A Guide to Joshua Tree Campgrounds

a guide to Joshua Tree campgrounds

Joshua Tree National Park is one of my favorite places, I find something about the desert landscape out there just magical. I’ve gotten to camp there a few times now and have enjoyed the desert sunsets, unique rock formations, and Dr. Seuss-esque plant life.

My biggest concern when I planned my first trip there was which campground to choose to stay in. Joshua Tree has nine campgrounds and they are all cool but all have different features and benefits. So how do you choose?

That sort of depends on what you want to do during your stay, how far ahead you want to plan, how big your group is, and if you are tent camping or in an RV or camper van.

Hidden Valley Campground - Joshua Tree

The campgrounds are divided into two categories, first come first serve and reservation only. It’s pretty self explanatory what these mean, but for people who have large groups or want to be able to secure their spot and plan a head the reservation sites will be the best bet. For those who are more flexible in their schedule and campsite options the first come first serve are great.

I’m breaking down Joshua Tree’s campgrounds with all the info that is important when you are picking out your site and planning your trip.

First Come First Serve Campgrounds

Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley Campground - Joshua Tree
Hidden Valley Campground - Joshua Tree

Hidden Valley is one of the most popular campgrounds in the park, it’s got awesome rock formations, unique campsites, and a lot of rock climbing.

Pros:

  • The campsites are pretty large and fairly private, and most have some shade either from trees or rocks.
  • There are tons of rock to climb and scramble around on and you can watch the real pros climbing all over.
  • The general landscape is beautiful with the rocks and Joshua Trees.

Cons:

  • Most campsite backup to rocks where people climb, boulder, and scramble around so you can get people coming down from the rocks and walking through your campsite to get back to the road. Most of the time people are polite about it though.
  • It is a really popular spot which can make getting a site there difficult if you go on a Friday afternoon. Your best best is to try and get there in the morning and during the week.

Sites: Most sites have room for 2-3 tents and 2 cars, camper vans definitely fit in the parking spots. There are a couple spots that fit RV’s too.

Cost: $15 per night

Number of sites: 44

Running Water: No

Bathrooms: Pit toilets

Closures: Open year round

White Tank

White Tank Campground - Joshua Tree
White Tank Campground - Joshua Tree

White Tank is on the north eastern side of the park, nestled among granite boulders and is great for star gazing as it’s close to the darkest part of the park. Its campsites are medium sized and pretty open with minimal shade.

Pros:

  • It’s awesome for stargazing and night photography being on the darker side of the park and having cool rock formations near by.
  • There are also quite a few hiking trail right by the campground so you don’t have to go far to hike around.
  • Medium sized flat campsites are good for spreading out.

Cons:

  • The campsites are pretty open so there isn’t a ton of privacy.
  • There isn’t a lot of shade and it gets pretty hot during the day.
  • There is a trail to the popular Arch Rock that comes out the north end of the campground so you can get hikers coming near or through your site over there.

Sites: Most sites have room for 2-3 tents and 2 cars, camper vans fit fine and most sites fit RV’s as well.

Cost: $15 per night

Number of sites: 15

Running Water: No

Bathrooms: Pit Toilets

Closures: Closed June 10th – August 29th

Belle

Belle Campground - Joshua Tree
Belle Campground - Joshua Tree

Belle campground is also on the north eastern side of the park making it popular with stargazers, it also feels a little removed from things which makes it nice and quiet.

Pros:

  • It has dark night skies perfect for stargazing and night photography.
  • It’s a quiet campground without much around it, so no climbers or hikers tromping around.

Cons:

  • Sites are pretty small and close together so not a lot of privacy.
  • There isn’t much shade, vegetation is sparse and while it does have some rocks it doesn’t have large formations like some of the other campgrounds.

Sites: Most sites have room for 2-3 tents and 2 cars. The spots are big enough for camper vans and RV’s too.

Cost: $15 per night

Number of sites: 18

Running Water: No

Bathrooms: Pit Toilets

Closures: Closed June 10th – August 29th

Ryan

Ryan Campground - Joshua Tree
Ryan Campground - Joshua Tree

Ryan Campground is also popular with climbers and hikers with plenty of trails and rocks around it. Ryan Mountain, one of the parks most popular hikes is nearby and the trail head is right outside the campground.

