SoCal National Park Road Trip

January 2021

Come with me on my SoCal National Park Road Trip! On this trip I visited:

Joshua Tree National Park

Mojave Desert National Park

Death Valley National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Boy Scout Trail

I’ve been to Joshua Tree several times now and it is a magical place. It’s so cool to drive through a desert surrounded by a forest of Joshua Trees! Some great places to visit in the park include: Ryan Mountain Trail (3 mi), Skull Rock Trail (2 mi), Cholla Cactus Garden (.2 mi), and Jumbo Rocks Campground.

On this trip, I backpacked the Boy Scout Trail. You can backcountry camp on this trail, so long as you are not in a day use area (just stay to the left of the trail), one mile away from the road, and 500 ft from the trail. Check the website for more backcountry camping info:

Along the Boy Scout Trail
Rock Pile along the Boy Scout Trail

I found a great spot nestled in some rocks to set up camp. I was shielded by the wind and had a rock pile to climb up to enjoy the view and spy on the wildlife with my binoculars.

Sunset in Joshua Tree

Mojave Desert National Park

After Joshua Tree, I headed North to the Mojave Desert National Park. I’ve been there once before and fell in love with Kelso Dunes, and have wanted to go back ever since. So, I did! It’s a rocky, and at times sandy, dirt road to get to the trailhead, but my car made it!

Just a little further beyond the trailhead from the dunes, there are backcountry campsites. For more information, check here:

I parked my car at my campsite for the night then walked to the trailhead. The trail to the highest peak of the dune is about 3 mi round trip. While it is only 3 miles, walking uphill through soft sand is very difficult and leaves you exhausted. But, it is oh, so worth it because the view from the dunes is incredible. They say the crest of the dunes can shift 30 – 40 ft from the winds. wow

Kelso Dunes
Kelso Dunes

I ended up with LOTS of sand in my shoes. I’m sure it would be much easier to hike this trail bare foot, but I was scared of the creature I might encounter in the sand so I wore my Altras (Alta Lone Peak 4, the best hiking show of ALL TIME!) the whole time.

Kelso Dunes

It’s really beautiful to see the dunes at sunset, and everyone knows it. Although you don’t see anyone in these photos, there were plenty of people around. A group was up at the peak of dune for a long time taking photos, and I didn’t want to get in the way so I made due with what I had. It was beautiful regardless. I absolutely love Kelso Dunes. Even camping was a magical experience. I was cooking up some spicy peanut ramen right around sunset and a kit fox came sniffing around curiously. He would come close, then back up, circle around, come close, move away, getting a little closer each time. At the time I didn’t know too much about kit foxes and was nervous that this was a baby to something bigger that possibly traveled in a pack. But, I was at no risk of danger. The sunset was incredible and I had a wonderful time.

Amboy Crater

Amboy Crater

This hike is between the Mojave Desert National Park and Death Valley National Park, located in Amboy, along highway 66! This crater really stands out on the horizon as you are driving towards it. Amboy crater is 250 ft tall, 1,500 ft in diameter and lies above a lava field that stretches for 24 square miles.

Amboy Crater

This was a 4 mile round trip trail that takes you around the rim and into the crater! What an incredible view!

Inside Amboy Crater

It gets pretty hot up there, I can’t imagine doing this hike in the summer. Its a nice little detour on your drive between the parks and isn’t too long of a hike.

Amber Crater and Lava Field

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley was closed to camping while I was there, but there are lots of BLM and other backcountry camping options nearby. Shoshone is a great area to look. Or, check out for more ideas (a ranger recommended this site to me).

Anyway I still had the opportunity to explore and enjoy some of the main features of the park.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point overlook is very easy to get to. You park and walk up a little paved hill to the lookout point. I wandered down a cool little side trail too!

Zabriskie Point

There are other, longer, trails in this area that I would love to come back to one day when the camping is open. But, for now I enjoyed just getting a taste.

Artist’s Palette

Artist’s Palette is another great area to explore in the park. It’s a one way road that takes you through beautiful, rainbow-colored hills. Drive slow, and take it all in.

There are a few spots you can park, walk around, explore, and I highly recommend you do so. I don’t have any photos from here since the storage was full on my phone, but you should definitely check it out!

Badwater Basin

This salt flat is the most popular feature of the park and it is obvious why. It looks out of this world. The photos look like you’re standing on a frozen lake, but in reality you are located in the hottest desert in the world, reaching a record temperature of 135 degrees!

Badwater Basin

The trail starts with a short boardwalk, but you quickly reach the end and just walk straight into the basin. The farther you walk the more salt is built up. It forms these incredible hexagonal shapes and stretches for miles.

Badwater Basin


Here is my current backpacking gear list, it pretty much remains the same since the JMT (if you want to check out my post on that).

Tent: The North Face, 1p Storm Break, with a plastic tarp as a footprint

Sleeping Bag: Kelty Cosmic 20

Sleeping Pad: Klymit Insulated Static V

Backpack: ULA Circuit

Bear Vault 500 for food storage

Toiletries: Tooth stuff, trowel, TP, Advil, first aid, body wipes, tweezers, Diva cup.

Headlamp: Black Diamond Spot 350

Portable Charger: Anker Powercore 20000 and iPhone 7 and charging cable

Camp Kitchen: Staik V Camp Stove, fuel canister, Stanley 750mL cup set, bamboo spoon, lighter

Plastic bag for garbage (leave no trace!)

Sleep clothes: SmartWool Merino 250 Base layer pants, REI ultralight rain pants, Thermal long sleeve, North Face Thermo Ball Puffer, Smart Wool Socks, LLBean Fleece pullover, knit hat. I keep my day clothes in the sry bag and use that as my pillow for the night. Or, here is a hack for the colder weather, put your extra clothes in your sleeping bag with you to help insulate!

I didn’t need to bother bringing water filtration on this trip because there was no water to be filtered. I brought all the water that I thought I would need with me!

I stored my water in both 1 and 1.5 L Nalgene bottles and a silicone water bag. Of course, I also had a few jugs of water in my car.

Luxury items: notebook, headphone, pocket knife, reading book (The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield), binoculars, mini tripod, Yeti thermos.

Closing Notes:

This was a beautiful road trip and I got to have a wonderful experience in each of the three National Parks. I look forward to going back and exploring more! If anyone has any recommendations of other spots I need to see in any of these parks. 😉

Catch you on the trails!

Happy hiking!

Check me out on Instagram: @bpalucci or @better_barefoot

or on Youtube : Bianca Palucci

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