If you’re looking for a place to view the stars in all their glory, look no further than Joshua Tree National Park. This park offers some of the best stargazing opportunities in the country.
I mean, truly. No trip to Joshua Tree is complete without a night spent stargazing. For many, what you see in the sky will be shocking–you may actually be able to see the Milky Way with your naked eye!
Boasting some of the darkest nights in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park was deemed an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). You can’t miss the chance to stargaze in Joshua Tree!
However, there is a right time and a wrong time to visit Joshua Tree National Park if you want to see the stars in all their glory. In this post, I’ll share with you everything you need to know about the best time to visit Joshua Tree for stargazing.
If you’re ready to get the most out of your stargazing experience, continue reading.
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Best Time To Visit Joshua Tree National Park For Stargazing
The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park for stargazing is during the winter months.
This is due to a few different reasons. First off, there are fewer people visiting the park during this time and the skies are typically clearer.
During this season, you will also have the most viewing hours due to shorter days and longer nights. For instance–in December, it gets completely dark after 5 pm, whereas in June, the sunset occurs around 8 pm.
So what about the warmer seasons? Are they good for stargazing? The warmer months (March to October) bring an influx of visitors and potentially more light pollution, which can make stargazing more difficult. On top of that, campsites can be harder to get due to the park’s popularity during Spring and Fall.
Having said that, if you’re willing to brave the intense heat that summer months bring (like in July and August), you can more easily snag a campsite at the National Park to catch a glimpse of the stars during this time.
There is another thing that makes stargazing in the summertime appealing, and that’s the Milky Way. The Milky Way is at its best on a moonless summer night. Why? Because at this time of year, we are looking inward toward the center of our galaxy when we gaze upward into the night sky.
Now, let’s dive in a bit more specifically. The absolute best time to go stargazing in Joshua Tree is about 2-3 days before or after a new moon.
Why so specific? Well, consider when you have a full moon or have a moon that’s in its other brighter phases. The moon will be illuminated more by the sun. This will ultimately make the sky less dark and it’ll be more difficult to see stars clearly.
Always check the moon’s phase and rise and set times to find the best time to stargaze. Here is a good website to track the moon phases.
Joshua Tree Weather Conditions In The Winter
Temperatures in the winter at Joshua Tree National Park range from 50°F to 60°F Fahrenheit.
This is when the park’s daytime temperatures are the most pleasant for hiking, climbing, rock scrambling, or just enjoying the sights offered at the park. However, once the sun sets, temps can easily drop below freezing at night.
You may want to have a vacation home rental or, if camping, have an all-season sleeping bag to keep you warm through the night.
Joshua Tree Weather Conditions In The Summer
Summers in Joshua Tree can be sweltering and unbearably hot, with temperatures reaching well over 100°F during the day. At night, temperatures drop to around 75°F, making it actually quite nice for summertime stargazing.
Because the hottest time of the year in the park means fewer visitors, it’s usually a lot easier to snag a campsite for your stargazing adventure. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to be well prepared for the hot temperatures during the day.
Carry plenty of water with you wherever you go, wear sun-protecting clothing, use sunscreen, and avoid strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day.
Where To Go Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park
There are lots of areas within Joshua Tree where you can easily look up and stargaze. On a clear and moonless night, you should have no problem viewing the stars from anywhere in the park.
I remember during my last camping trip in December, we stopped by the visitor center after dark to use the bathroom. We just so happened to look up and were immediately shocked by how speckled the sky was with glistening stars!
That was literally the first time I found out firsthand how great Joshua Tree was for stargazing.
It’s a memory I’ll never forget, and it just goes to show you–you can literally stargaze anywhere within Joshua Tree if the conditions are right.
Once in the park, feel free to stop at parking areas or pullouts on the side of the road to enjoy the stars.
Simply position your camera on your tripod with whatever you want in the frame and capture that long-exposure photo! For a beautifully framed shot, you’ll probably want some Joshua Trees or jumbo rocks in your photos.
