The desert is quite a place to reflect, meditate and breathe. Joshua Tree National Park is one of Southern California's wonders. There are many ways to discover the park and you will find here my suggestions to enjoy your time over there.
First I would advise starting your visit from the North of the park if this is your first time. There are way more hikes and outlooks in this part of the park and it's nicer to start your day with that many things to see. Be aware that there is no water or food sold in the park so come prepare and stay hydrated throughout your visit.
★ Keys View is great for a first stop. It will provide a panoramic view of the Coachella Valley and make you realize even more in what kind of decor you find yourself. It is just an outlook.
★ To settle into the atmosphere of the park it is a good idea to start with the 1.3 mile Barker Dam trail. Not the most mind-blowing part of Joshua Tree but it is a good warm-up for your eyes.
★ Hidden Valley is a wonderful 1 mile loop hike which will reveal one of the best scenery of Joshua Tree. It is a must see. Don't be fool by the small mileage of this walk you are going to be willing to stop very often to admire the landscape and might end spending more than 1 hour strolling in this spectacular natural decor.
I am always looking at desert's vegetation with awe. As conditions for life are difficult, plants find impressive ways to survive. Many plants have very tiny leaves which require less water. Their finesse and delicacy are full of poetry. Everything seems so organized, most of the times it feels like a landscaper came and perfectly arranged the vegetation. I kept making jokes with my dad about how every plant had its space and wasn't impinging on the others.
★ On your way to the South of the park you will see the Cholla Cactus Garden which is a fun stop since you will see an unusual cactis concentration.
★ Cottonwood Spring is located 7 miles from the southern entrance and is worth the hike. If you spend the night somewhere in the Coachella Valley (like Indian Wells, La Quinta, or Indio) I will advise coming back the morning after to walk the Cottonwood Spring hike (your $25 pass is valid for 7 days). When I went over there it was a super quiet 3 miles hike (I just saw a group of 4 people) with plenty of interesting plants, geology and a spectacular view.
★ Indian Cove is located on the North part of the park and is a marvelous place to admire the steep rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park. Notice that it is a dead-end and that you won't be able to access the rest of the park from here. I arrived in the late afternoon in the city of Twenty Nine Palms where I was going to spend the night and went to Indian Cove. It was the perfect ramble to start Joshua Tree visit. The campgrounds' have an amazing situation at Indian Cove and if I was to camp I'd go there.
★ Sheep Pass is a campground that you will find on your right on your way back from Hidden Valley. It is a great spot to enjoy lunch before taking the main road to the South. And if you keep an eye open you might see a Desert Bighorn Sheep.
Enjoy your visit!