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The Perfect California Deserts Road Trip Itinerary


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Callida Serna



Embarking on a road trip is an exhilarating adventure, and there’s no better place to experience the thrill of the open road than in the breathtaking deserts of California. From the iconic Joshua Tree National Park to the otherworldly landscapes of Death Valley, California offers a diverse range of desert destinations that are perfect for a road trip.


The California Deserts Road Trip will take you through some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders the state has to offer. Get ready to witness vast desolate landscapes, stunning rock formations, vibrant wildflowers, and mesmerizing sunsets. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photography lover, or simply seeking a unique and memorable journey, this road trip has something for everyone.


This road trip is designed to be completed in seven days, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of each destination. From the vibrant city of Los Angeles to the serene Mojave National Preserve, you’ll experience the best of California’s deserts.


Before hitting the road, make sure to pack essential supplies such as plenty of water, sunscreen, and snacks. It’s also a good idea to have a reliable GPS or map to navigate the desert landscapes.


Now, let’s dive into the detailed itinerary of the perfect California Deserts Road Trip to help you make the most of your adventure!


Day 1: Los Angeles

Your road trip begins in the bustling city of Los Angeles, where you can soak up the vibrant atmosphere before venturing into the serene deserts. Start your day by exploring the iconic attractions of L.A., such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Griffith Observatory, or the beautiful beaches of Santa Monica.


After enjoying the city, hit the road and head east towards Palm Springs. The drive will take you through scenic landscapes and provide glimpses of the sprawling desert that lies ahead. Along the way, you can make a stop at the iconic Cabazon Dinosaurs, towering sculptures that are a must-see for any Jurassic Park fan.


As you arrive in Palm Springs, take a moment to soak in the beauty of this desert oasis. Known for its mid-century modern architecture and picturesque mountain views, Palm Springs offers a perfect blend of relaxation and adventure. Enjoy a rejuvenating evening by soaking in the natural hot springs or exploring the vibrant downtown area.


End your day with a delicious dinner at one of the many trendy restaurants in Palm Springs. From farm-to-table cuisine to international flavors, the city boasts a diverse culinary scene that will tantalize your taste buds.


After a long day of exploring and driving, rest up for the night at one of the cozy hotels or resorts in Palm Springs. Wake up refreshed and ready to continue your California Deserts Road Trip.


Day 2: Joshua Tree National Park

On day 2 of your California Deserts Road Trip, get ready to immerse yourself in the stunning beauty of Joshua Tree National Park. Just a short drive from Palm Springs, this national park is known for its unique Joshua Trees, towering rock formations, and incredible starry nights.


Start your day early to beat the crowds and take advantage of the cooler temperatures. As you enter the national park, you’ll be greeted by a surreal landscape filled with twisted Joshua Trees and massive boulders. Take a leisurely hike on one of the park’s many trails, such as the Hidden Valley Loop or the Barker Dam Trail, where you can marvel at the diverse plant and animal life that call this desert home.


For a more adventurous experience, consider rock climbing on the park’s striking granite formations. Joshua Tree National Park is known worldwide for its exceptional rock climbing opportunities, catering to climbers of all skill levels.


As the sun starts to set, make your way to Keys View, a breathtaking viewpoint that offers panoramic vistas of the Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault. This is a perfect spot to watch the glowing colors of the sunset paint the desert landscape.


After a day of exploration, spend the evening stargazing in Joshua Tree’s dark skies. The park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, making it an ideal location to witness the beauty of the night sky. Lay back on a blanket and marvel at the countless stars that light up the desert.


If you wish to extend your stay, Joshua Tree National Park offers camping opportunities, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere of the desert. Alternatively, drive back to Palm Springs and enjoy a peaceful evening in one of the city’s charming accommodations.


Day 2 of your California Deserts Road Trip will leave you captivated by the unique landscapes and natural wonders of Joshua Tree National Park.


Day 3: Palm Springs

After a day of exploring Joshua Tree National Park, take some time to further appreciate the beauty and charm of Palm Springs on day 3 of your California Deserts Road Trip.


