Joshua Tree National Park is incredibly diverse with something for everyone. It’s the perfect stop on a road trip through Southern California. There’s rock climbing, hiking, camping, and astrophotography. But my absolute favorite thing to do is catch a Joshua Tree sunrise.
Sunrise is the perfect time to escape the crowds in peak season. This guide has my 5 favorite places to watch the sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park. Plus you’ll get important tips on sunrise hikes, where to stay, and what to pack. I’ve even included a few tips on the best things to do in Joshua Tree after you catch the sunrise!
The Best Joshua Tree Sunrise Spots
Planning a trip to Joshua Tree? Check out these posts for more inspiration!
- How to Spend One Day in Joshua Tree
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Cholla Cactus Garden Sunrise: Best All-Around Sunrise in Joshua Tree
Cholla Cactus Garden is an essential part of every Joshua Tree trip. It’s also one of the best places in the park to catch the sunrise. This garden is filled with unique, fuzzy Cholla cactuses
The Cholla cactus is a spiky cactus native to the Southwestern United States. They grow in the southern part of Joshua Tree, where the park enters the Colorado Desert. These cacti thrive in the hotter, drier environment.
Joshua Tree’s Cholla Cactus Garden trail winds a quarter mile through a field of Cholla. As the sun rises, the fuzzy plants catch the light and glow a fiery gold.
For the best views, arrive about 45 minutes before sunrise. The Cholla Cactus Garden is about an hour from the park entrance near Yucca Valley, so plan for an early morning.
Keys View: Best Joshua Tree National Park Sunrise Viewpoint
Keys View is an incredibly popular sunset spot in Joshua Tree, but I argue it’s even better for sunrise. Why? Because you won’t have to battle the crowds.
Fewer people choose to venture to Keys View for sunrise, meaning the drive will be quiet and parking will be easy. Drive up in the dark and wait at the viewpoint for sunrise.
As the sun rises in the east, soft pink light will illuminate the nearby mountains and Coachella Valley. With the sun rising behind you, it’s perfect lighting for morning photography.
After sunrise, head back down the mountain to see the Joshua trees in Golden Hour light.
Looking for more things to do in Joshua Tree? Check out this 1-Day Joshua Tree Itinerary!
Barker Dam: Most Underrated Joshua Tree Sunrise Spot
Barker Dam is a rare sighting of water in the desert. Originally a water tank built by early cattle ranchers, this spot is now one of the most serene spots for sunrise.
The trail to Barker Dam is an easy 1-mile round trip, perfect for the trek out in the dark. You’ll want to get here early, well before the sunrise.
The best part of sunrise at Barker Dam is capturing the first light of the morning reflected in the water. Be sure to bring a tripod to capture the stunning reflection of pinks and purples!
Ryan Mountain: Best Joshua Tree Sunrise Hike
Ryan Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree. This challenging trail climbs 3 miles round trip to the summit. From the top, you get 360-degree views of Joshua Tree National Park and Coachella Valley.
In the Summer, sunrise is the perfect time to hike this trail. Not only are the views great in the early morning, but temperatures are perfect too. In the afternoon, the exposed trail is too hot for most hikers.
Plan to start your hike early in the morning to catch the first light over the park. Don’t forget to pack a headlamp!
Arch Rock: Best Joshua Tree Sunrise Photography
Arch Rock is a unique rock formation along the park’s main road, Park Boulevard. Formed by lava, it’s a very popular photography spot.
Later in the day, you’ll find hoards of people lining up to get their picture scrambling atop Arch Rock. Beat the crowds by heading there at sunrise. The lighting will be perfect and you’ll likely have the place to yourself.
Arch Rock is also a popular spot for night sky photography!
Other Spots to Explore in Joshua Tree
After you’ve taken in the beauty of sunrise, check out some of these other Joshua Tree adventures:
- See Skull Rock
- Hike the Hidden Valley Trail
- Hike the Ryan Mountain Trail (if you didn’t hike it for sunrise)
- See the Joshua Trees along Park Boulevard
Read More: How to Spend One Day in Joshua Tree
Tips for Catching Sunrise in Joshua Tree
- Arrive 45 minutes early.
Some of the best light is during blue hour, about an hour before the set sunrise time. Get there early to explore in the first morning light!
- Pack breakfast.
There are no restaurants in the park. Even if you left the park right after sunrise, you’re still about an hour away from breakfast. Curb your hunger with a premade breakfast or snack. My go-to for early mornings are Peanut Butter Banana CLIF Bars!
- Set multiple alarms.
If you’re like me, waking up early is a struggle. Aside from going to sleep early, the thing that helps me most is setting multiple alarms to avoid the dreaded snooze. Heavy sleeper? Try setting your phone across the room!
- Drive carefully through the park.
Joshua Tree’s wildlife is extremely active at night. As your drive to your favorite sunrise spot, watch for animals like coyote and owls in the road.
What to Pack for a Sunrise Hike in Joshua Tree
When heading out to catch the sunrise, you should pack a few essentials to stay warm and safe!
Before the sun comes up, you’ll be wandering around in the dark. Stay safe on the trail with a high-quality headlamp. I recently got the Black Diamond Storm 400 and it’s by far the best headlamp I’ve owned (it’s even got blue and red light modes for nighttime photography!).
- Extra Layers
Night in Joshua Tree is cold, especially in the winter months. But once the sun comes up, temperatures rise. Dress in layers to stay warm before sun up! I prefer a fleece pullover like the Patagonia Better Sweater and a lightweight beanie hat. For particularly cold days, pack a down jacket!
- 10 Hiking Essentials
If you’ll be heading out on a sunrise hike to Ryan Mountain or Barker Dam, be sure to pack the 10 hiking essentials. This includes a first aid kit, fire starter, emergency shelter, and more. For more on the 10 hiking essentials, check out this guide!
- America the Beautiful National Park Pass
This pass gives you access to every national park for only $80 a year. To compare, the entry fee to only Joshua Tree National Park is $30. If you’ll be visiting more than one national park In the next year, it’s a great deal! You can get your America the Beautiful pass here!
Where to Stay Near Joshua Tree National Park
The closest places to stay near these sunrise spots are Joshua Tree’s in-park campgrounds. While there are many first-come, first-served campgrounds, I recommend snagging a spot at some of the park’s reservable sites.
These are the campgrounds in Joshua Tree that accept reservations:
- Jumbo Rocks – Very central and the best campground in Joshua Tree!
- Cottonwood – Closest to Cholla Cactus Garden
- Indian Cove – In a separate part of the park, closer to the visitor center
- Black Rock – In a separate part of the park and further away
Planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park? Get your guide to camping in Joshua Tree, including reviews of all 9 campgrounds!
Be sure to book these sites 6 months out when reservations open.
If camping isn’t your style, consider staying in an Airbnb in nearby towns like Yucca Valley or Twentynine Palms. I choose to stay in a beautiful mid-century modern Airbnb about 15 minutes outside the park, a great location for quick trips into the park!
Check Out: Airbnbs in Yucca Valley
Final Thoughts on the Best Joshua Tree Sunrise Spots
If you’re looking for the best sunrise spot in Joshua Tree, I’ve got you covered. Catch the sunrise at one of these spots:
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- Keys View
- Barker Dam
- Ryan Mountain
- Arch Rock
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