Comparing the Natural Wonders of Joshua Tree vs Anza Borrego
If you’re planning a trip to Southern California and are looking for some outdoor adventure in the desert, two of the most popular destinations to visit are Anza Borrego State Park and Joshua Tree National Park. But if you’re short on time, you may be thinking- Joshua Tree or Anza Borrego?
While both parks offer unique landscapes and recreational activities, deciding which one to visit can be a tough choice. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what each park has to offer so that you can make an informed decision about which one is right for your next adventure. I also have included the best things to do in each park and the best places to stay.
At the end of this post I also share a 2 day short road trip I made to both parks from San Diego, and a stop in Painted Canyon at an epic slot canyon!
Keep reading for more information about making your decision of picking your next destination: Joshua Tree vs Anza Borrego.
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Planning your trip? Use my favorite resources!
Accommodation – Booking.com to find the best deals on hotels.
Flights – Skyscanner to look for the best prices and deals on flights.
Rental cars – DiscoverCars to shop around at multiple car rental agencies.
Travel insurance – Safety Wing; keep your trips insured to protect yourself while traveling.
Tours/experiences – Viator and Get Your Guide make excellent tour resources!
Follow The 7 Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Be courteous of others
Specifically in this post I visit slot canyons. Do NOT draw or mark up these beautiful slot canyon walls. Find out more about Leave No Trace here.
Joshua Tree vs Anza Borrego
The case for Joshua Tree
- Access to easy, family friendly hiking trails
- Rock climbing opportunities
- The park is easily accessible with paved roads circling the park
- More developed town close by with more lodging options & unique stays
- Easier to reach from LA (1 hr closer)
The case for Anza Borrego
- Less crowds
- Spectacular spring wildflowers from mid February- mid March (dependent on the year)
- Large area to explore, really feel like you are in the middle of the desert
- Opportunities for 4WD, quad riding
- Easier to reach from San Diego (1 hr closer)
Joshua Tree vs Anza Borrego: Which is Better for YOU?
I would recommend Joshua Tree National Park if you’re looking for family friendly hiking and climbing opportunities with paved roads and easy access to a developed town & unique stays.
I would recommend Anza Borrego State Park if you’re looking for more unusual things to do and see in a place off the beaten path. Font’s Point in Anza Borrego has one of the best sunrise views.
If this is your first time visiting the desert and you have a limited amount of time coming from LA, the typical visitor will likely enjoy Joshua Tree more.
If you are someone that likes to steer clear of crowds, visit Anza Borrego or visit Joshua Tree in the middle of the week in the off season.
However, if you’re planning your trip mid February- mid March I would go to Anza Borrego for the fantastic wildflower display.
How far is Anza Borrego from Joshua Tree?
You can drive to Anza Borrego from Joshua Tree in a little over an hour and a half.
If you have 1 day, definitely pick one park.
But if you have 2-3 full days in the area, you could easily go to both because they aren’t too far away from one another! With only 2 days in the area though, you would only get a small taste of each.
Looking for a rental car? Check out Discover Cars where you can search through 500+ car rental suppliers and compare prices and cars!
Best things to do In Joshua Tree National Park
See the Joshua Trees
This is obvious but, it’s pretty neat to see these trees since you can’t just see them anywhere! The Joshua Tree is native to specific parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and northern Baja California.
Hike to Arch Rock & Heart Rock
One of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree, this is a rather flat trail, at less than 2 miles, to see both Arch & Heart Rocks.
Hike to Skull Rock
Take the Skull Rock loop trail at 1.7 miles roundtrip to see this rock that really looks like a skull!
Go Rock Climbing
Even if you are a beginner, you can still partake in some rock climbing. There are a few companies, including Stone Adventures, that offer rock climbing tours for all levels and ages.
Check out Key’s View
Take Key’s View Road to do the 0.2 mile walk to the viewpoint. From Key’s View you can see all the way to San Jacinto Peak and the Santa Rosa mountains. This viewpoint makes for a great sunset spot.
See the Cholla Cactus glow at sunrise
The best time to check out the Cholla Cactus garden is at sunrise. When the sun rises, the cholla cactus take on a beautiful backlit glow. These are also called the ‘teddy bear cactus’. But don’t get too to these teddy bears- a segment could jump out and attach to you- ouch!
Where to Stay near Joshua Tree National Park
- Budget option: Harmony Motel, located down the street from the park in Twenty Nine Palms is a great budget option with a pool and hot tub.
- Mid Range option: The Joshua Tree Ranch House has a sun terrace and a year round swimming pool at a great price point.
- Luxury option: Stay in the Guard Tower at the Castle House Estate for a luxurious, unique stay. Marbella Lane – Modern Rustic Home is an entire house you can rent with a hot tub and a fantastic view!
