Joshua Tree camping has seen a massive rise in popularity in the past five years, with the park greeting three million visitors in 2019. This amount of visitors ranks it eleventh most popular, out of 419 National Parks.
The influx in guests means you need to plan ahead to secure a good camping spot. Today we’re going to look at each campground so you can find the best one for you.
Featured image credit : National Park Service
What Is There To Do At Joshua Tree?
But first, what exactly is it that makes Joshua Tree National park so popular? Well, Joshua Tree is one big playground for any nature lovers, with a whole host of outdoor activities available.
The incredible landscape also attracts artists looking for inspiration, and it is a fantastic landscape to photograph, especially beneath the clear starry night.
There is a multitude of different hiking trails in the park ranging in difficulty from just half an hour to six hours. Hiking is a great way to get a feel for the area and take in the views.
However, it is essential to remember that Joshua Tree is a desert, and you should exercise caution when hiking in the heat. Joshua Tree is also a popular spot with rock climbers who enjoy the many different rock formations.
While you’re there don’t forget to check out skull rock, cholla cactus garden and the many Joshua trees that are the park’s namesake!
Places To Stay
Camping is the only way to stay overnight inside the park, which is why Joshua Tree camping is so popular.
If you are road tripping through the USA, then you’re obviously going to want to stay in your van, and the good news is that all eight campsites in Joshua Tree allow RVs. However, none of the campgrounds have electrical hookups.
Joshua Tree camping has it’s peak season throughout spring (Feb-May) when it can be challenging to find a camping spot, even through the week. For the rest of the busy season, which is October-May, campgrounds filly quickly on weekends and through the holidays.
If this is when you want to visit, then you may want to make a reservation, which you can do at four of the eight campgrounds.
Finding a camping spot throughout the summer months is much easier, as the heat puts many people off. However, be aware that all the campgrounds run on a first come first served basis from May-September.
First Come First Served Campgrounds
The following four Joshua Tree camping spots run on a first come first served basis year-round. If you are not familiar with how this system works, don’t worry, we will detail the process later on.
Belle Campground is small with only 18 sites available, so it’s great if you’re looking for a quieter atmosphere. However, you’ll want to arrive early to ensure you secure a spot. Ten of the 18 sites can hold a larger RV up to 35ft, while the others can accommodate smaller camper vans.
Each site is $15 per night and can hold a maximum of six people, three tents and two cars if the space is available. There are pit toilets and no water at Belle campground, so be sure to bring plenty.
Hidden Valley is one of the more popular Joshua Tree camping grounds, especially with climbers, as there are many routes within walking distance. This means that despite being a bigger campground with 44 sites, you will still want to arrive early in peak season to ensure you get a spot.
RVs and trailers are permitted in all sites but cannot exceed 25ft. Fees are $15 per night, per site for the campground which has pit toilets and no water.
The Ryan campground is centrally located in the park and is adjacent to the popular California riding and hiking trail. This is one of the two campgrounds in the park that allows you to bring your horse, with four equestrian sites available; however, you must book ahead.
This campground has a total of 31 sites, 3 of which are bicycle sites and are only $5 instead of the regular $15. These sites can hold up to three bikes and three people. All other sites permit RVs, and like the other campgrounds, there are only pit toilets and no water.
White Tank is the last Joshua Tree camping spot that is first come first served year-round. This is one of the more popular campgrounds and is small, with only 15 sites, so it is worth arriving early to secure a place.
As it is located near the darkest part of the park, White Tank is popular with stargazers, and the skies certainly won’t disappoint.
RVs are permitted up to a maximum length of 25ft. Fees are $15per night, and there are pit toilets but no water.
From October-May you must make a reservation online to stay at the following four campgrounds. We will explain how to make a reservation later in the article.
Black Rock campground is one of the larger Joshua Tree camping areas with 99 sites. Each site comes with a picnic table and fire ring, and flushable toilets, drinking water and a dump station are available nearby year-round.
There are also 20 equestrian sites at Black Rock campground.
Being only five minutes from shopping in the town of Yucca Valley, this is a good choice if you like being close to civilisation instead of in the remote desert. Sites cost $20 a night and can accommodate RVs up to 35ft in length.
Cottonwood campground is close to the Cottonwood visitor centre in the South-East of the park so there will always be someone close by who can show you the best trails and things to do. Sixty-two sites are available, plus three group sites.
The group sites, however, do not allow RVs.
RVs up to 25ft are permitted, and there is drinking water, a dump station and flushable toilets available. Fees are $20 per night.
Indian Cove is a large campground, with 101 sites and 13 group sites, so in peak season there will be a lot of people here. The group sites at Indian Cove can accommodate RVs up to 25ft, where the rest of the campground will accommodate RVs up to 35ft.
This Joshua Tree camping ground has pit toilets throughout the area and just one drinking water source, at the entrance. Fees are $20 per night or between $35-$50 for a group site.
The final Joshua Tree camping ground is Jumbo Rocks. With 124 sites this is the largest of all eight campgrounds, so it’s probably going to be busy and loud. However, it is also the only campground to have a fully wheelchair accessible site available, with flat, paved terrain.
Jumbo Rocks has pit toilets and no drinking water. RVs are permitted on all sites, up to the length of 35ft. Fees are $15 per night.
Making A Reservation
For the sites that require a reservation, this can be done online by following this link. If you are making an equestrian or group booking, then this must be done over the phone.
Reservations for all reservable Joshua Tree camping grounds are released six months in advance, at the beginning of January and July. It is worth double-checking the exact date and booking immediately to avoid the disappointment of missing out.
Reservations can fill quickly, especially on weekends and holidays.
How First Come First Served Works
For the first come first served campgrounds you do not need to register online, simply turn up at your desired campground on the day you wish to camp and claim a space.
This is done on an honour system. The honour system means there are no attendants or cameras, but a ranger does tend to drive through once a day.
Collect a yellow envelope at the entrance to the campground and drive in. Keep your eyes peeled for an available campsite. You will know it is free if it’s empty and the post with the site’s number on has no yellow envelope clipped to it.
To claim a site as your own fill out the form on the yellow envelope with the number of days you plan to stay. Then put your fee inside the envelope, seal it and walk it back to the entrance where you’ll find a metal box to deposit it in.
You have now secured and paid for your campsite! Be sure to bring cash with you as you will not find a card reader at first come first served campgrounds.
During the peak season, you will want to arrive early, between 8-10 am to get a campsite. If the campground is full, you will only get a campsite when someone else is leaving so you can always ask around or lookout to see if anyone is packing up.
It’s good to have a backup plan if you are relying on getting a Joshua Tree camping spot using the first come first served system, just in case all campgrounds are full.
Luckily, there is plenty of BLM land just outside the park that is free to use for dispersed camping. Obviously, there are no facilities, but if you’re in your campervan, then this won’t matter anyway.
Joshua Tree is an absolutely gorgeous National Park and, if you’re travelling through California, it is definitely worth a visit. I would try to go for one of the smaller campgrounds as they have a quieter, more intimate feel.