climbing routes, Joshua Tree is famous for its incredible rock climbing opportunities. With thousands of routes for any skill level, its the perfect place to practice- or learn- this outdoor activity. With a surreal landscape as your backdrop, join a certified guide from a reputable school, like Cliffhanger Guides to get started and find the experience that works best for you. 

Choose between a half-day or full-day adventure to see the park from a whole new perspective as you learn the proper techniques and movement for climbs and descents with an all-inclusive experience. All the necessary gear and safety instructions are included, so just remember to bring snacks, plenty of water, and layers of clothing. 

When you're ready, head back into Pioneertown for the night, stopping first along the way at La Palapa Mexican Restaraunt. After working up an appetite today, tuck in for a well-deserved meal.

Day 4: Drive to Death Valley through Mojave National Preserve, Stop in Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes
Kelso Dunes

Start your morning early and make your way to Death Valley National Park with a drive through the Mojave Natural Preserve. For breakfast, stop at Natural Sister’s Cafe, a quaint, local spot that's open early and offers delicious vegetarian options. As you make your way down the 29 Palms Highway (Highway 62), be sure to stop for gas, water, and any snacks for the road. 

From there, settle in for a 2-hour journey into Mojave National Preserve. Your first stop will be at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center. Cut inland and drive 100 miles via Amboy Rd and Kelbaker Rd. Once arrived, get your bearings before heading nearby to the Kelso Dunes. Give yourself about two hours to hike up and back down, armed with plenty of water and snacks, and rewarded by incredible views of the entire park from these unique, natural wonders. 

Head back to your car and continue on your way. We'd suggest taking Cima Road to loop your way through the rest of the Mojave Preserve. The expansive landscapes are well worth it and only add about 25 minutes to your journey. As you leave the Preserve, you'll drive down the I-15 S before turning up on the 127 N towards Death Valley. You'll find a couple of rest stops, such as Baker, where you can fill up your tank and grab a bite for lunch before continuing. As you get closer to Death Valley, you'll see gas prices continue to rise, so best to fill up earlier when you can!

Settle in for another stretch of driving (about 2 hours) before arriving in Death Valley. As the lowest point in North America, and one of the hottest places in the world, Death Valley is home to unique and extreme landscapes unlike any other. From salt flats to rugged mountain ranges, sand dunes to badlands, this area is plenty more than just high temperatures. Entering the National Park costs $30 USD per car, and you'll find just a few accommodation options inside. The Oasis Resort holds two properties: The Inn, a higher-end comfort option, and The Ranch, a mid-range family-oriented option. The resort also has dining options for dinner. Eat, drink, relax and recharge for another busy day tomorrow!

Day 5: Discover Death Valley National Park

Death Valley Mountains
Death Valley Mountains

Today is a full day to explore the many attractions of Death Valley. Your morning begins at one of the highlights- Zabriskie Point. Ideally, this will be a very early morning so you can make the half hour walk to the point and arrive as the sun is rising. This panoramic lookout offers one of the best views in the National Park. Take in the surrounding badlands and mountains, and if you're there early enough, you can watch the sunrise illuminate the sky with an array of colors. The Zabriskie Point also acts as a trailhead for a number of routes around the area should you want to explore for a couple more hours. 

Hop back in your car and continue on your way, making your next stop at the Devils Golf Course. This expansive salt pan was once a lake bed, and over time the elements have worn away at the salt formations, creating a rugged texture. Give yourself just a few minutes to admire this unique landscape and take a few pictures before continuing on to Badwater Basin

Arriving in Badwater Basin, you'll have reached the lowest point in North America, at 282 ft below sea level. The basin boasts a surreal landscape of salt flats, appearing teasingly like a snowscape, with mountains in the distance. Walk across the built-in boardwalk to reach the salt flats, where you're able to step out onto the salt and take in the incredible view that stretches as far as the eye can see. Give yourself no more than an hour to explore the area properly. 

By now, the mid-afternoon sun will likely be beating down, so we suggest heading back to your accommodation for a reprieve. Cool off poolside, have lunch, and recharge for the evening. 

