The Ultimate Guide to a Las Vegas to Joshua Tree Road Trip

Jennifer Yirinec
Apr 27, 2022 · 9 min read
A road trip from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree National Park features some of the best desert vistas in the United States.
You’ll want to maximize the round trip by taking two different routes. For the outbound trip, you’ll pass through Primm, Nevada and Amboy, California before arriving in Joshua Tree National Park.
On the return trip, you’ll stop in the California cities of Barstow and Baker before returning to Las Vegas.
Although only three and a half hours each way, this Las Vegas to Joshua Tree road trip offers no shortage of kitschy photo ops and chances to explore nature’s splendors.
As you embark on this journey along deserted, pothole-studded roads, ensure you have the car insurance protection you need. Jerry, a licensed insurance broker app, will find you the best policy from a top-50 auto insurance provider in under a minute.
Jerry even offers an emergency roadside assistance program that provides you with access to emergency assistance, vehicle towing, and more so you can get back on the road as quickly as possible.
Ready for some lovely desert scenery? Here’s your Las Vegas to Joshua Tree road trip guide.
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Key trip details

Las Vegas to Joshua Tree map.
Distance: 198 miles
Driving time: 3 hours and 20 minutes
Suggested length of trip: 1 to 2 days

Itinerary

  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Primm, NV
  • Amboy, CA
  • Joshua Tree, CA

Las Vegas to Primm

44 miles, 41 minutes
On the trip from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Joshua Tree National Park, California, you’ll take I-15 down through one of the most famous desert parks, Mojave National Preserve. With three and a half hours in the car, you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the scenic desert landscape and unique tourist stops along the way.
Take I-15 S to get started.

Where to eat in Primm, NV

  • Primm & Proper ($$): Grab breakfast at the Primm & Proper, located inside the Primm Valley Resort & Casino. You can’t go wrong with the avocado toast, made with poached egg, tomatoes, and wild greens on top of country grilled bread.

What to do in Primm

Colorful rock cairns stand against a mountainous background at Seven Magic Mountains in Jean.
  • Seven Magic Mountains: About 15 minutes outside of Primm, Jean is currently home to the Seven Magic Mountains installation. Created by artist Ugo Rondinone, this public art installation consists of seven towers of neon-colored boulders stacked over 30 feet high. After marveling at this large-scale desert artwork, continue on to Primm, NV, where quirky tourist attractions await you.
  • The Lotto Store at Primm: Buy a lotto ticket from the famous Primm Lotto Store, one of the world’s busiest lottery shops, is located approximately 50 feet across the California state line. Because Nevada doesn’t have a state lottery or participate in national lotteries like the Powerball, its southern residents trek to Primm’s Lotto Store, where eight self-serve lottery machines and many cashiers await them.
  • Whiskey Pete’s: Get your camera ready—at Whiskey Pete’s Hotel & Casino you’ll find Bonny and Clyde’s "Death Car," a V8 Ford that served as the getaway car for famous Depression-era criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Next to the main cashier stage, the bullet-ridden car sits encased in glass, a testament to the bloody end of America’s legendary criminal couple.

Primm to Amboy, CA

91 miles, 1 hour 32 minutes
Another hour and a half in the car will bring you to Amboy, California, a famous Mojave Desert "ghost town" along the historic Route 66. It’s here that many films and music videos have been recorded, including The Hitcher (1986) and Enrique Iglesias’s "Hero" (2001).
Hop onto Kelbaker Road then I-15 S to get to Amboy.

What to eat in Amboy

  • Roy’s Motel & Cafe: No trip through the Mojave Desert is complete without a stop at Roy’s Motel & Cafe. Although you can’t eat a hot meal at this defunct 1940s diner, service station, and motel, you can grab a Route 66 Root Beer and some packaged snacks to tide you over until Joshua Tree. The gas station is operational, but beware—Roy’s has some of the highest gas prices on Route 66.

