Famous for its gigantic granite boulders, rugged mountainous peaks, plentiful desert flora and fauna, and of course the namesake Joshua trees, Joshua Tree National Park is a Southern California bucket list destination. Located only 3 hours from Escape Camper Vans in Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect getaway destination to swap the city lights and traffic for desert wildlife and starry night skies.
Why Rent a Camper Van for a Trip to Joshua Tree National Park?
Renting an Escape Campervan to explore Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect way to adventure in California’s desert. A campervan is far more convenient than renting an RV because camper vans are more mobile, compact, and easier to drive. You don’t need electric or sewer hookups so finding a campsite in a camper van is far easier than in an RV. Escape Camper Vans also offers plenty of extra accessories to make your trip even more comfortable.
Preparing for a Trip to Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is located in a remote area of Southern California. Outside of the town of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, there are little to no services in the park. So plan ahead and use these tips to help your trip run smoothly.
There are 3 entrances to Joshua Tree National Park. The closest entrance to Los Angeles is the west entrance near the town of Joshua Tree. This is the busiest entrance and is best to avoid on weekends during the high season from October to May, as it can back up for hours.
The Twentynine Palms entrance at the north of the park is usually far less crowded. The southern entrance, near Cottonwood Spring, is generally free of traffic.
Enter Joshua Tree National Park Early
If visiting Joshua Tree National Park in the fall through spring, plan for crowds. Enter the park before 9 am, especially on weekends, for shorter entrance lines and optimal parking options.
There are no restaurants or grocery options in the park. You must drive to the nearest town to get food. Go grocery shopping before entering the park as the drive out from any of the campsites is about an hour one way.
There are only a few places where you can find potable water in Joshua Tree National Park. Some campgrounds have spigots with clean drinking water but not all of them. Pack plenty of water, much more than you expect. It’s hot and dry in the desert. Bring at least a gallon of water per person per day just for drinking. If you’re camping in the park, bring a few extra gallons of water per person per day because you’ll use it for washing dishes and keeping camp clean.
Make sure you fuel up in Twentynine Palms or the town of Joshua Tree before you enter the park. There are no gas stations in Joshua Tree National Park and you can easily spend a few hours driving through the park while exploring.
Stick to the Trails
The harsh desert environment can be unforgiving. Unless you’re a very experienced hiker, it’s best to stick to established trails when visiting the Joshua Tree National Park as there is very little to no water resources or shade across most of the landscape.
Bring a Rechargeable Battery or Solar Panel
Joshua Tree is located in a very remote area of Southern California. There are no services for power in the park so a rechargeable battery is nice to have. Also, a solar panel is a great option in the sunny desert to recharge devices.
There is no cell coverage anywhere in the park. The nearest places with cell coverage are the towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms.
Download Offline Maps
With no cell coverage in the park, offline maps are really helpful for approximating drive time and finding trailheads. Download maps before you visit. You’ll receive a paper map when you enter the park. AllTrails is a great resource where you can download hikes before your trip.
It’s Best to Leave Your Pets at Home
Pets are not allowed on hiking trails, in buildings, or in the backcountry in Joshua Tree National Park. Leashed pets are only allowed on a few established sidewalks in main areas. It’s best to leave your pets at home. It’s too hot in the desert to leave your pets in the car throughout most of the year.
Must-See Sights, Events, and Places of the Joshua Tree National Park
From scenic overlooks and stargazing to family-friendly hikes and rock scrambles, Joshua Tree National Park offers ample opportunities for all visitors to explore.
Keys View is a scenic lookout with panoramic views of the San Bernardino Mountains and the Coachella Valley. On a clear day, you can even see into Mexico! It sits at 5,185 feet making it the highest overlook you can drive to in the park. Reach the lookout viewpoint via a wheelchair-accessible 0.2-mile paved loop.
The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is located off of Park Boulevard, near the Hidden Valley Campground and picnic area. The 1-mile easy loop hike offers some of the best scenery in the park. From walking among the giant boulders, through a rock-enclosed valley, and around desert flora, it’s a great hike to check out when you’re visiting Joshua Tree National Park.
Cholla cacti blanket the landscape in clusters until they meet the horizon in the Cholla Cactus Garden. Located off Pinto Basin Road you can enjoy the Cholla Cacti, along a 0.25-mile loop trail. The cholla cactus, also known as teddy bear cholla or jumping cholla is known to easily “jump” onto you. Basically, they just easily attach to you if you even slightly brush them, so watch out and give them their space! They are not fun to pull out of the skin!
The Barker Dam Trail is a perfect family-friendly short trail in Joshua Tree National Park. The 1.1-mile loop winds through many Joshua Trees, among many giant granite boulders, and past the historic Barker Dam.
