If you’re at all interested in exploring national parks, you’ve likely heard of Joshua Tree National Park. This national park is known for unique foliage, soaring canyon views, and opportunities for hiking that are beyond compare. RV campers and tent campers alike rave about this camping destination, and as long as you know what to expect while trekking through this diverse and exciting desert landscape, you’re sure not to be disappointed when you visit!
Read on to discover my guide to getting the most out of your Joshua Tree National Park camping trip!
History of the Park
While Joshua Tree was considered a national monument in 1936, it wasn’t until the California Desert Protection Act was passed eight years later that Joshua Tree officially became a national park! The park is widely known for the plants it takes its name from: Joshua Trees, which technically aren’t classified as trees! But I’ll talk more about that later on in this Joshua Tree National Park camping guide.
What to Expect While Camping at Joshua Tree National Park
You’ll find a myriad of options available for camping at Joshua Tree National Park: reservation-only and first-come first-served, tent and RV, single-family and group. Whatever your camping needs, you’ll be able to fulfill them in Joshua Tree. If you’re reserving a site, keep in mind that you will not have cell service within the park, so be sure to make your reservations before you arrive.
Joshua Tree National Park Camping
The first thing you need to keep in mind is that it is highly recommended that you reserve your campsites in advance. As mentioned previously, Joshua Tree National Park camping is extremely popular, and the only way to guarantee yourself a spot is by booking well in advance.
Of course, there are always the first-come, first-served campsites, and you’re welcome to try your luck, but if you want to save yourself anxiety and travel stress, I have to recommend booking your stay to ensure you have a claim to a site, and to book it as early as possible. You’re able to reserve sites up to six months in advance of your stay.
The most popular reservable campgrounds are Black Rock, Indian Cove, Cottonwood, Ryan, and Jumbo Rocks. Black Rock and Cottonwood are best for RV campers, as they both offer dump stations (though you’ll need to be prepared to boondock if you choose to bring your RV along; there are no electric, water, or sewer hookups offered). These two also offer water and flush toilets near the sites.
Indian Cove, Ryan, and Jumbo Rocks both provide pit toilets, but no water and no dump stations. Black Rock and Ryan campgrounds also offer equestrian sites.
If you aren’t able to book a site for your desired dates but still want to push through and find a way to have your Joshua Tree National Park camping adventure, your best bet will be the first-come, first-served sites. Hidden Valley campground is the only campground offering first-come, first-served sites that are available all year round; the other two, White Tank and Belle, close for a period of time in the summer months.
According to the National Park Service website, “the first-come, first-serve campsites are highly competitive on holidays, most weekends, and the springtime. They are full nearly every weekend from Sept-May and most weeknights during our busy spring season from mid-February to mid-May. On the weekends, they are typically full by Friday afternoon. The earlier you arrive in a week, the better chance you will have to secure a site.” Make sure you follow these guidelines to avoid arriving to find yourself without a place to stay!
Cottonwood, Indian Pass, and Sheep Pass all offer group sites, and they can be reserved up to six months in advance as well. Cottonwood and Sheep Pass can only accommodate tent campers on their group sites, but Indian Pass allows for RVs that are 25 feet in length or shorter. Make sure you measure carefully before heading out—you don’t want to find out too late that your RV or trailer won’t fit on your site!
Things to Do While Camping at Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is most famous for its hiking. With numerous trails to explore, it can be hard to choose which ones to prioritize on your trip. I recommend Barker Dam Trail if you require an easier hike, the Panorama Loop if you’re looking for something in the middle, and Boy Scout Trail if you’re really looking for a challenge.
Joshua Tree offers some of the best rock climbing in the country! There are opportunities for all levels from beginner rock climbers to experts, and there’s no better place in the world to try it out! Just be sure to follow all rock-climbing safety rules, always use the proper equipment, and never climb alone.
Hammocking isn’t allowed within the campgrounds, but you can find plenty of beautiful spots to hammock around the park. Just be sure to tie your hammock to rocks, not trees! Tying hammock straps to trees is expressly forbidden in the park.
Herping is the practice of hunting for reptiles—just to look at, not to harm! There are a number of practices you should take care to follow if you’re going to try herping, especially in a national park. While some herpers will take home animals they find, that requires a special license in California, and you’re likely not allowed to do so within the bounds of Joshua Tree regardless.
However, if you’re only looking to discover and admire these creatures, herping can be a fun and engaging activity you can practice while hiking! Just be sure to wear the proper attire and follow all safety precautions. Do your research before setting off on a herping expedition!
Of course, we can’t talk about Joshua Tree National Park camping without discussing the “trees” themselves! The Joshua Tree is actually considered a form of Agave rather than a tree. These plants are mostly found in the Mojave desert, though Arizona has been known to host a few of these prickly-looking plants!
The branches twist and turn into the sky and look to resemble wiggling earthworms or spindly fingers. Doing anything to harm these trees is strictly prohibited, so take care when getting close. Do not attach hammocks or any other camping equipment to their trunks.
While camping at Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll be staying amongst several unique and fascinating wildlife species, including California black bears, several species of bats, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, desert bighorn sheep, and more! Though bear sightings are very uncommon here, be sure to take all precautions to keep your campsite from attracting the notice of any predators in the area; make certain that all food and waste is properly stored and kept where animals can’t reach it.
What to Bring While Camping at Joshua Tree National Park
Sturdy Hiking Boots
Camping at Joshua Tree National Park involves a lot of walking, especially if you’ve come for the hiking, and you’re going to want to make sure you’re prepared. Sore or blistered feet will suck the fun out of your trip faster than anything else. Make sure you purchase hiking boots and break them in before your trip!
California sun is no joke, especially in the desert. Make sure you bring high-SPF sunscreen and UV-protective shirts and sunglasses.
Though water is available at some campsites, no matter which one you choose, make sure you bring plenty of drinking water! On a trip to the desert where you’ll likely be hiking far and often, it’s better to be safe than sorry in terms of stocking up on water. The last thing anyone needs is to fall prey to heatstroke or dehydration.
Layers of Clothing
The weather in the desert can change drastically throughout the day. Make sure you bring clothes that can be layered to ensure you can always remove or add a layer for ultimate comfort and safety.
Reviews for Joshua Tree National Park Camping
Joshua Tree National Park boasts 4.8 stars on Google Reviews, and has gathered a total of 16,313 reviews! That’s a lot of happy campers! People applaud the beauty of the Joshua Tree landscape, the abundance of hiking trails, and the well-maintained campgrounds. If you’re looking for cons to camping in this gorgeous park, it doesn’t seem there are many to be found!
Wrapping Up Joshua Tree National Park Camping
Joshua Tree National Park camping is outrageously popular for a reason, and you won’t regret crossing it off your camping bucket list! Whether you’re a hiker, a herper, or simply an admirer of the Mojave Desert landscape, you’re sure to enjoy a camping experience here that you’ll never forget.
Looking to check more California national parks off of your camping bucket list? Check out The Ultimate Kings Canyon National Park Camping Guide and The Complete Guide To Death Valley National Park Camping!