These Stunning Alternatives To Joshua Tree National Park Are Way Less Crowded

The southwestern portion of the United States is so well-loved that it often inspires fashion, both indoor and outdoor decor, and travel itineraries. Whether you don a cowboy hat and turquoise jewelry or not, there are so many things to do and see in the American Southwest. One of its draws is its rocky, yet desert landscape and the plants which manage to survive the harsh conditions.

The Mojave Desert reaches into California, Nevada, and Arizona, and features handfuls of plants rarely found anywhere else — the most notable among them are Joshua trees. While they are actually succulents, their resemblance to trees makes them unique and symbolic of this region. There is even a national park in southern California called Joshua Tree National Park. However, the park's popularity makes it rather crowded. In fact, it is one of the most popular American national parks. Luckily, there are plenty of these beautiful trees and classic southwest desert terrain elsewhere in the region. Options within driving distance of Joshua Tree National Park include the Mojave National Preserve (pictured above), Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park, Red Rock Canyon, and Pioneertown Mountains Preserve.

The Mojave National Preserve is even bigger than Joshua Tree National Park

A large section of the Mojave is within the Mojave National Preserve near Nevada's southwestern border. This preserve is bigger and actually has more Joshua trees than Joshua Tree National Park, but with a fraction of the crowds. One of the best places to see Joshua trees here is Cima Dome. Though the area suffered a fire in 2020, many trees were spared and volunteers have worked to restore the area in the years since. The Mojave National Preserve is also famous for the Kelso Dunes hiking trail. As the name suggests, the trail takes visitors up to massive sand dunes with miles of views. 

Head north from Hollywood for less than two hours to find Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park. Among the region's wildflowers are Joshua trees as well. Its status as a park helps protect the trees from human-fueled land development. This is important as the trees have become less common in this part of California. Follow the Ripley Nature Trail or the Rare Juniper Trail to take in all the nature.

Get up close to brightly colored rock formations at Red Rock Canyon

The perfect outdoor activity near Las Vegas is the picturesque Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Not only does this region have mountains ranging in color from bright orange to soft beige but it also has similar plant life to Joshua Tree National Park — including the all-important Joshua tree. Red Rock Canyon's entrance helps you find the 13-mile scenic section of State Route 159 which loops through the landscape, reaching hiking trails and rock formations along the way. With its wide valleys and tall mountains, it is hard to believe that the Las Vegas Strip is only about 17 miles away.

Just outside of Joshua Tree National Park's northwest edge is the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve. One of the ways to explore the preserve is on the Chaparrosa Peak trail, which begins conveniently at a parking lot. As you follow the trail, keep an eye out for chaparral shrubs in varying shades of green and volcanic rocks. Chaparrosa Peak trail is around 6 miles round trip, but the views of both Joshua Tree National Park and the pine trees of the San Bernardino National Forest make it well worth the trek.