- Unique Stays: There is no shortage of unique stays near Joshua Tree. Cascade Trails Mustang Sanctuary is a very unique, highly rated, glamping stay that doubles as a sanctuary for wild horses. AutoCamp is a highly rated with beautiful airstream RVs to stay in with beautiful grounds. Harvest Moon is a unique option, a house you can rent out that has an outdoor shower, grill, swing, and hammocks.
Camping near Joshua Tree National Park
Find free camping in Joshua Tree North or on Painted Canyon Road just 30 minutes away from the park. There is plenty of space at both places to camp on BLM land.
Best Things to do in Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Drive or Hike to Font’s Point for sunrise
Driving to Font’s Point requires a vehicle with at least AWD and a bit of ground clearance. The road is sandy with some large rocks you’ll have to clear. I definitely wouldn’t recommend to drive your rental or sedan down this road.
The hike to Font’s Point is 8 miles round trip but rather flat at only 550 ft elevation gain. You can find trail conditions and a map here. We did the hike and it really wasn’t too bad even with a very early wake up call. The sunrise made it worth it! Be sure to pack a headlamp if you plan to hike this sunrise!
Check out the larger than life metal sculptures
Galleta Meadows showcases 130 metal sculptures including dinosaurs, dragons, and scorpions. It’s one of the most unique and unusual things you can find in the Southern California desert.
Check out the wildflowers during February and March
The timing varies each year due to precipitation and temperature, but usually the wildflowers bloom mid February- mid March each year. The desert floor comes alive with purple, orange, and red carpets of flowers! The cacti also bloom. When I was there, the Ocotillo cacti had beautiful red blooms on their ends.
Hike The Slot canyon
The hike to the slot canyon is a little over 2 miles and 300 ft elevation gain. Find a map and recent trail conditions here. The actual slot part of the canyon is rather short, but it is still worth the effort!
Named an International Dark Sky Park in 2018, Anza Borrego makes for an excellent stargazing destination.
Where to stay near Anza Borrego Desert State Park
- Budget Option: Borrego Springs is cheap and no frills while still being highly rated.
- Mid Range Option: The Palms at Indian Head is a great mid range option.
- Luxury Option: La Casa del Zorro is only a 10 minutes’ drive from the park entrance, has 5 pools, and doubles as a resort. Borrego Valley Inn has gorgeous desert themed rooms and the property has 2 outdoor pools and spas.
Camping near Anza Borrego Desert State Park
The state parks has a few campgrounds to choose from; to reserve a spot and get more information about them visit the California Parks & Recreation site.
Short Road trip from San Diego. Day 1: Joshua Tree & Painted Canyon
We had visited Joshua Tree the year prior for a day so this time we only spent a morning here. We stopped by the Cholla cactus garden for sunrise and it was beautiful! There were also fewer crowds out at this time. The view of the glowing cactus from the morning sun with a mountain backdrop was stunning!
After our morning in Joshua Tree, we took a short drive to Mecca where we did the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon hike.
It is 4.4 miles round trip with 800 ft elevation gain. Find a map and trail conditions here.
Hiking ladder canyon was SO much fun. It’s basically a slot canyon with a few ladders tucked in. I love finding new slot canyons to explore so this was an absolute blast. They’re so much fun to see, walk through, marvel at, and photograph.
Before sun down we drove one hour to Anza Borrego and rested our heads at Borrego Springs Motel for the night. We had planned on camping that night, but the winds were whipping so hard we figured we wouldn’t get much sleep and decided to get a hotel instead.
Short Road trip from San Diego. Day 2: Anza Borrego State Park
The next morning we set off early to hike to Font’s Point for sunrise. If you have a higher clearance car with AWD/4×4 you could easily drive to this overlook and not have to hike at all. However, we were nervous our Honda CR-V wouldn’t be able to make it so we hiked the whole way. Better to be safe than sorry!
The hike to Font’s Point is 8 miles round trip but rather flat at only 550 ft elevation gain. You can find trail conditions and a map here.
The view here at sunrise was just fantastic. The canyon donned a beautiful orange and yellow glow, and the desert textures really shone.
After our hike to Font’s Point, we did the short slot canyon hike in the park.
It is a little over 2 miles and 300 ft elevation gain. Find a map and recent trail conditions here. The actual slot part of the canyon is rather short, but it is still worth the effort!
After hiking the slot canyon, we headed home to San Diego. Not a bad place to call home for a bit. 🙂
Wrap up: Joshua Tree vs Anza Borrego
In conclusion, choosing between Anza Borrego State Park and Joshua Tree National Park can be a difficult decision- especially if you have only one day. Both parks offer unique landscapes, diverse wildlife, and outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy.
Anza Borrego State Park is ideal for those seeking solitude, unique desert landscapes, wildflowers, and wide open space. Joshua Tree National Park attracts adventurers looking for easily accessible hikes, rock climbing opportunities, and unique stays.
Ultimately, the choice depends on personal preferences and interests. Regardless of which park you choose, both are worth exploring and provide unforgettable experiences that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
Luckily if you are spending 2-3 days in the area, these parks are only an hour and half drive away from each other so you could get a taste of both.