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California Road Trip: Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Joshua Tree

Los Angeles to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs

Just two hours outside of Los Angeles’ sprawling metropolis lies the idyllic desert oasis of Palm Springs, making it a popular California road trip. Architecture enthusiasts, nature lovers, and art aficionados all flock to the Coachella Valley’s trendiest city, and for good reason. From jaw-dropping hikes through vast desert landscapes to quirky art museums, the irresistible charm of Palm Springs really does offer something for everyone.

Rather than driving straight to the city, we recommend taking your time and making the most of your California road trip. Visit the stunning San Bernardino National Forest for a day of spectacular hikes, take in sweeping views from the world’s largest rotating tram car, and embark on an unforgettable day trip to experience Joshua Tree National Park’s mesmerizing terrain. To help get you started, we’ve put together the ultimate five-day itinerary for your Los Angeles to Palm Springs adventure!

Travel Time from Los Angeles to Palm Springs

This roundtrip route begins and ends at Escape Camper Vans’ Los Angeles location, covering about 342 miles, and taking approximately 6 hours to complete. While you could easily drive straight from Los Angeles to Palm Springs in 2 hours, we recommend breaking up the trip to fully immerse yourself in all the scenic beauty along the way.

Best Time of Year for a Los Angeles to Palm Springs Road Trip

While Palm Springs is a year-round destination, the winter and spring are considered to be the two best seasons to visit. The weather during this time is ideal for exploring, with temperatures averaging in the 60s in January and reaching up to the 80s by April.

However, keep in mind that spring is the most popular time to visit. Crowds are at their highest, especially during Spring Break. For mild temperatures during a quieter time, the fall can be a great alternative for venturing to this desert oasis.

Temperatures in Palm Springs soar in the summer, reaching past 100 degrees during the day. If your plans are to lounge in a pool and enjoy indoor, air-conditioned activities, then you can still have a great time during this time of year. However, if you have your heart set on exploring California’s beautiful scenery, a summer road trip to Big Sur might be a better fit.

Preparation for a Los Angeles to Palm Springs Camper Van Road Trip

Although the drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs isn’t super long, a bit of planning ahead and preparation will go a long way in ensuring that your adventure goes off without a hitch! From maximizing sun protection to securing your camping spots, these are some of our top tips to keep in mind when you’re getting ready for your California camper van road trip.

Campsites

Many of the campsites you’ll come across on this route can be booked up to six months in advance. While there are several campgrounds in San Bernardino National Forest, it’s still a good idea to reserve your sites ahead of time, especially during the high season. In Palm Springs, there aren’t tons of campground options, so it’s definitely best not to wait until the last minute to book your site.

Gear and Supplies

Before hitting the road, scope out our available add-ons for any extra supplies that you’ll need. The desert heat can be intense, and some campgrounds have limited shade, so it’s a good idea to add a door canopy for extra sun protection. Likewise, make sure you pack your SPF and bring a wide-brimmed hat for any outdoor adventures.

A kitchen kit and picnic table are also great for cooking and enjoying meals at your campsite. While Palm Springs is known for its delicious cuisine, many of the restaurants in the area can be pricey, so being able to cook your own food will definitely come in handy!

Navigating

Your Smart Phone will work well as your GPS on this trip, just remember to pack a portable charger so that you can charge your devices even while your camper van is turned off. You’ll also want to download Offline Maps for navigating more remote areas- Joshua Tree in particular barely has any cell reception.

Which Camper Van is Best for a Los Angeles to Palm Springs Road Trip?

Escape Camper Vans offers a fleet of 5 different camper van models to choose from, all of which are available from our Los Angeles location. The Del Mar, Mavericks, and Mesa all sleep up to five people (with a rooftop sleeper) and include fully equipped kitchenettes. The Santa Cruz and Jeep Camper sleep up to 2 people and also have kitchenettes, although the Jeep comes with a powered cooler rather than a refrigerator. All of our camper vans are well suited for a California road trip, and the perfect model depends on the number of people you’ll be traveling with and your specific travel needs.

