Everything You Need to Know About Camping in Joshua Tree National Park (Video)
Between its expansive desert, striking boulder formations, and distinctive plant life, Joshua Tree somehow manages to feel like both an alien planet and the prototypical American landscape. Its proximity to Los Angeles makes it a favorite weekend getaway for Angelenos, but every year the park draws visitors from all around the world. Sitting at the intersection of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, Joshua Tree is a must for avid national park hikers. So, whether you’re looking for a spiritual adventure, a detox from everyday life, or you just love U2, Joshua Tree is worth a trip.
One of the best ways to experience Joshua Tree is camping within the national park. Not only does camping in Joshua Tree help you fully immerse yourself in the desert experience, it also gets you easier access to some of the best trails and bouldering rocks in the park. Here’s a quick guide to camping in J-Tree, from Joshua Tree camping reservations, to the best area to camp with kids.
Related: More national parks trip ideas
Best Joshua Tree Camping
There are several things to consider when picking a campsite in or near Joshua Tree, including proximity to popular trails. Here, we’ve outlined the very best J-Tree campsites for every park visitor.
Black Rock Canyon Campground is popular because it’s close to a particularly dense area of Joshua trees. However, the most famous rock formations are farther from this campsite. Black Rock has 99 sites, and it is the only campground to have 20 horse-stall sites as well.
White Tank Campground and Cottonwood Campground are ideal for those who haven’t made reservations well in advance. White Tank Campground is a nice spot for families because of its proximity to the kid-friendly Arch Rock interpretive trail. Cottonwood tends to be a good RV campground, for short or long-term RV stays.
Indian Cove Campground has 101 sites and takes reservations in winter. Adjacent to Wonderland of Rocks, Indian Cove Campground also has 13 group campsites.
Hidden Valley is on the western side of the park, and it's perfect for the hiking-focused campers. It has 44 sites and great proximity to the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Boy Scout Trail, and Keys View.
Ryan Campground and Sheep Pass Campground are both near the Hidden Valley Campground. Ryan Campground has more than 30 sites, while Sheep Pass only has six — but they can be reserved. Hidden Valley Campground is one of the favorite sites for hikers and climbers near the western edge of Joshua Tree National Park, but Ryan is a good alternative.
Jumbo Rocks has 124 sites and easy access to Skull Rock. It’s great for campers and RVs, though if you’re unable to reserve Jumbo Rocks, Belle Campground is a smart second choice. Belle’s 18 sites are in the Pinto Basin, close to Castle Rock, a popular bouldering spot.
Making Joshua Tree Camping Reservations
Joshua Tree camping reservations are hard to come by, primarily because not all campgrounds offer them. The best plan of action is to reserve well in advance at a campground that accepts reservations, or to arrive as early as possible if you’re targeting a campground that doesn’t take reservations. If you’re hoping to camp at Hidden Valley over Memorial Day Weekend, for example, you’d want to get there early on the Thursday or Friday before to ensure a good spot.
It’s also worth noting that the campgrounds that do take reservations will not allow walk-ins. So if you’re after one of those campsites, booking in advance is required.
Belle Campground is first-come, first-served all year round. Similarly, Hidden Valley, Ryan, and White Tank do not take reservations, so they fill up entirely on a walk-in basis. Black Rock Campground, Indian Cove, Cottonwood Campground, and Jumbo Rocks Campground are all, as of September 4, by reservation only.
Joshua Tree RV Camping
The main campgrounds in the park that do not have group sites are RV-friendly. All of the campgrounds that take reservations —Black Rock, Indian Cove, Cottonwood, and Jumbo Rocks — allow RVs. When planning an RV adventure, it may be best to book one of these sites as soon as you’ve locked in dates for Joshua Tree. If you prefer full hookup RV camping, there are a number of private RV parks in the nearby towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms.
The Best Time to Go Camping in Joshua Tree National Park
The best time to camp in Joshua Tree is spring — March, April, and May — when the weather has warmed but the summer heat hasn’t descended on the desert. Spring is also the best time to visit because you’re most likely to catch the desert wildflowers in bloom. While there may not be a full-on super bloom every year, the springtime flowers in Joshua Tree intermingled with the year-round flora and fauna is a treat to see. The temperature is also ideal in the fall for camping, hiking, and climbing — October and November are beautiful months to visit Joshua Tree. While the clear skies of summer are tempting, you’ll want to hike in the morning or evening if visiting in June, July, August, or September to avoid climbing in peak sun.