Skull Rock is one of the most iconic big boulders in Joshua Tree National Park. As you can guess from the name, its appearance resembles that of a human skull. Over the years the rock has eroded and it now looks like two eye sockets are hollowed out. Skull Rock is located right off of Park Boulevard. There is a small pullout right next to it. If parking is full and you’re itching to stretch your legs, you can also hike to Skull Rock from the Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Arch Rock is another famous rock in Joshua Tree located right next to the White Tank Campground. It’s a very popular photography spot. To view Arch Rock hike the 0.6-mile loop trail from the campground or the 1.2-mile out-and-back hike from Pinto Basin Road.
Ryan Mountain stands 5,456 feet tall and is the most popular and accessible high peak to climb in Joshua Tree National Park. From the summit, you’ll have impressive views of the surrounding Coachella Valley and San Bernardino Mountains. This hike isn’t for the faint of heart as the 3-mile round trip hike gains 1,050 feet on the way up and has some exposed edges but if you’re up for a challenge, the views are well worth it!
Cottonwood Spring Oasis is an underrated part of Joshua Tree National Park. It’s surrounded by tall, lush palms, something you might not expect to see in Joshua Tree. It’s located 7 miles north of the southern park entrance and has a visitor center, campgrounds, plenty of hiking trails, some of the best birding spots in the park, and historic gold mills.
The Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is a 3-mile out-and-back hike starting on compact dirt but ascending and descending to reach the Fourtynine Palm Oasis where palms grow plentifully from a natural spring. The trail is open from fall through spring. Round trip it gains about 640 feet of elevation making it a moderate hike.
The Oasis of Mara is a small section of Joshua Tree National Park located in the town of Twentynine Palms next to the Oasis Visitor Center. The Oasis of Mara is not connected to the rest of the park; it’s a short drive away. It’s another beautiful park oasis featuring many California fan palms, desert flora, and fauna. There is an easy half-mile stroll through the Oasis where you can take in the lush desert beauty.
There are 4 visitor centers in Joshua Tree National Park. The Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center is located in downtown Twentynine Palms. The Cottonwood Visitor Center is located off Pinto Basin Road. The Joshua Tree Visitor Center is in downtown Joshua Tree and the Black Rock Nature Center is located at Black Rock Campground. Learn about park geology, history, wildlife, and more at any of the visitor centers.
Joshua Tree National Park offers opportunities to see some of the best night skies in California. The park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
Head out on a clear night around a new moon for the best opportunity to enjoy the Milky Way and shooting stars. The best area to view the stars in the park is off Pinto Basin Road in the central or east part of the park. If you’re too far west you’ll see a slight glow from the nearby towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. Driving a bit further into the park will enhance your stargazing experience.
Birding is a very popular activity in Joshua Tree National Park. Many year-round bird species include the mockingbird, cactus wren, the great roadrunner, the rock wren, and many more. The 49 Palms Oasis, Barker Dam, and Oasis of Mara are popular areas to site birds.
Keys Ranch is a historic ranch built in 1910 in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. William and Frances Keys and their children lived on the ranch for over 60 years. Originally they moved there as ranchers and miners. Today you can join a ranger-led tour to explore the historical landmark while learning a bit more about the park’s history.
From afternoon strolls to Keys Ranch tours, the ranger-led programs in Joshua Tree National Park run regularly from October through May. They are not commonly held in the summer months. Head to a visitor center for a current schedule of events or check online.
Camping at Joshua Tree National Park
There are 500 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park. Most require reservations in advance, and 77 are first-come, first-served sites. Dispersed camping is also a popular option on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land surrounding the park.
Black Rock Campground is located in the northwest corner of Joshua Tree National Park. Reservations are required. It has 99 sites available for $25 a night. It’s located at 4,000 feet in elevation and has potable water, flushing toilets, fire grates, and tables.
Cottonwood Campground sits at 3,000 feet in elevation. It has 62 sites for $25 a night. All sites require reservations. Cottonwood Campground is located in the southeast part of Joshua Tree near the Cottonwood Visitor Center. It has potable water, flushing toilets, fire grates, and tables.
Indian Cove Campground has 101 sites available for $25 a night and requires reservations. Indian Cove Campground is located at 3,200 feet off Indian Cove Road accessible via 29 Palms Highway, central to the towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. There are hiking trails around Indian Cove but the road does not connect to Park Boulevard, the main road through Joshua Tree National Park. Indian Cove has tables, pit toilets, and fire grates. There is no water available there.
Jumbo Rocks Campground has 124 sites available for $20 per night and requires reservations. It’s located at 4,400 feet off Park Boulevard, very central in the park. It’s surrounded by many impressive granite rocks. Jumbo Rocks Campground has pit toilets, fire grates, and tables but there is no water.
Ryan Campground has 31 sites and costs $20 a night. Reservations are required. Ryan Campground is located off Park Boulevard and is also central to the park. It’s located at 4,300 feet in elevation and has fire grates, tables, and pit toilets but no water.
Belle Campground is a first-come, first-served campground with 18 sites going for $15 a night. Belle Campground is located off Pinto Basin Road and is central to the park. It sits at 3,800 feet in elevation and has tables, pit toilets, and fire grates. There is no water there. Belle Campground closes temporarily in the summer.
