10 Best Sites for Plein Air Painting in Joshua Tree National Park

I’m back! After a long hiatus, I’ve decided to commit to my blog again. Thanks to my loyal followers for your patience. I will try to not let you down again!

For this post, I am going to list my top 10 places to go plein air painting in Joshua Tree National Park. In subsequent posts, I will focus on each of these with more detail.

Joshua Tree National Park is 1,235 square miles spanning two deserts, the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. The landscape within the park changes as elevations change. Throughout, it possesses a rugged beauty that must be experienced to be truly appreciated. Artists from around the world are inspired by its uniqueness, and I feel the only way to truly capture the essence of the park is to paint it “en plein air”, meaning on location. I have spent countless hours in this national treasure and come away each time with a new appreciation of it.

When visiting the park, one must be prepared. The environment in the park can be hostile, if not deadly, to those who may take it for granted. Always travel with plenty of water. There is no water in the park, so you must bring your own. The temperatures can range from below freezing to 120 degrees plus, depending on the time of day and year. Layers are always a good idea. A hat and sunscreen are a must. The desert is inhabited by things that will stick you, sting you or bite you. Wear sturdy shoes – sandals are never a good idea. Also know that there is limited cell service in the park – most areas get no signal at all. In addition, for your safety, always stay on established trails. I am not in any way trying to scare anyone off, I just want your trip to be enjoyable, and the better prepared you are, the more you will be able to appreciate its riches.

So, these are my top 10 favorite areas to paint within the park. If you are not adventurous, you could paint right from your car, or for the more curious, there are hiking trails to explore. They are in order of distance from the west entrance in Joshua Tree, the closest one being first. My list of sites is on the west side of the park because those are the ones I go to most often. This is by no means an exhaustive list of sites. There are many, many more!

  1. Boy Scout Trail: 6.4 miles from the West Entrance, turn left into the Boy Scout Trail parking lot. There are beautiful vistas here, and if you hike north a while on the trail you will get closer to the rocks. There are lots of Joshua Trees and other vegetation here as well.
  2. Lost Horse Road: 7.3 miles from the West Entrance. The road doesn’t have a sign, but there is a restroom at the intersection. It is a well-maintained dirt road on the right side of Park Blvd. – keep an eye on your odometer so you don’t miss it. There are lots of pull outs along this road, and all of them have wonderful sites.
  3. Hemingway: 7.6 miles from the West Entrance on the right side of Park Blvd. Beautiful rock formations to explore and a variety of vegetation.
  4. Hidden Valley Picnic Area: 8.6 miles on the right side of Park Blvd. A large, diverse area. Tons to explore, but it can get crowded later in the day.
  5. Intersection Rock: 8.6 miles on the left side of Park Blvd. A huge, domed rock next to the parking lot is remarkable, and there are plenty of other possibilities to hike to.
  6. Echo Rock: Just after Intersection Rock is the turn off to Barker Dam on the left (watch for the sign). Take that road and go 0.6 mile to the turn off for Keys Ranch on the left. Drive 0.1 mile and the parking lot is on the right. Rocks and a wash make interesting compositions.
  7. Barker Dam: Take the road all the way until it turns into the parking area for the dam. So much to see here, you really need to get out and walk around.
  8. Cap Rock: 10.2 miles from the West Entrance take the turn off to Keys View. Go 0.2 mile and turn left into the parking lot. There is an easy nature trail that you can take around this area.
  9. Keys View Road: Continue up Keys View Road from Cap Rock. There are several turn outs where you can park. The trees start to change from Joshua Trees to Junipers to Pinyon Pine as you rise in elevation. If you go all the way to the top, there is an incredible view of the Coachella Valley.
  10. Hall of Horrors: 11.7 miles from the West Entrance. Stay on Park Blvd. It will bend to the East. The parking area is on the left side. So much to choose from!

Thanks for reading!  I hope you will get out into the park and try your hand at plein air painting.  It is a wonderful learning experience.

Also, check out my new page, “Artwork” (tab at the top of this page).  It is a gallery page of some of my paintings. It is a work in progress, but give it a try and let me know what you think!