What to do in Amboy

The Amboy Crater in the distance during the daytime.
  • Mojave National Preserve: Just 17 miles outside of Amboy is one of America’s most famous desert parks, the Mojave National Preserve, which features breathtaking canyon, mountain, and mesa views. Whether you stick to the main road or go off-roading through the preserve (sedan or larger required), you are sure to enjoy the majestic sights of sand dunes, cinder cone volcanoes, Joshua trees, and wildflowers in this 1.6-million-acre national park.
  • Amboy Crater: Check out the Amboy Crater, a mere three miles from the town of Amboy. You can hike this 24-square-mile lava field that remains from an extinct cinder cone volcano and encounter lava lakes, flood basalts, spatter cones, and collapsed lava tube caves.

Amboy to Joshua Tree, CA

64 miles, 1 hour 6 minutes
Your final destination is only one hour from Amboy—Joshua Tree National Park, located in Twentynine Palms, California. This desert park boasts giant boulder formations, unbeatable hiking trails, and opportunities to tour deserted ranches and old mines. Bring an RV or a tent so that you can camp in the park, taking advantage of the constellation gazing afforded by wide-open night skies.
Take N Amboy Road out of Amboy to get to your destination.

Where to eat in Joshua Tree

  • Joshua Tree Saloon ($$): At the gateway to Joshua National Tree Park is the Joshua Tree Saloon, a food and live music destination that offers varied eats, beers on tap, and, if you’re lucky, celebrity sightings.

What to do in Joshua Tree

A mountainous slope glows orange in the sunset at Coachella Valley, Joshua Tree.
Must do: Hike the Hidden Valley Trail, a popular one-mile loop that is enjoyable for even the most amateur hiker. If you’re traveling in late winter through spring, you can admire the gorgeous succulents and wildflowers that surround the natural rock walls.
Must see: Enjoy a panoramic view of the Coachella Valley from Keys View, a lookout whose elevation is over 5,000 feet. You’ll catch sights of Palm Springs, Indio, the San Andreas Fault, and, depending on the weather, Mexico’s Signal Mountain.

Where to stay in Joshua Tree

  • Best Western Joshua Tree: Joshua tree boasts pricey specialty lodging spots, but if you’re just looking for a no-frills place to sleep, this is your best bet. Cost per night: from $109
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Bastow, CA

199 miles, 3 hours 17 minutes
On the return trip to Las Vegas, you’ll take a different route, driving around the Mojave National Preserve rather than passing through it. Doing so will enable you to stop in Barstow and Baker, two California cities with numerous memorable landmarks.
Take I-15 N to get back.

Where to eat in Barstow

  • Frosty’s Donuts: A no-frills donut joint, Frosty’s Donuts offers unique donut delights (Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Oreo, etc.), fresh coffee, and other baked goods.

What to do in Barstow

A view looking down at the monochromatic Calico Ghost Town in Barstow, California.
  • Western America Railroad Museum: Visit the Western America Railroad Museum, where you can tour trains and various artifacts from the historic railroads that transported people and ore throughout the Pacific Southwest.
  • Calico Ghost Town: A 12-mile drive from Barstow will bring you to Calico Ghost Town. Originally founded in 1881, Calico was a booming town in the silver rush of the mid-1890s. Now a regional park, this California State Historic Landmark features mine tours, railroad rides, and restored historic buildings.

Baker, CA

64 miles, 58 minutes
Before returning home to Las Vegas, stop for lunch in Baker, a small town with a few must-see roadside attractions. Who wouldn’t want to stop to explore a UFO-themed jerky depot and a gargantuan thermometer, nestled in the Mojave Desert?
Use I-15 N for Baker.

Where to eat in Baker

The Mad Greek ($$): Don’t pass up the opportunity to eat at The Mad Greek Cafe, a favorite of travelers and locals since 1974. Although temporarily closed for renovations in summer 2021, its reopening (currently scheduled for August 14, 2021) promises to return classic Greek fare and refreshing milkshakes to I-15 travelers.

What to do in Baker

A billboard in front of a mountain range advertises Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker, California.
  • Alien Fresh Jerky: Visit Alien Fresh Jerky, where you can stroll 4,800 square feet of UFO decor while shopping for beef jerky, trail mix, dried fruit, and souvenirs.
  • World’s Tallest Thermometer: Prepare your camera for the photo opp presented by the World’s Tallest Thermometer. At 134 feet tall, this massive steel electric structure commemorates the highest temperature recorded at Death Valley National Park—134 degrees Fahrenheit (in 1913).

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