Here are a few more pointers on where to stargaze in the Joshua Tree area:
- If visiting in the winter for stargazing specifically, get a VRBO rental with an outdoor hot tub. That way, you’ll be able to stargaze from the comfort of your vacation rental’s backyard, and stay warm!
- Camping instead? While camping in Joshua Tree, most campgrounds have good stargazing right in the area. No need to drive anywhere else.
- One of the best spots to stargaze or take photos of the night sky is at Heart Rock.
- The Pinto Basin Road (between Cholla Cactus Garden and Cottonwood) has the least traffic and darkest skies.
- Another great astrophotography spot can be found along the road just before you reach Skull Rock (when coming from the entrance). Here, you’ll be able to capture the silhouettes of many bendy-looking Joshua trees in the foreground!
- Alternatively, you can head to any of the major landmark attractions (Skull Rock, Cap Rock, Arch Rock, Keys View, etc.) for a photo of the night sky with a gorgeous rock formation featured.
- Not going into the park yet? You can head to the Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center near the Twentynine Palms entrance.
Joshua Tree Stargazing Packing List
1. Headlamp with red light
No matter where you decide to go stargazing, be sure to bring a headlamp (with red light capabilities) because you will need to walk, set up your equipment (chairs, cameras, tripods, etc.) and function in the dark.
Do not use bright white flashlights, headlamps, or cell phone lights. It typically takes 20-30 minutes for the human eye to fully adjust to very low light conditions. Having bright white lights in your face will prevent your eyes from adjusting to the darkness.
2. Camping chair with neck/back support
Without a camping chair, you may be on your feet staring up for long periods of time. This can be straining for both your back and your neck.
A camping chair with neck/back support will allow you to tilt your head back with some form of neck support, keep you comfortable, and reduce strain.
Looking to really take your stargazing to the next level? Get a camping chair specifically made for stargazers! The Nemo Equipment Stargaze Recliner Camping Chair was made for this pastime.
3. A high-quality camera
You’ll need something that you can set up in manual mode.
I love my Sony a7 IV Full Frame Mirrorless Camera, so if you can manage to get your hands on one of these bring this with you on your stargazing adventure.
The Sony a7 IV has a full-frame sensor that absorbs as much light as you can throw at it making it a great astrophotography camera. A great alternative is the previous model of my camera, the Sony a7 III.
These cameras are great because they also have a neat feature, In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS), which immensely helps astrophotography.
4. Tripod for your camera
A sturdy tripod will help you create perfect photos with no vibration or shaking. No one wants streaky star photos!
5. America The Beautiful National Parks Pass
The entrance fee for Joshua Tree NP is $30 per vehicle. Save money in the long run by grabbing yourself an America The Beautiful National Parks Pass (1-year unlimited entry into all National Parks for $80).
This annual pass will get you entry into all national parks for one whole year from the month of purchase, as opposed to paying $30 for just the 7-day use pass.
I buy this pass every year; it’s the best bang for your buck if you plan on visiting at least 3 national parks within a 12-month timespan! Every national park visit after your 3rd visit is essentially free!
6. Outdoor Down Camping Blanket
You’re going to be sitting out in the elements while stargazing. Don’t forget to pack blankets to stay warm!
These ultra-packable outdoor down blankets give you the comfort you would expect from an outdoor camping quilt / throw without the bulk or the weight. They make a great addition to any sleeping system in the cold weather or on their own during the warmer seasons!
No matter when you visit Joshua Tree National Park for stargazing, be sure to bring your camera (something that you have manual control over and can take long-exposure photos) so that you can capture the beauty of the night sky.
And don’t forget a blanket or two so that you can cozy up under the stars! Trust me, stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park is an experience that you won’t want to miss.
Looking for more Joshua Tree travel tips? Read more:
- 12 Best Things To Do During A Visit To Joshua Tree National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park: The Perfect 1-Day Itinerary
- Joshua Tree National Park: How To Prepare For Your First Trip
- 35 Awesome Things To Do On Your Palm Springs Road Trip
- 21 Unmissable Things To Do In Palm Springs, California
- 26 Awesome Things To Do In Palm Springs With Kids