Start your morning by indulging in a delicious breakfast at one of the many renowned eateries in Palm Springs. Whether you prefer a classic American breakfast, a healthy smoothie bowl, or something more exotic, the city offers a wide range of options to satisfy your taste buds.


Next, venture out to the Indian Canyons, a collection of stunning canyons known for their lush palm oases and breathtaking hiking trails. Take a leisurely walk through the tranquil surroundings, enjoying the shade provided by the towering palm trees. Along the way, you may have the chance to encounter wildlife such as desert bighorn sheep and various bird species.


After exploring the Indian Canyons, cool off by visiting one of the nearby art museums or galleries. Palm Springs is renowned for its vibrant art scene, featuring exhibitions of modern and contemporary artwork from local and international artists.


If you’re a fan of architecture, be sure to take a tour of the city’s famous Mid-Century Modern homes. Palm Springs is known for its well-preserved examples of this architectural style, with many iconic homes designed by renowned architects like Richard Neutra and Albert Frey.


In the afternoon, escape the heat by indulging in some retail therapy at one of Palm Springs’ boutique shops or outlets. From stylish fashion boutiques to unique gift stores, you’ll find a variety of options to suit your shopping desires.


As the sun begins to set, head to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a breathtaking ride up the towering Mount San Jacinto. Enjoy the stunning views as you ascend to a higher elevation, and savor a delicious dinner at the mountaintop restaurant. The panoramic vistas of the Coachella Valley at sunset are truly unforgettable.


End your day by unwinding in one of the city’s luxurious spas or enjoying a night out on the town. Palm Springs offers a vibrant nightlife scene, with a variety of bars, clubs, and live entertainment options to choose from.


Day 3 in Palm Springs will give you a deeper appreciation for the city’s unique charm and diverse offerings, making it a highlight of your California Deserts Road Trip.


Day 4: Salton Sea

On day 4 of your California Deserts Road Trip, venture to the intriguing Salton Sea, a unique and enigmatic destination. Located in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, the Salton Sea is a saline lake with a fascinating history and diverse ecosystem.


Start your day by driving from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea, which will take you through desert landscapes and agricultural fields. As you arrive at the Salton Sea, you’ll be greeted by vast stretches of shimmering water and remote beaches.


Begin your exploration by visiting the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. This park offers opportunities for swimming, fishing, and birdwatching. Keep an eye out for the diverse bird species that inhabit the area, including pelicans, herons, and migratory birds.


To truly understand the complexity of the Salton Sea, make a stop at the Salton Sea Visitor Center. Here, you can learn about the ecological challenges facing the lake and the efforts being made to preserve its fragile ecosystem.


Continue your journey to the Bombay Beach, a small community along the shores of the Salton Sea. This unique town, once a thriving vacation destination, now stands as a hauntingly beautiful testament to the lake’s complex history. Take a walk along the shoreline and marvel at the remnants of abandoned buildings, colorful art installations, and the otherworldly beauty of the decaying environment.


As lunchtime approaches, savor some local cuisine at one of the unique seafood restaurants in the area. The Salton Sea is known for its deliciously fresh fish and shrimp dishes, offering a unique culinary experience.


After lunch, head to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for migratory birds and other wildlife. Take a leisurely walk along the nature trails and observe the diverse array of waterfowl and other animals that call this refuge home.


As the day comes to a close, find a spot along the Salton Sea’s shoreline to witness the stunning sunset over the water. The changing colors on the horizon, reflecting off the tranquil lake, create a truly mesmerizing and peaceful atmosphere.


For accommodations, you can choose to stay at one of the hotels nearby or camp at designated areas along the Salton Sea. Rest up for the next day’s adventures, as your California Deserts Road Trip continues to the enchanting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.


Day 5: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

On day 5 of your California Deserts Road Trip, get ready to explore the stunning landscapes of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Located in San Diego County, this expansive desert park is known for its rugged beauty, diverse flora and fauna, and fascinating geological formations.