Joshua Tree National Park

Los Angeles to Palm Springs Itinerary Stops

Day 1- Drive from Los Angeles to San Bernardino National Forest

Your epic California road trip begins at the Escape Camper Vans’ location in Los Angeles. After packing up your camper van rental and stocking up on road trip snacks, it’s time to get behind the wheel for a quick ride up to San Bernardino National Forest. The drive should take less than 1.5 hours, so you’ll be left with plenty of time to explore!

Located in Big Bear, California, San Bernardino National Forest is a haven for nature lovers. Boasting both serene desert landscapes and some of Southern California’s tallest mountains, this tranquil forest is a perfect spot to reset before visiting the vibrant city of Palm Springs.

Things To Do in San Bernardino National Forest

Go on a hike With countless trails to explore, embarking on a scenic hike is a must in San Bernardino. One of the best hikes in the forest is the Pineknot Trail, a 6.9-mile trail which leads you to the breathtaking Grand View Point. From here, you’ll be rewarded with unmatched views of the area’s sprawling mountains and rugged terrain.

Deep Creek Hot SpringsAfter a long day of hiking through the mountains, decompress in these natural hot springs. Nestled along the Pacific Crest Trail, the picturesque setting offers 6 different, equally tranquil pools to enjoy.

Big Bear Lake Perhaps the most popular area in San Bernardino National Forest, this is one of the most notable alpine lakes in the country. Optimal for hiking, wildlife watching, or going for a swim in the summer, you could easily spend your whole day in this area.

Where to Eat near San Bernardino National Forest

Wilshire’s Apple Shed11925 Oak Glen Rd, Yucaipa, CA 92399: While originally the first roadside stand in the area, this Oak Glen institution is now a popular pizzeria and coffee shop. Dine al fresco as you enjoy the rustic setting, along with their homemade hard cider or a cup of their freshly brewed coffee. 

Hawks Head Living History and Bakery12261 Oak Glen Rd, Yucaipa, CA 92399: Housed on a historic farm and active apple orchard, this charming restaurant’s menu reflects the hearty cuisine of early Colonial America. In the evenings, you’ll often find live, acoustic music performances or fun dinner-theater events!

Campgrounds in San Bernardino National Forest

San Bernardino National Forest contains over 30 campgrounds, so it’s unlikely that you’ll have trouble finding a vacancy, even during high season. These are a few of the best camper van friendly campgrounds in the area:

Barton Flats CampgroundCA-38, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305: Centrally located within the forest and near a stunning lake, this convenient campground offers easy access to many of the highlights in the area. This campsite typically operates from March through October on a 6-month rolling basis, and reservations must be made ahead of time.

San Gorgonio Campground–  43064 CA-38, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305: Nestled in the mountains of San Bernardino, this scenic campground provides easy access to several picturesque trails, streams, and peaceful lakes. Toilets, showers, and potable water are all available and reservations must be made ahead of time. This site usually operates from mid-March through September.

Serrano Campground40650 N Shore Dr, Fawnskin, CA 92333: If you want to base yourself near Big Bear Lake, this campground is an ideal option. The site typically operates from March until November, and reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance. Facilities include sewer and electric hook ups, dump stations, and potable water.

Joshua Tree Road Trip

Days 2-3: Palm Springs, California

After a hearty breakfast at your campground, hop back into your camper van and make the one hour drive to the desert city of Palm Springs! Characterized by its unique, mid-century modern architecture, stunning scenery, and thriving art scene, the Sonoran Desert’s alluring city makes for a perfect, easy getaway from LA.

Whether you’re seeking a deep dive into the art and culture scene, evenings spent at buzzing restaurants, or a tranquil desert escape, you’re bound to find it in Palm Springs.

Things to do in Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway For unparalleled views of the nearby Mount San Jacinto State Park, hop aboard the largest rotating tram car in the world! The 10-minute ride not only rewards you with 360-views of the rugged landscape below you, but it also drops you off at Mountain Station. Here, you’ll find multiple observation decks, along with several restaurants if you feel like dining with a view. There are also numerous hiking trails in this area, in case you’re eager to further explore the pristine beauty of Mt. San Jacinto.

Palm Springs Art MuseumFor art lovers, be sure to spend an afternoon at this beloved visual and performing arts museum. The space consists of more than 28 galleries, along with two impressive sculpture gardens, and a spacious theater. 

