The Ultimate Desert Destinations Near Coachella Valley

| Walter Chang / © Culture Trip

Commissioning Editor

Though Coachella is a destination for festival-goers, its surrounding desert terrain is worth taking the time to visit.

Coachella is notoriously a weekend packed with desert debauchery. From the outlandish floral attire (often crafted from actual flowers) to the monumental musical performances to the endless wandering of festival grounds, the valley neighboring Palm Desert is unmistakably raucous this time of year.

But, the surrounding desert destinations in Southern California prove worthy of their own visits. From the unmistakable terrain of Joshua Tree to the iconic landscape artwork that marks the entry to Slab City, Coachella is only one of many desert destinations for West Coast visitors. Whether heading to Coachella for a long festival weekend or a week-long excursion, these surrounding destinations are worth integrating into your California road trip.

Joshua Tree National Park

Walter Chang /

Just an hour north of Coachella Valley is an illustrious mecca of wellness and nature: Joshua Tree. Known distinctly by its merged ecosystems of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, Joshua Tree is characterized by its boulderous terrains, unusually shaped cacti, rock climbing views, and camping grounds. Almost all of its natural draws are unique to the area, making it a trademark spot in southeast California. Visitors will find themselves surrounded by the open deep-blue night skies and a vast expanse of desert terrain to explore.

Anza-Borrego State Park

Walter Chang /

For those heading south from Coachella Valley, an hour and a half drive to the Anza-Borrego Desert is a must-visit stop. This state park in Southern California’s Colorado Desert is most attractive to campers and climbers—replete with mountainous scenery and the area’s trademark dry heat. Anza-Borrego is the largest state park in all of California and ranks as the second largest in the contiguous United States. With a multitude of fortuitous viewpoints across the park, Font Point is a spectacular one, overlooking the widespread Badlands at sunrise or sunset. And with such majestic heights, it’s no wonder Anza-Borrego is labeled the Grand Canyon of California.

Salvation Mountain & Salton Sea

Walter Chang /

Less than an hour to the southeast of Coachella Valley is the Salton Sea—a shallow pool of concentrated salt water feeding on three different California rivers. It’s impossible to dive into this five-foot (1.5-meter) shallow body of water, but it is more plausible to experience the Salton Sea from hours spent driving its circumference. As California’s largest lake, Salton exists in a variety of desert access points. Namely, the neighboring hub of Salvation Mountain. The illustrious hillside of original mural work was crafted by the late Leonard Knight, who painted Christian sayings and Bible verses on the stonework. The colorful monument stands as a five-story-high, 150-foot-wide (45.7 meters) testament to Knight’s faith in peace and love and is maintained by a group of locals, many of whom live in nearby Slab City.

For more tips on road tripping your way around Coachella, check out Culture Trip’s ultimate California guide.

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