Start your day by driving from the Salton Sea to the visitor center of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located in the charming town of Borrego Springs. Here, you can gather information about the park, pick up trail maps, and learn about the unique features and wildlife of the area.


Embark on a scenic hike through the park’s numerous trails, allowing you to immerse yourself in the desert wilderness. Explore the stunning slot canyons, such as the popular Borrego Palm Canyon, where you can witness the beauty of native palm oases and possibly spot local wildlife.


For a unique experience, consider visiting the park during the spring months, when the desert blooms with vibrant wildflowers. The sight of colorful blossoms amidst the arid landscape is truly breathtaking.


As you venture deeper into the park, be sure to keep an eye out for the famous metal sculptures created by artist Ricardo Breceda. These larger-than-life sculptures depict various desert creatures, including dinosaurs, giant serpents, and saber-toothed tigers, adding a touch of whimsy to the desert surroundings.


For a memorable experience, plan a visit to Fonts Point, often referred to as the “California Grand Canyon.” From this scenic viewpoint, you’ll be treated to panoramic vistas of the vast desert landscape, showcasing the incredible geological formations and layers of colorful sediments.


As the day progresses, take a break and enjoy a picnic lunch in one of the designated picnic areas within the park. Soak in the peaceful ambiance and savor the unique flavors of the desert as you refuel for more exploration.


In the late afternoon, consider joining a guided jeep tour to explore the more remote and rugged parts of the park. This will give you the opportunity to discover hidden gems, such as hidden waterfalls, ancient rock art, and secluded natural pools.


As the sun begins to set, find a scenic spot to peacefully witness the vibrant colors of the desert sky as it transitions from day to night. The vastness and tranquility of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park will leave you in awe of the beauty of the California desert.


For overnight accommodations, you can choose from cozy lodgings in Borrego Springs, or for a unique experience, camp out under the starry desert sky in one of the park’s designated campgrounds.


Day 5 of your California Deserts Road Trip will undoubtedly leave you with unforgettable memories of the stunning Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and its remarkable natural wonders.


Day 6: Death Valley National Park

On day 6 of your California Deserts Road Trip, prepare to be awe-inspired as you make your way to the iconic Death Valley National Park. Known for its extreme temperatures, vast sand dunes, and unique geological formations, Death Valley offers a surreal and breathtaking desert experience.


Start your day by driving from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the entrance of Death Valley National Park. As you enter the park, be prepared for the dramatic change in scenery and the sense of awe that will wash over you.


Your first stop should be at the visitor center, where you can gather essential information about the park’s attractions, weather conditions, and safety tips. It’s crucial to stay hydrated and carry ample water throughout your exploration, as Death Valley’s temperatures can be extreme, especially during the summer months.


Begin your adventure by visiting Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Walk along the salt flats, marveling at the vast expanse of white, cracked earth stretching to the horizon. Don’t forget to stop by the sign indicating sea level and the depth of Badwater Basin below.


Continue your journey to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, an iconic feature of Death Valley. Explore the pristine sand dunes, their shapes constantly shifting with the winds, and take in the mesmerizing views of the surrounding mountain ranges.


As the day progresses, consider visiting one of Death Valley’s numerous viewpoints, such as Zabriskie Point or Dante’s View. From these elevated vantage points, you’ll witness the grandeur of the valley, with its striking geological formations and vivid colors.


For a unique experience, drive along the scenic artist’s palette loop, where vibrant mineral deposits create a stunning array of colors on the hillsides. This unforgettable sight is a testament to the geological wonders found within Death Valley.


As the heat of the day subsides, make your way to the famous Devil’s Golf Course. This rugged expanse of salt formations resembles an otherworldly landscape. Step carefully between the sharp crystalline salt structures to fully appreciate the unique environment.


End your day by witnessing the captivating sunset at one of Death Valley’s picturesque locations. The vast emptiness of the desert, combined with the ever-changing hues of the sky, creates a breathtaking spectacle that will leave you in awe.


For accommodations, you can choose to stay in one of the hotels within the park or camp in designated campgrounds. The vast, starry nights of Death Valley offer a unique opportunity for stargazing and connecting with the serenity of the desert.


