Backcountry, RV, or tent—whatever your overnight preference, Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds offer a little something for every outdoor adventurer.
There are seven NPS campgrounds located within the park boundaries, two of which—Black Rock Campground and Indian Cove Campground—accept seasonal reservations October through May. The other five campgrounds are first-come, first-served year-round.
Campgrounds in Joshua Tree start to fill up on Thursday mornings most weekends October through May, beginning with the more popular and centrally located campsites like Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, and Ryan Campground, which have sites tucked in among Joshua Tree’s famous boulders and Joshua trees. By Thursday evening, your options are limited. If you can’t make it into the park by Thursday afternoon, and you don’t have a reservation, better have a contingency plan. Fortunately, there is overflow camping and private camping available outside the park boundaries. In summer, all campgrounds are first-come, first-served.
Only three campgrounds—Black Rock, Indian Cove, and Cottonwood—have drinking water. Even if you are staying at one of these campgrounds, it is wise to bring at least two gallons of water (per person per day) with you into the park.
There are no RV hookups at any of the park campgrounds. Black Rock and Cottonwood Campgrounds have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations, and there are spaces that can accommodate trailers under 25 feet at Hidden Valley and White Tank Campgrounds.
Campgrounds Inside Joshua Tree National Park
Black Rock Canyon Campground
Black Rock Canyon Campground (99 sites, 877/444-6777, $20) is in the northwest corner of Joshua Tree, just south of the town of Yucca Valley. Black Rock Canyon has a distinct geographic feel; instead of boulder jumbles, you’ll find rolling hills dotted with Joshua trees and yuccas. This is a good campground for first-time visitors, as drinking water is available and the location offers easy access to Yucca Valley for supplies. This campground also offers limited equestrian sites (by reservation only), and trailer and RV sites with water fill-up and dump stations are also available. Campground amenities include drinking water, flush toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, and a small visitors center with maps and guides.
The road in dead-ends at the campground, and there is no driving access into the rest of the park. A series of hiking trails, including the short Hi-View Nature Trail, the view-filled Eureka Peak, Panorama Loop, and Warren Peak trails, leave from the campground and offer access into the park by foot. The trailhead for the 35-mile California Riding and Hiking Trail also starts at the campground.
Reservations are accepted online from October through May up to six months in advance. To get there from Highway 62 in Yucca Valley, turn south on Joshua Lane and drive five miles into the park.
Central Hidden Valley (44 sites, first-come, first-served year-round, $15) tends to be the most difficult campground to get a spot in. On the southern end of the Wonderland of Rocks, the campground is popular with rock climbers … and everyone else. Its sites are picturesquely set amidst Joshua Tree’s signature boulders, and you are right in the heart of the park. The campground can accommodate trailers and RVs (under 25 feet), and amenities include vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. There is no drinking water.
Reservations are not accepted. To reach Hidden Valley from the Joshua Tree Visitors Center on Highway 62, turn south onto Park Boulevard and continue 14 miles to the intersection with Barker Dam Road. The campground will be to the left.
Ryan Campground (31 sites, first-come, first-served year-round, $15) is a scenic campground centrally located between Hidden Valley and Jumbo Rocks with campsites interspersed among boulders and Joshua trees. The adjoining Ryan Horse Camp (760/367-5545, $15) offers four equestrian sites by reservation only from October through May. Amenities include vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. There is no drinking water.
Reservations are not accepted. To reach Ryan Campground from the Joshua Tree Visitors Center on Highway 62, follow Park Boulevard south for 27 miles, passing the Hidden Valley Campground. Immediately past the Keys View Road turn-off, the campground will appear on the right.
Sheep Pass Group Camp
Towering rock formations and Joshua trees surround Sheep Pass Group Camp (6 sites, 877/444-6777, $35-50), a tent-only group campground centrally located off of Park Boulevard in between Ryan and Jumbo Rocks Campgrounds. Amenities include vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. There is no drinking water.
Reservations are required and can be made up to one year in advance. The campground is 18 miles south of the West Entrance and 16 miles south of the North Entrance.
Jumbo Rocks Campground
Jumbo Rocks (124 sites, first-come, first-served year-round, $15) is the largest campground in the park. Despite its size, sites fill up quickly thanks to a convenient location along Park Boulevard and access to plentiful rock climbing opportunities, as well as the Skull Rock Nature Trail. Popular sites are scenically tucked into the large rock formations for which the campground is named, but the sheer volume of sites leaves little privacy. This lends the place the feel of a small village, which may be good for families or groups. Amenities include vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. There is no drinking water.
