Even if you’ve never been to Joshua Tree National Park or Anza Borrego Desert State Park, you know these two spectacular parcels of public lands from photographs of exotic Joshua trees (a member of the agave family named by Mormon pioneers after the biblical figure), silhouetted against a sunset sky; rock climbers negotiating surreal boulder formations; and, in the state park, spring wildflowers stretching as far as the eye can see. While activities with dogs are severely restricted at both preserves, enough access exists for both you and your furry sidekick to have a tail-waggin’ good time.
As at most national parks, regulations at Joshua Tree prohibit dogs from accompanying their people on trails—but not from driving through to admire the scenery or enjoy a picnic at a site surrounded by the fuzzy, forklike agave from which the park takes its name. In a day’s visit, you can watch rock climbers negotiating the park’s signature boulder formations in the Quail Springs and Hidden Valley day-use areas; enjoy sweeping vistas of the Coachella Valley from Keys View; and get educated on an 18-mile geology motor tour through some of the park’s most fascinating landscapes.
Park campgrounds are dog-friendly, and dozens of pet-friendy vacation rentals are available just outside preserve borders. Options in the immediate area include the two-cabin Green Acres Ranch in the village of Joshua Tree and Sunnyvale Garden Suites in Twentynine Palms.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park, 100 miles from Joshua Tree and two hours from San Diego on the south side of the Salton Sea, is renowned for the desert wildflowers that carpet valleys and hillsides in early spring. The largest state park in California encompasses 600,000 acres and consumes about one-fifth of San Diego County. Here, as in most California state parks, dogs aren’t allowed on trails. That said, more than 500 miles of dirt roads within the park are fair game for dog-walkers.
Just getting here is an adventure of sorts: approaching from the east or west, Highways 22 and 78 climb and descend the Peninsular range with sweeping views of the Colorado Desert. Multi-day park visitors (and many snowbirds) often base themselves in Borrego Springs, a resort town that prides itself on being California’s first “dark sky” community, a designation referring to restrictions on nighttime lighting that help make stargazing a revered pastime.
The community’s most famous resort, La Casa del Zorro, is a luxury retreat dating to 1937 situated on 42 landscaped acres towering 6,000 feet over the desert floor. Rooms and casitas are dog-friendly, and there’s a dog-friendly patio at the restaurant, as well. On the more economical end, Stanlunds Inn & Suites and the Springs at Borrego, an RV resort with a golf course and many other amenities, are good options. The top-rated Springs, which offers on-site RV rentals as well as sites for guests with their own vehicles, even has a dog park!