Pros:

  • Large flat campsites with lots of room to spread out.
  • Cool rock formations to scramble on and climb.
  • Pretty landscape with rocks and Joshua Trees.
  • Lots of climbing and hiking close by.

Cons:

  • While the campsites are large they are also pretty open so there’s not a ton of privacy.
  • The openness means it can also get windy in the campground without much to block it.
  • I’m not sure how often this happens but when I was there I noticed that bathrooms were pretty small and tended to run out of toilet paper.

Sites: Campsites have plenty of room for multiple tents (note campsite rules say 3 tents max), there is room for 2 cars and camper vans fit fine. The spaces seem big enough for RV’s but I’ve never seen any there, possibly because the dirt road through the campground would make it difficult getting an RV in there.

Cost: $15 per night

Number of sites: 31

Running Water: No

Bathrooms: Pit toilets

Closures: June 10th – August 29th

Note: Ryan Campground also includes a horse camp for equestrians, but that section of the campground requires a reservation.

Reservation Only

Indian Cove

Indian Cove Campground - Joshua Tree
Indian Cove Campground - Joshua Tree

Indian Cove Campground is one of the more popular reservation campgrounds because of it’s awesome rocks and rock climbing as well as park programs.

Pros:

  • It’s a huge campground with a ton of sites.
  • There are rocks to climb and scramble on everywhere.
  • Beautiful scenery, cool rock formations and lots of vegetation.
  • Camp site backup to rocks and have a lot of vegetation around for a bit of privacy.
  • Really close to town if you need to run out to get supplies.
  • Has an amphitheatre for park programs.

Cons:

  • While it is technically inside the park, it’s sort of separated from the rest of the park, it has its own entrance and you can’t actually get into the rest of the park from there. You have to leave and go out and around and back in which is a little weird, but also makes the campground a little more secluded (so pro and con?).
  • The sites are small to medium in size so you don’t have a ton of space but its cozy.

Sites: Most sites have enough room for 1-2 tents and 1-2 cars, you could definitely fit a camper van but not an RV. I have seen small trailers there though.

Cost: $20 per night

Number of sites: 101

Running Water: No, but water is available at the ranger station at the entrance

Bathrooms: Pit toilets

Closures: Sites 40-101 are closed June 10th – August 29th, all other sites are first come first serve during that time.

Black Rock

Black Rock Campground - Joshua Tree
Black Rock Campground - Joshua Tree

Black Rock Campground very different than all the other campgrounds in the park, the landscape is different, at lower elevation it’s got a lot more vegetation, but none of the rock formations that are common in the rest of the park. It’s close to town so you even get cell reception there (should you want that). And its bit less primitive than the other campgrounds with flush toilets and running water.

Pros:

  • Medium sized campsites with a lot of Joshua Trees and vegetation for privacy.
  • Beautiful views of the mountains.
  • Hiking trails right nearby.

Cons:

  • Without rocks around to break the wind it can feel a little exposed and get windy.
  • Like Indian Cove it has a separate entrance and while still technically in the park you have to go out and back in to get access to the rest of the park.
  • You can actually see town and houses in the distance which kind of takes away from the feeling of getting out into nature. I’ve heard people describe it as feeling like you are camping in someone’s backyard. Which I think is a little extreme but you get the gist.

Sites: Most sites have room for about 2 tents and two cars they also have enough room for camper vans and RVs as well.

Cost: $20 per night

Number of sites: 99

Running Water: Yes

Bathrooms: Flush toilets

Closures: Sites 40-60 and 66-99 are closed June 10th – August 29th, all other sites are first come first serve during that time.

There’s fun stuff outside of the park too!

Jumbo Rocks

Jumbo Rocks Campground - Joshua Tree
Jumbo Rocks Campground - Joshua Tree

Jumbo Rocks campground has some jumbo rocks! This campground is huge with tons of space to explore. It is also pretty centrally located in the park so getting around is easy and it’s close to hiking and attractions like the Skull Rock.

Pros:

  • Huge campground with tons of spaces.
  • There are lots of trees and rocks for shade in the campsites.
    Awesome rocks to boulder and scramble on, although no top rope climbing.
  • There are paved roads throughout the campground making it more accessible for anything with wheels, like wheelchairs, strollers, or bikes.
  • There is an amphitheater for park programs.

Cons:

  • Campsites are pretty small and close together, but sort of in groups or pockets so 3-4 sites will all be grouped close together but away from other groups.