Reservations are not accepted. To reach Jumbo Rocks from the North Entrance in Twentynine Palms, follow Utah Trail south as it becomes Park Boulevard and continue southwest for eight miles. From the West Entrance in Joshua Tree, it is a drive of about 24 miles.
Belle Campground (18 sites, first-come, first-served Oct.-May, $15) is a small, low-key campground with cozy sites tucked amid a pile of rock formations. Amenities include vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. There is no drinking water.
Reservations are not accepted. To reach Belle from the North Entrance in Twentynine Palms, follow Utah Trail south as it becomes Park Boulevard and continue about 5 miles to the junction with Pinto Basin Road. Follow Pinto Basin Road 1.5 miles south, turning left onto Belle Campground Road.
White Tank Campground
The smallest campground in the park, White Tank (15 sites, first-come, first-served year-round, $15) is a laid-back campground with sites tucked in amid scattered rock formations. Sites can accommodate trailers and RVs (under 25 feet). Amenities include vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. There is no drinking water.
Reservations are not accepted. White Tank is located just south of Belle Campground along Pinto Basin Road, about 7.4 miles south of the North Entrance.
Indian Cove (101 sites, first-come, first-served June-Sept., $20) is one of two campgrounds in the park that accepts reservations (877/444-6777, Oct.-May) and it has drinking water available at the ranger station just two miles away. The sites are tucked into spectacular boulder formations and offer both group and RV (under 25 feet) camping options. Indian Cove sits on the northern edge of the Wonderland of Rocks and is popular with rock climbers; the north end of the popular Boy Scout Trail also begins here. Amenities include vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables, and access to drinking water.
The campground is located off Highway 62, between the towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, and is accessed via Indian Cove Road South. The road dead-ends at the campground, so there is no vehicle access into the rest of the park. The nearest park entrance is the North Entrance in Twentynine Palms.
The area around Cottonwood Campground (62 sites, first-come, first-served year-round, $20) is much more lightly visited than the Hidden Valley region, which makes finding a site here slightly less competitive. Still, you should plan to be here by Friday morning on weekends from October through May. The campsites are scattered across an open desert dotted with creosote. Though there is little to divide them, the sites are nicely spaced and offer some privacy. The nearby Cottonwood Visitors Center is a fully stocked visitors center and bookstore, while hiking trails to scenic Lost Palms Oasis and Mastodon Peak depart directly from the campground. There are also trailer and RV sites with water fill-up and a dump station. The Cottonwood Group Campground (3 sites, 877/444-6777, $35-40) provides tent-only sites by reservation. Amenities include flush toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, and drinking water.
Reservations are not accepted. Cottonwood Campground is located in the Pinto Basin at the South Entrance to the park. From I-10 south of the park, take Cottonwood Spring Road north for about 10 miles. At the Cottonwood Visitors Center, turn right onto Cottonwood Oasis Road and continue 7.5 miles to the campground on the left.
Campgrounds Outside Joshua Tree National Park
Campgrounds in the park fill quickly October through May. Outside the park, options include backcountry camping on BLM land or at a privately owned RV park in Joshua Tree.
Overflow camping is available on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land both north and south of the park. Note that BLM camping includes no amenities (toilets, water, fire pits, or drinking water). Fires are allowed in self-contained metal fire pits (provide your own) in the overflow camping south of the park, but are not allowed on BLM camping north of the park. Bring your own firewood.
For camping north of the park: Drive four miles east of Park Boulevard on Highway 62 and turn left (north) on Sunfair Road. Continue two miles to Broadway, then turn right (east) on Broadway, where the pavement ends. Drive one mile to a one-lane, unmarked dirt road (Cascade) at a line of telephone poles running north and south. Turn left (north) onto Cascade, and drive 0.5-mile until you pass a single-lane, unmarked dirt road. Camping is allowed on the right (east) side of that road for 0.5-mile beginning with the unmarked dirt road.
For camping south of the park: Drive six miles south of the Cottonwood Visitors Center, passing the park boundary sign. Just beyond the aqueduct, turn right or left on the unmarked water district road. Camping is allowed south of the water district road west and east of the Cottonwood Road. South of I-10, Cottonwood Road turns into Box Canyon Road; camping is allowed south of I-10 on both the east and west sides of Box Canyon Road.
Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground (2601 Sunfair Rd., Joshua Tree, 760/366-1213, first-come, first-served, $10 pp tent sites, $4 children 12 and under; $20-30 RV sites) is 14 miles north of the West Entrance. The property offers tent and RV camping on exposed desert. Sites include picnic tables and fire pits, and the campground has a small fishing lake, a camp store with firewood and basic supplies, RV hookups, hot showers, flush toilets, and a playground.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Palm Springs & Joshua Tree.