Day 6 of your California Deserts Road Trip will leave you with incredible memories of the stark beauty and unmatched landscapes of Death Valley National Park.


Day 7: Mojave National Preserve

On the final day of your California Deserts Road Trip, explore the enchanting Mojave National Preserve, a stunning desert wilderness that showcases the unique beauty of the Mojave Desert. From Joshua trees to vast sand dunes, this preserve offers a diverse range of landscapes and experiences.


Start your day by traveling from Death Valley National Park to the Mojave National Preserve. As you enter the preserve, you’ll be greeted by the iconic Joshua trees that dot the landscape, providing a surreal and picturesque backdrop.


Begin your adventure by visiting the Kelso Dunes, one of the preserve’s most remarkable features. These towering sand dunes offer a perfect playground for sandboarding, hiking, or simply marveling at the mesmerizing patterns and shapes created by the wind. Be sure to go barefoot and experience the fine grains of sand beneath your feet.


Next, head to the Mitchell Caverns, a fascinating underground labyrinth that showcases stunning limestone formations. Take a guided tour to learn about the rich geological history and the delicate ecosystem that flourishes within these remarkable caves.


For a unique experience, drive along the historic Route 66, a legendary highway that once served as the main artery between the East and West coast. Explore the preserved remnants of this iconic road, including old gas stations, motels, and quirky roadside attractions.


Continue your exploration by visiting the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association, where you can learn about the rich history and cultural significance of the Mojave Desert. Explore exhibits showcasing the indigenous people, pioneers, and mining history of the region.


As the day progresses, make your way to the iconic Joshua Tree Forest, a surreal landscape filled with these magnificent trees. Take a leisurely stroll or hike through the forest, basking in the tranquility and uniqueness of this incredible habitat.


Before leaving the Mojave National Preserve, catch a stunning sunset at one of the lookout points. As the golden hues fill the sky, reflecting off the desert landscape, you’ll be reminded of the immense beauty and serenity of the Mojave Desert.


As your incredible California Deserts Road Trip comes to an end, take a moment to reflect on the unforgettable experiences and memories you’ve made along the way. The diverse deserts of California have showcased their unique charms, leaving you with a deeper appreciation for the natural wonders of the world.


Whether it’s the stunning rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park, the otherworldly beauty of Death Valley, or the serene wilderness of Mojave National Preserve, this road trip has introduced you to the captivating allure of California’s deserts.


Safe travels and happy adventuring!



Congratulations on completing the perfect California Deserts Road Trip! Over the course of seven days, you’ve journeyed through the diverse and awe-inspiring desert landscapes of California, experiencing the beauty and tranquility that these unique regions have to offer.


From the vibrant streets of Los Angeles to the stunning Joshua Tree National Park, the oasis of Palm Springs, the captivating Salton Sea, the enchanting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the otherworldly Death Valley National Park, and the serene Mojave National Preserve, each destination has left its mark on your adventure.


Throughout your journey, you’ve witnessed breathtaking sunsets, hiked among unique rock formations, marveled at the resilience of desert flora and fauna, stargazed under the darkest skies, and embraced the solitude and grandeur of these remarkable landscapes.


Not only have you immersed yourself in the natural wonders of the California deserts, but you’ve also enjoyed the distinct cultural and historical elements that add depth to each destination. From exploring downtown Palm Springs to learning about the pioneers along Route 66, you’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the people and stories that have shaped these desert regions.


As you wrap up your road trip, take a moment to reflect on the memories and experiences you’ve gathered along the way. The beauty of the deserts of California is unmatched, and you’re privileged to have witnessed their magic.


Remember to always respect and preserve the delicate ecosystems you’ve encountered. Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footsteps, ensuring the preservation of these natural wonders for future generations to enjoy.


Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or simply someone in search of a transformative journey, the California Deserts Road Trip has provided a remarkable experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.


So, fuel up, hit the road, and embrace the allure of the open highway. California’s deserts are waiting to captivate your heart and soul once again.