Sites: Most sites have room for 1-2 tents and 1-2 cars. Camper vans are fine, but the parking situation is sort of like a parking lot so you’ll have to parked with a bunch of other cars rather than in your site. RV’s are fine, but it’s the same sort of thing.

Cost: $15 per night

Number of sites: 124

Running Water: No

Bathrooms: Pit toilets

Closures: Open year round, but sites are first come first serve from June 10th – August 29th

Cottonwood

Cottonwood Campground - Joshua Tree
Cottonwood Campground - Joshua Tree

Cottonwood campground is located at the south entrance of the park and sort of far away from everything else. It’s paved roads make it popular with RVs, it also has running water which makes it feel a little fancier than the other campgrounds.

Pros:

  • It’s at low elevation so it has a lot of vegetation and wild flowers in the springtime.
  • The visitor center is right outside the campground so you can get info on the park easily.
  • Paved road and running water make it feel fancy.
  • There are off-roading trails nearby.
  • Campsites are smallish but still private.

Cons:

  • Campsites are small and don’t have a ton of shade.
  • The lower elevation means it gets hotter than the rest of the park.
  • It’s far away from the main part of the park.

Sites: Campsites have room for 1-2 tents and 2 cars, camper vans and RV’s are fine. One thing to note, if you have a car towing a trailer that counts as two vehicles for your campsite.

Cost: $20 per night

Number of sites: 62

Running Water: Yes

Bathrooms: Flush toilets

Closures: All sites on the B loop are closed June 10th – August 29th, A loop sites are first come first serve during that time.

Sheep’s Pass

Sheep's Pass Campground - Joshua Tree
Sheep's Pass Campground - Joshua Tree

Sheep’s Pass Campground is the only campground in the park that is all group sites, meaning for 6 or more people. The sites here are huge since they are meant for big groups and have multiple fire pits and picnic tables.

Pros:

  • Huge sites which are great for large groups.
  • Centrally located in the park so it’s easy to get around.
  • It is close to hiking trails like Ryan Mountain.
  • There is some rock climbing around.

Cons:

  • You have to have a large group to book these sites.
  • There aren’t very many sites.

Sites: Sites can fit several tents and allow 10-60 people. RV’s and trailers are not allowed

Cost: $35-$50 depending on how many people you have

Number of sites: 6

Running Water: No

Bathrooms: Pit toilets

Closures: Open year round

All the car camping essentials you’ll need!

Hidden Valley Campground - Joshua Tree

BLM Camping

There is BLM camping out side the park at both the north and south ends. This is open dispersed camping without any amenities. These camp spots can be useful if you are trying to get a first come first serve spot in the park. I camped on the BLM land the night before so I could be there first thing in the morning to get a spot in the first come first serve campgrounds.

North of the park:

Car camping on BLM land

About halfway between the Joshua Tree entrance and the Twentynine Palms entrance you’ll turn north on Sunflair Rd and then make a right on Sunflower Rd and take that all the way out until you are kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s a dirt road but for the first part it’s not too rough or rutted out, I drove my Volkswagen Golf down it just fine, but the further you go the rougher the road gets and you’d need 4-Wheel Drive and a good amount a clearance.  

I found a spot pretty easily before the road got too bad.

South of the park:

Joshua Tree National Park

There is dispersed camping just about everywhere right outside the south entrance to the park. Edison Powerline Rd is a dirt road running perpendicular to Cottonwood Spring Rd coming out of the park and it looks like you can camp pretty much anywhere off of that.

The thing to remember about dispersed camping in the desert is to stick to established roads and camp spots, you cannot build fires, and remember to pack everything out with you since there are no trash cans.

Both north and south of the park are pretty desolate since it is the desert, so there is not any shade.

Best times to go

Joshua Tree Super Bloom

Joshua Tree’s peak time of year is fall, winter, and spring because the desert heat is not as bad. The height of summer is crazy hot which is why many of the campgrounds close for June – August.

The best time to visit Joshua Tree in my opinion is in the spring, it’s warm but not too hot and all the desert plants are in bloom. This is also the most popular time to visit the park for those exact reasons, so the park will be the most crowded March – May.

Like this post? Pin it!

a guide to Joshua Tree campgrounds
1 comment

1 thought on “A Guide to Joshua Tree Campgrounds

  1. Pingback: The Best Places To Take Photos In Joshua Tree - Nattie on the Road

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.