Take the early part of your evening to make the Artists Drive and explore Artists Palette. The drive is along a 9-mile one-way road that takes you through a winding path of unique, colorful landscapes. About 5 miles in, you'll reach Artists Palette, an impressive display of colors on the rocky landscapes formed from an array of oxidized minerals. Park your car and get out to explore this spectacular scenery up close. 

End your day heading up to Dante's View to catch the last rays of sun sinking beneath the horizon. This mountain peak can be easily reached by car and gives a stunning view of the entire valley. When you're ready, make the drive back to your accommodation. If all this exploring has you in the mood for something a little special, head to the Oasis' The Inn for a fine dining experience before calling it a night.

Day 6: Death Valley and on to Las Vegas

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

For a final desert sunrise, head up to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and watch the sky fill with colors. These desert dunes are easy to climb and offer a unique vantage point. From there, discover another incredible Death Valley site, Ubehebe Crater. This natural wonder, about half a mile wide and around 600 feet deep, was created by a volcanic explosion and is the only of its kind in the area. Walking around the rim of the crater takes you on a moderately difficult 1.5-mile loop that passes smaller craters along the way. 

When you're ready, head back to your hotel to gather up your things and have some lunch before departing. There are two ways to get from Death Valley to Las Vegas, we recommend following the CA-190 E to the NV-160 E, a 2.5-hour drive. About halfway through this scenic route, you'll pass through the city of Pahrump, where you can stop and stretch your legs. 

Continue on and arrive in the city of Las Vegas. Home to some of the most famous nightlife in the country, take the rest of the evening to explore Las Vegas at your own speed. From the casinos and hotels on the strip, to live shows and plenty of shopping, there's something here for everyone.

There is no shortage of great dining options in Las Vegas at every price point and style. For a classic Vegas experience, head into Scarpetta inside the Cosmopolitan hotel for Italian cuisine overlooking the bright lights of the strip. For something more modest but stylish, try Le Thai for some reasonably priced, great food and a fun atmosphere in a cozy locale.

Day 7: Visit Red Rock Canyon National Reserve

Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon

Just 25 miles west of the bustling Las Vegas Strip, you'll find Red Rock Canyon National Reserve. This popular natural area is visited by locals and visitors alike for hiking, biking, rock climbing, and incredibly scenic driving. This drive will allow you to feast your eyes on the unique and beautiful colors of the rock formations. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and good hiking shoes to make the most of your day. On the way there, stop at The Egg & I to fuel up on a hearty breakfast and order a to-go sandwich for lunch during your hike. 

As you enter the reserve, the visitor center is the first stop on the one-way 13-mile loop road through Red Rock Canyon. The entrance fee is $15 per car- while you're there, pick up a map that indicates the 26 different hiking trail options throughout the park. Try the Calico Tanks trail for a moderate option- give yourself about 2 hours to hike and climb through the rock formations and soak in stunning views of the Las Vegas Valley. For more details on the hike, take a look at AllTrails.

As you continue driving along the way one-way loop, be sure to stop at the designated parking spots to explore the surrounding areas. The Reserve can be explored in as little as a couple of hours just driving through, but we suggest making the most of your time there with a hike or two. 

When you're ready, exit Red Rock Canyon on the same one-way road and make your way back in the direction of Las Vegas. After working up an appetite, close to the Reserve you'll find the family-friendly favorite, Juan’s Flaming Fajitas and Cantina. Reward your efforts with a late lunch of delicious Mexican food. In the evening, make your way to the Strip to get a glimpse at the sights and sounds Las Vegas is known for.

Day 8: Drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles

Las Vegas at night
Las Vegas at night

Spend the morning discovering anything in Las Vegas you had been hoping to before departing! From casinos to wax museums to indoor amusement parks, there's an endless bounty of entertainment. If you have more time, consider one last day trip to the Valley of Fire State Park, named after its beautiful red sandstone formations. 

When you're ready, hop in your car and make the 4-hour journey along the I-15 S back to Los Angeles. Just outside of Barstow, take a moment to visit Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch: a forest of tree-like sculptures made from glass bottles and vintage pieces, a quirky pit stop located right alongside the infamous Route 66. Take a look around this unique, open-air folk art installation to stretch your legs before finishing the last leg of your journey (about 2 hours) into Los Angeles.

Map

Map of Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Red Rock Canyon - 8 Days
Map of Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Red Rock Canyon - 8 Days