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Tips for camping in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a world-renowned spot for rock climbing and one of the best places to go camping and hiking in Southern California. From the unique geological formations to the iconic Joshua Trees scattered throughout the park, there’s something for everyone in this park, no matter your interests. 

Camping in Joshua Tree may look slightly different from other National Parks, though, and the first thing you need to know is to plan ahead. Joshua Tree camping may take a bit of planning, but with a bit of extra effort, your trip with be stress-free as you experience the natural wonders of Southern California. 

To help guide you through planning a camping trip to Joshua Tree, we put together four of the top tips we have for camping in the park. 

Plan to supply water and for a lack of amenities 

Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Mojave Desert. That means water is limited. Not all campgrounds have water. The two camping areas that do have water are Black Rock and Cottonwood. Potable water is available at the Twentynine Palms visitor center, the Indian Cove ranger station, and the southern entrance station. You can also get water in the surrounding towns. 

All of the camping within the park has access to a toilet, but not all of them having flush toilets. Do not plan for full access to a bathroom with full amenities. You should bring in all food, firewood, and water (1-2 gallons per person, per day) that you need. 

Please also note that not all camping areas have cell phone reception. 

Choose a camping location based on the activities you have planned

Joshua Tree offers a wide variety of different activities to enjoy. You can plan on doing short day hikes, rock climbing, taking geological tours, wildlife viewing, and more. With so many options, it is a good idea to plan regarding the activities you want to do while you’re visiting. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, try to pick camping near those hikes or climbs. This may enable you to walk to the trailheads or at least shorten the drive to the parking area closest. 

If you plan on equestrian camping, this is especially important because not all Joshua Tree campsites have horse stalls. Black Rock Campground and Ryan Campground are the only areas that allow visitors to keep their horses overnight. 

Joshua Tree Dirt Road

Reservations required September-May for some areas

While there are several campsites within the park, depending on the time of year you visit, you may not be able to get a spot. That’s because much of Joshua Tree camping is first-come-first-serve. However, during the busy season (September-May), some of the campsites are reservation only. Five campsites require reservations part of the year: 

Black Rock Campground
Number of sites: 99
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: High concentration of Joshua Trees
Amenities: water, flush toilets, fire grates, dump station, phone reception
Other information: 20 horse-stall sites

Cottonwood Campground
Number of sites: 62 (3 group sites)
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: ideal for stargazing, hiking the Lost Palms Oasis and Cottonwood Springs
Amenities: dump station, water, flush toilets, fire grates
Other information: remote and usually the last campground to be filled

Indian Cove Campground
Number of sites: 101 (13 group sites)
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: climbing and Wonderland of Rocks
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling, fire grates
Other information: water available 3 miles away at small ranger station

Jumbo Rocks Campground
Number of sites: 124
Fee per night: $20
Attractions: Skull Rock and other popular rock outcroppings
Amenities: dump station, vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: central park location

Ryan Campground 
Number of sites: 31
Fee per night: $20 ($5 for bicycles)
Attractions: hiking and climbing options nearby
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: 4 horse stall campsites, 5 bicycle campsites 

First-come-first-serve camping areas

The three camping areas that are strictly first-come-first-serve tend to have fewer sites, are less expensive, but they fill up much faster, especially on holiday weekends. 

Belle Campground
Number of sites: 18
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: closet to climbing routes at Castle Rock
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: great area for stargazing 

Hidden Valley Campground 
Number of sites: 44
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: hiking including Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Boy Scout Trail, and Keys View
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: campsites dispersed among rock outcroppings, near visitor center

White Tank Campground 
Number of sites: 15
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: Arch Rock interpretive trail (good area for kids)
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling 
Other information: One of the last areas filled, good for stargazing 

Other camping options in Joshua Tree

If you are traveling with a group, some of the main campgrounds do have a few group sites, but they may fill up fast. There is one campground just for groups. Additionally, if you would like a more remote experience in the park, you can check out some of the backcountry camping. 

Sheep Pass Group Campground
Number of sites: 6
Fee per night: $50
Attractions: near Saddle Rocks and climbing crags
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling 
Other information: tent only, reservations required 

Twin Tanks Backcountry Camping
Number of sites: 25
Fee per night: no fee, but backcountry permit required 
Attractions: solitude, wildlife viewing, and coyote melons
Amenities: none 
Other information: Register your vehicle when you get your permit

Joshua Tree National Park black and white photo

Frequently asked questions about Joshua Tree camping

What’s the best time of year to visit Joshua Tree?
September through May is the best time to visit the park, but it is also the busiest time of year, which is why reservations are required for some camping areas. Summer months can be upwards of 100 degrees, making it dangerous for outdoor activities. 

Are there any free or boondocking campsites near Joshua Tree?
Yes, there is some BLM land located outside the park. 

Can I bring my dog to Joshua Tree?
Yes, but they are not allowed in all hiking areas. 

Wrapping things up

We hope that this info helps you plan a safe and fun adventure in Joshua Tree National Park. Now check out this video of 17 things to do in Joshua Tree.