Watching Wildlife in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most unique environments in the entire United States, famed for its Joshua Tree that characterizes its sunset line. Most of the mammals in the park are of a paler color to blend in with the weathered rock, suited for desert climates – which means they are mainly nocturnal creatures.

As desolate as it may appear during daytime hours, Joshua Tree is a vibrant environment, with plenty of animals hidden from the sun’s hot rays during the day. For example, the desert tortoise (estimated to be 15 or 20 million years old), which spends 95% of its life underground, is a rare find and feat in this climate. Listed as an endangered species today, the tortoise is struggling to battle the ravens, badgers, and other predators that snatch them up as a treat.

Like all desert areas, there are plenty of birds and lizards you can spot by day.

Joshua Tree’s Top Animals

  • Squirrels
    • These include the white-tailed antelope squirrel, California ground squirrel, Dusky chipmunk, and Mojave round-trailed ground squirrel
  • Mice & Kangaroo Rats
  • Pocket Gophers
    • These little burrowing rodents can be seen in the evening hours when they come up to catch the final rays of the sun as it dips below the horizon.
  • Rabbits & Hares
    • You can spot the desert black-tailed jackrabbit and the desert cottontail in this park.
  • Bats
  • Foxes
  • Coyotes
  • Skunks
  • Ringtails
  • Mule Deer
  • Desert Bighorn Sheep
  • Tarantulas
    • The largest desert spider in North America, the tarantula calls Joshua Tree home – although contrary to popular belief, they are not poisonous to humans. However, the bite can be awfully painful if they are provoked to bite in defense of their burrow. Mating in the fall, you are most likely to see one from September through November.
  • Roadrunner
    • The iconic roadrunner, a large black and white ground cuckoo that’s quick enough to catch and eat small rattlesnakes, is truly something to behold in Joshua Tree. They can run up to 18 miles per hour, preying on lizards, rodents, and insects found in the terrain.
  • Sidewinder
    • A small subspecies of the rattlesnake, the sidewinder moves by looping along sideways in a J-shaped curve, which helps it travel through sand dunes with ease.
  • Yucca Night Lizard
    • This narrow lizard lives its entire life in the protective bark of the decaying Joshua Tree, finding small crevices where it can feed on ants, termites, and other insects.

Viewing Locations

Belle: Bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, squirrels, gophers
Black Rock: Bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, squirrels, gopher
Cottonwood: Foxes
Hidden Valley: Tarantulas, ringtails, skunks
Indian Cove: Foxes, ringtails, rodents
Jumbo Rocks: Bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, squirrels, gophers
Sheep Pass: Bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, squirrels, gophers

When Should You Go?

The best time of year to go to Joshua Tree to search for wildlife is during the spring months. The wildlife is most active after sleeping through the winter when the weather is beautiful and not too hot yet. Depending on the rainfall, during this time the desert flowers are something you will never forget. The summer months can get particularly hot, making it hard to hike and wildlife view during the day.