Cabazon Dinosaurs You can’t come to Palm Springs without visiting this legendary, roadside attraction! The enormous Brontosaurus statue is 150 feet long, while the towering Tyrannosaurus Rex stands at 65 feet tall. While it’s free to admire the looming dinosaur statues, there is also an option to climb up to the T-Rex’s head for a fee.

Take an Architecture TourPalm Springs’ distinctive architecture is perhaps the city’s most notable trait. Take a deep dive into the world of mid-century modernism with an exciting architecture tour. Join a group or private tour as you visit some of the most remarkable homes, buildings and neighborhoods in the area.

Where to Eat in Palm Springs, CA

Farm6 La Plaza, Palm Springs, CA 92262: You’ll feel transported to Europe at this Provençal eatery, which serves decadent, farm-to-table cuisine from a garden-style patio. Come for a delicious breakfast or lunch, or indulge in their prix-fixe dinner menu. 

Cheeky’s622 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262: For 15 years, this charming restaurant has been the go-to brunch spot of Palm Springs. Their famous “bacon flight” is a must try- consisting of 5 differently seasoned, mouthwatering strips of bacon.

Campgrounds near Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA70405 Dillon Rd, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92241: Only 10 miles outside of downtown Palm Springs, this convenient campground operates year-round, and features a pool, bike rentals, and a laundry facility. Advanced reservations can be made on their website.

Thousand Trails Palm Springs77500 Varner Rd, Palm Desert, CA 92211: 25 minutes south of Palm Springs, this RV campground operates from mid-September through mid-May. Spots can be reserved on their website, and amenities include laundry, showers, and a pool (which is a welcome reprieve in the desert heat of Palm Springs).

Note: The closest campgrounds to Palm Springs tend to be RV resorts. If you prefer to wake up immersed in nature, drive further out of the city, to the nearby Mount San Jacinto State Park. Stone Creek Campground is a popular choice, though it’s about a 50 minute drive from downtown Palm Springs. The site operates from May through October and advanced reservations are required.

Day 4: Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park, CA

On your final day in Palm Springs, take a glorious day trip to Joshua Tree National Park. This ethereal desert oasis, located just 50 minutes away from Palm Springs, is known for its distinctive trees, fascinating rock formations, and mystifying desert landscapes.

With its close proximity to Palm Springs, you can easily enjoy a full day in the park without having to change campgrounds for the night. However, if you’re lured in by the impressive stargazing opportunities that Joshua Tree provides, there are over 500 campsites within the park to choose from!

Escape Campervan Masamori 6 19 9 2

Why Rent a Camper Van for a California Road Trip?

Renting a camper van is the best way to immerse yourself in California’s vast, desert wilderness! Rather than trying to navigate Palm Springs in a massive RV, a camper van allows for more mobility, agility, and freedom. 

Added Mobility: In comparison to a traditional RV, camper vans are far more compact. Because of their smaller size, they can more easily access the narrow mountain roads of San Bernardino National Forest, as well as the more secluded areas of Joshua Tree. Plus, they’re much easier to fit in narrow parking spots or smaller campsites. 

Convenience: Many of the campsites you’ll encounter on this trip offer minimal facilities. While a traditional RV would require sewer or electric hookups, this isn’t the case with our self-contained camper vans. In fact, our convenient camper vans ensure that you always have everything you need, right at your fingertips. This added freedom gives you way more flexibility when it comes to choosing where to rest your head for the night. 

Easy to Drive: A traditional RV can be very difficult to maneuver if you’re not used to driving such a big vehicle. However, our camper vans are similar in size to a large family SUV, making them much less intimidating when you’re behind the wheel. 

From increased freedom to feeling comfortable while you’re on the road, it’s clear that renting a camper van is the best way to make the most of your California adventure!

Reserve With Escape Camper Vans For Your Palm Springs Road Trip

Whether you’re planning to tour midcentury homes, hike up the mountains of San Bernardino, or simply enjoy the desert’s quiet tranquility, Palm Springs makes for a perfect California road trip destination! Now that you’re ready to venture from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, all that’s left is to pack your bags, load up on sunscreen, and reserve your dream Escape Camper Van today!

Book Your Desert Oasis

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