Joshua Tree National Park is stunning. Wild yuccas, giant boulders, and endless desert. But there is pure magic in enjoying a Joshua Tree Sunrise (or a Joshua Tree sunset, for that matter)! Here are the best Joshua Tree sunrise hikes in the park. If you are visiting Joshua Tree, you simply cannot miss these. Let’s go!
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The Best Joshua Tree Sunrise Spots (That Nobody in their Right Mind Should Miss)
If you’re new around here, you may not know – I am obsessed with Joshua Tree National Park. I make it a point to visit this park multiple times per year, and I never regret it.
Joshua Tree is stunning. The wild, rugged landscape, dotted with spiky dancing yuccas and round boulders never seems to disappoint. It’s an amazing spot for reconnecting with nature and enjoying the desert solitude.
Spanning both the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, the landscapes in Joshua Tree National Park are surprisingly varied across the 1235 square miles of park land. And, that variation is exactly what creates so many incredible places for a Joshua Tree sunrise.
Preparing for a Joshua Tree Sunrise
First and foremost, you’re going to need to arrive early, while it’s still dark out. This requires a bit of research, since sunrise times change throughout the year. Click Here to check the daily sunrise times in the park.
Next, you’ll have to decide where to sleep the night before. It’s best to stay in a location that makes it easy to road trip into the park. Joshua Tree is open 24 hours a day, so an early entry is easy.
Alternately, you can think about camping inside of the Joshua Tree boundaries the night before your morning trek. There are a number of reserve-in-advance campsites as well as first-come-first-serve sites. The idea is to position yourself so that you are already as close as possible upon waking.
After you’ve got those details sorted, it’s time to decide which magical sunrise spot you’d like to experience! Side note, each of these spots are also incredible for Joshua Tree sunsets, too.
The Best Joshua Tree Sunrise Hikes & Locations
Sunrise is the perfect time to enjoy some solitude and escape the crowds. In summer, early morning offers bearable temperatures. In peak season, it offers a welcome escape from the crowds.
Full disclosure – a sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park can be incredible from just about any angle. The landscape is stunning in this Southern California desert park, so you almost can’t “get it wrong”.
But after all of my years visiting here, I have a few secret spots up my sleeves for those mornings when I want to experience something extra-special. And now, I’m sharing them with you.
Sunrise Spot #1: Arch Rock
Arch Rock is an iconic spot in Joshua Tree, and for good reason. It’s a cool place for photos, an easy hike even in desert temps, and an all-around interesting rock formation to explore. Capture the sun rising under the arch for an awesome memory.
Arch Rock Trail is an easy 1.2 mile out & back trail, suitable for most hikers. It is rated as easy, though if you want to get up close and personal with Arch Rock, some basic bouldering will occur.
I highly recommend this easy trek, even if you aren’t typically a hiker. Come prepared for desert hiking by packing appropriate shoes and clothing and gear, though!
Distance: 1. 2 miles
Type: Out & Back
Time: ~30 mins
Sunrise Spot #2: Barker Dam & Barker Dam Trail
Barker Dam is one of the closest trails to the park’s West Entrance, and because of that, it’s typically driven right past to get to “the good stuff”. That’s a mistake! Don’t miss this one.
For the longest time, I myself had no idea that this body of water existed within Joshua Tree. Once I finally discovered it, Barker Dam became one of my favorite Joshua Tree sunrise and Joshua Tree sunset spots in the park.
Catching those golden and red hues reflecting off of the water makes for an awesome photo, and the trail itself is alive with wildflowers and greenery in the spring.
Distance: 1.3 miles
Time: ~30 mins
Sunrise Spot #3: Cholla Cactus Garden
I have spent many a sunset at the Cholla Cactus Garden, but only recently have enjoyed a sunrise here. I honestly recommend both experiences, but whichever you choose, you can’t lose.
The Cholla Cactus Garden is a very short loop trail fairly far south into the park, within the Colorado Desert portion of Joshua Tree. In this area, you won’t really see many Joshua Trees, but due to the lower elevation, you’ll see tons of cacti!
Keep in mind that it will take a solid hour to reach this spot, so if you are driving from outside the park, take that into account.
The Cholla Cactus Garden is a super cool sunrise spot in Joshua Tree because the emerging light almost highlights all of the various spikes on the cacti, making them glow in a beautiful never-ending sea of thorns. Pinks and glowing oranges against the mountainous backdrop is breathtaking.
Distance: 0.25 miles
Difficulty: Very easy
Time: However long your photos take!
Sunrise Spot #4: Ryan Mountain
A “true” hike, Ryan Mountain offers a unique viewpoint if you’re willing to put in the workout! It is steep and uphill from the get-go, and only continues gradually upward for over 3 miles.
To actually catch the sunrise here, you need to begin hiking in the darkness, so a headlamp (as well as sturdy footwear) is absolutely required. Dress in layers because the chilly morning will typically give way to very warm mid-mornings and downright hot afternoons.
As the day wears on, this spot will get more crowded, so sunrise is a great time to enjoy this spot completely solo.
Distance: 3.2 miles
Type: Out & Back
Time: ~1.5 hours
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Sunrise Spot #5: Split Rock
This easy 2-mile loop has a lot of interesting rock formations along the way to and from Split Rock. So while Split Rock is cool, there are actually plenty of other views you might like better for the sunrise.
This trail has varied terrain, wandering through dirt and over rocks, so again, a headlamp and solid shoes are a must. What I love about this trail is the solitude. I’m sure it gets more crowded as the day goes on, but the quiet valley in sunrise is so peaceful.
Skull Rock can also be viewed from this trail.
Distance: 2 miles
Time: ~45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your scrambling skills.
Sunrise Spot #6: Keys View
As one of the best overall viewpoints of Joshua Tree State Park, it should be no surprise that this is also an excellent spot for a sunrise. Views of the Coachella Valley’s rugged mountains in the pink and gold morning light are incredible.
This is a place I can easily sit from full darkness to full sun and just watch the colorful changes against the mountain peaks.
Visitors can access Keys View by car (parking is nearby), so if hiking in the dark is not your thing, this is a great option.
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Additional Joshua Tree Sunrise Tips
➳ Have I mentioned a headlamp?! Of course I did! But in case you missed it, I will mention it again!
➳ Have good, sturdy shoes and definitely dress in layers! Check out my Desert Wear and Hiking Essentials post (linked above) for specifics.
➳ Arrive early! In my experience, ~30 minutes to 1 hour early is a reasonable amount of time. This will account for the many things that can go wrong or take longer than planned: getting lost, setting up tripods, choosing your angle, hiking to the location.
➳ To determine exactly when you should arrive, check the Joshua Tree sunrise time for the day.
➳ Bring more water than you think you need. I also highly recommend packing snacks or a light breakfast.
➳ Consider camping inside the park if possible. It makes the entire experience much more easy.
*For additional information on JTNP entrance fees and what to see once the sun in high in the sky, check out this post!*
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