Hidden Valley Campground is a first-come, first-served campground with 44 sites. Sites cost $15 a night and have pit toilets, tables, and fire grates. There is no water at Hidden Valley Campground. It is located centrally in the park near the Hidden Valley Nature Trail at 4,200 feet. It is open year-round.
White Tank Campground has 15 first-come, first-served campsites for $15 a night. It’s located centrally in the park off Pinto Basin Road right near the trailheads for Arch Rock and Heart Rock. White Tank Campground sits at 3,800 feet in elevation and has pit toilets, fire grates, and tables. It does not have water.
Surrounding Joshua Tree National Park is plentiful Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Dispersed camping is popular here. It’s free but there are no services or amenities. Not even toilets. Pack out all waste and trash including personal waste.
Carry WAG bags in case you don’t make it to town in time to reach a toilet. It’s essential to keep these areas pristine and as though no one was there so they don’t get shut down.
Joshua Tree National Park Camping Information
Reserve Campsites Ahead
The Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds that require reservations open six6 months in advance. You can reserve them up until the day of, but it’s highly recommended that you reserve spots as far out as you can, especially on holidays, weekends, and any day during the spring. Reservations are made at recreation.gov.
The first-come, first-served campsites fill up early on holidays and weekends. If you plan to camp at one, arrive during the weekday and claim a spot early if visiting during the busy season from October through May.
The campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park are located between 3200 and 4400 feet in elevation. Temperatures at higher campgrounds are a bit cooler than those 1200 feet lower. It still gets cold in the winter in Joshua Tree so make sure you bring enough layers to stay warm! And if there’s a chance of snow in the forecast, it’s more likely to blanket the higher campgrounds first. In warmer months it can be nice to stay at the camps sitting at higher elevations for slightly cooler temperatures.
Not all campgrounds have running water. Make sure you check the campground amenities before you drive into the park. Water is available at most visitor centers but it’s best to bring a few gallons in from outside the park. Plan for at least 2 gallons per person per day for both drinking and camping cleanliness.
Hammock camping is not permitted in Joshua Tree. It’s illegal to tie hammocks or ropes to any vegetation in the park.
Follow the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace
The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace are guidelines on how to recreate in the outdoors to help visitors respect the environment, wildlife, and others. They are important when camping, hiking, and visiting a park.
Plan and prepare for your trip. This helps your trip run smoother and helps with safety. Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Camp in designated campsites and hike on established trails and durable surfaces such as rocks free of vegetation.
Pack out all waste – both trash and food scraps. Always use restrooms at campsites.
Leave what you find; don’t pick flowers, take rocks, or take plants. Everything in a national park is federally protected and it’s best to leave the environment as it is to preserve it for the wildlife and future generations.
Check what campfire regulations are in effect. These are listed on the information board at the entrance of each campsite.
Respect wildlife; don’t feed or approach wildlife. Store all food properly in a locked vehicle or in bear bins where provided.
Be considerate of other hikers and campers. Park in the proper campsite, don’t block roads, keep music levels down at camp, and respect quiet hours.
When is the best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park?
Joshua Tree National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week unless weather conditions affect the park. While it’s possible to visit year-round, summer is VERY hot and not recommended. Fall through spring offers great experiences.
Visiting Joshua Tree National Park in the winter is a great time to explore the park. Summer temperatures are quickly replaced with cool days averaging in the 60s during the day and upper 30s at night. Bring lots of layers because most people are surprised by how cool it gets at night even though you’re in Southern California. It even snows a couple of times in the winter!
If you plan to visit during the holidays from Christmas to New Year, expect bigger crowds and be sure to reserve your campsites well in advance for that period. Also, by January wildflowers start blooming at lower elevations in the park!
Spring is wildflower season! Expect to see wildflowers blooming throughout most of the park, except on the highest peaks. For the best chance to see the Joshua Trees blooming, visit the park between February and April. The phenomenon only occurs every 5 – 10 years when weather conditions are right.
Spring also brings comfortable temperatures averaging in the 70s to 80s during the day and 40s to 50s at night. This is the most crowded time of year to visit Joshua Tree so plan for long entrance lines. Avoid the west entrance near the town of Joshua Tree on weekends in the spring as it can back up for hours.
Summer is very hot in Joshua Tree. It’s not recommended to visit at this time of year as temperatures reach into the 100s and most trails provide no shade. If you choose to visit in the summer from June to September plan to hike early in the morning and carry a lot of water. Camping is tough in the summer.
Fall is another great time of year to visit the park. Temperatures cool off averaging in the 70s and low 80s during the day and 40s to 50s at night in October and November. The park starts to get more crowded, especially on weekends. Fall is a great time to go hiking with warmer temperatures than in the winter months.
Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for your trip to Joshua Tree National Park
With plentiful campgrounds and places to explore in the park, renting an Escape Campervan in Los Angeles for a Joshua Tree Road Trip is a great way to enjoy your national park adventure! Camping with comfort and ease is a luxury and Escape Camper Vans provides exactly that!