Family/Kid friendly recommendations for Joshua Tree NP

WasatchWill

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My family is gearing up to head out for a road trip for Spring Break next month. Along the way, we're hoping to spend a night in Joshua Tree NP. If you only have a few hours to spend, what kid-friendly spots would be the best? Right now I'm thinking the drive up spots of Arch Rock, Skull Rock, and Arch Rock and for a short hike, Barker Dam. Are there any other hikes no more than 2-3 miles round trip that I'm missing that could be better than Barker Dam for keeping things interesting for young kids?

Also, does anyone know of any other good and safe areas to camp closer to San Diego? We want to spend a day at the zoo and some time in the afternoon/evening at a beach. We're looking at renting a pop-up trailer and doing a night at Silver Strand, but we're open to other suggestions.
 

BryanG

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Jul 22, 2016
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My family is gearing up to head out for a road trip for Spring Break next month. Along the way, we're hoping to spend a night in Joshua Tree NP. If you only have a few hours to spend, what kid-friendly spots would be the best? Right now I'm thinking the drive up spots of Arch Rock, Skull Rock, and Arch Rock and for a short hike, Barker Dam. Are there any other hikes no more than 2-3 miles round trip that I'm missing that could be better than Barker Dam for keeping things interesting for young kids?

Also, does anyone know of any other good and safe areas to camp closer to San Diego? We want to spend a day at the zoo and some time in the afternoon/evening at a beach. We're looking at renting a pop-up trailer and doing a night at Silver Strand, but we're open to other suggestions.

I think Barker Dam would be your best option. The trailhead is easily accessed, you can see some cool rocks and some pretty intense climbers at Hidden Valley, and the trail is well marked and easily traveled.

As for the zoo and camping, you might want to look into the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formally the wild animal park). Personally I think it is way better than the San Diego Zoo. I have only been to the San Diego Zoo once but the Safari Park at least 15 times in the 25 years I've lived in San Diego. On the plus side there is many more camping options near the Safari Park and the park itself is much more interactive. The downside, its further away from the main attractions in San Diego and wouldn't give you as much of the "San Diego Experience".

An option might be to find a place to basecamp near or on the outskirts of Escondido, CA and you would have a 45 minute drive to the Safari Park to the East and a 45 minute drive to the beach in Oceanside or Carlsbad (much cleaner) to the West. I don't mean to totally disrupt your plans, just my two cents. You can totally disregard this information if it doesn't work for your itinerary. I am certain you can find campsites near the city of San Diego, they might just be much more developed. Also, if you are down in the city there are endless sightseeing opportunities. Balboa Park, baseball game at Petco Park, Pacific Beach, seaport village, ect...
 

WasatchWill

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I think Barker Dam would be your best option. The trailhead is easily accessed, you can see some cool rocks and some pretty intense climbers at Hidden Valley, and the trail is well marked and easily traveled.

As for the zoo and camping, you might want to look into the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formally the wild animal park). Personally I think it is way better than the San Diego Zoo. I have only been to the San Diego Zoo once but the Safari Park at least 15 times in the 25 years I've lived in San Diego. On the plus side there is many more camping options near the Safari Park and the park itself is much more interactive. The downside, its further away from the main attractions in San Diego and wouldn't give you as much of the "San Diego Experience".

An option might be to find a place to basecamp near or on the outskirts of Escondido, CA and you would have a 45 minute drive to the Safari Park to the East and a 45 minute drive to the beach in Oceanside or Carlsbad (much cleaner) to the West. I don't mean to totally disrupt your plans, just my two cents. You can totally disregard this information if it doesn't work for your itinerary. I am certain you can find campsites near the city of San Diego, they might just be much more developed. Also, if you are down in the city there are endless sightseeing opportunities. Balboa Park, baseball game at Petco Park, Pacific Beach, seaport village, ect...

Thanks. I wish we had more time to experience more of what San Diego has to offer (and so many other areas along the way). My oldest daughter has always had a thing for pandas, so that's one of the biggest motivators for San Diego and the zoo. That, and because we'll be condensed on time, we'd probably be able to see more unique animals in a shorter space of time, but otherwise, the Safari looks/sounds fantastic. Definitely some food for thought, and I can run that all by my kids and wife.

Our itinerary currently looks like this so far...

Sunday - Valley of Fire SP (Nevada), camp
Monday - Joshua Tree NP, camp
Tuesday - San Diego - zoo & a beach, camp (or motel)
Wednesday - Phoenix area (sister lives here), stay with my folks who live in Casa Grande
Thursday - Flagstaff area: Sedona, Grand Canyon, wife's brother lives in Flagstaff
Friday - Drive home

It'd be great if I had the weekends off, but I have to work the Saturday prior and the Saturday after. I could possibly squeak out another night with Friday night as long as we can get back into Southern Utah for that night, then get home by mid-day so I can go to work that afternoon...And there's also a chance we do all of this in a reverse loop. We're trying to finalize that all this week so we can make reservations where needed and where possible.
 

BryanG

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Jul 22, 2016
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Thanks. I wish we had more time to experience more of what San Diego has to offer (and so many other areas along the way). My oldest daughter has always had a thing for pandas, so that's one of the biggest motivators for San Diego and the zoo. That, and because we'll be condensed on time, we'd probably be able to see more unique animals in a shorter space of time, but otherwise, the Safari looks/sounds fantastic. Definitely some food for thought, and I can run that all by my kids and wife.

Our itinerary currently looks like this so far...

Sunday - Valley of Fire SP (Nevada), camp
Monday - Joshua Tree NP, camp
Tuesday - San Diego - zoo & a beach, camp (or motel)
Wednesday - Phoenix area (sister lives here), stay with my folks who live in Casa Grande
Thursday - Flagstaff area: Sedona, Grand Canyon, wife's brother lives in Flagstaff
Friday - Drive home

It'd be great if I had the weekends off, but I have to work the Saturday prior and the Saturday after. I could possibly squeak out another night with Friday night as long as we can get back into Southern Utah for that night, then get home by mid-day so I can go to work that afternoon...And there's also a chance we do all of this in a reverse loop. We're trying to finalize that all this week so we can make reservations where needed and where possible.

Sounds like an action packed vacation! I sure you will have a great time any which way :)
 

WasatchWill

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Sounds like an action packed vacation! I sure you will have a great time any which way :)

Yep...due to all we have on our agenda and so on, we modified things a bit yesterday. Instead of hoping to score a FCFS site and camping a night in Joshua Tree, we reserved a room near the Zoo. So we'll still drop by Joshua Tree for a picnic lunch and a couple short hikes, most likely Skull Rock and Barker Dam, and then drive on into San Diego for the evening. We reserved a site at Green Valley in Cuyamaca for after our visit to the zoo before we move on to my folks place in AZ. Thanks again for the tips though! When my kids are older, we'll definitely have to consider coming back for the Safari park and other stuff in the area.
 
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