Joshua Tree National Park is a great place for the kids. They'll see unusual plants and animals, learning just enough to stimulate their imaginations but not so much that they zone out. From identifying familiar shapes in rock formations to investigating the mysterious "teddy bear" cactus, the possibilities are endless. Parents must exercise caution with regard to the weather and other dangers. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and protective clothing for children, and keep a close eye (if not a grip) on them at all times to prevent their straying into perilous desert terrain with prickly cacti, steep rocks, and abandoned mine shafts.
Start by taking the kids on a designated nature trail (listed in the free Joshua Tree Guide and indicated by roadside signs). The park's 11 nature trails have numerous plaques along the way to help your family interpret the rocks, plants, and other characteristics you'll see in the context of their geological history and significance to animal and human desert dwellers. They're all short (.25- to 1.3-mile loops) and relatively flat, making them ideal for most visitors. Four of these (Keys View, Oasis of Mara, Bajada Trail, and Cap Rock) are paved and wheelchair accessible.
The Park Service is eager for younger visitors to learn nature appreciation and conservation. Available at the park's visitor centers, the free Junior Ranger publication offers several educational activities for kids, ranging from sketching rock formations and plants to taking quizzes on the park's facilities. If your youngster is interested enough to complete five of the activities, rangers at the Oasis and Cottonwood visitor centers will reward him or her with an official Junior Ranger badge.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.