Can You Swim in Joshua Tree?

Joshua Tree National Park is located on the Eastern side of the Palm area in Southern California. The park is characterized by Yucca Palm, also called Joshua trees and rugged rocks. The national park attracts varied outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. For every adventurist, nothing cools off the body better than a good swim especially after spending time in the scorching sun.

Can you swim in Joshua Tree? You cannot swim in Joshua Tree, as the few water sources within the park are preserved for wildlife. You have access to pools suitable for individuals, couples, and families in resorts and recreation centers near the national park. Additionally, there are also natural swimming places within driving distance of Joshua Tree.

In this post, I have explained in detail why you cannot swim in Joshua Tree. I have also included alternative places to swim near Joshua Tree whether you are looking for swimming pools or natural swimming places. Lastly, do you know the origin of the name Joshua Tree? You are just about to find out.

Can You Swim in Joshua Tree?

Can You Swim in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park is made up of parts of two deserts; the Mojave and the Colorado deserts. That said, this desert landscape is mostly dry. I’m talking of about 302 dry days in a year. What does that tell you about the presence of water in the park? Obviously, water is scarce. 

Nevertheless, there are several water sources within the park. These include oases, streams, water holes, a dam, and even a lake but as I said earlier, all water sources in Joshua Tree are reserved for wildlife.


With the prevailing desert climate, there’s a shortage of water and even where there is, it is mostly seasonal. In fact, if you are hiking or camping in Joshua Tree, you are not even allowed to use the water from the sources for cleaning, cooking, or drinking. 

Additionally, the National Park Service does not allow anyone to hike, camp, or hang around anywhere within 500 feet of the water sources. This is meant to ensure that animals have unlimited access to water at all times.

Besides the smaller water sources, I mentioned a dam and a lake. These sound like the perfect places to go swimming in Joshua tree, right? Except they are not. 

Joshua Tree Lake, located about 9 miles from the West Entrance Visitors’ Center, is breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately, you are only allowed to fish. That means no boating, wading, toe-dipping, and certainly, no swimming. 

What about the dam? Barker Dam was built over 100 years ago to preserve water. If you are a hiker, you will see it when using the Barker Dam Nature Trail, one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree. Sometimes, the dam completely dries out during the dry season. Similarly, you are not allowed to swim in the dam, and in any case, the water level is usually too low for a swim.

Where to Swim in Joshua Tree

Agua Caliente Resort
Photo by Greg Gjerdingen

Since there are no swimming holes or pools inside Joshua Tree, are there locations where visitors and vacationers can swim near Joshua Tree?

The answer is Yes. Due to the huge number of tourists who visit this park, swimming pools are available in various establishments within driving distances. 

The park is surrounded by resorts and recreation facilities where you and your family can swim. Such places are Agua Caliente Resort, Two Bunch Palms, and DoubleTree Resort. 

Most of these resorts offer accommodation, food, and also comes with great swimming pools.

What if you are just interested in swimming? There are places where you can just show up, swim, and be on your way without paying for accommodation or food.

Here’s a great example:

Yucca Valley Community Pool

road to Yucca Valley Community Pool and joshua tree
Photo by Ken Lund

The pool is open for fun swims from 1 p.m to 5 p.m. It’s also possible to join a family swim session on some Saturdays. To enjoy the pool, you need to purchase a pass that goes for $4 per person. You can also get a pass for $30 that you can use for 10 sessions.

Do you have kids? They can have swimming lessons running from Monday to Friday. The lessons take place in the morning and later in the evening in sessions of 1 hour each.

To get to this community pool, exit Joshua Park at the West Entrance Station. From there follow the Quail Springs Road that will connect you to the Yucca Trail and on to the community center. The total distance is about 10 miles long – 18 minutes drive.

Directions: Click here

Natural Swimming Spots Near Joshua Tree

Are there natural places to swim near Joshua tree? In Joshua Tree, there are a few natural places to swim. This part of California is in the midst of hot springs, rivers, and a lake where you can enjoy water sports and swimming

Desert Hot Springs

Do you love soaking in natural hot springs? If so, then the Desert Hot Springs, located in the Palm Spring area, is your kind of place. This is an area within driving distance of the Joshua Tree National Park, with swimming pools from underground water.

One of the best resorts in the area is the Miracle Springs & Spa. It serves visitors to the park and is known for good accommodation, 8 natural hot mineral springs, and outdoor swimming pools.   

Swimming is open to both day and boarding hotel guests. Apart from swimming, this resort is a perfect spot for visiting other attractions in the area. It overlooks the California Desert and the snow-capped Mt. San Jacinto. 

From the park’s Visitor Center, it will only take you about a half-hour drive to reach the hotel. The fastest route is taking the 29 Palms Highway from the park and driving up to the Morongo Valley before branching off to the Desert Hot Springs area.  

Directions: Click here

Salton Lake

How would it feel to swim in the biggest lake in California? Salton Lake is a shallow water body located in the Colorado Desert. It’s only 45 feet at its deepest point and with a surface area of about 340 square miles, this is a major attraction in the area.

In the past, the lake was known for many recreational activities. It used to be a great spot for sunbathing, water skiing, boating, fishing, and swimming. 

Over time, the activities have been getting fewer and fewer. This has been caused by the fact that Salton Lake does not have an outlet. As a result, water has become saltier and less inviting. Still, there’s nothing about the salt content of the Salton sea that will keep you from swimming.

I should warn you though; while swimming in the lake is allowed and few adventurous people still soak in the water, the water is a bit smelly and dirty and as such, not advisable to swim in especially for kids. I like to think, that the feeling is similar to swimming in the Dead Sea. 

From the South Entrance of Joshua tree, it should take you a little over 30 minutes to get to the north shores of the lake. The route is straightforward. Just follow the Box Canyon Road from the entrance to the lake.

Directions: Click here

The Story Behind the Name Joshua Tree

Being a global traveler, I’m always fascinated by the names of places. For example, do you know that Kenya is named after a mountain

So, the first time I came across the name ‘Joshua Tree’, it got me wondering – how did the tree and the park get their names?

I did some digging:

To begin with, the park is named after the Joshua tree, a desert tree that grows in the Southwestern United States. Also known as yucca palm or yucca tree. This tree resembles a man standing with outstretched hands.

The name Joshua was a creation of Mormons who settled in the area in the mid-19th century. They used the trees to guide them as they walked through the desert. The trees reminded them of Joshua, a biblical leader. According to Christian faith, it was Joshua’s habit to lift his hands up in prayer as he guided Israelites in battle, a close resemblance to the Joshua trees.

Also, from far, a Joshua tree looks like a man with a long beard, another look that the Mormons associated with biblical people.

Final Words

There are no places to swim in Joshua Tree. This should, however, not stop you from enjoying your time in Joshua Tree. It’s a beautiful national park with lots to offer. And if you’re really looking for a swim while visiting the park, you can easily drive to nearby places.

Related: A Complete US National Park List

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