Thinking about a Joshua Tree camping trip?
What are you waiting for?
Joshua Tree is one of the most popular and beautiful national parks in the US. Located just a few hours from San Diego, LA, Las Vegas and Phoenix, the fall weather is particularly perfect for camping in Joshua Tree’s 792,510 acres. Best of all, with its unique terrain and sometimes extreme weather patterns, Joshua Tree is a great place to put your survival skills to the test.
About Joshua Tree: Quick Facts
- Declared a US National Park in 1994 when Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act
- Named for the Joshua tree native to the area
- Located in Southeastern California, 130 miles from LA
- Includes parts of two deserts: the Colorado and the Mojave
- Open year-round
- Fall and early spring (wildflower season) are the most popular seasons
- Wildlife includes the California tree frog, red-spotted toad, golden eagle, roadrunner, Gambel’s quail, and the yucca moth.
Preparing for a Joshua Tree Camping Trip
If you’re interested in taking a camping trip to Joshua Tree, there are a few things you need to know.
Joshua Tree is beautiful, but it’s not without its dangers. The location in the California desert poses certain risks that campers should always be aware of when planning a trip. Here are a few things to consider.
While spring and fall in Joshua Tree tends to be mild, the summers are extremely hot, and winters can be chilly with occasional snow. In addition, flash floods and strong winds can pose a threat to people and shelters. Check the forecast before your trip and prepare for the weather accordingly, and always pack extra tie-downs to hold your tent in place.
Cell Phone Coverage
Don’t rely on your phone in Joshua Tree. It isn’t likely that you’ll have service in much of the park. Prepare by bringing an alternate mode of communication, such as Walkie-Talkies, in case your party gets separated.
Isolated Location and Lack of Amenities
Joshua Tree is quite isolated and there are no gas stations, stores or lodging once inside the park. Plan your trip accordingly and stop for any necessary supplies before you get to the park.
Prepare for the Desert Sun
The desert sun in Joshua Tree is no joke, especially during the summer months. Dehydration, sunburn and heat exhaustion are all possibilities for the ill-prepared. Stock up on sunscreen, plenty of water, sunglasses, protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat in preparation for your trip. Finally, remember to avoid strenuous activity and take frequent rests during times of extreme heat.
What to Pack for a Joshua Tree Camping Trip
- Water—at least one gallon per person per day
- Food—more than you think you’ll need
- Ice and ice chest
- Sun hat and sunscreen
- Sturdy footwear
- First aid kit
- Hand purifier
- Smartphone or tablet
- Cords to charge smartphone or tablet in car
- Flashlight or headlamp
(List courtesy of JustAhead)
What to Do in Joshua Tree
Now that you’ve prepared and packed for your trip, it’s time to explore some of Joshua Tree’s beautiful sights. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Arch Rock
Arch Rock itself is nestled in the White Tank Campground next to site 9 and it is about a half mile walk to the rock. It is very easy to get to and almost everyone should have no problem with it. When you turn the corner and see arch rock with its 30 foot across arch resting on top of a pile of rocks it is pretty amazing. You can climb on top of the rock and even get up close for some great pictures. After that you simply head back the way you came to complete the hike. (Via californiathroughmylens.com)
2. Skull Rock
Skull Rock is accessible from the roadside — it was immediately apparent that a lot of people park solely to visit and climb up this rock. Prepare to wait a few minutes if you want to actually climb Skull Rock, because there was a steady stream of people. But it’s not a hard climb at all; you’ll see that kids especially like to climb up into the skull’s eye sockets to get their picture take. (Read more at greeneadventures.com)
3. Barker Dam
The artificial lake is beautiful, and you may want to spend time just gazing into its reflection. You travel through the wonderland of rocks, and can try your hand at boulder hopping if you wish. Do try to be careful of the plant life. Lots of people come here, it doesn’t take much to destroy. (Read more at localhikes.com)
4. Cholla Cactus Garden
Perhaps the cutest cactus on the planet, the cholla has been nicknamed the “teddy bear” cactus, but this is one teddy bear you do not want to hug! The cactus is covered in spines that will latch in to your skin on the slightest touch. This defense mechanism is effective for desert survival but can create an unpleasant experience for those who don’t stick to the trail. There is a pamphlet at the trailhead that provides more information about this unique desert plant. The short easy hike is well worth the stop. (Via hikespeak.com)
5. Ryan Mountain
The short but challenging trail up Ryan Mountain leads hikers to some of Joshua Tree National Park’s best panoramic views. Centrally located and perched high above the landscape, visitors will see landmarks such as Mt San Jacinto (10,804′), Mt San Gorgonio (11,499′), the Wonderland of Rocks, Pinto Basin and Lost Horse, Queen and Pleasant Valleys. (Read more at protrails.com)
6. Keys Ranch
The ranger-guided tour of the ranch includes the colorful story of the 60 years Bill and Frances spent working together to make a life and raise their five children in this remote location. The ranch house, school house, store, and workshop still stand; the orchard has been replanted; and the grounds are full of the cars, trucks, mining equipment, and spare parts that are a part of the Desert Queen Ranch story. (Read more at nps.gov)
7. Cottonwood Spring Oasis
Cottonwood Spring is approximately 7 miles from the Southern entrance to the Park near the Cottonwood Springs Visitor’s Center. When I first drove into the parking area at Cottonwood Spring my eyes were drawn to the brilliant gold tones and shimmering green of the cottonwood trees. It was a sight to see . . . brilliant fall colors in the desert. It was such an odd contrast, yet so beautiful and breathtaking. (Via desertusa.com)
8. Hidden Valley
The trail is extremely well-signed and easy to spot from the parking lot. You’ll enter through Keys’ original portal and almost immediately hit the sign for the loop trail (stick to the main path and ignore the unmarked climbers’ trail that leaves on your left). Hidden Valley is a great introduction to the northern, Mojave Desert portions of the park. You’ll see Joshua Trees, pines, oaks, yucca, and maybe even a bit of desert wildlife along the way. (Via modernhiker.com)
9. Wonderland of Rocks
The Wonderland of Rocks is a large labyrinth of granite formations and meandering corridors. It’s an easy place to get lost, but it’s also full of secret, picture-postcard settings, wide-eyed views, and any number of natural surprises. Spend an enjoyable day hiking and scrambling through this rare place, feeling the rough texture of its timelessness underfoot and in the finger tips. More than just a day of outdoor adventure, this Desert Institute hike includes introductory instruction in how the Wonderland formed, why it looks the way it does, and how this unique environment helps support a diverse and interesting community of plants and animals. (Learn more at joshuatree.org)
and of course…
10. The Joshua Tree
The Joshua Tree (Yucca Brevifolia) grows mostly in the Mojave Desert. It is a very specialized type of palm tree that has a wide ranging shallow root system that takes advantage of as much ground moisture as possible. Ancient Indians used the fibers from the plant to make baskets, sandals, and sleeping mats. Birds made nest from the fibers and hung them from the branches, or lived in holes the made in the trunks. Many types of animals eat the flowers, fruit and seeds produced by the plant. The Joshua Tree is a very intesresting example of how a plant can adapt to its environment. (Via virtualtourist.com)
Want to learn more about Joshua Tree National Park? Check out the video below!
Did we miss anything in our Joshua Tree camping guide? Let us know in the comments!